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Can I save my cast iron frying pan?

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My cast iron frying pan used to make the best pancakes: light, fluffy, golden brown. After cleaning it one time I think I left it on the burner to long and it 'broke' (not physically) because now when I make pancakes one side of the pan cooks the pancake but the other side (nearest the handle) hardly cooks at all. The heat is no longer distributed evenly (obviously). It doesn't look any different, but it sure cooks (or not) differently. Can it be saved?

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  1. Are you sure there's no draft in your kitchen? I sometimes have that issue when I accidentally leave my window open.

    Also, are you sure you've let your pan come to temperature completely? It could be that it hasn't had enough time to heat up, since cast iron doesn't respond particularly quickly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: caseyjo

      Cold here, window has been shut for quite some time. 8-)

      I've been cooking pancakes on either my cast iron frying pan or cast iron grill for some years now. Never had this problem before. I'm not the best at working with cast iron, but I didn't think I was so bad that I'd break the pan.

    2. Unless the pan is physically broken with cracks, I cannot image the one side of pan heats up and not the others. In fact, even if the pan has a crack, as long as the pan is heated by the heating element both sides should still heat up. Yet, you obviously saw what you saw. Is it possible that the heating element (your stove) is the problem? Let's say the side near the handle is cooler than the opposite. Have you tried to rotate the pan 180o degree on the range and see if this is reversed? If it is, then the problem is the range, not the pan.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        I have a gas range and did rotate and move the pan. The last two times I've cooked pancakes I've had this problem (never did before -- always had the most beautiful pancakes). I can't imagine what is wrong either, I didn't think cast iron would do this.

        Do you think seasoning it in the oven might fix it? I've been reading some posts on seasoning -- some people are advocating the stove top (which I've always done) and some the oven (which I've never tried).

        1. re: marisa48

          So when you rotate the pan, does the cold spots stay with the pan or does it stay stationary with respect to the range? (when you said one side of the pan does not cook, I assume you mean it is cooler than the other side)

          I thought about this a bit more. If there is a vertical crack (perpendicular to the cooking surface), the heat should still go through. Unless, there is a horizontal crack (parallel to the cooking surface) in part of the pan, so the heat has problem coming through, but that is rare. In addition, cast iron can endure high heat. You can turn on the heat and burn off all the seasoning surface without cracking the pan.

          You can try the seasoning attempt, but I doubt it will help. Re-seasoning the cookware only help the seasoning surface not thermal conductivity. If one side of the pan stay cold, then it will stay cold regardless.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            It stays cold in relation to the pan (by the handle) no matter how I place it on the range. And yes, that side is so much cooler that the side that is hot cooks the pancake (one side, flip, other side) and the cool sides hasn't even gotten the pancake cooked enough to flip -- still a gooey mess.

      2. Hi folks,

        Just a thought... I wonder if it has to do with the seasoning on the pan.

        Even though it doesn't look different, is it possible that the side that isn't cooking properly has had the seasoning 'lifted' or disturbed? The 'lifted' areas keeping the heat from reaching the pancakes?

        Would that happen if it were left on heat too long?

        Lucy

        1 Reply
        1. re: I used to know how to cook...

          I hope so. Usually, if a cast iron pan is kept on the heat element too long, the seasoning will slowly (or quickly) burn off, but that does not change the thermal property. A seasoned or unseasoned cast iron pan will heat up. The lost of the seasoning surface may make food sticks and it may cook slightly differently (how the crust is formed on foods), but not to the point of staying cold and not cooking the foods.

          The original poster can give it a shot, but I don't have high hope.

        2. I just took another good look at my pan (I was just looking at the inside before). I inspected it all around in and out. The outside bottom of the pan has crusty, broken spots all around it (kind of like cracked and pitted paving). I think tomorrow I will scourer it thoroughly on the bottom, then reseason and see what that does. I will post my results tomorrow night. Thanks for all the advice everyone.

          1 Reply
          1. re: marisa48

            Thanks. Let us know. You do have a very interesting story and I think most of us can learn something out of this.

          2. Are you sure your burners aren't defective? Try this on a different burner.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sueatmo

              Nah, doesn't sound like that is the problem ... Marisa said the cold spot stay with the pan no matter how the pan is rotated.

            2. Marisa: Either there is more to your story or you have a miraculous pan.

              If you center your batter on the border of where it "cooks" and not, what happens? Bubbles only on the one side? What happens when you go to flip--does the "uncooked" side break off and stay liquid? I will be surprised if either of these things are happening.

              Here's my theory for what's missing and what's really happening. Your cakes are cooking, but the *browning* may be off in an area where you burned off the seasoning. This may cause the "uncooked" side to stay blonde-r, perhaps due to the way your oil behaves on the now-uncoated area, or what is browned is pulling away from the cake when you scrape it off to flip.

              My bet is reseasoning will solve your problem, if not the mystery.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kaleokahu

                Kaleo,

                Your theory is sorta-kinda what I was alluding to earlier. The seasoning is either gone or lifted up enough to insulate the batter from the heat in the 'cold' areas.

                Whatever it is Marisa, it is indeed a marvelous mystery! I look forward to the next installment!

                Lucy

              2. Here is something you could try. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the cast iron pan in for a half hour. Turn off the oven. Open the oven door and gently pull out the rack so that you have access to the pan. Using a thermometer carefully check various locations of the pan. Try to keep the orientation of the thermometer the same each time. You will find some variation but it should be pretty close.

                1. I'm happy! Remember I said the outside bottom of the pan had crusty, broken spots all around it (kind of like cracked and pitted paving). I think when I left it on the burner too long the buildup on the bottom of the pan cracked and pitted. So, I scoured it thoroughly on the bottom, had it in hot soapy water and a steel brush to try to get it all off, but FINALLY suceeded. Then I seasoned it with crisco in the oven, twice -- wiping it down a couple of times during the process. Well, I just made pancakes for dinner (had to see if it would work), and IT DOES! The pan needs a little more seasoning, but it's cooking all around just fine.

                  I do appreciate all the comments, it got me to thinking and examining the pan more closely. I don't think I would have figured it out without your feedback.

                  Thanks!!!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: marisa48

                    Thanks. Appreciate your feedback. I wonder if the crusts where the real problem. I don't know how bad the crusts are, but if they are really thick, I guess they can act as insulator and prevent the heat get to the pan.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Hey Marisa, that's great news!

                      Thanks for letting us know. I learned something here. Bet others did too.

                      You know, now that your pan doesn't have a big build-up on the bottom, it might just come up to temp quicker and maybe be more even.

                      Lucy

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I'm not so sure it was the thickness of the crust on the bottom; I rather think it was when they cracked and pitted they didn't touch the surface of the pan evenly, thereby creating air pockets or gaps. Whatever, I'm glad my pan isn't ruined.