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Is my cast-iron dirty?

I've had my cast-iron Lodge skillet for a few weeks now, using it about once a week. I've done all the recommended tips on maintaining it, but when I wipe it clean with a paper towel (some oil), there's some brown stuff. I can do this repeatedly and still the paper turns brown! What's this and is it safe to cook in it?

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  1. :) Normal. What you probably will notice is that if you keep wiping it will oil on new papertowe, you can eventually wipe it all away, and the towel with oil will look clear. What you also will notice is that soap actually does not remove it as well as oil can. My guess is that it is some oily based burned residue since it is so hydrophilic (lipohilia).

    13 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      The towel never looks clear...gets lighter but never clear!

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Hello again Chemicalkinetics,

        I have a very hard time navigating these discussion boards, so please forgive that I am probably not on the correct "thread" (if that is what these are called) in regard to these DeBuyer Mineral pan discussion from a few days ago.

        I tried your latest recommendation *with high hopes*, that I'd finally get to the bottom of the issue at hand (with the pan releasing the dark, powdery-fine charcoal, metallic-tinged sheen on the bottom of each and every fried egg I cook up)!!

        I used your no-heat method, recommended from about two days ago, (just some kosher salt with a drip of olive oil and I scrubbed the inside of the 8" pan for about 3 or 4 minutes very well, moving the salt all about the pan. I kept wiping it off after rinsing it out with very hot water until I saw nothing coming off onto the white paper towel. I was CONVINCED that this time would be the charm!

        I threw a pat of butter down into the pan and set it on the stove to heat up. I cracked a whole egg onto the heated surface and cooked the egg. The egg, once cooked, slid off the pan with the ease of a teflon type pan.

        The moment of truth came when I took the fork and lifted the edge of the egg's surface to see how it looked underneath....(the part that comes into contact with the surface of the pan)....and alas, there it was--AGAIN--- the familiar grayish-blackish gun powdery, metallic looking tinge baked right into the bottom of the egg. This stuff that comes off the pan is very fine looking and difficult to describe, but there it is, each and every time!!

        I am at my wit's end. At this point, I refuse to let my kids eat any eggs that come off of these pans. The eggs are of great quality; we buy them directly from a pastured poultry farm and they're about as good as it gets! I hate to waste these eggs, so either I eat them or my husband, as we try to surgically avoid eating the bottom veneer of the fried egg with the gun-powder coating.

        I do not cook them with very high heat either, so there is usually no browning on the bottom surface of the fried egg-white, so I am not confusing browned egg white for this stuff coming off the pan itself. The egg-white remains truly "white" therefore I can see clearly the carbon stuff coming off of this pan and sticking to the food.

        Please Chemicalkinetics, any thoughts on the matter? At this point, I'm ready to give these pans to a good new home (or at least to someone who knows better how to remedy this quite vexing process of seasoning / preparing these pans). They do have quite a strong "metallic" smell to them, if that is any clue, I guess kind of the smell similar to iron metal.

        Contacting DeBuyer via email has yielded zero information. I will try one more time to contact the company and see if eating this carbon-looking stuff is wise.

        Sincerely,
        Helen (Eleni) Rainey

        1. re: Eleni15

          Hi Eleni,

          I am very sorry to hear this. "I kept wiping it off after rinsing it out with very hot water until I saw nothing coming off onto the white paper towel" I was so sure that should solve the excessive carbon or overseasoning curd problem. There is just one more suggestion to try. I am back to my first suspicion:

          Try this. It is very simple and should not take you more than 3 minutes. Do the same thing you have, except don't even bother with the salt. I assume the pan surface feel smooth to you, right?

          1) Apply a small amount of cooking oil (like a teaspoon or so)
          2a) Fold a paper towel and scrub the cooking surface. You may need to press the paper towel slightly downward to get a good scrub.
          2b) The paper towel may turn gray or black. This is good. Discard it when it get too dark.
          4) Repeat step 1 and 2 until the paper towel is clear looking.
          5) Do NOT wash the pan with water. If necessary wipe it with cooking oil and paper towels. No water. Not for now.
          6) Now add cooking oil and cook one egg (again no water). and see what happen.

          I have a strong suspicion that it may be a very fine rust problem because of the metallic smell you mentioned. Anyway, try the above testing method which should not take more than a couple minutes and see what happen. If this fixes or greatly minimizes the "gun powder" problem, then it is probably a rust problem.

          Let me know if the above method works to eliminate the gunpowder and the metallic smell. Thanks.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Thank you so much Chemicalkinetics. As soon as I can attempt this next recommendation, I will get back to you shortly thereafter with the results. I will keep my fingers crossed! I will send you the report by early tomorrow! Have a pleasant evening! Infinite Thank yous!

            Eleni

            1. re: Eleni15

              No need to thank me at all. We are all trying to learn and apply these cookware. Let me know the results. Happy holiday.

            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I'm stripping down my crepe pan to see if I can replicate the gun powder effect. I have a feeling it is rust and unseasoned.

              Here is the proper thread and I will post my findings there:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/824668

              1. re: SanityRemoved

                "I have a feeling it is rust and unseasoned."

                Me too.

                "I'm stripping down my crepe pan to see if I can replicate the gun powder effect."

                You don't need to do that. :)

                So far all we know is that something is coming off the pan. There are only two possible sources. First, it is the rust/oxide from the pan itself. This is caused by incomplete seasoning. Second, it is the extra carbon/charcoal from burned food curd and overseasoned surface. Although both can gives off dark powder materials, they are very different in nature and require different solutions.

                My current suspicion is the rust because the Eleni's pan was not seasoned in the beginning, though it was seasoned later. In addition, Eleni said the pan smells and tastes metallic. This points to rust as the source.

                My latest suggestion to Eleni is to damper the rust by using oil and papertowel. If this eliminates the problem, then we know the cause and can therefore fixes the problem.

                By the way, when I said "I have a pretty good idea what happened" to your warped DeBuyer crepe pan. I meant I know why it occurred. Although you were also correct to say "took one for the team". :)

                You should not try this again on another carbon steel pan.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  OK everyone, I am back. I just completed the next piece of advice from Chemicalkinetics. I took a paper towel and dropped a dab of olive oil into my 8" mineral pan. I rubbed the oil all around for a couple of minutes and a little bit of coloring came off the pan onto the towel. I was rubbing the pan very hard to pick up any rust (or whatever the heck this stuff is).

                  I repeated the oiling/cleaning process a second go around, before getting ready to cook the "test egg".

                  As I cooked the egg sunny side up on medium heat, I had high hopes that nothing would come off this pan, this time, onto the egg. I flipped the egg over easy, and I just saw trace amounts of the, now, silvery-grey looking powder tinge on the white color of the egg.

                  By the time I flipped the egg off onto the plate, the bottom side of the egg had indeed picked up a fair amount of the discoloring powder in question. Additionally, there was more of the metallic smell to the pan as well.

                  So I thought to myself, 'what else might I do differently here?'

                  Instead of rinsing the pan off with hot water, I just took a new paper towel and wiped the pan down to remove the butter I had just used to cook the egg. The pan itself has become very "non-stick" at this point, so there never really is any food residue left on it.

                  So I thought to myself, 'no more rinsing with hot water, since none of the egg is really sticking to the pan anyway'. I added another pat of butter and went ahead and cooked a SECOND egg.

                  This egg released beautifully, like the first and I prepared this one over easy as well. It was with great joy that I noted absolutely no grey-silver powdery tinges on this second egg. I almost couldn't believe it!

                  Not a trace of fine powder, I looked at all sides of the egg on the plate and could see none of the familiar stains on the egg white parts. I even took a picture of the two eggs and will try to find a way to attach a photo to one of these threads (if I can figure out how to do so).

                  Regardless, my only conclusion, for now, is that these DeBuyer mineral pans absolutely DO NOT LIKE water of any kind. If I can avoid it in the future, I will not use hot water rinses after cooking anything in these pans anymore.

                  I do remember when doing the boiled potato skins initial set up of the pans, that both pans released an slightly unsettling blackish tinge into the water and onto the peels which were boiling inside the pans. I figured this was "excess iron" from the factory? Regardless, the journey to figure out these pans will be ongoing it seems.

                  Also, should I consider these pans unseasoned? My limited knowledge of what this word actually means is as follows:

                  This is only MY guess...

                  A seasoned iron or carbon steel pan is a condition achieved in pans which so much cooking has taken place in it over time, that it is well seasoned? [insert laugh track here]

                  This is my definition of "seasoned" and I know it is probably 100 miles off the mark. Thanks everyone and I will await to hear your much valued commentary! I will also try to figure out how to post a photo of these two pans, the smaller 8" now is MUCH darker than the less used 10". Both though, are extremely new pans, relative to how long these things are supposed to last. They are both less than a month old now...

                  sincerely,
                  Eleni

                  1. re: Eleni15

                    "So I thought to myself, 'no more rinsing with hot water, since none of the egg is really sticking to the pan anyway'."

                    Good to hear that it is finally showing us what is going. I thought I told you not use to use water. :D

                    The method I wrote above was not a remedy -- in case I wasn't being clear. It was for trouble shooting to prove it is a rusting problem. Now, we have proved this.

                    "Regardless, my only conclusion, for now, is that these DeBuyer mineral pans absolutely DO NOT LIKE water of any kind. If I can avoid it in the future, I will not use hot water rinses after cooking anything in these pans anymore."

                    Once these pans are seasoned, you can add water and clean with water. It is not a problem. Your pan has not been seasoned yet, so it readily rusted.

                    "Also, should I consider these pans unseasoned?"

                    Yes. You have a rusting problem and I am very confident that your pan is not seasoned. The potato skin procedure you mentioned is not the seasoning process. It is to remove the factory coating. Seasoning is to ADD a layer on these carbon steel pans. Without a seasoned layer, these pans will easily rust as you have experienced.

                    "A seasoned iron or carbon steel pan is a condition achieved in pans which so much cooking has taken place in it over time, that it is well seasoned?"

                    Yes, and no. You will need to do one good seasoning process in the beginning. It only requires one good one. Simply cooking may not work if the rusting problem continues. The rusting will prevent any meaningful seasoning.

                    Now that I am confident that it is a rusting problem. We can fix this. There are many different approaches depending how bad the condition the pan is at. Since you said you will upload the photos, I will reserve my advises until we see the photos instead of giving you 5 different suggestions.

                    Actually these pans are not difficult to use/prepare. Unfortunately, your pan wasn't properly seasoned in the beginning, so there will be some backtracking to do. Good luck.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Hello there Chemical and friends. I am back from holiday/vacation and went back to deal with my very extremely, technically difficult, french (DeBuyer) carbon steel 8" fry pan and its continued leaching of iron metal powder, rust onto my cooked eggs. I cooked yet another egg, and there it was: all the same "blackish tinges" on the bottom of the fried egg.

                      Is it rust? Can't really think of it as rust per se, as it is not reddish-orange in hue. The stuff coming off the pan onto to the egg is a charcoal colour metallic powdery stuff. I have photos, but will take a day or two for me to figure out how to post them here onto this thread.

                      In other words, the problem persists. I would love to solve it.

                      The larger 10" DeBuyer fry pan I own, which I've not attempted to season and only put the boiled potato peel tactic/method into use with that one. This larger pan retains its silvery colour (as opposed to the 8" pan which has taken on a MUCH darker hue, dark brownish, bronze) after cooking the kosher salt method over medium high heat for 20 minutes.

                      I actually picked up a Lodge flat griddle round fry pan in the Target store, for a relatively inexpensive price [about $14] because I want some way to cook some eggs for my kids. (I am still too afraid to use the DeBuyer's for cooking food for my kids.)

                      If we cannot solve the 8" fry pan mystery, I am willing to donate this pan to Chemicalkinetics or to any of the other kind people on this page who have put in so much effort into this quite puzzling problem. Perhaps more "seasoned" professionals could figure out this mystery with this pesky DeBuyer mineral pan???

                      Sincerely,
                      Eleni (Helen)

                      1. re: Eleni15

                        Good to hear you back from your holiday.

                        Has the Lodge cast iron pan been cooking for you? The Lodge pan are usually preseasoned, so rust won't be a problem.

                        As for your deBuyer pan, I am still giving the same advice. First, try to clean it with salt and oil mixture on paper towels. Then, just oil with paper towels. Then, season it on stovetop (as shown in the previous video). Under no circumstance should water be used to clean. Only use oil and papertowel to wipe. No water. This should solve the problem.

                        If not, ythen ou can send the pan to one of us, and we will take a look and hopefully solve and fix it and send it back to you.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Thank you Chemical.

                          Believe me, I'm going to keep trying your recommendations. I've cleaned off the larger 10" mineral pan with water as well, but haven't had this larger of the two pans leach anything off onto the 2 omelets I've cooked in it.

                          DeBuyer's video instructions recommend cleaning these pans off with very hot water and a brush after the cooking is done, do you believe they should never come into contact with water then? Let the pans cool down and wipe them off with paper towel and always use just the salt/oil mixture -- from time to time -- for "cleaning". Is this the best rule of thumb?

                          I will keep you posted on developments...thank you and Happy New Year!

                          Eleni

                          1. re: Eleni15

                            I see. So your 10" mineral pan is fine, but not the 8". At the same time, you see the 8" being more seasoned. I really don't have a good answer for this one.

                            "DeBuyer's video instructions recommend cleaning these pans off with very hot water and a brush after the cooking is done"

                            You can absolutely do that if the pan has been seasoned. What I worry is that your pan is not seasoned, so it has been constantly oxidizing and rusting. As mentioned before, a carbon steel pan is very simple. Either we are having the pan oxidizing and leeching its tiny oxidized particles onto your foods, or the seasoned surface of the pan and burned on food residue are flaking off into your foods.

                            "Let the pans cool down and wipe them off with paper towel and always use just the salt/oil mixture -- from time to time -- for "cleaning""

                            That is a method which works well if the pan has not been properly seasoned. Otherwise, water works.

                            One reason I kept thinking this may be a rusting/oxidizing problem is that you have mentioned the pan has a strong metallic smell. Happy new year to you.

        2. A good way to clean off the brown stuff without damaging the seasoning is to scrub out the pan with a couple of tablespoons of coarse kosher salt and cooking oil (mixed about 50:50). After scrubbing, wash the pan out with hot water, dry it on the stovetop, and apply a very light coat of oil.

          1. That's where the flavor comes from!

            1. Hi, chowhormones:

              What you're experiencing is completely safe, normal, and IMO is to be expected. There is a psychological learning curve with bare CI, and part of it involves relaxing when it comes to "cleaning".

              IMO, you would be fine even abstaining from soap *completely* between seasonings (which, if you don't burn a lot, can be a very long time). A thorough rinse under *very* hot water, while scrubbing with a twig/bamboo/stiff brush has served millions well for over a century. Only when the surface gets and stays matte in places should you do more, and then generally it is time to reseason.

              Relax and have fun.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              2 Replies
              1. re: kaleokahu

                Thanks for the advice. I can sleep easy now :D

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Kaleo makes a very important point of using a bamboo, twig or flat wooden spoon edge when you are looking to scrub of caked up residue, especially on those cool little indoor grill plates with all of those nice flavor ridges to give you those pretty grill marks.

                  I've used Telfon based ones, but still prefer good old cast iron to get up to the best sizzling temperatures.

                  I only use them when cooking for several people because it is too much time in clean up when just cooking for myself.

                2. Best way to clean castiron, teflon, aluminum, steel, ceramic, etc. cookware is to use dish soap and a scotch-brite or similar scrub sponge, WHILE IT IS HOT FROM STOVE, as soon as you empty it.

                  Be careful of course, because it is very hot and WILL BURN YOU....

                  But pour dishsoap onto wet sponge (scrub side) and also into the pan/pot that will boil at contact.... while running warm water to rinse... put soap and sponge scrubbing the surfaces BEFORE you run it under the running water... you will notice that scrubbing a hot pan will remove things much easier and then run under water while continuing to scrub until pan stops sizzling and you have removed all of the food particles on inside. This works well on back of pot/pan as well but you only get enough time to get one side or the other... to remove cooked on grease, etc on bottom, try using a hot pan with some Easy Off or other oven cleaner/grill cleaner scrubbing with a very wet scrub sponge and let sit until cooled to finish scrubbing and rinsing.

                  Finally, Cast Iron should always be re-oiled before put away. Use cooking oil on a paper towel or spray Pam inside... and wipe all excess away before storing pot/pan.

                  1. Funny enough... Cast Iron is one of the most porous metals used. If you ever do remove all of the cooking oils, with solvents etc. the metal will actually look dry and dusty with a white water stain looking color... this is not good because the metal will not be very 'stick free'.

                    Don't worry about the black that comes off on your papertowel... it is only carbon (charcoal like) which is both safe and actually helps flavor meat while the high heat that a cast iron pan sears food and kills all other bacteria that touches this very hot surface.

                    Aluminum (Aluminium if your British) Copper, Stainless Steel and Ceramic cookery are best cleaned until nothing comes off... not cast iron.

                    It would be like trying to dig all of the dirt out of your back yard. It would get very hot and then you would find China.

                    Chef Dom

                    1. This thread is a bit old, but since it just popped to the top again, and since I just used and cleaned my old cast iron skillet, I thought I would add my experience.

                      I used the pan only to heat some precooked sausages, using very little (canola) oil. Later I washed it in my usual way: a few drops of Dawn liquid detergent, hot tap water, soak about a minute or less, clean with a plastic scrubber (the kind that is attached to sponge), then rinse with hot tap water. The water beads on the surface, indicating the the seasoning is intact. Wipe with a paper towel then put a flame under it for half a minute or so to dry thoroughly. The surface now looks clean ans smooth — semi-glossy.

                      After reading this thread, I then wiped the surface with a clean paper towel, and it picked up a very small brown stain. It's certainly not something I'm worried about. In my opinion, the pan is clean and properly seasoned.

                      Disclaimer: I'm not trying to convince the "no-soap" crowd they're wrong, nor am I interested in entertaining arguments about how soap or detergent will harm the seasoning in a cast-iron pan. This is what I do, and it works for me.