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Is this cast iron?

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Hey all, new user here, so I apologize if this has been done too much before.
I've got this old pan that I think (based on some quick internet research) is cast iron, possibly enameled at one point--see the shiny bits in the second pic. The bottom says "Chef Skillet - 9 inch - Made in USA - %" with an X at the base of the handle.
Following another site's instructions, I soaked it in vinegar and water for about 1/2 an hour before realizing the shiny stuff is not coming off (though it did remove a lot of rust).
So, does anyone recognize it? Any help much appreciated. :)

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  1. It looks like cast iron to me. If you put a magnet on the pan, it should stick. If it doesn't stick, the pan is probably cast aluminum, but from the pic, it looks like CI. The shiny bits could be old seasoning. If it was formerly enameled, I think more of the enamel would still be intact. I like the handle and what appears to be a decorative guard at the throat of the handle. I wonder what function that might have?

    And one other question. Have you checked to make sure the pan sits absolutely level? I looks as if the middle of the pan is slightly raised, which may be by design. But if the pan wobbles on the burner, it isn't worth restoring.

    I agree with using a steel wool pad or plain steel wool on the shiny bits. Or you could try scraping after soaking.

    3 Replies
    1. re: sueatmo

      I think it's a thumb rest for a better grip when the pan is lifted or tipped.

      1. re: kaleokahu

        It looks functional. And it is attractive--apparently good design.

      2. re: sueatmo

        A magnet sticks! Thanks!

      3. Looks like cast iron. That doesn't look like enamel from what I can see. Perhaps that's left over areas where the pan was well seasoned. I'd scrub the schneikies out of it with steel wool to get those spots off and re-season in the oven over and over until you get the finish you want.


        12 Replies
        1. re: TraderJoe

          If the shiny areas are metallic, please test for lead. Those of us who recast lead find cast iron to be great at retaining heat.

          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            "If the shiny areas are metallic, please test for lead. Those of us who recast lead find cast iron to be great at retaining heat"

            Oooo good point! Lead melts easy so you can just get the pan nice and hot on a burner to see if those spots melt.


            1. re: TraderJoe

              I just put it under my broiler (about 500 F) for 15 minutes, and nothing happened--as lead melts at 425, I think that makes it safe to use, right?
              Thanks for your help!

              1. re: spaceface

                If you're open to another suggestion, try hitting the pan all over with Naval Jelly. Glove up, slobber it on and wait about 45 minutes. Then go after it with a stiff wire brush and rinse well before washing.

                Or take it to your auto mechanic for a quick sand blasting.

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  CI is porous. I've used Naval jelly. It is pretty strong stuff, isn't it? I would have concerns about the residual chemicals leaching into my food? I cooked. Am I wrong?

                  1. re: sueatmo

                    Hi, sueatmo:

                    Yes, Naval Jelly is a strong acid. But I don't share your concern about it getting in the food. I wash it out well and then boil it, and I haven't had any problems. If you want to be extra careful, boil baking soda in it to neutralize every last bit of acid, but I think that's overkill.


                  2. re: kaleokahu

                    I've never heard of sand-blasting. Guess that would be for really deep rusting?

                    1. re: spaceface

                      Hi, spaceface:

                      Well, yes. For totally reconditioning a bare pan (and fast), it works well. The best way is electrolytic cleaning (there is an instruction thread on it here somewhere), but that is time consuming and requires a battery charger, a piece of steel for an anode, and tubs of acid and base solutions.

                      I suggested the NJ as something you can easily do yourself and requires little fooling with hand sanding.


                      1. re: spaceface

                        Guess that would be for really deep rusting?
                        You can use sand or bead blasting to remove any material you can't get off. Deep rust in a CI pan would probably mean it's not salvagable or just not worth the effort unless it's a very special item.


                        1. re: spaceface

                          Sandblasting destroys the value of a cast iron pan as a collectible. Lead may have already done that, however.

                      2. re: spaceface

                        Skip the chemical crud and scrub with a good SS pad. Not scotch brite or brillo pads but a good SS scrubbie. If you have a GFS near you they carry them as do many Wally Worlds.
                        If that doesn't take it off you can always get it bead or sand blasted.
                        Personally I wouldn't worry much. If it didn't melt it's not lead and more than likely it's just old seasoning.


                        1. re: TraderJoe

                          if it is old seasoning, then oven cleaner, or baking at high temp for a while will take it off. I would do this before reseasoning.

                2. I don't recognize the brand, but it certainly looks like cast iron. It's difficult to identify the shiny stuff in the photos, but I suspect you're going to need to resort to a coarse scouring pad to get it off.

                  1. That's a Wagner un-trademarked chef's skillet.
                    They are great pans as the corners are rounded making it easier to toss or flip food. I own one just like it.

                    I don't remember them making an enameled version (not that they didn't - I just don't remember). But, IMO if there was enamel on it then remnants of the enamel would be visible on the handle and it would be unlikely any remained on the cooking surface.

                    Is that shiny material bubbled? The reason I ask is that a lot of cast iron was used to melt other metals and mostly lead for folks casting fishing weights or re-dropping shot for reloading shotgun shells. If it is lacking pigment you many be looking at someone's ersatz lead crucible and it would not be a pan to use to cook meals out of at all.

                    If you know someone that is a fisherman or hunter that has done the above please show them the pan so they can tell you if you are looking a metal or enamel. And then make a decision about what you want to do with the pan and if you can can clean it down to bare metal. A vinegar rinse won't do much.

                    Sorry to be a worry wart but would hate to see you use a pan that might be injurious to you and yours.

                    1. Oh one other thing. Lead starts to melt at about 625 degrees F. not 425.... So your broiler test won't tell you much. To get it to melt well you have to keep it at 650 to 675 for about an hour....

                      Please have that pan tested.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: slowshooter

                        Thanks! As to the possibility of lead, it's actually from a relative and was always kept in the family (no hunters or fisherman, I think), and in any case the pattern of shiny stuff on the inside is not bubbled and is continued on the bottom as well. I'm asking the relative to make sure, though. I appreciate your concern, lead's not something to mess with.

                      2. After using vinegar on cast iron, you should neutralize it with washing soda.

                        12 Replies
                        1. re: GH1618

                          Not trying to be a pill here, but why do that? If you deglazed the pan with canned tomatoes or lemon juice, would you feel the need to neutralize the pan? Mainly, you would probably have to renew the seasoning.

                          Using Naval jelly would be harsher, and the substance is not a food. I'm not telling anyone what to do, but I don't think I'd use that substance on a cooking pan.

                          1. re: sueatmo

                            "... why do that?"

                            Because according to the "pan man," vinegar (and acids generally) will attack the iron, so he recommends neutralizing it. It makes sense to me, and I have confidence in his advice.


                            I never do anything with tomatoes or lemon juice in my iron skillet, but this is not a comparable situation, because the tomatoes would be on a well-seasoned surface. Rust is not on the seasoning — it is on the iron. The OP soaked the entire pan in vinegar, which would attack the iron where exposed.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              In my experience the tomatoes degrade the seasoning, and the pan might well have to reseasoned. I've never heard of neutralizing an iron pan, but if it keeps rust from forming after the vinegar wash (which I've never done heard or or done either) I accept why you would do it.

                              1. re: sueatmo

                                It wouldn't prevent rust from reforming, just clean the pan of acid residue. The pan should then be seasoned once on the outside to prevent rust.

                            2. re: sueatmo

                              Not sure what GH's answer will be but I can outline my experience with vinegar as a rust remover with cast iron.

                              As part of the de-rusting process vinegar works great but unless it is washed off completely (or neutralized) the pans get a golden hue during the seasoning process. It's very pretty but pans with that hue never turn black. Because the vinegar inhibits the development of a decent carbon layer the seasoning doesn't adhere as well to the pan and chips off more easily.

                              I have a couple of pans that look almost bronze and they are the only pans that I have used vinegar as the last stage of the pre-seasoning process.

                              Eventually I will get around to stripping them and then running them through the process again.

                              That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

                              (Wouldn't use naval jelly either. It's just a nasty substance that should be avoided for cooking surfaces,)

                              1. re: slowshooter

                                Thanks for the info.

                                I like to strip CI in the dishwasher.

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  I tried that but for some reason our water, my dishwasher or my dishwashing liquid just stinks for that use. We got a replacement dishwasher on a recall when our last one turned out to be a fire hazard. The new one is just awful... Now I just use the self cleaning cycle. Muy bueno!

                                2. re: slowshooter

                                  Hi, slowshooter: "[Naval jelly]'s just a nasty substance that should be avoided..."

                                  It's phosphoric acid. When it reacts with rust, it forms ferric phosphate. Both phosphoric acid and ferric phosphate are quite non-toxic.

                                  Phosphoric acid is actually intentionally put *into* food, most notably added to soft drinks. It's also an ingredient in drugstore tooth whiteners and anti-nausea products. Anyone who has fillings or has ever had braces has probably paid their dentist and/or orthodontist to put it directly into their mouth.

                                  Ferric phosphate, also known as ferrum phosphoricum, has been used for a long time as a nutritional supplement for (shock, shock) iron deficiency and to prevent nosebleeds, although the EU withdrew its approval for use as a food additive a few years ago. It is a widely used, environmentally safe compound used in organic farming.

                                  I'm not saying that Naval Jelly-strength acid won't burn you if you put it on exposed skin (it will), but I know from ungloved experience that it burns less than the lye in Easy-Off. IMO, you would get more phosphoric acid from drinking a 6-pack of Coke than you would cooking the rest of your life in a pan that was derusted with Naval Jelly.

                                  If you think phosphoric acid is scary then you should *definitely* avoid nasty chemicals like dihydrogen monoxide. ;)


                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    That explains why we used to clean rusty chrome car bumpers with Coca-Cola.

                                    1. re: GH1618

                                      Yes, exactly, and phosphoric is often interchanged with that safe-sounding acid, citric. If you never want to look at prepared foods the same way again, look into how citric acid is made--hint: it isn't from citrus.

                                      Now then, NavEL Jelly is a different matter altogether...

                                    2. re: kaleokahu

                                      Wait a sec.

                                      I'm talking about Navel Jelly. A gel that contains 25-30% phosphoric acid. It's catagorized as a toxic chemical that can damage eyes, mucous membranes, lungs and skin.

                                      I'm not talking about using minuscule amounts of phosphoric acid as a pH buffer, as a food additive or teeth whitener. Nor am I talking about the amount of naval jelly left in the pan after it has been thoroughly cleaned being a risk.

                                      I can only reiterate my comment that naval jelly is nasty stuff. With the average person in the US sitting on a 100 IQ, I'm hard pressed to recommend use of a toxic chemical that half of the population would likely use incorrectly - and some of the other half, believing they know everything, would screw up simply from hubris.

                                      The mental math on risk assessment says, on average, that using elbow grease and bar keepers friend, the self cleaning cycle of an oven, a vinegar soak or a homebuilt electrolysis set up (for those that understand the dangers of electricity) are all better suited to remove rust from an 15 dollar pan.

                                      Of course, if someone wants to risk permanent injury with naval jelly for a cheap pan? Well, okay… Their choice, but IMO it's not particularly a brainy one with safer and thereby better options readily available.

                                      1. re: slowshooter

                                        Hi, slowshooter:

                                        Phosphoric acid isn't toxic, it's caustic. See, http://www.bibra-information.co.uk/pr... The common Naval Jelly retail product I buy and use is 70-75% water and 15-20% phosphoric. At that concentration, it is a mild irritant on skin; as I wrote before, it is less of an irritant than the lye in Easy-Off. By "mild", I mean that if you plunged your ungloved hand into a pail of it and immediately rinsed your hand in water, it would not even significantly irritate your skin. A fleck of it, left unwashed for a time, feels like the lingering effect of a nettle sting.

                                        What "permanent injury" are you referring to? I refinish a lot of metal. Frankly, I've been hurt more by coarse steel wool fibers poking into my skin than I have Naval Jelly.

                                        For those who shudder and flee at the thought of opening a bottle of drain cleaner or paint stripper, great, don't use jelly. But don't just complacently sand away on a pan thinking that's completely safe either--without wearing a respirator. And for God's sake don't drink a soda--it's toxic!


                              2. I use cast iron pots to melt lead and I've never had any stick in them that way. Not saying it couldn't just that I have never seen it on mine.

                                Conventional wisdom says that once a pot has had lead melted in it is never safe to cook in again. I'm not sure I believe that.

                                18 Replies
                                1. re: kengk

                                  I've had some smears but mostly bubbling into raised areas. The surface tension of lead, which makes it great for dropping shot, draws it together.

                                  About reuse? I'm sure there is a way to remove it all. I would have a hard time justifying the effort and cost of testing for a simple cast iron pan.

                                  1. re: slowshooter

                                    I will get some splatter stuck on a handle from time to time but it will peel off with my fingernail. Have one 8 quart pot that I used to convert a thousand pounds (literally, no exaggeration) of wheel weights into ingots. There is no visible lead anywhere on it.

                                    Can the lead sink into the pores of cast iron to be leached forever into your food? I have no idea. Don't really use the "good" cast iron pans that I have so am not anxious to bring my lead pots back into the house. I'm just not convinced that lead can be permanently bonded to cast iron. I'm willing to be convinced though and I have no problem if somebody wants to err on the side of caution.

                                    After looking at the photos in the op again, with my glasses on, the "stuff" just looks like flakes of the seasoning in one photo so maybe the shiny metallic look in the second picture are not really accurate?

                                    1. re: kengk

                                      Perhaps. I hope the OP can show someone with a little experience with lead shot, weights or smelting.

                                      I agree that a permanent bond would be tough to make happen - but it's the lingering microscopic remnants in the small grooves or imperfections that I would worry about. Large hunks? They can get knocked out.

                                      1. re: kengk

                                        This is only my opinion, but I think pans that are used to melt lead should be marked as such in some way. Or made unusable. You don't want someone else in 15 or 20 years using that pan to cook in. At the very least any future user should be informed.

                                        I remember an antiques dealer telling my mom that he had used an old crock for some process using acid, and he drilled a hole in the bottom so it could never be used for pickling afterwards.

                                        1. re: sueatmo

                                          But pickling is a "process using acid"!

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            to GH1618

                                            Got this secondhand, but it wasn't vinegar but something having to do with batteries.

                                            I think the guy did the ethical thing, myself.

                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                              So do I. I was joking — I just don't like those "smiley" things.

                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                OK. : )

                                          2. re: sueatmo

                                            I agree. I have found 2 muffin pans and a cornstick pan at flea markets that have been used for lead. Into the trash they went.

                                            1. re: slowshooter

                                              Dumb question, but why are people melting lead in their cookware?

                                              1. re: taos

                                                Just to clarify, are you wondering why people are melting lead or why people use cookware for it?

                                                A lot of people melt lead to cast their own bullets (for cartridge reloading) or ball (for muzzleloading). I suspect there are other reasons, but this is what I am familiar with.

                                                As to using cookware, I suspect it's the most readily available and cheapest source for cast iron pots. We always used a specially designed melting pot, but we were working with small volumes. And I doubt anyone who uses cast iron "cookware" to melt lead considers it to be "cookware" any more!

                                                1. re: jljohn

                                                  Wonder how many buy vintage cast iron (and cook in it) that was once used to cast lead in it........................

                                                  1. re: jljohn

                                                    Both, but mostly why they melt lead. All I could think of was home-made bullets, which you confirmed.

                                                    Can't you buy bullets in a store? Are the home-made ones better? Are they even legal?

                                                    1. re: taos

                                                      Fishing sinkers would be another use.

                                                      1. re: taos

                                                        Yes, it's legal in most areas. People used to make lead weights for fishing too.

                                                        Two primary uses are reloading and making ball for muskets and other black powder firearms. Both ways are good ways of helping the environment and cut down on a lot of waste.

                                                2. re: sueatmo

                                                  All this conversation makes me rethink the idea of using vintage dishes, cookware, containers, etc. for food.

                                                  1. re: dixiegal

                                                    I have searched several times today looking for an answer to the question: can a pot that has been used to melt lead be rendered safe for food use?

                                                    I have not found anything except repeated admonitions not to do it. I'm tempted to take my lead pot and give it a good scrubbing with hot water, detergent and a scouring pad, fill it with water and boil for a good while and take the resulting water to the health department to be tested. They check our well water from time to time, gratis.

                                                    1. re: kengk

                                                      Great idea. Please post the results.

                                          3. I agree that looks like flakes of old seasoning.

                                            I had a number of old cast iron pans I'd gotten from family, and stowed away. I recently decided to "restore" some in order to use them. My method is somewhat controversial, but it worked very well to remove rust and very thick old seasoning. None of the pans are valuable although two are Griswold.

                                            I just placed the pan in the hot coals of my charcoal grill when I was done grilling. Leave them in until the time seems "right," (basically everything has seemed to turn to powder - pretty quickly) and retrieve with a mitt made for high heat (I used my special grilling mitt.) I tossed the extremely hot pan onto my yard and let it cool naturally. Then, I was able, with just a typical plastic pan scrubber, to remove all char that was left.

                                            Then, I reseasoned as usual, and the pan is as good as new. This general method of using a fire is apparently pretty traditional. Some people worry it will in some way deform the pan or crack it, but with my heavy duty old pans, I saw none of that.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: NEChef

                                              Good to know. I'll probably use my oven's self-cleaning cycle.

                                              1. re: spaceface

                                                Another good option. I have an irrational fear of my oven's self-cleaning cycle. I'm afraid I'll burn the house down. :-)

                                                Just to add - despite the flakes of seasoning on your pan, it doesn't look that bad. But, I found the whole restoration quite addictive - the thicker the seasoning, the better! One of my pans had such thick seasoning on the BOTTOM that there was absolutely no indication there were any words or markings there. When I used my fire method to clean, I realized there were deep, well-defined words and markings. The seasoning was that thick (and extremely shiny.) Based on some research and awareness of which household it came from, I believe it to be from the 1930s.

                                                1. re: spaceface

                                                  Make sure to open a window. Last time I used mine it got smokier than a 2 dollar hookah lounge.

                                                2. re: NEChef

                                                  NEChef this is how my mom and grandmoms always cleaned off their old seasonings. Well, maybe not on a grill but in hot coals of a fire. Periodically the seasonings layers would build up and get uneven, so they would burn it off and start over anew with the seasonings. Until I got on this board, I did not know of any other way to get those layers of baked on seasonigs off.

                                                  1. re: dixiegal

                                                    I remember my mom putting a skillet in a trash burner to burn off old seasonings. I hadn't the faintest notion what she was trying to do then.