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Have I ruined my cast iron? (Sad)

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So I finally bought a lodge cast iron skillet which I love and I had the bright idea to make a string bean dish in the other night which had parm cheese as part of it. Trouble is I now have cheese residue stuck to the upper ridges of the pan which I can't clean using the boiling water technique because they're too high on the edges.

Is there any way to clean it out safely without ruining the finish? I'd hate to think I did damage to this wonderful pan.

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  1. I would just scrub the hell out of it with a copper or steel scouring pad and then re-season it. But if you don't want to do that, you could turn it upside down in a pan of boiling water and see it it will soften up enough to come out.

    I brought back a Lodge skillet that was 1/4 inch deep in rust (left outside for months at a camp) - it came right back after scouring and re-seasoning. Great pans.

    3 Replies
    1. re: elenacampana

      So I could use steel wool on that section, and reseason it in the oven?

      1. re: elenacampana

        totally agree with elenacampana

        1. re: darrentran87

          me too. Did you already try rubbing with kosher salt? I have never had anything that would not come out of cast iron that way.

      2. Or heat it way hot and burn it off.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sal_acid

          Heating it up to burn off the cheese is also going to burn off the seasoning. I agree with just scrubbing it off with a metal scrubber. Then just reseason the part you scrubbed. I do stuff like that all the time.

        2. I've also heard of people having success with putting it through their oven's cleaning cycle.

          1 Reply
          1. re: adventuresinbaking

            That is the last straw as it will burn off all seasoning and get down to bare CI. Not that that is such a bad thing. It just requires some work and time to start over

          2. Have you washed it with a scrubber with dish detergent? If that doesn't work you can use steel wool. Try using it lightly at first, you may not need much pressure to get it off. I've only used steel wool a few times and it's always on the rim of my griddle that tends to accumulate gunk over time. I've never had to reseason it after. I do my usual heat to dry and a tiny amount of lard.

            8 Replies
            1. re: rasputina

              Ok I wasn't sure if I could use steel wool or not. I was worried about that. I'll look into the kosher salt method too, that might seem like a good thing to try first.
              I thought I should try to avoid detergent.
              Thank you.

              1. re: Nocontact

                Detergent will NOT wash off your baked on seasoning. If seasoning was than easy to get off, no one would need to use extreme high temps to bake it off, or lye, or power tools or dynamite. The only thing detergent might wash off is the oils and food that you were cooking in the pan. This 'detergent washes off the seasoning layers' misinformation makes me nuts. I wash mine in detergent almost every time I use my CI. It washes off the food and flavors so I can have a fresh pan for my next meal. My baked on seasoning layer is left completely in tact. I have don this for well past 30 years.

                1. re: dixiegal

                  and I'm guessing, so did your mother, and your grandmother, and her mother before her....just like a lot of the rest of us.

                  My grandmother would have had a conniption fit at the idea of not washing her cast iron skillet - I have it now, and can attest that not a single one of those washings has ever damaged the jet-black shiny seasoning a bit.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    When I first came to Chow and read all the fuse about cast iron care, I asked my great aunts about it. (family of 13 kids, lived on a farm) They were horrified at the idea of not washing cast iron pans and said they most certainly washed them after every use.

                    1. re: cleobeach

                      >They were horrified at the idea of not washing cast iron pans and said they most certainly washed them after every use.<

                      Yep, and I will tell ya'll somethin' else too. Their CI pans would get put on the brush fire about once a year or so, to burn off the the built up layers of seasoning, get scrubbed down, and begin the reseasoning process. Those pans were also scraped daily with the use of metal spatulas and spoons. And scrubbed when needed with anything abarasive. That folks, is why those old CI pans are so smooth. When you use a rough CI pan, at lease twice a day, every single day, scrubbed scraped, heated, etc. It doesn't take long to smooth it out and only and years of this wears it down smooth as silk.

                      I saw watching my grandmother in-law frying chicken, when a hole was worn through her CI skillet. She took the chicken out, threw the skillet in the trash, grabbed another CI skillet and finished frying it. All with out missing a beat.

                      And yes. CI can, with enough use, actually be worn out..............................

                      So enjoy your CI and don't worry about it. Brand new CI, older CI, vintage CI, or antique CI. It is all made to enjoy. So just do it.

                      1. re: dixiegal

                        That is something to aspire to - wearing a hole in your CI skillet.

                        1. re: tcamp

                          >That is something to aspire to - wearing a hole in your CI skillet<

                          LOL isn't it though? I can't tell you the regrets I have for not getting that skillet out of the trash to hang on my wall. I actually thought about it at the time. But, thought my husband's family would think I had lost my mind. That he had a goofy girl for a girl friend. I was but a teenager and not yet married at the time.

                    2. re: sunshine842

                      >and I'm guessing, so did your mother, and your grandmother, and her mother before her....just like a lot of the rest of us.<

                      Yes, mam. They always, always, washed their cast iron, just like all their other dishes and utensils.

              2. The thing to remember is that you're dealing with two entities: the seasoning of the pan, which is a little delicate (no soap, etc) and the pan itself, which is nearly indestructible. You can always burn off the seasoning (and any mishaps that may have damaged it) and start fresh with bare cast iron. Reseasoning is not a quick job, but neither is it complicated. I once stuck a 40-year-old pan in the fire until it glowed red, let it cool in there, and then reseasoned it. No problem.

                Having said that, it sounds like you could try a few less drastic fixes first!

                8 Replies
                1. re: Tartinet

                  Haha, the glowning red pan does sound fun but I think I'll go with the kosher salt fix first! Thank you though.

                  1. re: Nocontact

                    Awww man, I used the kosher salt scrub and now my pan is all scratched to pieces like a cat went at it or something. What a drag. I guess it's just cosmetic but still...

                    1. re: Nocontact

                      reseason it. Turn your oven to 450, coat the pan with a thin layer of canola or peanut oil (olive oil smokes too low) and leave in the oven for 2 hours, cool and repeat...

                      1. re: dyrewolf

                        Ok, just did it for an hour. Still looks rough. No oil dripped on the foil, does that mean I didn't use enough?

                        1. re: Nocontact

                          less is more. I put about a tablespoon in a 12" skillet and wipe it around with a paper towel... and 2 hours at 450.

                          1. re: Nocontact

                            Ok, now I see you have already use the salt to scrub off the cheese. Yes, you can re-season the pan in the oven. The most common mistake of seasoning is that people tend to put too much oil. You only want a very thin layer of oil. Apply the oil on the pan, it should look glossy and feel barely oily or wet-like when you run your finger over, but it should not be dripping oil and you should able to see the oil in any thickness.

                            1. re: Nocontact

                              If oil drips off, you put too much on there. I never use drip pans and rarely turn the pans upside down. The oil should be thin enough that it does not drip at all.

                          2. re: Nocontact

                            nope, you scratched the seasoning -- I promise you didn't scratch the cast iron with salt. Reseason.

                      2. Look like you got tons of replies and I am not sure if you have already started. There are basically two approaches to what you describe. One way is to scrub with a hard and effective medium, like a steel wool or copper wool or sand paper. These methods will definitely remove the burned on cheese, but they will also take away your seasoning surface, so you will have to reseason it again.

                        Putting the entire pan in oven during the self-cleaning cycle (very very hot) will also loosen the burned cheese, but again, this will burn off the seasoning layer, and you will need to reseason it.

                        The other methods are gentler and less aggressive, but also slower. Using a mixture of "salt and oil", you can also scrub off light build up. It will be slow. If you have a lot of burned cheese, then try to use a plastic scraper. For example, you can use a pastry scraper or an old credit card to scrap off the burned cheese. They are tough enough to remove burned on material, but gentle enough not to remove much of the seasoning surface.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          So I tried the salt technique and that left discolored patches, and what looked like tiny scratches all over the pan, and i assumed this was the seasoning coming off so I reseasoned and left it the oven for an hour. I'm using a thin layer of veg oil all around it. Took it out and there are still some strange discolorations around the edges so I reapplied the oil and I'll put it back in the oven for 2.
                          Hopefully that'll sort things out.
                          I do love cooking with this thing so hopefully this will get me back on track.

                          1. re: Nocontact

                            Don't worry if the pan does not look exactly like before. Your cast iron skillet was likely black color. With the seasoning partially removed, you will see a lighter color (gray possibly). Now, even if you reseason the skillet with oil, it won't turn black-black right away. All you want to do is to develop a layer of seasoning surface, so that you may start cooking again. In time, it will turn black.

                            Here are some photos of newly seasoned cookware, notice that they are not pitch black:

                            http://www.chow.com/photos/730916

                            http://www.chow.com/photos/514098

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              Thanks CK, I guess after this round in the oven I'll use it as normal and hopefully it'll still work as well. Thanks for the help. And NOT use parm in it!

                        2. Don't fret over the cheese.

                          I have put my Lodge skillet through the self-cleaning cycle of my oven several times with no adverse effects when it was pretty nasty from a bad cooking episode (usually involving milk and noodles of some sort). Do I scrub it down for a long time or go the lazy way and self clean it in the oven and reseason?

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: Sid Post

                            This thing is a mess. I reseasoned twice last night and then went and tried to sear some beef tonight and although it didn't really stick, there was all the black buildup on the pan that wouldn't come off. I tried boiling water and scraping it off but it was really stuck on there. So I went to the steel wool tried to scrub it off and now it's back in the oven being reseasoned yet again. I think I've really done some kind of damage here.

                            1. re: Nocontact

                              Unless you're dropping the pan into a blast furnace, you aren't damaging it. I've re-seasoned cast iron pans after sandblasting decades old build-up of rust off them, it can be done.

                              If I have something stuck to the pan (burnt eggs seem to be the worst), I'll toss the pan onto a grill while waiting for the charcoal turn from black to grey. A 600+ degree grill will carbonize almost any baked on problem on a cast iron pan.

                              1. re: deet13

                                So If I can get it hot enough to get the charcoal off, what's the best thing to use to do it? Steel wool I know isn't the recommended course unless you want to reseason every time.

                                1. re: Nocontact

                                  <So If I can get it hot enough to get the charcoal off, what's the best thing to use to do it?>

                                  An open flame. For most people, self cleaning oven will work. Either way, you will have to re-season the whole pan.

                                  <Steel wool I know isn't the recommended course unless you want to reseason every time.>

                                  Steel wool is ok. First, you can use a very gentle motion. Second, using steel wool you will likely only remove the seasoning surface on the interior (cooking) surface. Thus, you can simply do a stovetop seasoning -- as opposed to a full seasoning in the oven.

                                  The most gentle method is to use salt and oil. In which case, you would may not need to reseason the pan.

                                  1. re: Nocontact

                                    I use a green pad and cold water to scrub off whatever is left behind. But due to the heat of the grill, you'll still have to re-season the pan.

                                    You could try soaking the pan in a 1 to 1 water vinegar solution for a few hours; but once again you'll need to re-season it.

                                    That stated, it's an iron pan, so they're nigh indestructible. I've gone so far as to use a hammer and a putty knife to scrape layers of funk and rust off of an old cast iron pan.

                                2. re: Nocontact

                                  < I think I've really done some kind of damage here.>

                                  No, you have not.

                                  <So I went to the steel wool tried to scrub it off and now it's back in the oven being reseasoned yet again>

                                  Man, I would have told you to do something else first, but don't worry, you are not damaging the pan,

                                  Ok, a few questions for you. When you said black buildup on the pan, do you know this happened before or after searing the steak? I think you simply burned some fats or sauce on the pan.

                                  <I tried boiling water and scraping it off but it was really stuck on there>

                                  Boiling water sometime help, but usually not for burned on black residues. The most gentle method is the salt and oil method which you have tried. You can always use a plastic scraper or even a metal scraper to remove the black residue. Steel wool also work.

                                  <So I went to the steel wool tried to scrub it off and now it's back in the oven being reseasoned yet again>

                                  If this ever happen again, try the stovetop seasoning method. It takes slightly more safety awareness, but so much faster.

                                  Heat the pan up, almost to the point of oil smoking (just barely seeing faint smoke coming off the pan), then add oil, swirl around the pan, continue heating, again keep it barely smoking. Continue to heat and swirl. After a minute. Turn off the heat. Let it cool down for 5-10 minutes. Dump the oil.

                                  DeBuyer has a seasoning video for its carbon steel pans. Similar idea:

                                  http://youtu.be/e_hcah_417c?t=19s

                                  For safety information, there is always a small chance that oil can catch fire when excessively heated. This is why you don't want to heat the oil to the point of excessive smoking. In case of a fire in a pan, put a lid on the cookware or put the entire pan inside the oven and close the oven door. Just let it burn out. My Debuyer caught fire once, and I stuck it in the oven. Alternatively, if you have a fire extinguisher, then you can use one. However, never pour water into an oil fed fire.

                                  http://youtu.be/Hu65vLJIwLQ?t=1m10s

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    I'm pretty sure the black buildup was only there after the steak as I reseasoned it after the cheese mess. If I run my finger over the surface it is smooth for some parts and then rough and raised where the black bits are but you're probably right about me burning some fat or sauce onto the pan.

                                    So you're saying I should heat some oil in there and that will avoid the need to scrape or anything like that?

                                    I don't mind oven seasoning, I just put it in there and go about my buisiness, I just would like to get back to where I can wipe it down and that's it, without having to go through all of this. Don't the black bits indicate that it's NOT seasoned properly anymore?

                                    1. re: Nocontact

                                      <So you're saying I should heat some oil in there and that will avoid the need to scrape or anything like that? >

                                      Nah, you still need to scrap, but you can season on stovetop instead of oven.

                                      <Don't the black bits indicate that it's NOT seasoned properly anymore?>

                                      Not always the case. It depends on the foods. It is particularly easy if you overheat anything with sugar.

                              2. Once you get your pan back in usable shape, what you might consider is to put it in "cast iron rehab" for a while, before you ask too much of it. So, use it for frying bacon, frying breaded fish or meat, frying almost anything really. Give it a break from deglazing, acidic ingredients, cheese, searing, or other lower-fat operations. In my experience, this kind of treatment will give it a chance to really establish a good season. Good luck!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Tartinet

                                  I concur and I love the term "cast iron rehab." Sometimes I feel like a real slouch when I read about CI seasoning travails. I have done very little to my 4 CI pieces. I use them alot, fry up some extra bacon if the seasoning looks shot, Scrub periodically if really needed. These shouldn't be prima donna pans.

                                2. Restaurants use cheap stainless scouring pads. They will take off anything, stuff rinses out of the pad easily so they don't get gummed up like steel wool & they remain aggressive. Once the heavy stuff is off, polish up with a fine grit product and re-season. A doz would last a homeowner a life time and prob be under $10.00 to the front door. Many other uses as well. Check "Restaurant Web Store".

                                  1. It really doesn't need to be this complicated.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: rasputina

                                      Yeah, that's why I was thinking. The commercial stainless scouring pads & just re-season. That's what makes cast get passed down generations. Unless its cracked, it can be cleaned and re-seasoned.

                                      1. re: rasputina

                                        No it doesn't have to be complicated.
                                        But if you wanna make it complicated and have fun at the same time, maybe try electrolysis;
                                        http://www.gcica.org/ElectrolysisMeth...
                                        or
                                        http://www.wag-society.org/Electrolys...

                                      2. Long time lurker, first time poster. I feel the need to reply to this. Collecting old cast iron is a hobby of mine, and i have restored many skillets that looked beyond help. Some so covered in rust from sitting outside i just knew it was hopeless, yet turned out . beautifully. Hard scrubbing is not needed. Cover it with oven cleaner and then put in a plastic garbage bag. Let soak for 24 hours. Repeat if needed. Wash off with blue Dawn dishwashing liquid. If rust appears soak in a solution of 1 part white distilled vinegar to 2 parts water for no more than a few hours. Wash again with Dawn then dry in oven then reseason. Better than new.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: gdaddy68

                                          I wasnt trying to make it complicated. Just trying to get the black stuff off..

                                          1. re: Nocontact

                                            If the black stuff concerns you, I would just bake all the seasoning off and start over. Heavily used CI requires this from time to time anyway. CI is like us. It is ever changing with use. A perfectly seasoned pan does not stay perfectly seasoned unless you never use it. Some high heat to bake the old seasoning off and a good scrub with steel wool will get you your pan down to the bare metal. Then begin seasoning it again. I never use mine until I have about 4 or 5 seasoning layers on it. Then I use it to bake southern style cornbread until the cornbread does not stick. I will use it a few times for frying, roasting and baking a few times, the. I will add a layer or two of seasoning again. When ever I wipe my pans and get the black coming off, I will add another layer of seasoning. It is an on going process as with use, the layers wear away. I assure you, your pan is not damaged.

                                            1. re: dixiegal

                                              I think it's coming back. I've done some frying in it, made a few simple things and it's working out again. I was just a little concerned because I love using it so much!

                                              1. re: Nocontact

                                                >I think it's coming back. I've done some frying in it, made a few simple things and it's working out again. I was just a little concerned because I love using it so much!<

                                                Good news!

                                                1. re: Nocontact

                                                  Good to hear. What you have experienced is one of the main reasons why people like cast iron cookware. If the seasoning surface is ruined, you can always re-season the surface on your own. As such, the cookware can last for long time.

                                          2. About the only way to ruin cast iron is to chip it with a hammer, let it rust until it is pitted or shock it going from hot stove to cold water and crack it. Anything else you can pretty much re-season and it will be fine.