HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


Cast iron skillet smoking and smells like chemicals

I have a cast iron skillet that's a hand-me-down from my husband's grandmother, and I've probably never properly taken care of it. I do use soap, and I think I've only seasoned it once, and even with that I'm not sure if I did it correctly.

Anyways, I never really had issue with it until recently when I heat it up it starts smoking a ton and it smells like horrible chemicals. Does anyone know what this means, and why it smells like chemicals? Do I need to start over and season it? Also, since we got it, the inner surface has never been smooth, it has some, for lack of a better description, raised areas that I've never been able to get rid of (photo attached). Any ideas on what I can do to make this workable?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The important question here is whether it has ever been used for some nonfood substance, and if so, what.

    What did you season it with? Can you be more precise about the smell?

    2 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      No, I haven't used it for anything non-food. I seasoned it with Crisco, but that was a LONG time ago, and I'm wondering if since I've used soap, if I need to season it more often. Can I season it with coconut oil?

      The smell almost smells like burnt plastic.

      1. re: OctoberOrchid

        I'm sure you didn't, but do you know the history? Did it come out of her kitchen or her garage?

        Did you use it for cooking after seasoning? Did you store it with oil in it or dry?

    2. Assuming that it has only been used for food, and that the roughness is built up crud, I would clean it thoroughly according to these instructions:


      1. The bottom looks unseaseasoned.

        I'd put in in the oven for a few hours at 450 and burn off whatever crap is on there and then reseason.

        1. < smells like horrible chemicals>

          Not sure what does "smell like chemicals" mean, since all smells are from chemicals. I will assume you mean a repulsive kind of smell. This can be many things. If it smells metallic, then it is probably that you can a rustic pan. If it smells rotten, then you probably have rancid oil. If it smells like chemical solvents (like those household cleaner), then I have absolutely no idea.

          Based on the photo, the pan can use a bit better seasoning. If you have food residue and build on crud, then you can scarp it off with a metal tool .

          All in all, I cannot tell the damage done to the pan. I may opt for a complete reseasoning. You can find many articles on CHOWHOUND and other sites for complete re-seasoning. If you have specific questions, please let us know.



          1. Just a note. The polymerization of oils can have a nasty chemical smell

            1. A cast iron skillet should be shiny black. Yours looks shiny silver.

              It looks like it needs a heavy duty seasoning.

              1. It looks to me like this pan may have once been left rusty, If you have or know somebody with a pyrolytic self cleaning oven these are superb for taking cast pans back to absolutely bare metal. Just put them in the oven and set to clean and when done the pan is bare metal as it came out of the foundry - then season anew. When seasoned and as the layers build up over time the pan will glaze over the undulations. http://bit.ly/126qZO6

                1. The Pan Man'smethod is too slow. All you need to do is run that pan through the self-cleaning cycle of your oven. That will make the crud vanish, You may get what ppears to be rust. It is just residue, wash it off and then start to reseason. Do use a solid shortening, oils leave a sticky residue on the pans.

                  The old fashioned way to clean up a cast iron pan was to put it directly in a fire.

                  I clean mine up in the oven as needed, maybe every 5-10 years. I have also salvaged some good old pans that I picked up in thrift shops. I got a really disgusting looking, old Griswold. Made in Erie, PA. It is a 10" and one heck of a pan.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Candy

                    Hmmm - I'm envious of your Griswold find! Well done you. ;-)

                  2. Based on your photo, I would suggerst that the skillet held some water for a very long time. It appears that you have a case of spalling happening. This is when moisture gets between layers of the cast iron, start to rust, and then can explosively burst when heated.

                    Chemical smells come from chemicals. I have used old cast iron to soak rusted parts in break free, soak detail brushes in benzene, acetone or turpentine, and once to mix gas and oil as i didn't have a funnel to pour it into the fuel tank.

                    Other than the heritage, why don't you spring $20 for a new one?

                    1. I would suggest that your skillet held some water for a long time, allowing it to get between the layers of cast iron. When heated, the water expands and the iron will seperate in sheets, sometimes explosively. This would be the source of the apparent crack and bumps in the bottom.

                      Fill with water and let it sit a few days. Empty, put on a hot burner, and stand back. Who knows what could have been decanted into the skillet for how long.

                      6 Replies
                        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                          Wow, thanks, everyone for your tips! This is my first post on this site and everyone has been very helpful.

                          I'm now wondering if it's the olive oil I've been using, since I tried cooking in my stainless steel skillet, and it smelled the same. Does oil start smelling bad after reaching it's smoke point?

                          I'm torn on if I should try and salvage this skillet or buy another. I have a larger cast iron, but it's so large it doesn't seem to get heated evenly to the edges.

                          One question, the reason I've been using oil is to make hash browns, if you have something like that which requires oil like that, is it OK for me to use the cast iron for that?

                          1. re: OctoberOrchid

                            <I'm now wondering if it's the olive oil I've been using>

                            It could be, especially if you were using extra virgin olive oil.

                            <Does oil start smelling bad after reaching it's smoke point?>

                            Yes. It can, especially unrefined oils, again like extra virgin olive oil.

                            <One question, the reason I've been using oil is to make hash browns, if you have something like that which requires oil like that, is it OK for me to use the cast iron for that?>

                            Yes, you can make hash browns with a cast iron pan. Cast iron pans have no problem handling cooking oils.

                            1. re: OctoberOrchid

                              Olive oil is fine for me in a pan that is in constant use, any oil or fat will go rancid is left too long. It is worth looking at smoke points and ways of raising it by mixing oils. Keep the pan and revel in its history and then go buy more cast skillets - it'll change your life in the kitchen. You need several sizes and will have one on the hob while another is in the oven doing a delicious tarte tatin. Take a look at this recipe from the fantastic Smitten Kitchen http://bit.ly/ZEJBU5

                              1. re: OctoberOrchid

                                One other thing - it's worth looking out for a pale glazed cast pan. I have many skillets and cast hotplates but on the advice of the great Julia Child I found a cast pan with a cream glazed pan-base for fish in pale cream sauces, dishes using lemon-juice and for buerre noisette (browned butter)

                                1. re: OctoberOrchid

                                  Do you leave oil in the pan or do you store it dry?