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Mar 1, 2013 09:06 AM

Did I ruin my cast iron skillet?

I may have just wrecked my cast iron skillet. Is that even possible?

In Good to the Grain Kim Boyce recommends letting a cast iron skillet smoke over high heat for five minutes to neutralize savory flavors so that you can use it for sweet dishes. I'd been debating whether to get a second cast iron skillet but I thought I'd try this first.

This morning I turned the burner to high and let the pan smoke for five minutes. Nothing much seemed to happen except that a yucky smell started coming off the pan. I thought, surely whatever is making that smell should be allowed to completely burn off so I let it go five more minutes, for a total of ten minutes over high heat.

When I turned off the heat I noticed that the surface of the skillet was covered in crackly patches where it looks like the top layer has peeled off (see photo). It also smells AWFUL. What happened?! I couldn't have damaged the cast iron itself, could I? I'm also confused about where the smell is coming from. I don't do anything weird with my skillet. I wipe it out with a sponge or a paper towel after use, give it the rare and quick scrub with soap if something is stuck on for some reason, always dry it with a towel or over low heat so that it won't rust, and season it once a month or so with veg shortening or coconut oil.

I'm thinking I should scrub off the flakes and re-season the pan a few billion times but I thought I'd see if there are any cast iron experts out there with a better idea.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. That looks like burnt residue left in the pan. Scrub it off and reseason and it will be fine. Personally, I wash mine with detergent every time I use them and then dry in the oven or stove depending on what is most convenient at the moment and then apply a very thin layer of lard.

    As for the smoking between sweet and savory dishes. My mom has had a dedicated cast iron fudge pan for 40 years. I generally cook sweet dishes in enameled cast iron or clad stainless.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rasputina

      Yeah, I am leaning towards getting a second pan after today's mishap. I wouldn't use it a ton but when I want a dutch baby I want a dutch baby, ya know?

      Thanks for your input.

      1. re: APK_101

        I can't think of any reason you can't cook a dutch baby in the same pan you cook savory dishes. I cook pancakes and french toast in the same cast iron pan as I sear fish, cook bacon ect. No flavor exchange.

        1. re: rasputina

          Yeah, I'm starting to realize that problem may be more in my head. I cook a lot of strong savory flavors in that skillet so I think I was automatically hesitating to use it for sweet stuff, but I'm going to actually test it out. Well, once my skillet is back in working order that is. :)

    2. You haven't ruined it. It just looks like there was too much accumulated crud in the pan from over seasoning, inadequate cleaning, or both. I would clean it out and reseason. Season with a thin coat of Crisco shortening, wipe all excess out with a paper towel after seasoning or cleaning. Store dry.

      I don't like the concept that you should burn out the "savory flavors" to cook something else. There shouldn't be anything to burn out except the seasoning layer, and if it was properly done, you don't want to damage that. If your pan conflicts with something you want to cook, use another pan, as rasputina suggests.

      1 Reply
      1. re: GH1618

        Interesting. I didn't realize that overseasoning was a thing. I guess I thought that "accumulated crud" was what made cast iron so great but maybe I'm going overboard. I'll have to look into this. Thanks!

      2. Get steel wool. Use plenty of elbow grease and scrub that pan till your arm hurts. OK. Now. Get paper towels and dry, dry, dry that skillet till your arm hurts some more.
        It's dry. OK. Get some veg or grapseed oil. Pour some into a dry paper towel. Rub the oiled paper towel in the inside of your skillet. Nice.
        Now. Turn your over on to 250 degrees. Place the oiled skillet in the oven. Keep it there either all day or all night while you sleep. When you wake up, if the skillet is still a tad sticky from the oil, keep it in the warmed oven till it isn't sticky anymore.
        Now its seasoned.
        Listen to Jarona--when you use the cast iron skillet after it is seasoned. do NOT scrub it. Wash it gently with soapy water and towel dry.
        Thank you.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jarona

          Thank you, Jarona. That's really helpful.

          1. re: APK_101

            Too much oil in cast iron when seasoning will result in a horrid sticky film. My husband did this to one my favorite pans once. I had to burn it off on the bbq and reseason it. If you use oil wipe it out until you can't see any pools of oil.

        2. You have a bunch of good advice about fixing it.
          Just wanted to say, I use my cast iron skillets for both sweet and savory all the time. It never even occurred to me that I shouldn't. I've never noticed an issue with it.

          I sear a steak in a pan one night, make cornbread another night, apple crisp on the weekend. I've never noticed any big carry-over of flavor.

          1 Reply
          1. re: onrushpam

            That's actually good to know. I may have that issue more in theory than in actuality since I can't actually remember a time when it's been a problem. (Wooden spoons, yes. I now have dedicated sweet and savory wooden spoons.) Thanks!