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Dec 9, 2013 04:25 AM

Help, cast iron pan really confusing me

Hi all. I need some help with my cast iron pan. I've had this particular pan about 10 months now, its a Lodge pre-seasoned one that I bought new, and I love it.

About 4 months in, it had developed a nice slick coating, then all of a sudden after frying up some meat, the all the "shine" went out of the seasoning and it looked completely dull and "dead", and when I rubbed it with a tissue, the whole surface of the paper was covered in black specks (and I mean absolutely covered in them, not just a few, nor a black oily residue), and the seasoning felt rough to the hand. I emailed lodge and they didn't really help much, just told me to restart from scratch (by the time I got their reply I'd already taken steel wool to the pan and restarted the seasoning process).

Everything was good up until tonight. Pan fried some chicken tenderloins in a bit of oil, pan never went above 500F (I don't know the exact temperature, I just know for certain that it didn't go above 500F, and I know that the last time it happened it didn't go above 500F either). There was a brown crust on the bottom of the pan (caramelized chicken juice), so I let it cool a little bit (20 mins), then put very hot water in it, and scrubbed with a nylon brush and put it on the burner on low to dry.

Then I noticed the same dullness to the seasoning, and sure enough, wiping with a towel resulted in many black specks of seasoning coming off.

I've never cooked anything acidic in this pan, I treat it quite well for a cast iron pan, what on earth is going on?

The previous times I'd seasoned it using the oven method, this time I've decided to go with what I use on my carbon steel pans and just heat the pan up very hot on the hob, add lard, wipe out, repeat.

I have other cast iron pieces too, and none of them have exhibited this problem, so I'm really at a loss here. Does anyone have any idea why this is happening, or what I can do to prevent it? Has anyone experienced this before?

I didn't think of taking any photos at the time unfortunately.

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  1. I think the first mistake most people make is that the first sign that "something is wrong" they immediately strip the seasoning and start over.

    Don't start over.

    Just continue cooking in the darn thing and the seasoning will take care of itself.

    Cast iron isn't finicky...but the people who use it certainly can be.

    4 Replies
    1. re: JayL

      I'm not going to cook in the darn thing when it basically coats my food with a layer of polymerised fat...

      1. re: Sirrith

        I would be hesitant also.

        I never season a pan...I just cook in it. The pan seasons itself.

      2. re: JayL

        <I think the first mistake most people make is that the first sign that "something is wrong" they immediately strip the seasoning and start over.>

        It depends on the "mistake". I agree with you that the original poster probably overrated in this case. However, there are times when re-seasoning is needed.

        This is especially the case for preseasoning layer from the factory. The preasoning can be faulty. Building additional layers on top of a faulty layer can be very frustrating. e.g.: peeling and chipping layers. I can only say that, in my experience, starting from scratch has saved me a lot of time.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I fully understand, and this is why I would always strip a pre-seasoned pan and do it myself.

      3. I have a pre-seasoned Staub pan that had the same problem. I pretty much, after hot water cleaning it with a stiff brush, added ghee on the pan, heating it until it smoked, then let it cool. After wiping off the residue and using it for regular cooking, everything is right again.

        I'm also using a different cleaning method as well. Try Chain Mail (I bought mine on Amazon), it really is an amazing cast iron cleaning solution. I usually lay it on the pan with a scrub brush on top to guide it. Frigging works great.

        5 Replies
        1. re: David11238

          Thanks, I did try adding more seasoning over the top of it the first time, but that didn't work, it just ended up flaking off again just as badly, so I didn't bother this time.

          I did consider the chain mail, I might pick it up at some point. I don't know if its got anything to do with cleaning though. Can't hurt to try I suppose!

          1. re: Sirrith

            < it just ended up flaking off again just as badly>

            Flaking is bad. I thought you only have a "dull" looking problem -- which I don't consider to be a problem at all.

          2. re: David11238

            Had never heard of a chain mail scrubber before I read your post last year. It was inexpensive enough, so I decided to buy one. I cook almost exclusively in cast iron or carbon steel and that scrubber has been a revelation. I just made a dry-fry dish that left a lot of sticky bits in my wok. I poured in the rice rinsing water, waited 5 minutes, and scrubbed it lightly with the chain mail scrubber. Completely clean and grease free in almost an instant. One of the best new cooking toys I've bought in the past year. Coming back, finally, to thank you, David.

            1. re: JoanN

              Chain mail scrubbers are also excellent on glass, stainless steel, glazed stoneware, any surface that can stand aggressive scrubbing. It'll leave surface scratches in stainless, if that's something you care about. I've also found that with a little dish soap, it makes quick work of counters, with no need to ever scrub stubborn spots.

              The biggest thing it did for me was free me from nasty scrubbers. I was going through at least one a week, because I hated the way they'd trap food. Yuck! Between chain mail and a nylon brush, life is much less gunky.

              1. re: DuffyH

                Good to know. Thanks. Yes, love how easily it cleans up.

          3. <About 4 months in, it had developed a nice slick coating, then all of a sudden after frying up some meat, the all the "shine" went out of the seasoning and it looked completely dull and "dead", >

            I absolutely won't worry about this. The slick and shiny layer is not better than the dull looking layer. Do not be fooled by appearance. Let the performance/function speaks for itself.

            All I can say is that from my experience the dull looking seasoning (resulted from high temperature cooking or high temperature seasoning) is more stable than the shiny looking seasoning (result of lower temperature seasoning).

            13 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              I don't normally worry about dull seasoning, but you missed out the part about the flaking! :P

              1. re: Sirrith

                :) How bad is the flaking? If you have actual pieces flaking, then you will likely have to reseason the cookware. Here is an extreme case of flaking.

                On the other hand, it sounds like you are saying that it is "many black specks of seasoning coming off." which may simply suggests a very small problem. In that case, I would just scrub the cookware with "salt and oil" on a piece of papertowel. I won't re-season the cookware.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  They were small pieces, but they were actual pieces of the seasoning flaking off, some parts of the bare cast iron were beginning to show through. I did try the oil and salt method, just no matter how much I scrubbed, the pieces kept coming off until I'd worn down large patches of the seasoning to bare cast iron :(

                  Either way, I've already restarted the seasoning now. Do you have any suggestions as to why that may have happened and how I can prevent it happening again in the future? Could it be that the flax-seed oil oven method is just not very durable? This time I just heated the pan up to 600F and rubbed several layers of lard on it. the seasoning looks much nicer than when I tried flax.

                  1. re: Sirrith

                    <Either way, I've already restarted the seasoning now. Do you have any suggestions as to why that may have happened and how I can prevent it happening again in the future?>

                    I was going to say that you may able to do what cowboyardee suggested. Either use the "salt + oil" or the "green pad" method to scrub the excessive seasoning off -- without a full blown reseasoning. By full blown reseasoning, I mean stripping the original seasoning off, and then rebuild it.

                    <Could it be that the flax-seed oil oven method is just not very durable? This time I just heated the pan up to 600F and rubbed several layers of lard on it. the seasoning looks much nicer than when I tried flax.>

                    First, if it is really minor black powder coming off, then don't worry about it. It is normal.

                    If it is more serious, like you said, then you can scrub most of the excessive seasoning off as mentioned early. I believe most of the time, this can be the results of two reasons. First, the seasoning was too "babied" and too thick of a layer was build. Second, the foundation layer, the very original layer was unstable Any layer built upon a weak foundation will flake off eventually.

                    Assuming it is the former for now, I would recommend you to season your cast iron cookware no more than two layers. One of the most common mistakes is over-seasoning the cast iron cookware.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Wouldn't the seasoning just build up as I use it more though? I already use metal utensils to try and smooth out the interior of the pan and prevent any build-up.

                      Regardless, thanks for your suggestions and advice! :)

                      1. re: Sirrith

                        The seasoning build up over time, but also wear over time. This building-wearing process help create a more stable seasoning layer. It is as if wherever unstable seasoning will be eliminated over time during cooking. Kind of like the "natural selection" theory.

                        The problem of artificial seasoning 15+ layers is that you may end up building some weak seasoning during this speed-up process.

                        OH yes, you are correct. Keep using metal utensils. They are good.

                    2. re: Sirrith

                      I've found flax seed to be somewhat prone to flaking, especially when many layers are applied. Its difficult for me to add links when typing from my phone, but if you search for 'seasoning cast iron in may 2011' you'll find a semi bloated thread detailing my efforts. The more I looked into it, the more people I found complaining of flaking after seasoning with flax, many of whom did not use many layers as I did. It may be the very hardness of the polymer formed by flax oil also makes it a bit more brittle. Hard to say.

                      I can say that after more dicking around with seasoning than is really reasonable or respectable, i have come to agree with chem's explanation: the wearing away of weak seasoning via cooking and possibly even the addition of small amounts of other carbonized substances (besides fats) seems to be crucial to the process of building seasoning that is both stable and fully nonstick.

                      But just to be safe, I would avoid using flax seed oil: it may be more flake prone than alternatives, and at any rate it doesn't seem to help in the long run.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Thanks cowboyardee and Ck, that makes for a nice read.

                            I think I'm happy with the re-seasoned pan, just tried frying an egg in it (something I normally never do on newly seasoned CI), and it didn't stick at all :)

                            Fingers crossed it won't do the flaking thing again.

                            1. re: Sirrith

                              A little flaking is acceptable. It really depends what you use your cast iron cookware for. If all you do is to fry eggs and make omelette, then it may never flake. However, if you use it for high temperature cooking like blacken steak or use it for liquid cooking like tomato soup, then it is not unusually to have a little wear. Don't worry about it. It will wear and build its seasoning over time.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                flaking happens.
                                don't panic.
                                short of cracking, it's always possible to re-start with a cast iron pan.

                                that's part of what i love about them: they are dynamic to cook with!

                                1. re: rmarisco

                                  Not panicking, getting annoyed at it because it is a hassle to restart!

                2. Depends on the degree of the flaking.

                  Big flakes that leave exposed cast iron (not dark, thin seasoning) showing from underneath probably means the pan needs to be stripped, reseasoned, and all that mess. And I think this would usually result from a fault in the base layer of seasoning - if the original seasoning was applied too thickly, for example.

                  Very small flecks of dark stuff flaking off are most likely something that has cooked onto the pan on top of the seasoning. In that case, I would probably wash the pan with water, soap if necessary, and even a green scouring pad if necessary, though I wouldn't go all the way to steel wool. The surface underneath might be a bit less non-stick than the pan had been before the problem started, but it should recover without too much trouble. Heat up just a bit of oil in the pan until it starts barely smoking. Then cook in your pan normally for a while, avoiding anything that is especially prone to sticking or coating the pan for a few meals. Should be back up to speed without too much trouble or too much time lost.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    That's what I do... if it starts flaking a bit, give it a good scrub to get rid of the flakes. Then, I cook a pound of bacon in it. Boom done... I know my grandma never worried about her pan flaking. She just cooked in it. :-)

                    1. re: onrushpam

                      I whole-heartedly agree with the "She just cooked in it" part.

                      I say that all the time myself.

                      I'll be my whole life I never heard my grandmother, mother, or anyone else ever talk about seasoning a cast iron pan (except people on the internet). Nor did I ever hear anyone speak of losing their seasoning and having to fix it. They just cooked in it and let happen what was going to happen.

                    2. re: cowboyardee

                      They were small flakes, but they did leave exposed cast iron. I think maybe I'll try washing the pan more thoroughly from now, probably using detergent regularly (mild), as you could be right about the stuff cooking on. But at the same time I don't understand why it would be perfectly fine before one single dish, then ruined afterwards!

                      1. re: Sirrith

                        You can strip only cooing surface using paper towel saturated with oven cleaner, covered then with a plastic wrap.

                    3. <scrubbed with a nylon brush>
                      I so understand your confusion with cast iron. Here is what I have learned the hard way......

                      First, I would not scrub any cast iron pan ever. I would just wipe it down and let it cool. To clean I would heat the pan up and wipe it down some more, add some oil to coat the pan and put it away or re-season it by heating the pan up with the new oil.

                      Second, never ever put a hot pan (any pan) into cold water since it can / will warp pan.

                      Good luck. These pans are tricky but for health reasons and taste these pans can't be beat. My grandmother used them eons ago and she was very healthy......

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Chefwant2B

                        I just don't think cast iron is "tricky" at all. There's a reason why they've been used for 100s of years, in less-than-ideal conditions.

                        I have a couple of ancient (50+ years old) cast iron pans, a couple of the new, pre-seasoned ones, and a hand-hammered iron wok I bought in Hong Kong. Every now and then, I screw up the seasoning on one of them by cooking something too acidic, burning something or I have a brain fart during kitchen cleanup. A couple of times, I've seen bare metal through spots in the seasoning. I've had all these pans for 15+ years.

                        On the cast iron skillets, my "cure" is always to just clean well, then cook up a pound of bacon in it. I've found animal fat to be WAY better than any sort of oil for restoring the seasoning.

                        It's tough to cook bacon in my wok, though I did it once, when I really screwed it up. Usually, I just try to cook something with a lot of fat in it the next time around, but I really don't worry about it. I just clean it and keep cooking in it. The seasoning comes back.

                        As to scrubbing, sometimes you have to do it, if you have big flakes of stuff coming off. I try not to let it get to that point.

                        My grandmother had the same cast iron skillet on her stove day in and day out. It always just sat on the burner, waiting for the next meal prep. One of my favorite memories of her is when she started to make hamburgers for a bunch of us grandkids for lunch and realized she didn't have any hamburger buns. She had hot dog buns. So, she made "dog" shaped patties and cooked them up in that big ol' skillet. We thought it was great! (Grass fed beef grown right there on the farm.)