Sustainable Dharma

Finding Dharma in a Sustainable Lifestyle

Cast Iron Cleaning, Restoring, and Care

This is part 2 of 3 posts about living with cast iron

Missed part 1? Why I cook with Cast Iron Don’t miss part 3 Cooking in Cast Iron

So let’s say you have decided to take the plunge to get rid of your toxic pans and use a more sustainable cast iron set…

Now what?

Well don’t go throwing out your old pans yet. First make sure the adjustments fit your life. In my last post I did go over the cons to owning cast iron in the first post.

I have learned two things that you should keep in mind when choosing cast iron:

  1. Do not buy from Walmart, it is lower quality. Research the brands if you want to buy new cast iron. Walmart Lodge Brand is not the same as Lodge from other stores.
  2. It is easier to fix an old season than start a new one. The older the cast iron the better quality. (Most of the time)

Used cast iron is often about the same price as new, but if you look around you may find someone who just wants it gone.

No matter if you choose old or new there is work to be done.

How to Restore Old Cast Iron

When choosing which pans to buy look it over close. If it looks warped, cracked, has holes, or has “bubbles,” pass it over. These pans tend to be dangerous. If you find one of your pans is damaged in these ways, it is better to turn them into a decorative planter or wall art.

Don’t worry too much about rust, that can be fixed. If the rust is REALLY bad (starting or caused a hole,)  you don’t want to fix that pan.

Once you have your pans home scrub them out with some steel wool. Everywhere you read will say never use soap on cast iron, but this is a time that it is okay. You don’t know what all this pan has been through, and chances are you have to reseason it anyway. Use as little soap as possible, but scrub the whole pan. Don’t forget the sides and bottom of the pan.

This is a #5 pan I recently got. It is not super old like some of the other ones but it is not new either.

This will be an easy pan to fix.

A good scrub goes a long way

Keep more water nearby so you can fill it as needed.

Baking Soda is awesome for cleaning and at one point it was the main thing for cleaning dishes.

Once you get a good boil, add the baking soda. Be prepared, it will boil up and fast! More than likely it will boil over the side of the pan. BE CAREFUL you do not want to burn yourself.

This is after the baking soda was added, and it boiled down a little. You can see the oil and grossness separating from the pan. Let it boil at least an hour. Longer if it is a bad pan. Sometimes this step may need to be repeated.

Once you feel that the pan is ready, turn off the heat and let it cool enough to pour out. Did you know you are more likely to get a burn from steam than the water? We know to avoid the water on an instinct level, but we may not move away from steam.

Keep in mind that cast iron is easiest to clean when hot, so you want to move fast, but be mindful enough to not get burned. Personally this has become second nature to me, and after a long enough time it will be to you too.

Scrub it up really good with your steel wool. Once you are satisfied there is no rust or ick, rinse it out and heat it on your burner.

It is always best to heat it up cast iron after it has been cleaned out. You want to make sure there is no water left in or on the pan. It will rust in a matter of hours if there is. After you are sure it is dry, and while it is still warm, you should oil up the pan. Do this every time but when you are seasoning or restoring it, you might even need done once a day even when not used.

There are all kinds of oils, and everyone will say their way is the best. My dad swears by olive, my maternal grandmother said animal fat, and recently it was suggested I try coconut.

Personally, I use animal fats. It has always worked best for me. When I cook meat I will save the grease from the pans, and pour it into jars. I use this to oil the pans up. I like bacon grease best, but will use chicken or beef too.

You only want a light coating, and while it is still warm you should wipe up any excess with a paper towel or rag you don’t care about. If should seem “dry” with a light oil sheen when done.

Get the sides and bottom. It is solid iron so every part of it can rust. Handles should be wiped down with the oiled rag as well.

This is how you do a basic restoration, and reaseasoning. The best way to season a pan is to use it often. If it is a well seasoned pan, it is hard to destroy that. A fresh season, can be easier to mess up, but just as easy to fix.

Sometimes the pans have a dark black crust. This is carbon, and is caused by burnt on foods or being placed in the fires. This is not bad for the pan, but you may not want to cook with it. You can clean it off the same way as above, but it may make it takes more “elbow grease” and say goodbye to your manicure.

This method is best for restoring pans that are not that bad. I suggest that you stick to that, until you know you are comfortable with cast iron.

I am currently cleaning a thick layer of carbon off of a pan I got. I wish I took pictures, this pan has transformed in amazing ways. Once I got it cleaned up I learned it was made before 1900. Sadly it is an “unmarked” pan, so I only know that. I have worked on cleaning that pan for 3 days. My goal is to be able to cook on it by the end of the week. This has taken FAR more work, but under all of that carbon I can tell it still has a good season on it!

About New Cast Iron

Research is important. Know your brands. Get something made in the USA, it is better quality and tends to be smoother. Touching the cast iron is helpful, you want something as smooth as possible. Newer cast iron will be more porous than older pans, but they can be made to work as well as their older counterparts.

I do not trust preseasoned pans. I ALWAYS reseason new pans.

My dad taught me how to do this when I was 18, but I hope I never have to set up new pans again.

You can do it the same way as restoring the old pans, but I wouldn’t boil it.

First you have to bring the pan to metal as my dad would say. Scrub with soap (I know this is a cast iron sin, but when starting a new pan it is forgivable.), use steel wool and a lot of elbow grease. Get the sides, the bottom, everything. Scrub, it until it has a smooth feeling and a shine.

Rinse well, and heat dry. Oil up every side. DO NOT use cheep oil for this. If you do you might get a gloppy sticky coating. I like to use bacon grease. Bake the pan in the oven at a medium temp until the oil is baked in. Careful not to overdo the oil. No matter how good the oil, if there is too much it will be gross, and you will have to start over.

Even if you did the season correctly you can’t go cooking eggs in it without oil yet. A truly good season comes from use, and time. The more you use the pan the better it will get. After seasoning up a new pan, I like to cook a pound of bacon. I don’t do it all at once, but throughout the day.

  1. Heat the pan up, cook a panful of bacon.
  2. Pour bacon grease into a jar, and wipe out excess oil with a paper towel.
  3. Rinse, and heat dry.
  4. Let cool completely, and repeat until it I run out of the package of bacon or it no longer sticks.

The regular care of Cast Iron

You don’t want food to sit there longer than needed. That could cause it to rust. If there is just oil sitting in the pan, that wont hurt it, but you should clean it out soon.

Pans are easier when still warm. Don’t pour excess oil down the drain. Be careful if you pour it off into glass, because it can shatter. If you don’t want to save the oil you can pour it into an old coffee can and throw away later.

Always rise out the pan with clean water. Sometimes just wiping it out with a towel is enough to get everything off. If not, scrub it out with the steel wool until you get all the food off. Heat dry completely and oil up.

It is best to store cast iron in a dry place where it can breathe. If you only have one or two pans you can keep them stacked up on the back burners of your stove. If you are completely changing over like I am, then things get tricky. Hang them if you can. If you are like me and don’t have room for that, then good luck and store it in the cabinets or under the stove. Be sure to check on them often though, so they don’t rust up. If they start to rust, clean with the steal wool, rinse, heat, and oil. (I bet you kinda get the pont 🙂 Lots of oil and heat.)

If you take care of your cast iron, it will serve your family for a long time.

It can be a beautiful heirloom to hand down for generations.


2 comments on “Cast Iron Cleaning, Restoring, and Care

  1. Pingback: Cooking in Cast Iron | Sustainable Dharma

  2. Pingback: Why I Cook With Cast Iron | Sustainable Dharma

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2015 by in Cleaning, Sustainable Living and tagged , , , .
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