Friday, May 1, 2020

How to Clean and Season a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet

I'm sharing some cleaning hacks to the blog since I'm stuck at home during the quarantine and I've been busy deep cleaning my house. I'm sure most people who are also in their houses 24/7 are doing the same thing. The situation stinks, but on the bright side I'm getting so many projects done that have sat on the backburner for years.

One of those projects was trying to salvage a rusty cast iron skillet that Cory found in the basement in a box. Who knows where it came from since we collect things that tenants leave behind and friends and family give us stuff all the time that they no longer want. Either way it was ours now, rust and all.

Over the past couple of years I've come to find out that cast-iron pans are pretty awesome. I love that I can cook food on the stovetop and then move it straight into the oven to finish it off. I've made some amazing pork chops and steaks in my large cast iron skillet that would not have turned out the same without it!

The "new" one Cory found was a smaller version (8") of my big one (11 1/2") and every inch of it was covered with rust. I really wanted to use this smaller pan to make cornbread, omelettes, quesadillas or if I just needed to cook for one.

I had to make sure that I could even salvage my pan so I researched first and one of my favorite articles that I referred to was from Alice's Kitchen. She suggested cleaning the rusty cast-iron pan with vinegar, and that's the technique I'm going to show you all today.

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Rust Remover Supplies:

-Bucket or Sink that is big enough for your pan
-Gentle Soap (I used Dawn since it's gentle enough for baby ducklings)
-Rusty Cast-Iron Skillet

The first thing I wanted to try was to see if I could scrub any of the rust off my pan with a steel wool pad. If that worked I wouldn't have to use vinegar to remove the rust.

It was pretty obvious that I wasn't getting any of the rust off after a minute of scrubbing, I even put a tiny bit of water in the pan to see if that would help. Maybe if my pan only had a small amount of rust, or if it had just started rusting it would have come off with just a quick scrub of steel wool.

After that failure it was on to the next step: soaking the pan in an equal amount of vinegar and water. Since my pan was small enough to fit in the sink, that’s where I did my soak. I filled it with enough water and vinegar to cover the entire pan. I used 9 cups of water and 9 cups of vinegar. My large pan would probably require at least one whole big bottle of vinegar since it barely fits in my sink.

Sidenote- I know it looks like I also put a plant in with my soaking solution but I assure you that is just a reflection of my money tree that insisted on being in the picture.

The rusty pan can soak for as long as 1-8 hours in the vinegar/water solution but should be checked every hour of so to see if the rust comes off easily or is flaking off. Once the rust starts coming off, if the pan is still exposed to the vinegar it can ruin the cast-iron beyond repair.

Since I'm super impatient, I tried scratching some rust off with my fingernail when it had only been soaking for 20 minutes and it flaked off revealing a silver pan underneath (and here I thought my extremely rusty pan would take the full 8 hours)!

I pulled the pan from the soaking solution and started scrubbing it with steel wool and Dawn dish soap. Normally you would never clean a cast-iron pan with soap but it's necessary to remove the rust and it's going to be (re)seasoned after it's clean so it's totally ok in this situation.

I scrubbed the the rust off a large section and saw that my pan was indeed silver underneath the rust. I was very concerned and even questioned if it was even really cast iron but a quick google told me that the "black" on cast iron pans comes from a black seasoning that is typically used during manufacturing and that cast-iron will turn black after cooking with it for a while. Feeling like my whole life was a lie, I continued to scrub my pan until I removed all the rust.

Now that my pan was rust free, clean and dry I needed to season it.

Seasoning Cast-Iron Supplies:

-Paper towel or rag
-Cookie Sheet
-Cast-iron pan that needs seasoning

It's pretty simple to season a cast-iron pan. Just pour about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into your pan.

Then wipe the oil all over the pan, including the bottom ( I did the handle as well).

Preheat your oven to 350 and put the pan upside down on the middle rack. Make sure to also put a cookie sheet in the oven with foil over the top of it on the bottom rack to catch any oil that will drip off the oiled cast-iron skillet. Bake for 1 hour and let the skillet cool for about 45 minutes until storing or using.

I seasoned my pan 3 times hoping that it would darken to the deep black cast-iron (like my other pan) but as you can see it did not turn black. It wasn't grey anymore though, it was now a muddy, bronze brown. The brown cast iron skillet would be perfectly fine to cook with and will turn black eventually with usage, but I wanted my pan black now.

So I again turned to google after cooking with my brown pan for several days and only seeing it get slightly darker. I found the answer on Chowhound in a question and answer post. Most people suggested just using the pan and/or making bacon would speed up the process. But Leepa said that using a thin layer of Crisco in a hot oven would do the trick.

So I tried the Crisco method and lo and behold it worked! I did not take pictures of the first time I did the process because I honestly didn't think it would work but I did snap some of the second round because there were still a couple spots I wanted to get even darker.

Blackening Cast-Iron Supplies:

-Cookie Sheet
-Cast-iron pan that needs blackening

The blackening process is pretty much identical to the seasoning process with just  a couple of slight differences. First preheat the oven to 500 degrees. While the oven is preheating put your pan on a lit burner to warm it up for a minute. After the pan is warm dip your pastry brush in Crisco, brush the Crisco on the pan as sparingly as possibly.

The Crisco will melt as soon as it hits the warm pan. I brushed it on the entire pan including the handle. Then put it in the preheated oven with the foil lined cookie sheet on the rack below (just like when seasoning). Bake for 2 hours and then shut the oven off and let the pan cool inside the oven.

I have to admit my pan looks great now that it's black! I almost feel like I could have skipped the traditional seasoning method and done just the Crisco but I'm totally ok with putting on layers of seasoning to make my pan even more non-stick.

After finally getting my pan to be truly black I am completely satisfied. Here's a look at all the stages of "refurbishing" my cast-iron skillet.

One more comparison of a before and after.

Hopefully this post helps you save a cast-iron skillet! Now I'm off to cook on my brand new pan and get more quarantine projects done!


  1. Hi Sherri,
    Thanks for your post on the cast iron skillet. I can say I have cooked with cast iron pans for 30 years and still love them. The heat is distributed so evenly and they respond gradually to changes in the heat. Also they can go from stove top to oven as you mentioned. Also I hand wash them with dish soap just like my other dishes and no problem.

  2. I have read that some people wash their cast-iron with soap and water without a problem. I never have because I'm scared that it will ruin the seasoning.


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