Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reconditioning & Re-Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

I LOVE cooking with cast iron. As more reports come out about the dangers of nonstick pans and the toxins that they can emit, I appreciate my cast iron cookware more and more. They distribute heat evenly, can stand up to almost any abuse, and will last for many years - some of the pieces in my collection are around 100 years old! 

Most people I know think that cast iron skillets are solely for making cornbread or for frying. I use mine for everything from homemade cinnamon rolls & scrambled eggs, to steaks and roasted chickens. The only thing I DON'T do in my cast iron is boil water.  
 
I seek out older cast iron pieces, made back when the pieces were machine polished to a smooth glassy surface after casting. All newer pieces are simply cast, and will have a more textured surface. Since I prefer old pieces, I typically find cast iron cookware in poor shape; neglected, rusty, and coated with years of caked-on burned food and seasoning. Luckily, these pieces can be fully restored for just a few dollars, a bit of elbow grease and patience.

Greg has a great restoration tutorial over on his Black Iron Blog. His method is the one I have used for over 10 antique pieces so far, all with amazing results.

I picked up this Birmingham Stove & Range skillet and this Griswold skillet at a local junk store. Both pieces have some surface rust as well as caked-on seasoning and grime. But, both set flat and do not have any cracks. I've found that, the grungier & rustier the piece, the cheaper the price. 

Birmingham Stove & Range Skillet, made here in Birmingham, AL. Picked up for $5.00.

A heat ring on the bottom is usually a good sign that the piece is an old one.

Griswold Skillet; one of the most sought-after brands by collectors. I got this one for $16.00 and have seen this exact same skillet go for $175.00+ on eBay.
The bottom shows a lot of old seasoning that has built up over time.
All that is needed for the reconditioning process are a few inexpensive, readily available items: 

Heavy-duty Oven Cleaner (I used Easy-Off)*
Gloves
Garbage Bags
White Distilled Vinegar
Steel Wool (#0000)

*EDIT 05/2012* This post has become VERY popular recently thanks to Pinterest! Since some commenters have had some concerns about the oven cleaner, I wanted to give a little more information about the chemicals. Oven cleaner contains lye, which IS a caustic agent, typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. The lye residue is washed off of the skillet, neutralized with an acid soak (vinegar), then washed again and coated with seasoning.Lye is used in many everyday items such as soap; it also shows up in food preparation, from olive curing, to lutefisk (eww), to making authentic pretzels. It's also used for biodiesel!

Lye is very hygroscopic, meaning it will pull moisture out of the air. This is why, when being used on grimy cast iron, the aerosol foam ends up becoming a brown liquid. It's dissolving when it contacts the air, which results in VERY little if any of the lye being absorbed into the metal.

Even groups such as the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association RECOMMEND the oven cleaner method for reconditioning cast iron.

Some people advise using high heat or a self-cleaning oven cycle (which uses high heat) to clean cast iron. I shy away from this method mainly because the majority of my cast iron collection is antique. High heat CAN and WILL warp or even crack fragile cast iron. Plus, my oven doesn't have a self-cleaning cycle. I also can't simply throw my cast iron in a fire, being that I live in the suburbs, and setting yard fires is strongly frowned upon here! 

*EDIT 06/2013* This method is for 'plain' cast iron ONLY. It is NOT for enameled cast iron such as Le Creuset. Do NOT try this with enameled cast iron.

*EDIT 06/2014*  Please read through the entire post and comments before posting questions. Many questions being posted have been answered in the comment section. Unfortunately, I've had to turn comment moderation on due to some commenters not being able to behave like civilized adults.

Coat the cast iron piece (top and bottom) with the oven cleaner, making sure to wear gloves. Oven cleaner is basically aerosolized lye foam and is very caustic. It WILL burn your skin. Place the coated piece in a garbage bag and seal tightly to prevent the oven cleaner from drying out. 

Griswold Skillet, coated in Easy-Off Heavy Duty oven cleaner

Four skillets, coated in oven cleaner and bagged.


This is where patience comes in. You will need to wait several days for the oven cleaner to loosen and remove the old seasoning. I usually check after 2 days, then wipe off the cleaner and apply a fresh coat and check again after 3 days.

Griswold skillet after a 2-day soak in oven cleaner. 
For especially grimy pieces, letting the pieces soak for about a week is usually sufficient. Once the old seasoning has been removed, the skillet will be restored to it's original cast. The iron will be a silvery-gray color. There may still be surface rust present, which has to be removed before the skillet can be seasoned. 

Remove the lye and old seasoning by wiping off the grime with a paper towel and then washing the skillet with hot water.

Next, the lye needs to be neutralized, and any surface rust will need to be softened to make it easier to remove. Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white distilled vinegar for 30-60 minutes. This should soften any surface rust enough that it can be easily scrubbed away with steel wool. Wash the skillet with soap and hot water and dry it thoroughly. 

Birmingham Stove & Range skillet after a 5-day soak in oven cleaner.


Birmingham Stove & Range skillet after a vinegar soak to remove rust.
At this point, the skillet has been cleaned down to the bare metal and must be seasoned immediately to prevent rusting (especially here in Alabama with our humidity!).

To season, place the cleaned, dry skillet upside-down in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Increase the temperature to 500 degrees and let the skillet heat up for 45 minutes. At this point, the skillet will be EXTREMELY hot, so be careful removing it from the oven. Turn off the oven.

Season the skillet with a coating of lard. I render my own lard for cooking and baking, but use inexpensive storebought lard for seasoning. Some people also use shortening (Crisco) or olive oil. Rub the lard all over the entire skillet with paper towels; the hot skillet will absorb the oil and begin to turn brown. The oil will likely smoke as well; this is normal. Using clean paper towels, rub off the excess oil so that the skillet just appears wet. With seasoning, like painting, your aim should be for multiple thin layers rather than a single thick layer.

Return the oiled skillet to the oven (upside-down to prevent pooling) and let the skillet cool while the oven cools. Wipe any excess oil off every 10-15 minutes to prevent any pooling or buildup. Every 30 minutes or so, repeat seasoning with a fresh application of lard or oil, remembering to wipe off the excess oil. After one hour, open the oven door slightly to help cool the oven faster.

At this point, the skillet should be completely reconditioned, seasoned and ready for use.

Birmingham Stove & Range Skillet, Before & After

Birmingham Stove & Range Skillet, Before & After

Griswold Skillet, Before & After

 Griswold Skillet, Before & After

It will take time and additional layers of seasoning before the piece becomes black and glossy. To preserve the seasoning, do not use soap on the skillet unless absolutely necessary.

The best way I have found to care for my cast iron is to clean the pieces while still hot after cooking. My well-seasoned pieces need little more than a wipe with a clean paper towel. On occasion, depending on what was cooked, I will use hot water and a nylon scrubber (see the Amazon link below for the brand I prefer). Afterwards, I towel-dry the skillet thoroughly and warm it over a low to medium-low burner to be sure that all of the moisture has evaporated. I then apply a tiny bit of lard to the skillet while still hot, and, using clean paper towels, remove all of the melted lard except for the thinnest possible layer. 

I also store my skillets stacked with paper towels in between each one to prevent scratching and to absorb any moisture. 

The best way to quickly build up a good layer of seasoning on cast iron? Use it! Cook as many meals as possible in your cast iron. It will thank you with years of use and provide you with an heirloom piece of cookware to pass down to another generation.

694 comments:

  1. Nice Tutorial! I'm sold - gotta get some cast on the next yard sale hunt - along with a yogurt maker, too. Thanks, Julia! Wow, that Griswold is a work of art now.

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    1. Christa just thought that I would let you know that you don't need a yogurt maker to make yogurt. I make mine on the stove then it sits overnight in a cooler surrounded by milk jugs filled with hot water. Has worked everytime for me. The cooler keeps the heat in and it sets up just right.

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    2. Truly great. We use outdoor fire with hardwood for conditioning, have also used hickory charcoal this adds flavor.

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    3. My Aunt gave me a great way to clean out an old cast iron, build a hot camp fire and bury the skillet in the hot coals and let sit over night until the fire is cooled down completely then scrub out and season. It takes off all the old build up and is like new again!

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    4. Thank you i have a few pieces as well as a dutch oven I'd like to try this on.

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    5. A vintage wide-mouth Thermos with a glass liner also works well for making yogurt.

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    6. I boil my rusty ones in grass clippings a couple of hours & just pour out the rust.

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  2. Thanks!! Just don't be afraid to buy cast iron that looks rusty and crusty - obviously it can become beautiful again!

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    1. I love this helpful tutorial. This is very beneficial. I have a question... A recommendation came to me to use pharmaceutical grade mineral oil for the seasoning as it does not go rancid as other oils can. Have you tried that? Do you have any thoughts about that? My husband also tends to use Pam spray for seasoning it.

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    2. Never say "ew" to lutefisk! =]

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  3. I'm in the process of reconditioning the cast-iron collection I inherited from my grandmother, so this was really helpful. I'm glad I came across it. Thanks! I've read that flaxseed oil is the ideal oil for seasoning cast iron. Once it's on, apparently, it never comes off. Molecular structure, liquid evaporation rate, yadda yadda. It's what I'm going to use once I've followed your stripping process.

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  4. Jesse, please update me on how your reconditioning process goes - lucky you to inherit a nice collection!

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  5. Very nice tutorial.
    I love my cast iron - and find I use it more if I simply keep it on my stove at all times :)

    ~ Dana
    Cooking at Cafe D

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    1. I tend to keep my "regular use" skillets in the oven so they are always close at hand!

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  6. I was really excited when I saw this on pinterest, but wouldn't this oven cleaner that is so caustic be HORRIBLE to have soaked in to your pan? I don't know much about cast iron, but isn't it kind of porous to soak in the seasoning? I just am wondering if this is even safe, especially since at the beginning of the post you talked about getting rid of toxins in your cookware..

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    1. Luckily, the oven cleaner is removed through the scrubbing, AND the base pH is neutralized by the vinegar bath. The cast iron isn't very porous, plus, the oven cleaner is considered safe to use in an oven.

      On top of that, any residue will be cooked off by the high heat in the oven when seasoning!

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    2. I really wish there was a safer way to do this, but the research I've done makes me really question the safety of this. Oven cleaners are known to NOT be very safe and all cleaners leave a residue no matter how much scrubbing you do. The PH levels get balanced w/ natural products, not toxic chemicals. The oven is steel, not cast iron. From what I found cast iron is in fact incredibly porous. When you season a pan you use oils which will seal in any residue left behind. When cleaning cast iron, supposedly you are only supposed to use soaps if you absolutely have to, and if so, a very mild one b/c of the porous metals... I am writing this, hoping you may try and find a safer way to do this to keep your family healthy.

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    3. Sorry- I misread the info about the the PH and oven cleaner, but the rest of it is very concerning to me :/ I think I'll keep on looking for another method. Thanks :)

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    4. I understand your concerns, Laura. Due to my Biology/Chemistry background (majored in one in college, minored in the other), I feel that the oven cleaner, being lye, is OK to use. However, others may not agree, and that's ok, too!

      I do agree on not using soaps to clean cast iron; the ONLY time I do it is after reconditioning. Once the pans are good and seasoned again, I use hot water and a nylon scrubby thing, and that's it.

      I understand your concerns, Laura. Due to my Biology/Chemistry background (majored in one in college, minored in the other), I feel that the oven cleaner, being lye, is OK to use. However, others may not agree, and that's ok, too!

      I do agree on not using soaps to clean cast iron; the ONLY time I do it is after reconditioning. Once the pans are good and seasoned again, I use hot water and a nylon scrubby thing, and that's it.

      Thanks so much for your comments - if you don't mind me asking, what led you to this page! I ask only because in the last 24 hours, my traffic for this page alone has gone through the roof!!

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    5. ^please ignore the duplicated paragraph!

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    6. Julia, it has to be Pinterest...that's how I got here! ;-D

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    7. there is an online recipe for all natural oven cleaner u could use instead on a blog called crunchy betty. it works the same way as the nasty sprays without harsh chemicals or fumes.

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    8. If you are looking for a non chemical method of stripping the pan down to it's bare casting media blasting (sand blasting) is an alternative. I've used it simply because I don't like chemicals and I'm just really not that patient to wait days for something I can do in minutes.

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    9. The only caveat to sandblasting, is that, if you aren't skilled at it, or paying attention, you CAN pit the metal. For newer cast iron pieces that have not been machined smooth after casting, this isn't such a big deal, as the cooking surface is already textured. But, on older pieces, which are a thinner cast and have been machined smooth, you have to be extra careful.

      That being said, if you're good at sandblasting, or know someone who is, you can strip a cruddy skillet REALLY quickly!

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    10. Even simpler: put the cast iron in your oven and run the self-cleaning cycle. Or put inside your wood stove when you have a nice hot fire going, take out in the morning before re-stoking.

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    11. I always clean the rusty ones during the cleaning cycle of my oven, no chemicals for me!

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  7. This was so helpful and TIMELY!! Just tonight I was looking at my iron skillet my mom gave me some time ago. It needs some attention! This tutorial was so wonderful! thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Pam! I like to grab up rusty and crusty cast iron at antique/junk shops, since the dirtier ones are usually cheaper. It really does work!

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  8. That is so very cool! I have been considering going to cast iron since I have been worried about the non-stick coating on my pans. As well, they just can't take the abuse like these older pans. Does this work as well for newer cast iron pots when they start looking bad?

    Budget Earth - Shopping List for Healthy Earting

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    1. Absolutely! This won't work for enameled cast iron (like Le Creuset), but you can use it on any cast iron, regardless of age.

      For example, I bought a cast iron griddle to use on the grill. The FIRST time I used it, I burned the living daylights out of some fish, and it would NOT come off. So, I sprayed on the oven cleaner, bagged it overnight, and the next day it was like new!

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  9. Putting the oven cleaner on is at the least as bad as the nonstick coating. I put mine in a fire in the fire place the next morning take it out wash and oil done . Looks like new and no chemicals.
    But you must use wood not a fire place log that you have bought at a store .

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    1. Unfortunately for me, living in the city and without a fireplace, it's not easy for me to use the fire method. However, I HAVE read about using a good hot fire, and apparently that's how things used to be done a long time ago. Maybe sometime in the future I'll get to try it out for myself!

      Thanks so much for your comments - if you don't mind me asking, what led you to this page? I ask only because in the last 24 hours, my traffic for this page alone has gone through the roof!!

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    2. its all pintrest thats how i found your page. it is all over it one person pinned it now u are getting lots of hits.

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    3. Just want to add that I got here from pinterest too! Thanks for the informative post! My son just gave me two rusty iron skillets and I knew there was a way to recondition them but haven't looked into yet. Stumbled upon a pin to your blog while wasting time on Pinterest and voila, here I am :)

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  10. Wow! This is fantastic information. I have a cast iron pan that I haven't used in years (well, to be more accurate - I've NEVER used it), as I inherited it and had no clue what to do. I'm going to try this.

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    1. Thanks, Pattie! Please let me know how it turns out!

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  11. The thing with cast-iron pans is they ARE porous, extremely so. So much so that you are not supposed to use dish soap too often because it is considered too abrasive. The pan looks beautiful when you are finished with it, but I would never use oven-cleaner on a pan (especially soaking for a few days) in which I am going to cook my food! No thank you... tones of chemicals! This is not safe at all. :\ Yes, oven cleaner is safe in an oven, but you don't cook your food directly in the oven. There is a better way to take care of your cast-iron pan, it takes longer (and when I say longer, I really mean longer: weeks!) but I brought mine up from out of the grave with this method. Please check it out. Much safer!!

    http://joythebaker.com/2008/09/learn-to-love-your-cast-iron-skillet/#.Ty9hklrRfY0.facebook

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    1. The reason you don't use soap on cast iron (or stoneware) isn't because soap is too abrasive or that the pan/stoneware is porous (stoneware in fact is virtually poreLESS); it is because of how soap works. Soap bonds with oils and removes the oil from the surface taking the dirt with it. Soap itself doesn't clean or disinfect... however, because it bonds with oil (that's why soap is drying to your skin, it is removing your skin's natural oils), it will also remain on the pan with the seasoning and can make your food taste soapy for several cookings until the soap has all been removed by bonding to the oils in your food or as been covered in new seasoning.

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  12. Woops, I meant you don't cook your food directly ON** on oven surface. :)

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    1. Whitney, I appreciate your concerns, but oven cleaner is lye, which, though harsh and caustic, is used in SOAPS, and I feel comfortable using it on my cast iron, thanks to my college background in both biology and chemistry (majored in one, minored in the other).

      Several websites go further into detail on the reaction of lye with the 'crud' that accumulates on the cast iron; the lye is not harmful to the metal (drain cleaners also contain lye, and they are safe for plumbing pipes, many of which are made from cast iron).

      That being said, I appreciate your comments - can you please let me know how you found this page? Thanks!!

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    2. I thought you weren't supposed to use soap because it would remove the oil "seasoning" on the pan.... I think people are mixing up what they've been taught about their Pampered chef stoneware with cast iron--i.e. don't wash the stoneware with soap or your pizza tastes like soap.

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    3. Becky, I only use soap when stripping the old seasoning off of the pan, to remove any gunk before starting from a bare surface. Once the first layer of seasoning goes on, I don't use soap unless absolutely necessary (aka, if something REALLY gets cooked on there).

      I definitely don't use soap on stone, because it WILL soak in that soap flavor. Ask me how I know, LOL.

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    4. Thanks for your reply Julia, and the info. That makes sense. I found the page through Pinterest.

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  13. Girls, oven-cleaner is really just lye soap, caustic, yes, but the same lye that has been around for a MILLENNIA!

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  14. This is great! Just this morning I was cleaning my range, and was looking at my iron grills...and my husband suggested oven cleaner..I said..oh, no...we couldnt use oven cleaner on them...guess I was wrong!! Ive "seasoned" them before, but maybe I just need to strip them down and start again! Thanks!

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    1. You're welcome, Julie! Thanks for reading!

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  15. First of all, THANK YOU ALL for your comments! I'm not sure how you all got here, but the traffic on this page alone SOARED overnight.

    I'd like to address some of your concerns about using the oven cleaner. First of all, the oven cleaner is basically just aerosolized lye, or sodium hydroxide, aka "caustic soda". This same lye is used in drain cleaners, but is also an integral ingredient in making soap from rendered fats or tallows. It's also used in the creation of biodiesel!

    Also, originally, lye was made by leaching the chemical from hardwood ashes, this is why another form of lye, known as potassium hydroxide, was also known as "potash".

    For those of you who fear that lye on the cast iron will poison your food, please keep in mind that lye is actually used in food preparation as well; from making lutefisk (which, I'll admit, is pretty foul), to curing olives and making pretzels.

    Lye is very hygroscopic, meaning it will pull moisture out of the air. This is why, when being used on grimy cast iron, the aerosol foam ends up becoming a brown liquid. It's dissolving when it contacts the air, which results in VERY little if any of the lye being absorbed into the metal.

    Even groups such as the Griswold & Cast Iron Cookware Association RECOMMEND the oven cleaner method for reconditioning cast iron: http://www.gcica.org/clean-iron.html

    Some people advise using high heat or a self-cleaning oven cycle (which uses high heat) to clean cast iron. I shy away from this method mainly because the majority of my cast iron collection is antique. High heat CAN and WILL warp or even crack fragile cast iron.

    However, I firmly believe that EVERYONE is entitled to their opinions - if the thought of using lye on your pans freaks you out, that's totally OK and understandable, as I myself have concerns over certain chemicals as well.

    I do feel safe with my method of cleaning pans, and I appreciate every single comment on here, even if you don't agree with me :)

    - Julia

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  16. Hi- Thanks for the tutorial.
    I found you through Pinterest - I suspect that's where your traffic increase may be coming from! Glad I found your blog.. off to explore other posts!

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca! I usually get like 200-300 views on a post - this one is at 14k and growing!

      And THANK YOU for reading - hope you enjoy! :)

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  17. Julia - this is making the rounds on Pinterest which is why your traffic has soared.

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    1. Thanks, Gretchen! I have yet to join Pinterest, but maybe now I will!

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  18. Don't think I would use oven cleaner to get the gunk off...(.very toxic).My hubby stuck them in the fire pit in the back yard, stuff came right off.

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    1. Glad I saw your comment. My grandmother always buried her cast iron in a wood fire in the back yard to clean it. After years of cooking in oilfield camps, that was her method. I do it in our heavy wood-burning smoker while hubby is smoking briskets...just add a skillet to the firebox and leave it for the time it takes the fire to totally burn out. My cast iron is a collection from her, my husband's grandmother and his great-grandmother. Some is well over a hundred years old. All is beautiful black and shiny, though it wasn't always like that.
      Oh...wipe out with paper towels after use, then clean mine with coarse salt and a half a lemon. Sprinkle salt on lemon, rub onto skillet.

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  19. Thanks for the tutorial. They look great! One of my favorite things to make in a cast iron skillet is deep dish pizza.

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    1. Deep Dish Pizza? Is there a recipe out there for this? It sounds amazing!

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    2. I did this in a springform pan for the blog, but have used a skillet instead!

      http://www.ibelieveicanfry.com/2012/01/chicago-stuffed-pizza.html

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  20. this is
    absolutely brilliant

    thanks for the tutorial!

    alison

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    1. You're welcome, Alison - thanks for reading!

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  21. When I tried to recon edition some cast iron I just gave it a week- long vinegar bath and lots of steel wool +elbow grease. It looked beautiful when in the vinegar bath but when I took it out it still had rust. What's the issue?

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    1. Here in Alabama, it's REALLY humid; as in, so humid that I HAVE to season my pans AS SOON as they come out of the vinegar bath. The "virgin" metal can rust simply from the moisture out of the air!

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  22. Found your blog on Pinterest. LOVE the idea of using the oven cleaner, so much easier and SAFER than soaking in a bucket of red devil lye which is how I used to clean my cast iron every 10 or 15 years...

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    1. I've seen the Red Devil method before, but it's REALLY hard to find here now (thanks to meth-heads, I guess!), and the oven cleaner is easier to deal with (for me at least!).

      If you try my method, please let me know how it turns out!

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  23. Thank you for this tutorial. I'm 27 and have only been using cast iron for 2 years. My grandmother and mom have been using it for years, but it scares me a little. I've seen online that people make sweets (cakes, pies...generally sticky stuff) in cast iron pans. How do you sufficiently clean them? Do you really only use water and the nylon bush? I want to cook more in my cast iron, but I guess I'm afraid I will ruin it! :)

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    1. I also found this post on Pinterest. Word travels fast! :)

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    2. Hot water and a nylon scrubby (I like the SOS Tuffy kind, but the Dobie pads work well, too!) always works for me. If you have something REALLY stuck on, add a bit of water, and heat it up on the stove over low heat, and that will usually help loosen it.

      I try to NEVER use soap, but if I HAVE to, I try to use a really mild soap. Also, for sticky stuff, you can even sprinkle on some coarse salt for some extra abrasion!

      Don't fear ruining cast iron - unless it warps or cracks (which takes a LOT of abuse to accomplish!), you can't ruin it. Even if it gets rusty and crusty, you can ALWAYS bring it back - that's part of the beauty of cast iron!

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    3. Baking soda also works well to clean both cast iron and Pampered Chef stoneware.

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  24. I've been trying to find a good way to clean my cast iron pans. My hubby put them in a fire pit (in winter) and FORGOT to take them out so now every one of them is rusted. Thank you for posting this. I'm very anxious to try it. :)
    Oh yeah, I found this on Pinterest.

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    1. I hope it works for you, Sharon! Cast iron, luckily, is VERY forgiving and can take a LOT of abuse :)

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  25. I found you on Pinterest!! AND repinned this...I am def. going to try this on my iron skillets..Thank you for sharing!!

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    1. You're welcome! Thank you for re-pinning, too!

      PS: LOVE the username :)

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  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  27. Ok...so if it is recommended and some frowning upon oven cleaner, here's a thought:

    If the oven cleaner is to clean your oven (and the cast iron), why can't you use the "self-cleaning" aspect (and as many times necessary to get the "grime" off) of your oven? Now, of course I don't have such a brilliant idea if you DON'T have that feature on your oven...but this idea might work if you do.

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    1. Unfortunately, my oven isn't self-cleaning :(

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    2. We've used the self cleaning feature on the oven to clean a cast iron skillet and griddle. You need to put them on the rack upside down so the stuff will run out. It worked beautifully and then we seasoned them with flaxseed oil. The caution that we saw online regarding the self cleaning oven is that a heavily soiled pan could possibly catch on fire and if you can't unlock your oven you can't do anything about it. We didn't have that problem and we love the results.

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  28. This is so amazing! I only have a cast iron skillet, but I have seen so many cast iron pieces at garage sales around my area in the past years. I have always been turned off by the amount of grime they always have, though. Now that I know that's a way to do something about that, I'm totally going hunting for pieces to begin a collection! And I must admit that I was worried about the oven cleaner at first as well, but after reading your comments, I feel much safer about it. Thank you! :)

    (Found you via Pinterest.)

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    1. Thanks, Penelope!

      Junk stores and thrift shops are GREAT places to hunt for old cast iron; typically, older pieces will have a thinner cast and a smooth surface. Some will even have a heat ring on the bottom! One of my FAVORITE skillets I've ever scored was 100+ years old, greasy/sticky, and covered in "barnacles" of buildup. Once I paid my $8, got it home and cleaned it, I discovered it was a GORGEOUS Griswold!

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    2. Hi, Julia!

      I am so like Penelope. My husband and I would often see cast iron skillets and dutch ovens in thrift stores but were always put off by the rust and grime buildup that we never have bought any. Now we know how to handle such items and would even look for them specifically the next time we go thrift store shopping.

      Thanks a lot for this information, including your explanation on oven cleaner and how it works. Found you re-pinned on Pinterest.

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    3. I am lucky that my Dad has an estate sale business so I get to come across some really nice stuff. I just bought a Griswold large block #7. It is is excellent shape and seasoned. Using your method right now on another pan. What do you have in your collection?

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  29. I make my own goat milk soap using lye and oils and I'm always surprised by the amount of freaking out people do when they find out I use lye to make the soap. I even printed out a informational sheet to answer the common questions as I felt like I could give the speech in my sleep! lol. Thanks for the tutorial. I also found you on Pinterest.

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    1. Loggerhead, I SWEAR by lye soap; even the "natural" body washes found in stores strip my skin bare until it's ashen and itchy. Lye soaps are the only ones that keep my skin clean yet balanced; not too dry, but not scummy/filmy like SOME bar soaps can do.

      Needless to say, I'm ok with washing with lye, and OK with having it on my skillets :)

      Delete
  30. ok, cleaning aside, what causes the pans to turn food black (hashbrowns)? I do not use soap on mine but when I rinse them out after using I put the pan back on the stove and use heat to dry it out, then I spray lightly with Pam to stop the rust. Sometimes when I wipe the pan out with a paper towel, it will be dark to black. Should I use your lye method to clean and start over?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never had an issue with food turning black from using cast iron.

      After cooking, usually while the pan is still hot, I rinse with HOT water, gently scrub out any food particles with a nylon scrubber, then wipe dry and place the skillet over a stove eye on low heat to dry it completely. I never use Pam to season, as it's a stickier oil, usually with a much lower smoke point, which might be causing the blackening. I do apply a LIGHT coating of seasoning back to the skillet after washing, wiping off all but a very sheer layer with a paper towel.

      However, when seasoning, I typically use lard or shortening.

      You probably don't need to strip your pan, but perhaps try using a different seasoning oil to build up a few new layers of seasoning. Good luck!

      Delete
  31. I found your site on Pinterest. Love your post about the cast iron skillets. I love my cast iron, even though I can only use it in the oven because I have a ceramic cooktop. :( We have several in a shed outside, which unfortunately have rusted and need major reconditioning. I had no clue where to begin. I will definitely give this a try. One is a large, deep rectangle pan we used for frying fish on an outdoor cooker. Can't wait to try this and see how they turn out. Thanks again for the post. I'll be reading more of your blog as well. Best wishes!

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  32. I to have past-up cast iron at sales because I didn't know how to clean them, I will now be looking for them, love cast iron, cooking in cast goes back a long way in my family. But I must admit I only use mine for cornbread, I use shortening for seasoning and wash with water/ nylon scrubby/ dry thoroughly, season and hang. The younger people feel that this is too much work, so sad.

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    1. I agree completely about people thinking it's too much work - I'm 31, and NOBODY my age uses cast iron. I love it since it's something that can easily outlive me! Most of the pieces I own are nearly 100 years old as well.

      Also, you know that cornbread is ONLY good when cooked in cast iron :)

      Delete
  33. I'm also 31 and live for my cast iron pieces! Truly, a little-known wonder. Hooray to you for motivating so many others to start falling in love with cast iron :)

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  34. Hi...I think the easy off method is just fine and am planning on using it. Thanks for the tutorial. Sherron

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    1. You're welcome, Sherron - thanks for reading!

      Delete
  35. Great turorial .... I have one question... I have always been told that you shouldn't use any soap or chemical to clean cast iron because the iron will obsorb it and then it will come out in your food when you cook .... Is that true and if so would it be safe to use the oven cleaner.?

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  36. Don't have a problem with the Easy Off, but a self cleaning oven works too. I just put them on the floor of the oven and run the clean cycle (got a mat on the bottom so that's clean. Then re-season. Oh, yeah, Pinterest too.

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    Replies
    1. ahaha I have always wondered if this would work, but was too afraid to try!
      thanks

      Delete
  37. Awesome post! As a country gal I cook EVERYTHING IN CAST IRON: as well as use it in my decor ; not to mention I have many pieces from Inherited family, how this made my day!!!! @also, Oven Cleaner may not be safe, bit if you cook the doggone thing @500 for that long anything will burn off! Sheesh ppl, be appreciative instead of criticizing- Thanks Im very happy with this:):):) have a blessed day:)- btw pinterest is awesome!!!

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    1. Paulam1, I LOVE your attitude!! I bet you have a cast iron collection that would rival mine!

      Finally joined the pinterest ranks last night, and it's great!

      Delete
    2. Just to be clear... I wasn't criticizing anyone.... I was asking a simple damn question ...! I havnt had much experience with cast iron ... A few friends of ours who have, told me that and since I have just recently gotten some cast iron I was asking since I wasn't sure. No need to jump to conclusion.!

      Delete
  38. Thank you for this tutorial. I have my dad's old cast iron skillet, and it looks a mess. I was thinking of tossing it, but something told me not to.

    I can't wait to try your method. I was a little concerned about the oven cleaner piece, but I've gotten over that, thanks to your thoughtful responses on that issue.

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    1. You're welcome, Tracey! I've been using my restored cast iron AT LEAST several times a week since I first made this post, and I'm still here!

      FWIW, I had a dr's appt about a month ago where they had to run allllll the bloodwork tests, and everything was A-OK, so I don't feel at all wary of the oven cleaner! I probably breathe in far worse when I clean the bathroom, to be honest!

      Good luck restoring Dad's old skillet - please keep me posted and let me know how it turns out!

      Delete
  39. Oh now I want a cast iron...how'd I get by the past 40 years without one?! Thank you for all the helpful info and cast iron skillets will be on my garage sale/second-hand store search list :) Oh...found you through Pinterest! Love pinterest, I find things I didn't know I was looking for, lol - it is the best search engine made up of real people and not what some web browser thinks I'm looking for :)

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  40. hi, i found this on pinterest, I have been using cast iron exclusively for at least 30 years (since I left home and got a new one from my grandmother...then subsequently inherited a few, found a couple at garage sale, etc. I have old and newer ones, and personally like the newer rough ones b/c they season up faster. By trial and error, and observing my grandmother, I learned to store with paper towels, put a fine coat of oil on after use, and some other things...personally, I think u can taste and smell soap if used. I generally don't even use water unless needed...I use kosher salt and something dry to scrub it around with...a paper towel, a nylon scrubber, etc. This is usually enough. If I do get it wet, I dry immediately, put on burner, then lightly oil etc.

    I had some room mates with children who used a few of my pans and then let them sit in hot soapy water...or room mates who thought they were being helpful if they saw oil on my pan, and washed it off!...most of them are not in good condition now, altho I will fix them up.

    but, I only wish I would have seen this post last month! the kids got my favorite tiny one so rusty I could not get it off with my usually methods, so I threw it away..it was good just for scrambling a couple eggs or one hamburger patty and i loved it!

    thanks for the helpful info and links, and now I know what my griswold is worth, lol...I think that is the one i got from my great grandmother

    dina

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    1. Hi Dina!

      You care for yours just like I do with mine! I have so many that I HAVE to stack them, and I just use paper towels!

      Griswolds are definitely sought after pieces - when I started collecting, I learned a LOT about brands; now I have Griswold, Wagner & Piqua Favorite pans along with newer Lodge pans.

      My favorite is probably my little Birmingham Stove & Range one shown above in the post; mainly because it's from my little city!

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  41. Great info! I will try your method for cleaning cast iron. I love my cast iron pans! Now I have a way to keep them looking new and pefectly seasoned. Thank you for this tutorial.

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  42. Thank goodness for Pinterest! My grandmother gave me her corn sticks pan - covered in decades of gunk. I've been afraid to use it. And, I have a 20-ish year old Lodge skillet I love for cornbread - and I have a husband who "helps" clean the kitchen. You can guess how that's turned out. But, I've kept them both, knowing I was willing to experiment to make them usable once again. I know what I'll be doing tomorrow!!!

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  43. I found you on Pinterest too. My only question is: I have been told that some pans become "pitted" if the rust or grime isn't addressed in a timely or correct manner and then can't be saved. Is that something you are aware of?

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  44. Found on Pinterest! Great tutorial; thanks!!!!!

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  45. I'm so glad I found this (on Pinterest also)! I haven't been using my grandmother's pans because they were so gross. I also wanted to point out to all of those haters...Do they eat pretzels? That's what gives them that wonderful color and crust! A real pretzel is DIPPED in lye before it's baked, so you're eating it already! I know this because I have done it myself as a pastry chef. So, thank you for sharing your great tip for all, I'm sorry that some people find it necessary to get on their soap box!

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    1. Heather, thanks for your comment!

      I know a lot of people are super scared of chemicals, thanks to the media/internet/etc, but they are EVERYWHERE. I think lye gets an especially bad rap, even though it's in a lot of foods; like I mentioned in an above comment, olives and lutefisk has it, as well as the pretzels you've mentioned!

      Some people will NEVER try out this method for cast iron due to chemical fears, and that's OK. Some people WILL try it out, get their cast iron back to pristine condition, and will think "hey, that worked pretty darn well!". To each their own :)

      Thanks for the comment and for reading!

      Delete
  46. I buy cast iron in poor shape also. I use vinegar and salt to remove the rust. It works like a charm. I recently bought a cast iron griddle and thought it was beyond repair. I simply used the salt and vinegar than seasoned it in the oven. I love my griddle pan.I cook burgers on it and they taste better than grilled outside!

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  47. Wow! Thanks for the tutorial, my re-seasoning method wasn't working very well and I was thinking about starting over on a few of my pans. :)

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  48. I just put my pan inthe oven and put the oven on self clean, then season it. Works every time, no toxic chemicals!

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  49. Great article! Loved it! I do have a question about new versus old. You said the new ones are only cast- not polished like the old. Does this cause more things to stick to the pan (even after seasoning)compared to the older polished ones due to the textured surface rather than smooth?

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    1. To me, the newer pans, having a rougher texture, MAY and CAN cause SOME sticking, but I just try to make sure to be EXTRA vigilant about keeping good layers of seasoning on those pans. The older pans, in addition to being polished to a smooth surface, are also a thinner cast as well. But, even an older pan with a smooth finish can cause food to stick.

      I guess the key is good seasoning; I always have plenty of bacon fat handy as well as homemade lard (there are posts about that on this blog), and I ALWAYS season after each rinsing out of the pan. BUT, I like to use really thin layers of seasoning that build up, rather than a goopy thick layer (think of it like house paint or nail polish). A well-seasoned pan should never be sticky or slimy; basically, I rub on the fat, work it in while the pan is still warm/hot, and wipe off any excess, just leaving a sheer coat.

      I hope this answer helps! :)

      Delete
    2. Thank-you so much :) I was just curious. I know the old ones are always better, but sometimes it can be hard to find them or the particular size you want. I have one that I think was my Grandmother's that we still use. I am definitely going to try and find more.

      Delete
  50. thank you. I have a skillet that I have had for about 6 years, I need to clean it as it has developed some rust from camping trips.

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    1. You're welcome, Resa! Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  51. Great job on scoring a Griswold at that price!!! Where I live people know the value of old cast iron no matter what the condition. I have not been able to find a deal like that. I have used cast iron for almost 25 years now. I wish I had the ones that I remember lurking under my Grandma's porch when I was a kid. My daughter has known how to properly care for cast iron since she has been old enough to wash dishes. She has repeatedly told me that I HAVE to leave them to her when I die!
    FYI--found this on Pinterest & am repinning!

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    1. It's hit or miss here; some places KNOW what they've got, and charge accordingly. A lot of the smaller, 'junkier' shops (the ones I prefer; they sell small stuff, not tons of completely restored furniture!) have reasonable prices. I'm not really collecting cast iron anymore, solely because I have SO many pieces now, and no more room!

      Thanks for reading/commenting/repinning, Sondra!

      Delete
  52. I read a good amount of the comments here and am also surprised at the outrage to lye! Funny enough - Norwegians have been eating lutefisk for hundreds of years! Lutefisk is fish soaked in lye to preserve it. (Many don't care for the taste of lutefisk, but hey, it used to be the only way to preserve the fish!) I've never even gotten sick eating lutifisk, so I don't think a pan first cleaned and then baked in lye would ever bother anyone.

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    1. Dori, I've never had lutefish myself, but then again, Alabama doesn't really have a big Scandinavian population! We do have a large Jewish community, so I've seen Gefilte fish at many places, but I have NO idea what the difference is between that and lutefisk!

      Delete
  53. Hi Julia
    May I suggest that you update your original post with the information you provided in the comment section over the concerns of using oven cleaner. I think people have a knee jerk reaction to using chemicals, I did until i read the comment. I'm sure plenty of people will still refuse to use oven cleaner but at least they do so more informed. Besides, the info about lye was pretty interesting.
    Found you through pinterest.
    Love the name of the blog....actually made me LOL

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    Replies
    1. I took your advice and updated the post; hopefully that will help! I've been answering comments nonstop lately! Great idea!

      Delete
  54. I found the easiest way to recondition cast iron, on my camping trips I put them in the campfire and it burnt all that old gunk off and then I just had to reseason them.

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  55. Wondering about the new cast iron pans vs. older pans. The Lodge seasons their pans w/a soy-based product, no animal fat (according to their customer service). I happen to find nothing wrong with animal fat if it's from a "clean" source. However, processed soy is something i avoid whenever possible. Anyone else concerned about using a new pan and what they have seasoned it with. Then again, perhaps it could just be reconditioned and then seasoned with flaxseed oil? Is there a preferred substance to season a pan with when first reconditioned vs when seasoning in between uses?

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    1. Cherbaer, I own two of the newer "pre-seasoned" Lodge pans, and, to me, they were STICKY when I got them. I tried scrubbing off this pre-seasoning, but it would NOT come off. So, I did the reconditioning thing and started from scratch.

      Now, I probably could have skipped that step and then started seasoning with my preferred fat (lard or shortening) ON TOP of the preseasoning, but I didn't.

      FWIW, I always use the same fat for initial seasoning and subsequent re-seasonings. The lard I use is home-rendered, not homogenized, and the same pint jar I've had in my fridge reserved just for skillet seasoning has lasted a LOOOOOOONG time.

      Delete
  56. Saw your link on pinterest. I don't know if anyone has mentioned this b/c I didn't read all the comments, but did read that several people use their fireplace/wood ash to clean. Wood ash is actually caustic (lye is gotten from wood ash), so their "safer" alternative is in fact virtually the same thing as the oven cleaner.

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  57. Thanks , I will never pass up cast iron skillets at yard sales or Thrift stores now. Does this work on the pans that you make the cornbread that looks like ears of corn, I will try for sure.

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  58. Hominy is made by soaking corn in lye, so again, people have been eating foods soaked in lye for years.

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  59. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I had come the realization that I ruined my husband's "prized" cast iron skillets. We have 3 ranging from petite to a "standard" large one. We also have a cornbread (triangular shape) one that we use at our bed & breakfast for scones. This will help me to restore all of our skillets to a beautiful shine. (My mom has a 3" deep one that I'd slap my brother with it, if I could swing it; it's so heavy, just to inherit it when she passes on.)

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  60. Brilliant post, thanks: I often see these for sale here in darkest Wales, I'll snap them up from now on.

    Don't worry about all the people being scared of oven cleaner; "chemicals" is a dirty word for most people, nothing will convince them otherwise.

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  61. Julia, This is an awesome post, and your method of stripping the skillet is brilliant, another method is as I saw posted earlier oil the skillet and put it in a fire. You can also do this with brand new cast iron skillets that haven't been seasoned or used at all, in fact I recommend this due to the toxic chemicals that have been sprayed on it. If you have a kitchen where you can get good airflow going out of the kitchen you can actually do this in your oven. Take the new skillet or other cast iron item and cover the inside area that you'll be cooking in with you're choice of oil, either liquid or the lard type crisco. Pre-heat the oven to the hottest setting you have, 500 degrees usually. Place the cast iron in the oven and let it sit till the item stops smoking. (Yes it's going to smoke terribly and you need to make sure this goes out of your house and not breath it) Once it stops smoking, carefully remove the item from the oven and carefully coat it again, let it sit till it starts to cool a bit, put more oil in it and coat again. You'll see the thirsty spots that have soaked the oil up, these areas you want to leave a nice thick puddle of oil, put back in the oven, you'll need to repeat this as many times as it takes so you don't see the thirsty spots. I normally will do this a couple times still again to give it a good layer of seasoning. Again, this technique will cause a tremendous amount of smoke, if you live in a small town, you might want to let the fire dept. know ahead of time so they won't show up to put your skillet out....
    I blacksmith so I normally fire up my coal forge and will place the skillet or item on top of the coals and burn it all off, the thirsty spots take less time to quench and the smoke goes up the smoke stack. Before I got a forge, I'd just build a small fire and you can do this in a BBQ grill as well, and just put the item into the flames. Extra care is needed in this method so you don't get burned while removing it from the flames or the hot pan. Now a normal fire won't hurt the cast iron, the forge can actually get too hot and you'll burn the item up.
    Something I didn't see in any of the posts was after cleaning with water you need to make sure there's no little spots of food stuck anywhere, when you see that its nice and clean I don't wipe it dry, I'll place it on the largest stove eye on electric stoves and it doesn't really matter on gas stoves, coat the inside and out with oil and turn the eye on high and let it sit till the beaded water burns off. Turn off the heat and let it sit till cool to the touch, (normally done just prior to going to bed so it cools over night) then when you go to put it up, wipe it one more time with oil.
    I hope these tips and hints help. To the girl that is afraid of using her cast iron skillets, you won't ruin them, mess up the seasoning...maybe, but if it's been seasoned correctly, it'll withstand a few mistakes. The biggest mistake people make with cast iron is they wait to clean it, or place it in the sink and let it sit with water spots on it, if you clean the skillet before you go to bed or right after you get up, and dry it as I've posted above, you'll soon learn that the best pans you can have are cast iron.

    ReplyDelete
  62. You can also use oven cleaner on your oven racks if you clean your oven with something like Easy Off. You just spray them inside a garbage bag, tie it up, like the skillets and let them sit while you clean your oven (NOT for several days), then just rinse and they're ready to go.
    I also have lots of cast iron, glad to know this cleaning method. Thanks, Julia!

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  63. If you're in a hurry, just put on some gloves and take the skillets outside and clean them with muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) form the hardware or pool store. It's a messy job and you have to be careful about the fumes, but this only takes about 10 minutes. And it works beautifully works beautifully and when you re-season them always use an animal fat like bacon grease. Crisco and vegetable oils don't work well.

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  64. I have an alternative cleaning method. Get it really hot on the stove after you finish using it, and then pour hot water most everything will steam right off. a harsh TSP solution (trisodium phosphate) and a stainless steel scrubbie will get the rest, no waiting! Phosphates are extremely effective against burned-on oils. They also dry the skin right off your hands, so wear gloves. The small amount of tsp left on the dish is okay, phosphates are actually a dietary supplement, in small doses.

    I don't recommend Crisco, because it's very high in hydrogenated oils - nothing will kill you faster than hydrogenated oils! Also most lard off the shelf is partially hydrogenated. You can make your own lard by buying leaf lard (from the kidney area, this is the best quality) and boiling down the leaf lard in water in a cast iron pan until it melts to solid lard butter. This is actually one of the heathiest oils to cook with, and a fantastic traditional seasoning for iron pans. Another good thing is olive oil.

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  65. Thank you all for your comments! Sorry I haven't been able to respond to each comment individually, but I read all of them and really appreciate it!

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  66. I would be curious to know what type of skillet is used by all the people who are concerned with chemicals...do they realize what Teflon is? Anyway, I actually started using my cast-iron skillet a lot recently because I read that some of the iron is infused into your food, so it's great for iron-deficient people (like me!) I didn't realize that I should be seasoning it after every use, so I will definitely start doing that from now on. I saw this on Pinterest, and now I'm a lot more confident that I can always start over if my skillet appears to be "ruined". Thanks for the info!

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  67. Great tutorial. I have a few old cast iron skillets that I keep in our camper as well as in the house. I love my cast iron and the new stuff just isn't the same. I look for old pieces at the thrift shops and often see really dirty pieces that I pass by but will now be picking them up. Thanx so much for the really great information.

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  68. ok, I have a couple of scout master friends that use cast iron on there camp outs and they clean their's in their ovens "self cleaning" mode (Allot like the person above that cleans it in the coals) just wondering if you heard any negatives about this method of course this would be followed up with the seasoning with oil. I loved reading that you stick yours on the heat to make sure ALL moisture is off, I've done it for years but never realized how cleaver I was. Thanks for your post and let me know what you think of this method. Thanks again

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  69. Just wondering if you can cook on a glass top stove with a cast iron skillet?

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    1. From what several manufacturers of glass cooktops say, you CAN, but you want to make sure you're using a smooth-bottomed skillet; as in, if using OLD/ANTIQUE cast iron, make sure it's a piece without the heat ring on the bottom.

      If you look at my pictures, you'll see that my Birmingham Stove & Range skillet has a heat ring (these skillets were meant to be used on wood-burning stoves! That's how you can tell it's OLLLLLDDD). Modern cast iron, as well as the Griswold (still quite old) in my pictures do not have a heat ring, so you should be ok.

      The key is to not move the skillet around on the cooktop, since this could scratch it. Always lift up the skillet to move it instead of just sliding it around.

      In fact, cast iron is RECOMMENDED for glass cooktops, since it's heavy and distributes heat more evenly. Cheaper pans may warp under the heat produced by a glass top!

      http://www.cookware.org/glasscooktops.php

      Delete
  70. We reconditioned several antique, rusted cast iron skillets with caked on who-knows-what by throwing them into the dishwasher for a cycle with powdered detergent. One should never, EVER put a well-seasoned pan into a dishwasher, but to get the repair process rolling, it worked and the pans came out scrubbed. A few minutes with steel wool, a hand washing, thorough drying and the pans were ready for seasoning.

    Do you love bacon? We love bacon and so do cast iron skillets, although once a pan is heated, they love any kind of oil. To help keep a pan seasoned, give the skillet a moment on the heat before adding oil.

    As you point out, Julia, these pans love to be used and the more they are used, the more "non-stick" they become.

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    Replies
    1. LOVE the username! I definitely love bacon; I even made a pot here about 3 different ways to cook bacon and render the fat.

      Plus, no good Southern girl has a kitchen without a bacon fat jar! It really does help build up a GREAT seasoning layer!

      Delete
  71. I have some cast iron. I have it mostly in the camper for use over the fire. I seem to have trouble with keeping it seasoned well and I KNOW there are people who use it for everything but I have a lot of trouble when making a dish that is "soupy". Are you supposed to use it to make things like chili, etc? Or only for frying stuff or baking fairly "dry" things?

    I am definitely going to use this to get mine reseasoned for the summer camping season. I have been wanting to bring my cast iron inside but haven't because my 29 month old son plays in my pans and it hurts bad enough when he drops my stainless ones on his foot! Can't imagine one of my cast iron ones!

    Thank you for your site! I have been getting SO much useful information from it! I really love it! I am SLOWLY learning how to blog and one of the things I hope to learn is how to permanently put a link to YOUR blog from MY blog! :-) Some day!

    Suz
    www.mommasuzs.blogspot.com

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  72. Hey Julia! I came across this post on Pinterest and was wondering if I could ask a question. I don't know the first thing about cast iron really but I was given an old cast iron cauldron that is rusty. It has just been sitting around for months because I didn't know how to clean it. I'm going to try this method but wanted to ask if the re-seasoning was necessary? I don't plan to ever cook in the cauldron...I just want to remove the rust and make it look nice again. If it does need seasoned...I'm not sure how I will accomplish this because the cauldron won't fit in my oven. Any advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

    Jaidis
    JaidisShaw(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Hi, Jaidis!

      The re-seasoning IS necessary, because, once you strip off all the old gunk and crust and rust, the piece is down to bare metal. If you don't add some kind of seasoning to it, the iron will pull moisture from the air and start rusting again. Here in Alabama, the land of obscene humidity, this happens within just a few minutes of me pulling the stripped cast iron from the vinegar bath!

      As far as the piece not fitting in your oven goes, do you have a grill? Charcoal or gas doesn't really matter; either type should be able to get hot enough for a seasoning.

      Delete
    2. Hey Julia! Thank you for the advice. I don't have a grill but some family members do so I'll just borrow theirs :)

      Delete
  73. I bought a cast iron 1 quart sauce pan with a wooden handle. Will this method work or will it destroy the wooden handle? Which method will be the best to season it?

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm, you don't want to use this method with a wooden handled piece - does the handle come off? If so, you could remove it, do the reconditioning/seasoning, THEN reattach it.

      I don't have any wooden handled cast iron, but I'll do some research and let you know what I find!

      Delete
  74. Very informative, thank you. Luckily my home use, cast iron is always washed with only hot water (no soap) and air dried in a hot oven or towel dried quickly after. But I can now clean up some camping pieces we have had for years.

    To the worrywart's, us soap makers know all about lye, it's uses and that vinegar is a neutralizer, I always keep some handy when making homemade (not glycerine) soap.

    Without lye, you couldn't purchase commercial soap's because they have no other way to combine the liquids and the oils, the lye evaporates by the way.

    Keep up the good work and informative post.

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    1. Thank you!!! I love TRUE soap (made from lye, cold-process, etc), not the bars sold in stores today that can't even be CALLED soap legally (ie: beauty bars, cleansing bar, etc). Granted the lye is changed through saponification, but I never worry about it :)

      Sounds like you know how to care for your cast iron perfectly!

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  75. Thank goodness I found this... I have some good old cast iron that I got from my mother that are in terrible shape. I have had them for some time and I just haven't been able to get them back into usable shape yet but I think this will really work. Also I can completely understand the humidity problem, we live in Arkansas.

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    1. Arkansas? Yep, you definitely know about that good old Southern humidity! :)

      Delete
  76. Easy-off as well as all oven cleaners are EXTREMELY Toxic and should not be used to clean something you are going to heat food in!!!

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  77. From Wikipedia: In the United States, food-grade lye must meet the requirements outlined in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC), as prescribed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Lower grades of lye are commonly used as drain openers and oven cleaners and should not be used for food preparation.

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  78. thank you so much i have some cast iron skillets that were passed down to me and they are over 100 years old. mine are wagner.

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  79. Another Pinner here! Thank you for sharing this great post. Most of my cast iron is in great shape but I have 1 small skillet that needs to be completely stripped and reseasoned and I have been scrubbing at it for a week. I can't wait to try your method.

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  80. Do you have any suggestions for reclaiming a cast-iron kettle? I was given one, and it has rust on top of its rust. Would the Easy-Off method work for that, or is it just for removal of foodstuffs? I'd really like to make this useable again....

    blessedacre (at) yahoo (dot) com... I can't see how to get follow-on comments sent directly, sorry!

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    1. Absolutely! I'll email you as well - the Easy-Off works for any cast iron to remove any grunge and funk. If the kettle has any wood on it, though, don't use this method - it WILL kill the wood!

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  81. Thank You for this tutorial!! I have pieces that were both my grandmother's and my mother's. It is shocking to see the before/after pictures...I can't wait to try this. I will just have to get over my grandmother and mother's voices in my head saying DON'T...lol. Thanks Again!!

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  82. I have a cast iron habachi my grandfather made while working at the Foundry in 1950s. its in beautiful shape and has the extra peices to go with it. I was wondering if I could clean it like this?

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    1. I don't see why not? This method works for any cast iron, though you DON'T want to do this to any pieces with wood handles.

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  83. I have three cast iron pans: one from a garage sale, one as a new gift and one from a thrift store. I use them all weekly at least, one of them daily.

    *How do I know when I need to do this?*

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    1. Debi, you only need to recondition if the piece is rusty, has "crusties" that won't come off with a good scrubbing, or a ton of build up. It's pretty much a judgement call; if the piece works great and has good seasoning and nothing's sticking to it, then you probably don't need to recondition!

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    2. Thank you for getting back to me. And guess what! I have a Griswold! I didn't know I had anything cool until after seeing your pictures and taking another look at my pans LOL. It's the one I use daily. I got it for $6 at a garage sale maybe two years ago.

      Although the inside where I'm cooking is smooth and has a good finish the outside and part of the handle looks just like your before picture. Should I go ahead and start over?

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    3. If the inside looks good, but the outside and handle look a little rough, it's really up to you. If it wasn't RUSTY, I really wouldn't worry about it. Plus, if the inside has a good layer of seasoning, I wouldn't want to remove it and have to start ALLLLL over again!

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  84. Hi Julia! I, too, just found you through Pinterest, and am sitting here with my mouth open saying "I had no idea!" I'm so glad to have found this page, as I have become less and less enamored with my nonstick cookware. I have a small cast iron skillet my mom gave me many years ago that I used to love cooking in (I'm from a "blended" TN/AL family who has always cooked biscuits in a skillet in the oven!) But it eventually became very scratched and rusty (because I did a terrible job taking care of it) and I was afraid of using it anymore. I actually had thrown it into a pile of things to get rid of, but thankfully found you in time to rescue it. And now I know how to care for it as well so it doesn't get that way again. Thank you so much!

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    1. You're welcome, Ruth! I hope you can save that trusty old skillet!

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  85. I have used flax seed oil to season and condition my cast iron. It is the food grade equivalenter to linseed oil. I can't waiting try your technique for those old rusty pans!

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  86. To keep your iron cookware from sticking NEVER use any type of dishwashing or soap cleaner on it. If I need to clean mine I just use a wool pad without the cleaner and hot water. I have did this for the past 25 years and have never had problems with my iron cookware. Also the iron cookware with a # stamped on it is the best to use.

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  87. Thanks so much for the advice! I have several pieces I'm going to try this on. I must add that if people don't want to use oven cleaner, why must they pontificate? Julia has been most patient, explaining over and over again the science behind this method.

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  88. I've just tried this and have it drying after it's first coat and time in the oven, is it alright for it to be a little brown still?

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    1. That's perfectly normal - some come out totally gray, some come out a little brown. Nothing to worry about!

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  89. Sorry to say, but I didn't learn to appreciate cast iron cookware until I was about 50. It sounds rather corney, but I give cast iron bakers or skillets for wedding presents with a note I hope their marriage lasts as long as the cast iron does! (Little humor, there) I am slowly accumulating pieces to pass on to my only child, my son, one day, with the hopes he will appreciate this wonderful cookware sooner than I did. By the way, I love your tutorial.

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  90. I found you on pinterest also! I got a cast iron skillet at a yardsale for $1, because it was a little rusty and scratched. All it needed was a little soak in some vinegar and the steel wool treatment. I just reseasoned it, and it looks AMAZING! I can't wait to start using it.

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  91. I've never used cast iron but was curious to see how you reconditioned it and if it worked...very interesting, glad I stopped by to read your tutorial and comments. Gotta love Pinterest :)

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  92. I grew up learning to cook on cast iron. I still remember with fondness the days when Mom would season the pots and pans (generally once every few years) and fill the house with smoke and the warm feeling of good dinners to come. I still cook with cast iron (My wife can't lift my 14" skillet) and love it. If you have a chance, do it. You get better cooking results from an evenly heated pan, and the wear and tear factor just can't be beat! No worries about scratching these babies!!

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  93. Loved your tutorial on Pinterest! You helped me discover my problem was a lack of patience! I think the longest I let mine set was a day, and I was like not clean, didn't work.....I will try again now thanks to you! My sister-in-law, from Alabama swears by the ammonia and garbage bag method. Have you heard of anyone 's experience with that method? My Mom is 89 and in excellent health, she has cooked in cast iron her whole life. We lived in a house many years ago that had a wood burning stove,and she cooked everythin we ate in cast iron skillets. Her Doc runs regular blood work and marvels at her iron count, he says it is a direct result of cooking in those skillets. Thanks for sharing.........Carmen

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  94. I found that putting old newspapers in the trash bags helps with the "mess" and black trash bags attract more heat. great article!

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  95. I have my grandmothers cast iron pans. I was wondering if I can cook on a glass stove top. Thanks for the information

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  96. The best thing about your skillets is they are made in the USA. The ones made in China and elsewhere are garbage.

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  97. I was told years ago not to wash your iron skillet with soap and water unless absolutely necessary, I was told to sprinkle a generous amount of salt in it and use a paper towel to wipe it, the salt being abrasive has always cleaned my frying pans good. Have you ever heard of this method and have you ever tried it? I am anemic and was told that using the iron skillet will help with that also.

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    1. Cheryl, the salt method is GREAT for cleaning; I've done it myself, especially when dealing with "sticky" messes!

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  98. THANKS. my skillets looks amazing.. thanks for a great page of information.. i also found your info on pinterest.

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  99. Found your tutorial through an email that my Dad sent me. I love cast iron and have a couple of skillets that my mother-in-law gave me. I use them all the time, but they do have a good bit of old grunge built up on them. I also bought a couple of small pans at Goodwill the other day and wanted to redo them as well. My questions for you is this...I purchased the Great Value brand oven cleaner from Walmart. (Fume free) Went home, sprayed my pans and then got to looking at the cans and discover that this spray is "lye free"....oh great!!!! Know I'm freaked out about the chemicals. I can't determine from the can what chemicals are in this. I wondering if its going to be safe now to use. Any feedback would be more than appreciated.

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    1. Not sure how the lye-free oven cleaner will work, but I would LOVE to hear back how it works for you!

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  100. Just finished my pan, and it is beautiful. Could not tell the maker of the pan through the grizzle and rust, and was hoping for a Griswold- but its a Walmart Lodge. Great pan though, and worth the effort!

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    1. Lodge is still good stuff, though! And still made in the USA (Tennessee)! Some of my favorite pieces are Lodge! Glad the method worked for you!

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  101. Excellent tutorial and very timely for me. Just picked up 2 pans today at a yard sale for $5 for both - they have rust and crud. The larger one says "Wagner Sidney 0" on the bottom and the smaller has a number "1056" on the bottom with other illegible writing at the top. Can't wait to get started with my reconditioning project using your technique. Thanks!

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    1. What a great deal for $5!!! Not sure about the "1056" one, but, maybe once restored, you'll be able to read what it says! Please keep me posted, Rene!

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  102. A recipe for chocolate cake, baked and served in an iron skillet, brought me (and probably many others) to this site. At my request, my husband dug out an old iron pan from the bottomless pit he calls a garage. When I saw it, I recoiled in horror and told him it could never be used for cooking. I said he should throw it out, but I know he didn't. Now I'm waiting for him to get home so he can dig it out again. I'm actually excited about renewing the pan using your instructions. Thanks so much!

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    1. Wonderful!! Hopefully he didn't throw it out and you can restore it to its former glory - please let me know how it turns out, and thanks for reading!

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  103. This is phenomenal...I have an antique cornbread tin that we made crayons in...not the best idea I have ever had, I think I may try this trick to get into those little corn cob grooves...now, if you can come up with an easy copper cleaner, I will be a fan for life! No to the lemon and salt, the ketchup, and the stinky stuff....so far Barkeepers Friend and elbow grease it what I use!

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    1. This method works GREAT for those corn cob grooves - I've got one of those same pans!

      As far as copper cleaning goes, can't help you too much there, since I too use Barkeeper's Friends!!

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  104. Just got done with my first 2 of 4 cast iron pieces to recondition and it was PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    They look amazing!

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  105. I was told never to buy used cast iron pots because they may have been used by meth cooks. Here in the Ozarks of Missouri that is a real concern. Does anyone know if cleaning/reconditioning the pan would be enough to make it safe to cook with?

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  106. I have found that if I deep fry some french fries in my skillet every couple of months, that it stays pretty well seasoned. Also, beware what you season with. I save bacon grease and sometimes use that in my skillet while cooking to prevent sticking. As a result, my foods have a subtle smoky, bacon-y flavor. Good for most things, bad for some. (of course, I would probably eat chocolate covered bacon so it doesn't really bother me :) )

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  107. Now I will be on the hunt for a good old fashioned dutch oven !

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  108. I used to cook all the time with cast iron till my husband bought me a stove with a glass cook top. I thought I read some where to not use cast iron on these stoves???? Any ideas of this to be true. I have snuck in a griddle for pancakes and had to use two burners , was scared of harming the stove but at this point would really rather use my cast iron. I used it the whole time I raised my kids and can say they are way more healthier than most kids I know. That and hahahaha a lot of vegetables. If you have any info would be so greatful cause I'm missing my cast iron. An has anyone mentioned how great food tastes cooked in these wonderful pots and skillets.

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