How to clean and re-season cast iron

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How to clean and re-season a rusted cast iron skillet

If you’ve ever run across a slightly rusted or ill-used cast iron pan that you’d like to clean up and re-season, here’s how! I’m assuming you didn’t ruin your own cast iron pan by repeatedly leaving it standing in water and not taking good care of it, because who would do that? (Spoiler alert: me.)

I didn’t grab a photo of this pan before I started scrubbing it, but trust me, it was crazy rusted – basically a solid layer of red. That’s actually not so hard to fix – just mix together some vegetable oil and salt and scrub vigorously with a stiff metal bristle brush until your pan is restored to a sort of greyish color. Once you’ve scrubbed it with oil and salt, you can wash again it with regular dish soap to get the oil off. Enjoy the experience of washing your cast iron with dish soap, because this is the only time you should be doing so.

Once you’ve scrubbed the rust off, you’ll need to re-season your pan. I took a photo of mine next to a new, fully seasoned cast iron pan so you can see the difference (it’s supposed to be black like the one on the left, not grey):

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lay a cookie sheet or sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil drippings. Using a brush or a rag, coat every part of your skillet liberally with vegetable oil or shortening (I used safflower oil in case you’re curious). Make sure to coat both sides – I did the inside of the pan on the counter, then flipped it, placed it on the oven rack, and then coated the bottom to minimize the mess.

Bake it for about an hour and then turn off the oven and let it cool. You should have a nicely darkened pan with a good layer of seasoning. If it’s not completely black, you can re-coat it with oil and bake it for another hour.

Magic! Isn’t that so much prettier? I was always intimidated by cast iron maintenance but now that I’ve got the hang of it it’s really not that hard. For day-to-day maintenance, just scrub it gently with water and a brush (no soap!) right after you use it, then dry it thoroughly and wipe it with a bit of oil. If it’s gotten slightly rusty or lost its seasoning, just follow the steps above to clean it and re-season it and it will be good as new. A well-seasoned pan will have a great natural non-stick quality and they heat really well and evenly, so I think it’s worth the effort to have one or two in your arsenal.

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8 thoughts on “How to clean and re-season cast iron”

  1. I was always told once you use your pan to clean it add a bit of water to the hot pan and heat up than wipe it out and dry it using mid heat on the burner and rub with oil

  2. I cleaned mine in my self-cleaning oven on the lowest time available and all the built up gunk came off. Washed with dishwashing detergent and re-seasoned. Works great.

  3. Thanks for all the tips. I remember my mom going outside and setting it on fire. But I dont remember how she did it. Any help will be appreciated! I have her old deep fry pan. Its not rusted but has a lot of what i think is grease build up on it, esp.the sides where grease spilled over the sides.

  4. Cook’s Illustrated recently wrote an article about seasoning cast iron pans and said flax oil provides best season. They said they even ran theirs through a commercial dish washer after seasoning with flax oil and it didn’t wash off. I’m planning to try that method next time mine needs sprucing up.