I found some old cast-iron cookware that’s rusty and covered in black crud. Can I resurrect it?
Old cast iron can be a bargain, says Mark Kelly, public relations manager for Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tenn., the last U.S. manufacturer to cast its own iron. Kelly says cast-iron cookware from China is usually lower-quality, with several telltale signatures: It will have odd marks at the “throat” of the handle and perhaps on the bottom, it may not look as finished, it will be thicker and clunkier, and the edges won’t be as smooth. A better bet would be a piece of U.S.-made cookware, no matter how gunky it may appear.
If you’ve found a well-made cast-iron piece, restoring it will be fairly easy. Kelly instructs: First remove rust using a soap-free steel wool pad (or have the rust sandblasted off at a metal shop), and then bake away any crust by heating the piece on a grill, over a wood fire, or in your self-cleaning oven. Cleaning it outside may be best, because the process could otherwise fill your house with smoke. You may need to repeat this process several times before the crust is gone.
When the cast iron is clean, re-season it by applying the cooking oil of your choice all over it. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake the piece upside down for an hour. Don't line your oven floor with aluminum foil, as it can melt and fuse to the bottom of some types of ovens. Instead, if you need something to catch drips, use a cookie sheet placed below the cast iron. After an hour, turn off the oven and let the piece cool.
Seasoning cast-iron cookware fills the pores of the metal with carbon particles, which creates the nonstick effect, Kelly says. The more you cook with the piece, the more that effect will be enhanced, and that’s why it gets better with time. Re-oil the piece after each use.
“There’s no way to ruin cast iron,” Kelly says. “Well, in Leviticus, it does say that it’s a straight path to hell if you put cast iron in your dishwasher. But that’s the only way.”
To learn more about caring for cast-iron cookware, read The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron: Cleaning and Seasoning Cast-Iron Cookware.
Photo by Fotolia/Jaimie Duplass: Salvage crusty cast-iron with a bit of scrubbing and baking.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.