Restoring and Seasoning Rusty Cast Iron

Reader Contribution by Sarah C.
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There are a few tools that every cook should have in their kitchen – a great seat of knives, a heavy-duty stand mixer, a food processor, stainless steel nesting mixing bowls, a Dutch oven, and a cast iron skillet.

Cast iron is one of those things that people either LOVE, or it scares the beejesus out of them because they don’t understand it. The reasons against cast iron are that:

1. “it rusts”

2. “it’s heavy”

3. “I don’t know how to use it.”

Once you cook with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, all of the above reasons just fall away. The problem for most people lies with the “well-seasoned” part. Unless you have a granny ready to hand down some cast iron to you, you’re likely going to have to do some of the seasoning yourself. And what is better way to reduce resources, save money, and preserve a well-loved tradition, than to purchase cast iron at a thrift store or garage sale. Much of what is available out there is pretty rusty and damaged. Follow these simple steps, and you will soon be cooking on a well-seasoned piece of history.

How to Restore Cast Iron

1. Clean the skillet with soap and water. In my humble opinion, this is one of the last times your skillet should need soap.

2. Then put it in a 300 degree Fahrenheit oven for about 10 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven and pour a puddle of oil (I used olive, but any kind will work) and a generously helping of kosher salt in to the center.

4. Using a rag you don’t mind getting dirty, paper towels, a very stiff scrub brush, or pieces of newspaper, work the oil and salt in to all parts of the skillet. Pay special attention to the rusty areas.

5. Then, rinse off the skillet, and put back in to the oven until it is mostly dry.

6. Put it on the stovetop on medium heat with another puddle of your oil of choice and work it around with another rag. I used a pastry brush. Let it heat and “cure” on the burner for about 5 minutes. Careful, the oil will be hot!

7. Pour the oil off, and put just a dab of high-heat oil in the skillet. Some people prefer vegetable oil for this part. I’m not a veggie oil fan – including canola – so I used a dab of bacon grease. Let the oil melt/get hot, and then work it around to cover the entire surface of the skillet. Then, using a paper towel or piece of newspaper and remove all excess oil from the pan. Bake for 90 minutes at 300 degrees.

8. Then, everything from step 7, and bake for another 90 minutes at 300 degrees.

You can keep adding oil and baking as many times as you want. After two times, this skillet was ready for its big debut in my kitchen. It made perfect eggs the next day.

A quick and final note on cast iron. No matter how much seasoning you give it, you’ll always need a pinch of fat (butter, oil, shortening, etc.) in a hot pan prior to adding food to it. Always allow ample time – about 5 minutes – for the skillet to heat up prior to adding the fat and the food.

May your thrift store adventures bring you a cast iron gem of your own. The rusty and ugly ones need/deserve our love and help too.

Sarah C writes about doing more with less, gardening, wholesome from-scratch food, and DIY, with silliness and snark