Cleaning rust off cast iron skillet, and what to cook in it?

shmancocksJanuary 20, 2005

Hi all, I just bought an old Wagner Ware #10 cast iron skillet from a consignment shop. It looks fairly smooth, but the surface is really dull and it definitely has some surface rust on it. Any tips on the best way to get that rust off, then season it? Its my first cast iron piece, so I really have no idea how to get it in good shape again.

Also, what do y'all cook in a cast iron skillet? I've heard cornbread works great, but I have no idea what else to cook. It's about 12" across, and almost 3" deep, with a big handle and 2 pour spouts. I'm excited to use it!

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If it has a lot of old "gook" on it...I spray it really well with oven cleaner and put it in a plastic bag over night....then scrub all the gook off ( some people set it in a log fire to do that.)...wire brush off any rust...wash it, put it over a low fire to really dry well....rub with fat...crisco, oil or whatever....and set it in a 275 oven for about 2 and repeat.
Use it for frying....chicken, eggs, potatoes, fish, peppers and onions....whatever.
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 20, 2005 at 11:48PM
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I have heard that if you have a self cleaning oven you can put the item, dry, in the oven and run the cleaning cycle and most of the gunk comes off. Haven't tried it, tho.

As far as cooking, for the first several times you use it be generous with oil, or cook greasy stuff like bacon. It will soon develop a black satiny patina.

Check out the Lodge web site for care (see the link below); they also have a cookbook available. For cornbread, put the greased skillet in the oven while the oven is preheating; after you mix your batter, take out the skillet, pour the batter into the hot skillet and return to the oven.

Now, I realize that with this next statement I will ignite a holy war with theological intensity on both sides, but real cornbread contains neither flour nor sugar. If either is present, you have made corn-flavored cake, not cornbread:)

I am from Louisiana, my dear wife is from Illinois, and this is one of the few disagreements we have in life.

Here is a link that might be useful: care of cast iron

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 8:47AM
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If you put a really gooky pan in a self cleaning will smoke big time.....but it really does clean the pan.
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 10:42AM
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I have used a self cleaning oven many times and it works great. Sure it will smoke if really caked up with crud, so what, so does your oven, open a window.

If you live in a clod climate and have a fire place, build a big fire and bury the skillet in the fire. When cool just remove it from the fire pit.

After complete thre will be a lot of ash left on the skillet and maybe some rust. Use steel wool and hot soapy water to finnish cleaning up.

To finnish you will need to re-season the skillet. I suggest doing the process twice. Go to Lodge web site for directions on how to re-season.

I would also suggest pan frying bacon, chicken, fish, what ever with a good amount of oil for the first few times to cure the season. After that you can use cast iron for pan grilling, pan frying, pan roasting, blackening anything, and yes it is great for cornbread too. You will find it will be the most used skillet in your arsenal.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 11:23AM
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I have my mother's Wagner skillet, and I love it. Hamburgers made in it are especially good, and we all think they taste better than when made in other pans. Enjoy!

arley, Cornbread--it's a north/south issue.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 2:42PM
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You are correct, Arley; true cornbread contains neither sugar or flour.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 4:02PM
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Thanks for the support, Spewey.

I will grant a point to those who use 'adulterants' :) like sugar and flour: unless the quality of the corn meal is very good, cornbread made with just corn meal can be bitter. Meal can go rancid and stale pretty quickly. But cornbread made with fresh cornmeal, preferably stone-ground locally, is plenty sweet on its own.

I generally only buy small quantities of cornmeal--just enough to make whatever recipe I'm making, and I buy it at a store that seems to have a good turnover of product. (That means not buying it at a gourmet store. No telling how long that stuff has been on the shelf.)

Fortunately in my area of South Carolina there are a few grist mills not too far away that supply the local stores.

Yorkiemom: you are right about the North/south issue.

Bernard Clayton's 'New Complete Book of Breads' actually has a listing for 2 different breads. One he calls "Yankee Corn Bread" (sugar, flour, yellow corn meal) and the other is Southern Corn Bread (white corn meal, no sugar or flour.)

I find, though, that the freshness of the meal is more important than whether it's white or yellow.

For those with access to good fresh meal I recommend this recipe for Southern Corn Bread, from Clayton:

2 eggs, room temp
2 cups buttermilk, room temp
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups white cornmeal (but yellow is okay, too)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven and baking utensil (skillet or 9 x 9 pan) to 450 while mixing batter.

In a small bowl beat the eggs and mix in the buttermilk. In a mixer bowl, mix the baking soda, cornmeal and salt. Pour in the egg-buttermilk mixture and mix well until smooth.

Pour batter into the preheated pan, return to oven for 20 to 25 minutes. It's done when a knife inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean & dry.

I use this recipe when I make cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving; a quadruple recipe just barely fits into a 5 quart KitchenAid mixer bowl, and into an 11 x 14 pan. Absolutely delicious.

This is what you use to soak up the pot juices from cooking black-eyed peas or greens. I always called those juices 'pot liquor' but my wife wondered what the heck I was talking about when I used that term. I guess that's southern as well.

If I seem to go on & on, please forgive me: I'm on Adkins and can't have any cornbread right now. When I lose another 20 pounds, though, I'm going on a carbo bender which will most definitely include a batch of this cornbread.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2005 at 7:17PM
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If you want to get a good seasoned finish on cast iron quickly, just fry some french fries or other fried food in it. Depending on how deep your pan is, fill it with about an inch of oil, heat to the correct temp for frying potatoes, checking with a frying thermometer, fry the potatoes, then turn off the heat and let the pan cool down.
The more you pan fry in the pan, the quicker you build up a nice seasoned finish.

I've got my grandmother's 10-inch cast iron skillet and love using it, among several other cast iron pieces such as a cornstick pan, round griddle, several other skillets of various sizes, and muffin pans.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2005 at 10:05PM
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Now Arley, that is just a complicated recipe like making Lobster Thermidor. Besides, chickens' ain't a laying much right now, and who needs to spend a fortune on baking sody and buttermilk? Here is the way we make cornbread at the Lazy Spew.

1 cup white cornmeal
3/4 cup boiling water
Smidgen salt
Lard (or oil), about 4 tablespoons

Add salt to cornmeal, pour boiling water in and mix.

Heat oil in skillet in a quick oven (that's a right hot fire, or 475° if you have electricity or gas) until nearly sizzling. Remove pan, spread corn mush in pan and scoop up some oil from the side and dribble it on top. Bake about 15 minutes until brown, then broil for two minutes more to make it sorta crispy. Slab on a lil' butter and it's right handy to swallow.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 2:19PM
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Sounds good, spewey. I'll try that next time.

Reminds me a bit of Lewis Grizzard's description of grits: "serve them with enough butter to choke a goat."

To drift back more on topic, the Dummies books have a new book out on Cast Iron Cooking. It looks pretty good, and has both extensive info on care and maintenance of cast iron, along with lots of recipes.

I ran across something on the Internet about using coconut oil to season cast iron and to maintain the seasoning; the argument is that it's saturated and is less likely to go rancid like oil can.

I usually use shortening since it's sometimes hard to find lard.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 8:41PM
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thanks for all the info! i put the pan in the oven on clean, and holy cow there was a ton of gunk on it when it was through! i cleaned it up, seasoned it twice, and now it's ready to use. thank you all for your help!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 9:26PM
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I know this is an ancient thread but boy was it interesting!

Now I have a few questions for those who have done the "self cleaning oven" cast iron frypan cleaning. I will sound stupid but better that than a ruined frypan.

I have 3 cast frypans that I would like to refresh so to speak. When using the self clean cycle to clean them with, do you remove the grates in the oven and place the pan on the bottom of the oven, or do you place the pan on the oven grate? I don't want to melt the grates LOL!

Also, since I have 3 of them, is there any way I could do all three at once?

And last question, my self clean function on my old stove (not using my new one for this) has the number of hours that I want to "clean" with. I believe it starts with 3 and goes along to more hrs if we wish.... do you think 3 hrs of self cleaning would do the trick?

Can you tell I'm a bit nervous? (oops I guess I lied, the previous question wasn't the last one)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2006 at 7:31PM
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Here is a nice site on cast iron.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Irreplaceable Cast-Iron Skillet

    Bookmark   June 3, 2006 at 8:44AM
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Yes, go ahead and remove the oven racks, put the skillets on the bottom--you can stack them on each other, and set your clean cycle to 2 hours, which should be sufficient if it heats to 600 degrees. Then clean off the residue when they are cool enough to handle and season well with lard or bacon grease. Avoid washing your pans with soap, especially when they are newly seasoned. Soap gets into the pores of the iron and tastes awful. I wash my pans by soaking off stuck on food particles with hot water only, scrubbing with a tough nylon scrubber; dry with paper towels, and set on a low burner to dry out for 10 minutes. This prevents any moisture from creating rust. A well-sealed, seasoned pan can be washed with a little soap and hot water, but it really isn't necessary. Cast iron is great for nearly everything that requires high heat and slow temperature changes. I wouldn't want a wok of cast iron, though; it wouldn't cool off fast enough.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 9:07PM
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Ohmigosh! Soap should, under no circumstances, ever touch cast iron after the initial cleaning.

The cure in cast iron is made of grease. And soap's job is to dissolve grease. So, by using soap, all you do is negate all that work you did curing the piece in the first place.

As to stuck-on particles, I don't understand that. A properly cured cast iron skillet (or whatever) was the world's first none-stick cookware. Anything adhering (like sticky sauces, not burnt-on stuff) is easily removed with a scrub brush under running hot water.

Awhile back I did a major piece for Mother Earth News on The Care & Feeding of Cast Iron. I don't have the URL handy, but it's still in their archives if anyone cares to ferret it out.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 6:31PM
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Not necessarily on topic because there's no rust, but I recently bought a new cast iron skillet and seasoned it a couple of times in the oven. I still get particles of food stuck to it. I use one of those green scrubby cloths and hot water to clean it. How long do you suppose it will be before I get a great slick non stick coating. I have a skillet that was my mom's and it's the greatest pan in the world to cook on. I can hardly wait until my new one gets that nice.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 6:46PM
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EllyD, it depends a lot on how often you use it, and with what.

Best bet is to just use it to fry with for awhile, so that nothing but oil touches the pores, and the fill in faster.

For a quick way to blacken it, work over an open fire. Grease the skillet well, and let it sit over the flames so that soot really coats it. Turn and do the other side. Repeat this two or three times.

Let the piece cool and wipe it with paper towels to remove as much of the loose soot as possible, and regrease it.

Next day repeat the process. I guarantee you'll have a finish as deep, smooth, and black as if you'd used the piece for two generations.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 10:10PM
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Cast iron will never become truly non-stick, like teflon. However, with a bit of oil or shortening, it is pretty close, but fried eggs will not slide around like they will in teflon, unless you float them on grease.

Cook several pounds of bacon and/or sausage patties, letting the grease stay in the pan while it cools. This is the best seasoning you can get.

Where I work as a cook, the owners (both damm Yankees, mind you), won't make decent cornbread. They make Johnny Cake, the Yankee version of cornbread, with lots of flour and sugar. It is very (read too) sweet. I can't convince them on this one, but I did win on biscuits. Their's tasted good, but looked horrible-like a volcano! I showed them how to make real biscuits, and they relented.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 12:54AM
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If I use oven cleaner to clean off the rust and gook won't this cause it to rust more?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 8:00PM
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The oven cleaner won't contribute to further rusting, but you do have to treat the rust after the pan is cleaned. There are a number of methods on the internet: vinegar soaks, oxalic acid (Bar Keepers Friend) & wire brushes are some ways of addressing the rust.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2007 at 9:36AM
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i found a very dirty ,rusty cast iron dutch oven outside . how can i save it ?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2011 at 6:46PM
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Take it to a metal shop where they have an electrolysis tank and see if they will let you soak it until the rust comes off. Then take it home and scrub it with a Brillo pad. Then start seasoning it by lightly coating it with lard and baking it for about 30 minute at 450. Let it cool, and do it a few more times.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 9:00PM
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Got reunited with CI a few years ago when I found 3 different size "name-brand" (Lodge, griswold, etc.) skillets for next to nothing at a yard sale. It took SEVERAL applications of oven cleaner to get the unknown GOOK off.

I reseasoned like my Grandmother always did... HOT pan and a dab of bacon grease smeared all over... inside and out.

As for cleaning, if cooking something "dry" like eggs... once pan was seasoned, only needed to be wiped out with paper towel. If something "wet"... scrape with metal spatula... HOT water, cheap salt and a scrubber. Then on burner till hot and another dab of BG.

IMO, KEY to cast iron is USE IT!! I think it's easy to find... CHEAP at yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets... cuz it is HEAVY and some people think it's "old-fashioned"... they don't know what they're missing.

When I first started "collecting" CI, stored several pieces in oven. Then noticed minor rust?? Figure from steam coming off whatever was cooking while pieces were sitting there. Just scrubbed it off, a little more BG... but I moved pieces to where I saw them everyday and then use them frequently.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 9:55AM
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The more you use cast iron, the better it becomes. A good cast iron pan will have an inside finish, almost like smooth. When I get a new piece, I burn off the crud, and re season. Then I use that one as much as possible. At one time I had around 100 pieces of cast iron cookware....skillets of all sizes, muffin pans of all kinds, dutch ovens in various sizes...with and without legs, and my most unusual piece is a "humongus" wok....that my husband found for me at a salvage yard. It's too big to use inside, and I've never used it, but would work well outside. The piece I don't have but want is a bundt pan.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 4:12PM
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I found a cast iron in my rv, and it's huge it's a lodge, but it's rusted and it pealing rust so what do I clean it with, and how...I heard , if you pack it news paper place it in a dark plastic bag and sit it in the sun all day it will clean it.... How true is that ?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 7:05AM
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