There are a few good methods to seasoning your cast iron pan to get it shiny and new again. We have found all of our cast iron pans at garage sales, pawn shops and one at the scrapyard. People so often look at them and think “there is no way I am putting my food on that” but that is only because they don’t know how easy they are to clean up!
Choosing a Cast Iron Pan
Look for one with a flat bottom – You want it to sit nice and evenly on your cooking surface.
Look for cracks – If it has cracks in it anywhere, pass on it. This one isn’t worth saving.
Do not worry about how built up it is with black crud or how rusty it is. These things are normal and super easy to fix.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron Pan – Method 1
Method 1 includes some elbow grease. If this sounds terrible to you already, skid to method 2.
Make a paste of baking soda and water. Using steel wool, work the paste into the pan slowly but surely working away any crud and rust. I find this process actually goes quite quickly. Once the pan is smooth and clean, you will want to season the pan right away. Even a few hours in this naked state will cause it to rust again.
Cleaning Your Cast Iron Pan – Method 2
Method 2 is my new favorite! It produces pans that are so much more smooth than hand-scrubbed ones are. I could swear it smoothed out imperfections i didn’t realize were there. This is the method to use for a perfectly smooth cast iron pan that you can fry eggs on!
Submerge the pan in vinegar and leave for 24 hours. I swear that vinegar is the magical cure-all. and it’s inexpensive. I have 2 cast iron pans and a pot in this huge bucket that took 4 bottles of vinegar to fill. Each bottle costing $1.97 at Walmart, I am getting 3 cast iron pans back into use for $7.88!
At the end of the first 12 hours you will see a buildup like this at the top of the water. This is the surface grossness coming off.
At the 24 hour mark most of the buildup is off the pans and floating at the top of the tub. Some people worry that the vinegar starts to break down the iron at this point and it is very possible. That is quite likely why the pans are so perfectly smooth as the machined surface has been evened out.
I would not recommend cleaning your pans like this often. Instead, season it right away and care for your cast iron. They require very little maintenance.
Seasoning Your Cast Iron Pan
Seasoning a pan is all about filling in the open pores in the pan to prevent the air from touching the surface and causing it to rust. The pores are filled with some sort of oil, fat or grease. In our house we generally use bacon fat. I like how nicely it goes on and I like the smell of it when it is in the oven!
You can use olive oil, lard, shortening, or bacon fat.
Use a paper towel to wipe the full surface of the pan, top and bottom. You want to make sure that every surface is covered in the oil.
Put into a 350 degree oven for 2 hours.
Take it out and let it cool about 15 minutes. Put another layer of oil/grease on it and return it to the oven for another 2 hours.
Repeat this process once more. Then let it cool completely. Ta da!
So you are thinking to yourself “six hours?!?”. Truthfully I have shortened the baking times with success but the real thing to keep in mind is that its a passive activity involving only a couple minutes of your attention the entire time. If you get involved in something and don’t check it until the 3 hour mark it will be just fine. If you have to leave in a bit and take it out at the 1 hour mark, it will also be fine. Don’t stress!
Sometimes when I am wiping the oil onto the pan I notice some red rust on the paper towel afterwards. This is okay! You can use the oily paper towel to wipe off any remaining rust residue from the pan.