Restoring Cast Iron:
It’s become my addiction. It makes me happy. Like anything you restore, whether it be antique furniture, or CI, it’s exciting to see what’s under all the gunk, and give it new life!
There are 3 safe ways I know of to get your pan to bare metal. The Easy Off Method, a Lye bath or an e-tank.
If you only have one or two pieces you want to strip, you can use the easy off oven spray method.
Use the Easy Off that has the YELLOW lid. It must contain 100% LYE. You can get it at the Superstore.
Wear rubber gloves, and if possible, do this outside.******
I put a big piece of cardboard on the ground, get a large green garbage bag, open it up, lay the pan on top of bag so you will be able to just pull of the edges of the bag when you’re done spraying and pan will be inside of it.
While holding the handle of the skillet spray both front and back of pan, including handle, so the garbage bag collects the extra spray mist. Bring up edges of garbage bag so pan is inside of it, twist it a couple of times. Make sure it’s bottom side down.
Typically, if there is a lot of build up on it, it will take about 2 weeks to get it off using this method. This will not remove rust, just the crud build up and old seasoning. If you want a BETTER method, do a LYE BATH. One pound of LYE to 5 Gallons of water. It will take the crud off but not the rust. You can leave it in there forever, it won’t hurt it! The best method I hear, is an etank. It’s on my list of things I want to make.
Back to the Easy Off method… The pan will have a black liquid mess in it so make sure you keep it in the garbage bag while you’re checking it. I use blue shop towels, (and rubber gloves). I wipe off all the oven cleaner and crud. If all the seasoning has come off, you need to wash your pan in soap and water. I use cold water as typically the pan is cold from being in the garage. If you use hot water you’ll likely crack your pan. (Lye works best if it’s in a warm environment.)
Once its washed with soap and water you will be able to see if there is any seasoning left. It will just appear as black splotches here and there. You can typically scrub them off using ‘Barkeepers Friend’ and steel wool. NEVER use brass scouring pads or bristle cleaners, it will discolour your pan. If there is still too much seasoning left on the CI, spray it again with oven cleaner and leave it in the bag again for at least a week before you check it again.
Wash with soap and water again. I use DAWN. If it’s all down to bare metal, you’re ready for the next step.
You want to avoid FLASH RUST at all costs. I’ve learned from a lot of failed attempts what works best for pretty much stopping this altogether.
When you do your final rinse in water and your pan is dripping wet, spray it all over with ORIGINAL PAM cooking spray. Use a few pieces of blue shop towel to wipe dry. By coating it this way with oil, the pan does not rust. If you just try to dry it with a paper towel, and no oil, you’ll see orange rust springing up all over because you can never dry it well enough!! If this does happen, you can put it in 50/50 of water and vinegar FOR NO LONGER THAN 30 MINUTES AT A TIME OR YOUR PAN WILL PIT, then scrub with BarKeepers Friend to remove the rust. If it’s just a bit of rust, I just add more Pam cooking spray and rub really good with more clean paper towel. That typically takes it off. Once your pan is dried off really well, just leave it for a day or more before you start the seasoning process. The pan has been wet for a long time, if you go straight from washing it and drying it with Pam, straight to putting it in the oven, you have a big chance it will flash rust before your eyes in the over and you’ll be starting over again. I sometimes leave mine for weeks after I’ve dried them with Pam, until I have time to season them. The metal is protected now with that fine coating of Pam, so is okay to leave as it is.
NEVER USE THE SELF CLEANING SETTING ON YOUR OVEN TO STRIP YOUR CAST IRON.
*****If you use a gas oven, you HAVE to preheat it before you put the bare CI in. Gas causes a vapour when you turn the oven on that is enough moisture to cause flash rust. So… get in the habit of just preheating and then putting your CI in the oven.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
I use three racks, and depending on the sizes of pans can usually season about 5-8 at a time. If you have something other than a skillet that has lots of nooks and crannies, like a waffle iron, you won’t want to do too many along with that as they take a longer time to do.
Once oven reaches 200, put your pans in upside down on the racks. Set your timer for 20 minutes. This gives them a chance to warm up, but won’t be too hot. Use oven mitts that have silicone on them so you don’t burn yourself or melt the material to your CI.
At 20 minutes, remove one pan at a time. I put them on silicone mats on the counter, (just resting the edge on the matt while I hold the handle with the silicone oven mitt. I use a cotton t-shirt, that I have cut up. Do not use any parts of the shirt that have thread as you will more then likely end up with melted thread on your cast iron. Pour about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan and wipe it all over the pan, inside, outside, edges, handles. All nooks and crannies. Then, get a clean cloth from the t-shirt and wipe ALL oil off. It’s impossible to do that actually, so just keep wiping it off, all over. If you don’t, it will pool when it’s heated and will leave blotchy bits of seasoning on the pan. Once you do one and it’s wiped down, put it on the oven top, take the next one out, when they are all out, turn the temperature up to 300, when it’s reached it’s temperature, put the pans back in upside down (not need for pans or tinfoil, as you have already wiped the oil off well) set the timer for 15 minutes. This needs to all be done quickly as you are putting the pans on the stove top, while the oven preheats, again, this likely just applies to gas ovens, but this is the process I would do no matter what type of oven.
When the timer goes off, take one pan at at time out, wipe it all down again with a clean dry cloth, put on top of stove. Set temperature to 485 degrees. Put all pans back into the oven upside down, set timer for 1.5 hours. You will smell it, and it could smoke lightly, but that’s what you need to do in order to get the seasoning on to stay. If you use anything other than Crisco Oil (liquid) you will have to adjust your temperature according to the smoking temperature of the oil you use. Do not use olive oil or flax oil.
When the timer goes off, shut the stove off, don’t open the door and leave them in there until temp comes down.
Repeat process about 4 times before you start using. Doesn’t have to be on the same day, can be any time you have time.
Cleaning your Cast Iron Skillet
They say… ‘Just cook BACON’… They say… ‘It will season your pan up so nice!’ they say…
I say phooey to that!
Every time I fry bacon, I completely mess up my skillet.
Check out this caked on mess!
Cook bacon low and slow. Don’t try to move it until the pan releases the bacon. The sugar in bacon today is what makes it this sticky mess. (PS, I have since learned how to cook bacon, low and slow and my pans has never looked like this since!)