Restoring a Cast Iron Pan

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People ask me all the time about cast iron pans. I always tell everyone the same thing and that is “they don’t make them like they used to.” Lodge is the prominent brand you will find at most stores today.  They have been around a very long time and make a decent product but the pans they make today do not compare to the pans made by the companies that have mostly folded in the 1950s when cast iron pans started falling out of favor.

I always keep an eye out for old Griswold pans in antique stores. Griswold cookware is sought after by many collectors and the really old pans can be very expensive.  For people, like me, who want to use the pan for cooking, the sweet spot is pans made in the 1940s.  These pans are not highly valued by collectors but are still of high quality.  The age of the pan can be determined by the logo beneath the pan.  It can get confusing so I refer to guides like this.

Before buying an old pan, examine it closely for cracks, pits, and warping.   This type of damage is irreparable and should be avoided.  Don’t worry about superficial rust and scratch marks which can easily be cleaned up.  I picked up the pan, pictured, for $35.

To begin restoration, the rust and old seasoning needs to be removed.  The goal is to get the pan down to its bare unprotected metal so that a new layer of seasoning can be built back up.  Wearing gloves, I spray Easy Off oven clean onto the whole pan and put it into a plastic bag. After 15 minutes, I scrub off the rust and seasoning with the rough side of a sponge, rinse the pan, and spray again. This step is repeated several more times until the pan’s dull raw metal is exposed.  At this point, the pan should be immediately dried and a thin coat of neutral oil (soy, peanut, corn, etc) or lard should be rubbed on to protect the bare surface.  The bare metal pan is pictured below and you can see that there is already some new rust along the inner wall because I took too long trying to get a good picture.

 

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Now it’s time to build up a new layer of seasoning.  The seasoning is a result of complex chemical reactions that occur when fat is heated up and breaks down on the pan’s surface.  The layer of seasoning protects the pan from rust and give the pan it’s non-stick quality.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Using a paper towel or clean kitchen towel, apply a thin layer of neutral oil or lard to the whole pan.  Place the pan in the oven upside down for 20 minutes.  I like to repeat this step multiple times and leave the pan in the oven for 60 minutes on the last application.  The pan will now be ready to use.

 

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Tips:

– The more you use it the better the seasoning will be.

– Do not let a dirty pan sit for too long and definitely do not leave it soaking in water.  Once the pan is cool enough to handle, wash it with warm water, a non-abrasive sponge and light soap. (YES! a well-seasoned pan will NOT be ruined by soap).  Dry immediately by wiping it down and placing it on the stove so that all the small water droplets evaporate.

– A well-seasoned pan can handle acidic foods (ex: tomatoes, wine, etc) but I do not recommend cooking acidic foods in a newly seasoned pan as it may eat away the season and leave your food with off tastes.

– Cast iron pans get hot.  Get used to always grabbing the handle with a dry side towel or glove.

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