Cooking With Confidence
cast iron rust
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Repairing a Cast Iron Skillet

by Nick

One of the very first pieces of kitchen equipment I purchased with my own money was a cast iron skillet. The above skillet is the same one that I bought almost six years ago. POOR POOR SKILLET!

As you can see, it has seen better days. Generally, if you treat your cast iron skillet well, it won’t get like mine above. But after a few moves and years of use (some improper), mine just got a bit worn. A few months ago I noticed that it was starting to rust pretty badly and by the time I got around to fixing the problem, my skillet was almost entirely rusted out!

Now, some people might say that this means I need a new skillet, but oh no. One of the awesome things about these skillets is that with a little work and a few hours, you can bring it back to almost better than new status.

I figured I’d snap some photos as I went so you can repair any skillets that need repairing.

In fact, if you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can almost certainly find one at a garage sale if you search around a bit. It’ll probably look as bad if not worse than mine, but with these steps, you can bring it back into good shape.

Cleaning the Skillet

You probably heard it: “Never ever put soap on your cast iron skillet!”

That’s generally good advice because it strips out all the oils that have seasoned the skillet. When we are looking at a skillet like mine though, step one in getting it back into good shape is to very thoroughly clean it.

That means getting off all the rust and crud and basically starting from scratch.

For this, you’re going to want to pick up some steel wool scrubbers!

scrub

Steel Wool is your friend.

Get some really hot water, a good amount of soap, and a scrubber and really go to town on the skillet. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard work.

You want to make sure you thoroughly scrub all the inside of the skillet. Get the sides and the bottom really well. Make sure all the rust is out. It’s going to take 10-15 minutes of good scrubbing to get the job done.

suds and water

The only time soap is okay.

After this, your arms will be exhausted, and you’ll have a nice clean skillet.

This was mine after about 15 minutes of scrubbing. Looking better already!

Clean, but rough.

Of course, the problem is that now this skillet is just a big piece of iron with no coating at all to protect stuff from sticking to it. One of the joys of having a good cast iron skillet is that almost nothing sticks to it.

Right now though, this pan is like Velcro. All the little crevices in the iron are going to make anything that touches it stick to it. You can see how it’s kind of a dull black/gray color. That means it’s clean, but not seasoned for cooking.

Seasoning the skillet

Honestly, the hard part is over. Now we just need to get the skillet ready for cooking.

Seasoning, as it’s called, involves cooking a very light layer of fat or oil in the skillet for many hours. As the skillet heats up, the metal expands slightly and the iron basically absorbs the fat. Then as it cools, the oil sticks on the skillet and makes it shiny, smooth, and most importantly non-stick.

You can use vegetable oil for this, but honestly, bacon grease is the best thing for it. So assuming you’re not vegetarian, pull out some good fatty bacon.

bacon

Bacon is always good.

Add the bacon to your cast iron skillet and put the skillet on very low heat. After about 20 minutes, most of the fat should have rendered out of the bacon.

You should end up with something like this!

cooking

You just need the grease.

Cooking the pan

After you have your bacon grease ready, remove the bacon from the pan, pour off the bacon grease and save it, and wipe the pan really clean. Be sure to get any bacon bits that are stuck to the pan out of there.

Then, using a paper towel, pour a tiny amount of bacon grease back into the pan and rub it around the pan using a paper towel. There should be a very light layer of oil shimmering on the whole skillet. You don’t want any grease pooling in the pan, just a nice smooth layer covering the whole surface.

Heat your oven to 250 degrees and bake the skillet for an hour.

Take it out, rub it with a bit more oil/grease, then back in the oven for an hour.

After two hours, we’re getting somewhere. Notice how the pan is starting to shine a bit.

Two hours

After two hours of baking.

I did this same process two more times.

So in total, I baked my skillet for 4 hours at 250 degrees. Generally, two hours will do the trick, but I like to make sure mine is really nice and seasoned. That might seem like a lot of work, but it’s largely hands off.

When my pan cooled down, I had a nice shiny cast iron skillet that looks a thousand times better than what I started with.

four hours

After four hours of baking.

The Egg Test

Ok. So the real test for any non-stick surface is a fried egg.

Once you’re ready to test it out, put your skillet over medium high heat and let it get nice and hot. Add a few drops of oil to the pan and crack in an egg. It should slide around and flip easily, just as if it were in a nonstick pan!

I passed my egg test!

egg test

The egg test.

Cast iron skillets aren’t expensive, but there’s no reason to throw one away if you can fix it like new with a few hours of lazy work, and a few minutes of heavy scrubbing.

So, if you have a neglected cast iron skillet or know somebody who does, now you know how to fix it up!

castironskillet_pin

If you have doubts about why you need a cast iron skillet, here are 10 reasons why you should get one.

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203 comments on “Repairing a Cast Iron Skillet

  1. This used to happen to me all the time back in the day. Some dishwasher would get all up in my stuff, and wash my skillet. Here is another trick if you have some time… and it will help you season your pan faster, and with less scrubbing.

    Get some rock salt, the really coarse kind. Lightly scrub your skillet, then dry it. Put it over a medium heat and pour the rock salt into the pan so you have like, an inch on the bottom. Once it is heated up, you can toss it in a hot oven. Every 20 minutes or so, you take out your pan, give the salt a stir, and put it back into the oven.

    You will find that the salt will turn greyish-red. (It is lifting the rust out of the pores.) You need to be a little careful, because the salt will be hot.

    Then, after an hour of this, you will be able to take your salt out, and scrub with your steel wool on the bottom once it has cooled down.

    After, follow the other steps you outlined, then all will rock.

    The salt will extract any oils left in the pan, and literally leave nothing in the pores. That way, when you are rendering your bacon fat, the holes will be filled faster, thus making your patina that much quicker.

    Hope that helps out man!

      1. This was the first time it has rusted completely out. I've seasoned my pan maybe once or twice just by coating it with oil and baking it for like 90 minutes. This was the first time I've had to completely repair it though. Worked great though!

  2. I have a colleague — for the sake of simplicity, let's just call her MY GRADUATE ADVISOR — who insists that they don't make iron skillets like they used to. She claims that they are pitted in ways they weren't in times past. I pointed out to her that all iron skillets are pitted and that you fill in this pits when you season them and that the difference between skillets she has seen before and new ones are the lack of adequate seasoning. Of course, she is MY GRADUATE ADVISOR and is never wrong. Did I mention I'm looking forward to graduation?

    1. Datkari, Your advisor is right.

      Not only is the manufacturing process of the pans different, but the iron ore that newer pans are made from is of lesser quality than the pans made prior to the late 1940’s. The older pans were made from iron ore mined from the Great Lakes region and were formed in jeweler’s grade sand molds. Some were even milled to make the inside even smoother.

  3. This post is making me crave the cornbread my mom used to make when I was younger, baked right in the cast iron skillet. Served hot out of the oven, cut into wedges, and topped with honey butter. So good!

  4. ok i learned something new today. never ever thought to use steel wool. you did a really good job on this one.
    want to do mine? mine has the raised grilling lines in it and steel wool is hard to get in there. but i'm just really making excuses. lol

  5. Whoa. Awesome post. Very educational. I sadly don't have a cast iron skillet, so this seems like a lot of work (I'll just go out and buy a new one) but super interesting to learn the process.

    1. Pick one up at a garage sale if you're into that sort of thing. Doesn't matter how ugly the cast-iron is, Nick showed how how to make it better than new. Seriously, BETTER than new :)

  6. Excellent post, thank you! I recently saw some vintage cast iron skillets at an antique shop and wondered if they would still be food safe…any suggestions for reseasoning/cleaning or do you think they would be good to go if they're not rusted?
    My recent post Apple-Ginger Bread Pudding

  7. I've heard bacon grease is good but recently read that flaxseed oil is actually the best. Not sure if anyone has seen this but she insists flaxseed oil is the best for seasoning and backs it up with what sounds like science and a damn sexy picture of a pan seasoned with it. http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-scien

    I haven't tried it yet but I plan to this weekend as the seasoning on my pans has been seriously neglected.

  8. Great post! Most advise to bake your greased pan at 400+F which completely smokes out the house, especially if you're using bacon fat.

    Here's a question, I actually just noticed that the bottom of my skillet is starting to rust a little bit (probably as a result of not drying it properly and stacking aluminum pots on top of it on the counter). Would you recommend reseasoning the bottom as well or does that not matter? It doesn't seem to be causing any kind of smoke or heating problems during cooking so far.
    My recent post Im Okay- the Cheese is Okay

    1. I don't think the bottom really matters, but I think you could just scrape it off with steel wool so it didn't continue to rust. I'm not sure there's an advantage to seasoning the outside htough.

      1. The advantage would be to keep it from getting rusty. You don’t need the non-stick surface on the bottom, just enough to prevent rust. I frequently (not every use) check the bottom of the pan to see if it is showing any signs of needing to be seasoned. It will either look very very dull or sometimes it will have a very slight rust color. Since I check the bottom frequently, the rust will be an extremely small amount so I don’t worry about cleaning it off. I just put a very very tiny amount of oil on a paper towel & wipe it on then put it on the burner. I usually dry it on a burner after cleaning it, treat the bottom if it needs it, wipe a thin layer of coconut oil on the inside surface, heat it pretty hot, turn the burner off and let it cool before putting it away.
        If I am seasoning the pan in the oven I treat the bottom like I do the inside surface.

  9. mmmm bacon.
    Regarding cast iron… can you use a cast iron skillet on a glass stove-top?
    Non-regarding cast iron… how did the home brew turn out?

    1. Hmm… I think so, but honestly, I rarely cook on a glass stove-top so not positive on that one.

      Haven't tried it yet.. popping it open this weekend!

      1. As do I. Never a problem. I obviously don’t slide the pan all over the place, but my cast irons all heat nicely on the glass top stove. Not sure why some sources do not recommend it, but with care, it works extremely well!!

  10. I got a cast iron skillet for Christmas, I'll have to file this away so I know what to do if it rusts.

  11. My cast iron skillets always got washed with soap after cooking any thing in them. The trick to doing it is to wash with soapy water, rinse water off and put in rack to drain while I dry my hands. When my hands are dry I then take several paper towels and finish drying the skillet so that no water is left on it. Then a put a small amount of olive oil in the skillet and take a folded paper towel and spread the oil all around inside and out and then store my skillets in their storage place.

  12. Wow, great job. I just posted it on FB for my lazy friends and I'm bookmarking it for myself.

  13. I have a couple of pans that could use this treatment. Thank you! Oh, can you eat the bacon?

  14. great post! I have a cast iron skillet that is just sitting, not being used, for this very reason. Thank you! I will definitely use this treatment to bring my skillet back to its cooking days again.

  15. Since I moved to the US I am obsessed with cast iron skillets and Dutch Ovens. I found your post while I was researching for my "history of the pan that made America"…

    I love these pans.

  16. Congratulations on the nice mention this posting earned you in yesterday's Washington Post — your blogging fame is definitely spreading!

  17. I've always done it the hard way, never used steel wool, but I'd use a bit of oil and lots of table salt and my fingertips to scrub out the rust, and then season it accordingly.

  18. I just got done using this method to repair a cast iron dutch oven…you definitely saved me! I was so sad to see that my dutch oven had rusted, but then I remembered that you posted this and I knew I had to give it a shot. Thanks!

  19. Ohhh thank you so much for this article. I got my skillet a few years ago and knew I was doing something wrong and was about to throw it away! Thank you!

  20. OMG, you ROCK you ROCK you ROCK. I ggled “fix a rusted cast iron skillet” and this page was the FIRST result. And how perfect is that? Got my scrubbers, got my bacon, ready to raise my skillet, Phoenix-like, from the rusticles :)

  21. wow dude,
    i followed your directions to the tee… actually i did the suggestion of jason sandeman
    using the salt and baking it for an hour, stirring it every 20minutes, and then i did
    your step by step… i wish i had taken pictures, like you had. my Lodge 10 in. skillet
    is better than when i bought it 2 years ago, and i bought it new and it said it was
    already “seasoned”… however, whenever i used it, everything stuck to it and it
    was a pain in the butt to clean… i stopped using that cast iron pan approx a year ago
    and i was about to throw it away as it was rusted. the other day i “googled” “rusted
    cast iron skillet” and your site came up… thank you so much for blogging your cast
    iron experience…. i did the “fried egg test” and it was totally non-stick…
    Thanks again ,
    steve

    1. Sweet man. Glad you got your pan all fixed up. Definitely one of my favorite kitchen tools once it’s seasoned correctly.

  22. I bought a cast iron and thought it was absurd not to wash it with soap. One time I set it in the cupboard and forgot to dry it after I washed it. It rusted, but not as bad as yours. I did the oven thing after it happened, but put the oil layer too thick and it turned into a nightmare of some insanely tough sticky coating. I just scrubbed that out and burned it in on the range, apartment was smokey as all hell but it did the trick.

    Now after just scrubbing it out with a plastic brush I usually always set it on a burner to med/high until it starts to smoke and oil it. I’ve only had it for a couple years and the thing looks like it’s been around forever. As black as the void.

  23. thanks for this! I just got a set of cast iron and it was in my cabinet waiting to be seasoned and we had company who cooked rice in one of the sauce pans and then left water sitting in it…uck…now I need to pick up some steel wool…wish it had been one of the skillets not the little sauce pan! I see some raw knuckles in my future from the scrubbing stage….
    My mom used to cook with cast iron, that’s why I bought this set…they were great over the campfire (she and my step dad volunteered for the forest service so we traveled from one national forest to another in a school bus turned travel trailer) and I miss it…and now we have a gas stove and oven and I figured it’s not a campfire, but it is an open flame, so I wanted some cast iron for it :)

  24. Hi

    I have two very old cast iron kettles I would like to get into a usable state again.

    The bottom of the one is extremely thin and the other one has a hairline crack and one hole rusted through, the entire bottom also very thin.

    Can I braze to build up the bottom of the kettle?

    Any other suggestions, then how can I get the Kettle look nice and black again?

    Thanks
    Pieter

    1. Hi Pieter… I doubt that will work. This method only really works for cast iron pans that are thick and you cook on. I think you might just need to splurge for a new kettle. There’s no way I know of to build up the bottom of a kettle.

  25. I recently aquired a cast iron skillet that my mom and dad had for many years. They stopped using it several years ago and though the inside is in great shape, the bottom is showing rust. Is there any hope in saving the skillet?

    1. Should be very saveable Joe! Rust on the outside isn’t that important as long as it’s not rusted through or really thin… You can use a similar technique on the outside that I used in this post. Just scrub the crap out of it with some wire wool to get the rust off, then just rinse it off well and it should be usable. You don’t cook anything on the outside so it doesn’t really need to be treated like the inside.

  26. I am in the middle of my cast iron skillet repair process. I combined your tips with a few others, and WOW!!!!! My skillet was rusted out, I thought I was going to have to throw it out. Several people told me that I could fix it, but they were not sure how to do it. Thanks so much for your tips. My skillet already looks completely NEW!!!!!!!!

  27. I love this! I just bought two cast iron skillets because my grandma owns one and I love cooking with them. I accidently stuck the first one in the disher washer when I knew better and thought I just had to throw it away and I bought a new one. My new one was looking crappy and I was beginning to think it just wasn’t meant for me to own a cast iron skillet. They defiantly are NOT made the way they used to be. I’m trying this out know and I hope it really works!

  28. Gentlemen:

    We have a Le Creuset 5.5 Qt round French Oven ( Flame Color ), last week the cover or lid crack partially and some of the paint also was gone. We wonder if you know who can repair the same , of couse as you well know the item in question is in cast iron. Maybe need to be weld and paint.
    Le Creuset Company does not offer repair service and despite the fact that it was sold as a full lifetime warranty, apparently it would not apply in this case, years back the service and warranty was different.

    If not do you know who might sale tids or covers, if not a universal lid in metal ( not necessary cast iron ) that might fit the oven. The lid diameter is 27 1/2 Ctms or 10 3/4 Inch and have a lip, the same can be in metal color.

    Your help would be much appreciated!

    1. Hmm…. that’s a tough one. If Le Creuset won’t honor the warranty you might be out of luck on fixing it. The process in this post definitely won’t work for enameled items.

      If it’s just the lid though I wonder if you can just keep using it without issue?

      If it’s a huge crack you might need to find a replacement lid though… check salvation armies and thrift stores for a cast iron lid that fits. It doesn’t have to be Le Creuset obviously… just something cast iron.

      Good luck!

  29. I’m surprised no one mentioned how my great-grandmother taught me to care for cast iron. After washing the cooking debris out of the skillet with a dishrag, she would rinse it with water, then dry it. Then most importantly it went straight to the stove on a high flame and a little oil or bacon grease was dropped inside & wiped around with a paper towel. I’ve continued to do this with the same skillet that she gave to my mom (and that my mom cared for the same way), and it looks as good today as it did when Gran had it.

  30. I was at goodwill today. I saw 3 very rusty cast iron pans for $3 a piece. I didn’t know if I could fix them so I Googled right away and your site popped up. So of course I bought them!! :D

    I have everything I need on hand already and I can’t wait to get started. But I was curious if chicken fat could work as well as bacon?

    What a steal! Now I’ll keep my eyes open at every second hand shop and yard sale I go to.

    1. Amy – chicken fat should work fine. I keep schmaltz in my fridge but it’s never as abundant as my supply of bacon fat. Any fat should work and people have had success with many kinds. I also season mine on my Cajun-style BBQ/grill with offest heat.

  31. Excelllent tutorial! Thanks a lot. I’ve collected many skillets and griddles, but never knew how to bring them back to life. My camping trips will be so much better now.

  32. THANK YOU, THANK YOU & THANK YOU AGAIN!
    This gave life back to my cast iron skillet.
    I was so inspired by your pizza recipe – which was wonderful!
    Both the restoration & pizza were relatively simple.
    I have now used my skillet to fry meatballs without sticking or smelling weird.
    I am a happy cooker!

  33. I cook with (flat-bottom) cast iron on a glass top stove (not my preference) every day. No problem. I am careful to warm my cookware up first, I keep the stovetop very clean, and I don’t smooth the cast iron around on it. I have some family heirloom cast iron (some belonged to my great-grandfather, born 1863. (I ain’t no spring chicken myself.)

    MY QUESTION: I found some old cast iron, really bad shape, rusty, pitted on the outside, inside ok. On the outside, there are raised metal “globs.” I sanded them a little bit, and they are bright, shiny metal. Looks like something (maybe chemical reaction) actually caused the cast iron to bubble up – it’s just a few bumps in a small area on one side. I’m not a metal worker, but I’m going to guess these bumps will have to be ground down. (have to have a smooth exterior for that darn glass top stove). These malformations are maybe 1/16 inch high. What should I use to sand them off? I started off hand-sanding with a sanding block for metal. That’s gonna take a while. Any better suggestion? (I’m thinking power tools).

    Has anyone ever heard of the cast iron forming bumps? I can’t imagine what caused it!

  34. Nick, I frequently wipe oil on the bottom of my cast iron pieces when I’m applying it to the inside after use. In my mind, rust on the outside will eventually eat away at the bottom of my pan and I’ll end up with a hole. Well, maybe not in my lifetime but I hope to pass my cast iron down to my daughters and granddaughters someday.

  35. Hi Nick –

    I have a Weber Cast Iron Gridle I used with my outdoor Weber gas grill. I left the gridle outside by my grill ( in a compartment below it ) for a bunch of months. I checked it recently – it’s pretty rusty and dirty. Would the tips for cleaning the skillet be pretty similar for me to clean my cast iron gridle? I’d love to use it again to make cheesteaks and burgers. Thanks.

  36. I bought a cute egg-shaped skillet last summer that was labeled ‘already seasoned’ but within months it began to rust. I have been lining it with aluminum foil and using it only in the oven (almost daily).
    I was about to retire it when it hit me – google rust repair – and the first site was yours.
    Your instructions are clear thorough and almost fun and your proof or after-photo looks amazing.
    So I’m trying it tomorrow and I’ll let you know.
    Thanks a million

  37. Here’s a silly question.
    I forgot my old cast iron griddle on a burner and the seasoning seems to have burned off to the metal; I’ve scrubbed it with fine steel wool and a plastic brush for a while and it seemed to be clean, no stains on a dry paper towel I used to wipe it after washing. However, once I tried to coat it in grease for re-seasoning, it stained the greasy towel black. Washed it again, but the same thing happened.
    So, the question: Is that normal or still more scrubbing needed?

    1. Hmm… not sure. Does it have grates? I’ve never left it on the burner for longer but it might have done some serious damage. It might not be fixable…. :(

      1. No, the surface is perfectly smooth. It didn’t heat enough to turn red or warp, either; the color where the seasoning burned off is fairly close to what another old skillet looked like after being scoured clean of rust.

          1. More steel wool in my future then, I guess.
            Thank you for the quick response, btw.
            and if you’re interested, I can post an update after another attempt at scrubbing it clean.

  38. MY QUESTION: I found some old cast iron, really bad shape, rusty, pitted on the outside, inside ok. On the outside, there are raised metal “globs.” I sanded them a little bit, and they are bright, shiny metal. Looks like something (maybe chemical reaction) actually caused the cast iron to bubble up – it’s just a few bumps in a small area on one side. I’m not a metal worker, but I’m going to guess these bumps will have to be ground down. (have to have a smooth exterior for that darn glass top stove). These malformations are maybe 1/16 inch high. What should I use to sand them off? I started off hand-sanding with a sanding block for metal. That’s gonna take a while. Any better suggestion? (I’m thinking power tools).

    1. yea… you would probably need power tools. I’m not sure that I would cook in it honestly unless you can get it really smooth and clean. Sounds like something weird happened to it!

  39. What do you mean by Very Low. I had my stove element set at 1, just one above Low, but not much was happening and it was obvious the bacon would not be fried in 20 minutes. So I began turning the heat up till it was about 3-4. The bacon did fry then, although it also stuck here and there. Is that bad? Do I need to wash it and start all over again?

  40. I think the bacon I used was not fatty enough causing the bacon to stick. Also, I’m trying to season two pans – a round skillet and and a square griddle. The bacon on the griddle hardly generated any fat and I had to add grease from the skillet.

    So to get to the point, it’s a little hard to wipe a pan clean with a paper towel when bacon has stuck to it, so I used the steel wool again under plain running water, wiped pans dry, added drops of bacon grease, rubbed it in with paper towel, and stuck it oven at 250.

    By taking steel wool to the pan the second time, did I botched up the seasoning process?

    1. Sorry Sina… when I say put the heat on very low… I mean on the stove top, not in the oven. Normally, when I mean oven, I’ll give an exact temperature.

      Fattier bacon definitely helps because you want to render it down well. It’s okay if it sticks a little bit… at that point the pan isn’t seasoned at all so stuff will stick to it for sure.

      Just scrape up any bacon bits that are stuck and proceed with the process. Your goal is just to get enough grease to coat the entire inside of the pan. Then you rub it down and put it in the oven at 250… etc.

      If you steel wooled again after baking, you’ll want to bake it again…

    2. It is not necessary to cook the bacon in the pan you are fixing – I generally do bacon on a flat bacon tray in the microwave for 5-8 minutes depending on thickness and NEVER with a paper towel in there. I get really great crisp bacon and I save every drop of the bacon grease/drippings. I keep it in a can by the stove like cooks have been doing for time immemorial.

      I wouldn’t think of cooking bacon in an uncured, unfinished pan – I don’t think it would be very appetizing to eat and what a waste of good bacon!

  41. my next door neighbor, (50’s ish) picks up rusted iron skillets at every yard sale she goes to. She got a 4qt cast iron dutch oven in horrendous shape,(rusted beyond what I thought was salvageable) for 5 bucks. since we’d been discussing repairing damaged iron stuffs ,she came and bragged on her success . she’d scrubbed it with a clean steel wool pad,rinsed it,dried it, & threw it in her fire pit outside! she let it burn there for hours, when the coals were hot, she smooshed it down into the coals & ash. what emerged the next morn was a surprisingly clean & very surprisingly pristine looking iron pot!!( I can’t tell you how bad the rust was, it had eaten bits away!!) we talked about re-seasoning,so the next night she had a fire, she coated it in crisco & did exactly as she’d done before. (IN the fire & ash) she showed me a cast iron dutch oven that looked like it had come of the shelf just now. it looked glossy & new.

    1. I use my charcoal Cajun-style BBQ pit grill with offset box and chimney to “work” my pans in progress.

  42. Thanks for this. I picked up two cast iron pans at a discount shop in town yesterday. They were only $4 a piece. To others they looked like junk. To me a little bit of gold. I had been looking at cast iron pans in the stores here and they start at $50. I followed your instructions and now have two beautiful skillets. Thanks so much!

  43. I have a Lodge cast iron that I got about 6 years ago. I was wondering if you think this is a good brand or not. I had neglected it a few years back so came across your site as I’m in the process of restoring it (thanks for such helpful pics and info). But would love any advice about brands and if that really matters much at all.

  44. my iron dutch oven has survived several deep hard cleaning experiences. now it leaks all across the bottom. is it possible to get it sealed?

  45. I have the cast iron skillet my Mother received at a wedding gift in 1939…talk about memories! when I got it out today I saw that it was getting a bit of rust on the bottom so Googled “how to repair a rusted cast iron skillet” and got your wonderful info. The skillet is in the oven as I write. Thank you !

  46. Thanks for the instructions on how to bring my old cast iron skillet and pan back to life. They have been passed down through the generations from my grandmother, at least, but due to my ignorance, were tossed on a shelf in the garage for the last 30 or so years. Accidentally stumbling across these rusted out relics and being much wiser, I realized the fine cooking utensils they could be.

    I followed your instructions and even though I had to repeat the steps 7 times until no signs of rust were left, it did clean up quite nicely. Thank you.

    When it came time to season these now clean and shiny utensils, I followed your instructions once again but instead of using oil for the seasoning agent, I used PAM, the spray-on baking release product. I did repeat the seasoning process 3 times using PAM but the cooking surfaces of these utensils came out looking like shiny black porcelain and they have a better non-stick surface than ANY of today’s modern utensils. Thank you for your expert advice and guidance.

  47. another tip, if you dont have steel wool….add about 2 tablespoons of salt and oil to pan, then scrub with paper towel.

  48. how to polish out scratches, if cast dutch oven has been cleaned with a mechanical tool and is now no longer black but a shiny scratched surface can it be repaired ?

    1. Hey John, not sure on that one. If it’s pure cast iron, you should be able to re-season it and get it pretty close to new… If it doesn’t work though, then you may just be in the market for a new one. Good luck!

  49. I found your article after discovering (rusting away under my kitchen sink cabinet) a set of 3 Lodge cast iron skillets that my parents gave to me about 13 years ago. I did not appreciate them all that much at the time (lesson learned). At first, I was skeptical about whether or not your method for cleaning/reconditioning the cast iron would work, but now I’m sold. I bought some steel wool and scrubbed all of the skillets furiously until every bit of rust was gone. I had some nice cuts of fatty bacon in my fridge, so I cooked three strips of those in the 10.25” skillet for 20 minutes and saved all of the grease for later. I preheated my gas oven to 250 degrees, rubbed the grease all over them (inside and out), “baked” the skillets for an hour, pulled them out after cooling, rubbed on a little more grease, and repeated the process two more times. After the third time baking, the outside of the skillets were a little gummy and sticky, so I baked them for two more hours at 400 degrees (cooling and a little more greasing after the first hour), and they turned out looking like brand new again! They even passed the fried egg test. I used them to cook a scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast this morning – delicious! Thank you for the article and advice.

  50. I did this step by step just as you said but I used olive oil , I didn’t have any bacon and pan is super sticky! Is this bad??

    1. My only concern is that olive oil has a relatively low smoking point – I would use peanut oil or maybe even coconut oil if you don’t have bacon drippings. Hope you got the stickiness off. It really don’t take long to get your cast iron into cookable state.

  51. I have a new skillet that I’ve used a few times. It came pre-seasoned and I’ve added to the seasoning process, but I just noticed some red stains, and they don’t look or feel like rust. Is there something else that could cause the pan to turn red–all i have cooked in it are eggs.
    Thanks.

    1. Huh! That’s weird Jan. If it’s not rust I’m not sure what it could be! If it were me, I would probably scrub it off and reseason when you get a chance just to me sure.

      Good luck!

  52. Thanks for the informatiion on how to repair a cast iron. My uncle use to do this for us years ago but he put the cast irons in a woodburner.

  53. I was about to give up on my cast iron pan, when I saw your article. I then quizzed my industrious husband about how he cleaned the pan (Yes, I should be thankful.) and he said he used a BBQ wire brush and soap to clean the thing. Helpy McHelperson does it again. Anyhoodles, I now have a non-stick pan and a husband who knows better. THANK YOU a million times.

  54. i have many griswold skillets #2-#20 that we use daily never any rust always heat pan slowly we use electric glass top stove or wood cook stove never raise heat above medium after cooking allow pan to cool and wipe with paper towel apply small amount of lard wipe down and hang up pan if food sticks put water in pan boil scrape with square end spatula stainless not junk plastic very little effort needed dump out wipe out apply lard rehang use 120 grit sand paper on rust or finer never use auto sanders grinders etc i collect griswold and that will ruin them the finish inside good pans is smooth as glass on old pans due to the jewelers sand they were cast in lodge logic pans that are rough inside that claim tey are seasoned need to be seasoned when you get them cover bottom with lard put in oven at 200 for 4 hrs mking sure cooking suface always looks wet after five hrs remove dump existig grease wipe down put back in oven on cookie sheet upside down for 1 hr at 350 remove wipe inside with lard on rag immediately let cool wipe down with lard on rag after cool rehang do not use bacon it has meat in it and salt salt removes seasoning once seasoned bacon and salty foods are fine but until seasoned anything salty is anty productive to remove rust and old seasoning rub salt with small amount of water on surface like you are polishing something cast iron pans wernt meant to be used on high heat of modern stove only low to medium if you want to ruin cast iron use higher than medium heat trust me i ruined a #10 griswold from the twentys pretty upsetting high heat only if boiling water

  55. we like cast iron so much that we gave all our other skillets away they truly last a lifetime i have my grand moters #10 griswold my dad had it his whole life and now i have it when im gone my daughter will have people talk about being green now this is truly green 100 yrs and still not in the landfill green and i never new it thats neat

    1. Absolutely! Just be sure to cook it over low heat and start it cold in the pan so the fat slowly renders out. Should work fine!

  56. I’m wondering about using increasingly finer grits of abrasive paper (with a block on the pan bottom) on a pitted pan. I actually use the stuff to sharpen everyday hand tools and knives generally stopping at around 2000 grit. It’s quick and adequate. Of course, with a badly rusted pan I’d think one might start with a fairly coarse grit, say 100 or so. Care to opine? Thanks!

    1. I think that would probably work. I just use steel wool… It would burn through paper pretty quickly but you could probably get the same result. Good luck!

    2. But you know what your best secret weapon is? Use the skillet regularly with metal spatulas! As you push the edge on fhe spatula over the surface of the pan, you want to apply some pressure and microplane the surface. Eventually, it should be smooth. Keep it seasoned and fry eggs or whatever you like. It’s incredible!

  57. I have a 100 year old Dutch oven I purchased online it was beautiful, I cooked shrimp and okra gumbo and cooked it a while to thicken it …it kept getting darker and darker till it turned blackish green. Tasted good but we had the residue of the dark color…very eerie…

    1. That’s what happens when you cook tomatoes or tomato sauce in an iron pot. It’s the acid starting to eat the iron. Looks ugly and isn’t really good for the pot but it won’t hurt you unless you have hemochromatosis.

  58. I got out my cast iron grill pan for the first time in years and cooked steaks for dinner las night. It is one of those long ones that fits over 2 burners. It is full of grease and has chunks of burned on fat. Paper towels will take care of the grease, but what is a good way to clean off the burned chunks. They are really stuck on, and I can’ trudge them by scraping with a table knife. An recommendations for a gill pan that is smaller and easier to clean? Thank you.

  59. I bought two really yukky skillets for $3 each and just recently got to work on them. I first put them in the oven as I did the self-cleaning cycle. They were not much improved but got a tip originating from Ann Heller, long-time food editor and Grande Dame of the Dayton Daily News. She said she uses vinegar to clean out rust. I tried it and followed up with a copper wool scrub. One came clean but the other is still pitted. So I put it on medim-low heat on the stove with a lid and with about a half-inch of vinegar inside. I’ll report back. The one that cleaned up is covered in a thin coating of bacon drippings and is in the 250 degree oven.

  60. Soak it in lye for a week, neutralize the lye with a vinegar soak, neutralize the vinegar with a washing soda soak (these two soaks only need a few minutes).

    Then scrub it down good, right to bare metal, and do a complete reseasoning.

    A lot of work but well worth the results.

  61. Well, the clean one – the 12″ skillet is wonderful. I used it successfully to saute onions and cabbage to make a fantastic reproduction of Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana but substituting cabbage for the kale in the recipe. So fantastic that it used to make me want to go to Olive Garden! Now that I have it figured out, why bother? LOL.

  62. Yes, it helped a lot. It’s just going to take some more work and I hope to get to it soon. It’s possible it won’t clean up but I haven’t found one yet I couldn’t fix. I never would have thought to use vinegar – haven’t seen that tip online but it is a good one.

    I wonder if anyone has any great ideas on how to smooth a pebbly finish out sooner than by regular use? The 12″ I got at Aldi is just not smooth enough yet and my recent successful 12″ rehab skillet is just so much more tempting to use!

  63. I have a 28 inch cast iron pan which is not well seasoned – food sticks on it when I cooked. I would like to season it but the problem is I do not have a oven in which to bake the pan. Can I heat it on a gas stove instead?

    My concern is I cannot control the temperature when heating over a gas stove? Does it matter? How Long should I heat it?

    thank you for any comment/suggestion.

    1. Hey CW, baking it low and slow is really the best way to ensure an even season over the pan, but if you don’t have access to one I think you could do it. You would want to keep the pan over very low heat. As low as it will go. And if you do it this way I’m not sure that it will really season the sides of the pan. You’ll have to keep wiping the pan down to distribute the fat on the edges and up the sides, but in theory it should work… I would still think that you would need to cook it over very low heat for a few hours to get a good season on it.

      GOod luck!

  64. I just bought a loge skillet and accidentally burned a corn tortilla on it the 1st time I used it. Now it appears that there is red rust marks?
    Do I have to go through the long process of scrubbing off the rust ans re-seasoning it?

  65. I been using crisco for years to season my cast iron.
    This bacon method has changed my way.
    Spent the day re-seasonong all my pans.

    Good stuff!!

  66. Hi, Well, I did not think my skillet was in too bad of shape. I was looking forward to this afternoon project. All the rust came off. I fried up the bacon and just finished my 4th hour long bake. Unfortunately, my pan just always remained sticky between every bake. I never did get a nice shine. Hmmmm, maybe my skillet was beyond repair.

    1. From all I’ve read, you are probably using too much oil when you season and you should NOT use bacon fat for seasoning at all! The salt is a problem along with other issues Flax oil is claimed best by some, google that, I’m going to try it on the ones I’m refurbing now. Maybe crisco or a veg oil.

  67. I used two coats of veg.oil on a cast iron tortilla warmer, in the oven for an hour each time on 250. After it cooled, I noticed the surface was sticky to the touch. After setting medium heat on the warmer, I put a tortilla on and it immediately got stuck. I turned it over and tortilla became stuck again. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hey Gilbert, I’ve never used vegetable oil but my guess is that you have too much oil on the pan. I would apply it and then wipe it down thoroughly with a paper towel to remove almost all of the oil… That’s the only thing I can think of!

      Good luck!

      1. I thought I wiped it down enough with a paper towel after each coat. After it cools from warming up the tortilla, I will check to see if the flakes from the tortilla come off easily. If not, it maybe time for a new warmer

        1. too much oil I think, it should look almost dry when you season it with veg oil, also 250 is too cool in my opinion, I use 350. Also turn I also turn my skillets upside down when seasoning. If you have a stick surface you need to strip it down to bare metal again and start fresh. Also warm the piece to 200f before you wipe on the veg oil

  68. Thanks for your article. Spend all of last evening working on my pan, but I’m still getting a black residue on the paper towel when I wipe it down. What’d I do wrong?! Thanks again for your help.

    1. Hey Deb,

      You should be able to rinse it with hot water (no soap) and wipe out any residue. If you keep getting a lot of residue (there is always a little bit honestly), then you might be up for a new pan? Good luck!

  69. Thanks for the great advice. I just got a couple of my grandma’s old cast iron pans that haven’t been used in years – she didn’t cook much near the end, and I imagine lifting it was difficult with her arthritis. I will absolutely be seasoning mine with bacon fat – I want it to pass the egg test!

    Something I’ve heard on other sites that might make the de-rusting process easier is using steel wool and Bartender’s Best Friend. I’ve heard a lot of good things about that cleanser, and plan on picking some up for my stainless steel pots, and my poor neglected cast iron skillets. (Obviously you’d only use Bartender’s Best Friend if you are willing to start the seasoning from scratch like this article describes – otherwise it would be way too strong.)

    1. Great tip Brittany. I use BBF on all my steel pots and it will definitely work wonders on cast iron as well as long as you are willing to start over. :)

      Thanks for the comment!

  70. I always use bacon drippings with no problems at all. And they are free to me.

    I would not, however, cook bacon in a icky skillet. That’s a waste. Get a bacon grease keeper and keep it in your kitchen. You don’t have to keep it refrigerated.

  71. I have quite a bit of cast iron, newer and old. Some of my skillets got cruddy and the Lodge is rough so I am scouring them and sanding to smooth. I noticed that I have some redish or brown spots that I don’t think is rust as it is seasoned. I noticed the photo on here with the bacon cooking looks the same. I would asume that the pans should be silver or black, not sure what this other color is, maybe it’s turning.

  72. This worked and the egg just slipped out of the pan. now how do I keep it in this condition after cooking on it?

    thanks for tips!

    1. Janah: after use, just wipe clean. I season most of the time on stovetop. Do not use soap. When your oven is on, a layer of oil/shortening and bake withyour cookies, upside down. Just keep building layers of oil.

  73. Looks like I threw away a perfectly good, but abused, cast iron skillet a few years ago :( Question: What do you do to the outside to keep it pretty? Same thing??

    1. Yep! You can absolutely season the outside as well. I tend to not prioritize it on mine, but you can definitely do it to keep them nice and shiny. Good luck!

  74. SELF CLEANING OVEN..Save money, energy and time..Our ovens need to be cleaned also right? Put all of the cast iron in the oven and set it to the clean cycle. (don’t overload single layer only) Set it and forget it..let them cool then season with coconut oil.(does not get rancid) This method removes everything down to the original cast iron. Works wonders for yard sale cast iron.

  75. Please, please do not put your cast iron pans into a firepit to clean them. Unless the temperature is perfect it is very, I repeat very easy to damage them. When you turn the cast iron a off red color from placing it into a firepit, that isn’t rust. You have actually changed the temper of the cast iron and essentially ruined the piece as it will not season properly again and is likely warped. No sandblasting either!!! Use an electrolysis set-up (google search it, very simple) or a lye soak or over cleaner (same as lye bath basically). I know many people will not see this but I just cringe when I hear about using a firepit to “clean” cast iron!

    1. Our CI was accidentally left on an electric stove burner on high and now it has a brownish “stain” in the shape of the electric coils. This is my husband’s favorite griswold so any advice for how to attempt repair is greatly appreciated. Since we are not dealing with burnt on food or rust I am wondering what our next step should be.

      1. Hey Johanna, if the stain is on the outside it shouldn’t effect much. Otherwise I would take some steel wool to it and scrub the heck out of it. Since it’s already essentially ruined, you probably can’t hurt it more. Scrub it until you get off all the stain and rust like I did in the photos and then reseason it. I would think that should work but it’ll take some TLC to get there probably. Good luck!

  76. I have a pre-seasoned new cast iron dutch oven. After a few uses, I’m finding bits of flakes in my food. It looks as if the pre-season is flaking and you can taste the iron in the food. Could the season be scrubbed off and I could start over? I also have an old naturally seasoned skillet that I love… and have had no issues with flakes.

    1. Heya,

      I think you definitely could reseason it but that’s going to be A LOT of work. If you just bought it which is what it sounds like, I would call the company and complain and see if they will send you a replacement. Good luck!

  77. i have 2, a large 10″ skillet and a dutch oven kinda thing that the lid can be flipped and used as a griddle. Both are well over a hundred years old. Do not know the actual age as they have been passed down through 3 or 4 generations..I love both of these and they make the best food…I think because they were cooked in with love for the family. I recently used my skillet to make a pawn of cornbread and there were a decent amount of grease left in the pan after i removed the bread, so i though i would wipe it around and put it back in the oven awhile it was cooling down and do a mini season,, now the bottom is sticky. What can i do to fix this..this pan in particular has been handed down again and again. With each hand doing the cooking it has acquired the love of family and food seasoned in. And i would love to preserve as much of this as I can…any suggestions to get the stickyness off the bottom? Thanks in advance

    1. Hey Jerry,

      There’s really no reason that the bottom of the skillet needs to be seasoned perfectly. You could honestly use soap on the bottom of the skillet without too much worry I would think. That should cut the grease, but just be careful to only wash the outside with the soap/water so you don’t mess up the seasoning on the cooking surfaces. Good luck!

  78. I forgot to mention I had left the pan right side up when i placed it back in the oven…i got a lot of it off by just boiling down water and scraping some with a spatula. i did a re season.. and i did cook a pawn of biscuit bread in it today and it came out well…and delicious….but it tried to stick on me…didnt break the crust though..any suggestions??

  79. I just picked up a cast iron skillet today at a antique store for 2 dollars! I’m going to give it some much needed love tonight and save it!

  80. Just got my hands on my Mom’s cast iron 10 inch skillet , a smaller skillet and a griddle. My Mom has been gone for 4 yrs now and these items have been packed away. All have rust. So the work begins. Thanks you for all the advise. Can’t wait to see the finished product……..they items mean so much. I remember her cooking our meals in these skillets growing up. Thanks again!

  81. Hi Nick! I’m a new reader and I’ve found you while researching about the cast iron skillet. I bought one specifically to make Tarte Tatin, and only after found out how useful it could be. It’s a Lodge but I got it at TJMax and it didn’t say whether or not it had been pre-seasoned, so I followed the instruction from this post of yours (http://www.macheesmo.com/2010/07/ten-reasons-for-cast-iron/) and used canola oil and baked it. I cooked some Mahi fillets in it and they stack a little bit, so I decided to do the precess for rusted pans and did the bacon thing. It worked like a charm and i immediately try the home fries. None stack :) I still have a couple of questions though.
    Exactly, how do you proceed with the pan? You cook in it, then wash it with hot water and scrub without soap, the dry it and spread a little canola oil? And then use it again? And if it get rusted or once in a while, you do the bacon thing as a sort of maintenance? Is that right? The question is… if season it with bacon and cook fries or fish in it, am I supposed to use a different pan when i want to bake a sweet dish in it? Will it taste of fish or bacon? Or it won’t and I can use the same pan? I checked as many comments I could in order not to ask the same question again, but couldn’t find this one. I know this post is hold, but it would be really helpful if you could answer it. Love your blog btw, and found a lot to do with my new cast iron!

    1. Hey Ele,
      I use the pan pretty much like you describe. Once it is seasoned correctly, flavors won’t really stick to it so you can switch from savory to sweet without too much worry. When I’m done cooking it in, I rinse it with hot water well (no soap) and use a scrapper to scrape off any bits and then I wipe it really clean with some paper towels. That’s really all I do! Every once in a awhile I’ll add a bit more oil to it to give it a fresh coat (or just cook some bacon in it for breakfast). Generally, I have to reseason mine completely ever few years also. Good luck!

  82. I have a griswold skillet with pitting. Is there any way to restore it back without damaging the pan? What causes the pitting besides neglect? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hey Michael, griswold skillets are nice. As far as I know there isn’t a way to restore a pitted pan. I’m not sure what causes it to pit, but I think it’s usually just years and years os improper care/storage. If the pitting is on the outside or minimal on the inside it’s probably not a big deal. There’s no reason why you couldn’t still use it if it’s seasoned well, but if it’s badly pockmarked it might move from the useful to the display only category… good luck!

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