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Friday, May 16, 2014

5 No-Fail Steps to Restoring and Seasoning Rusty Cast Iron Skillets

It’s no secret Tim and I love a great vintage find. It’s also no secret that cooking with cast iron pans is arguably the best way to go, because of their unique ability to distribute heat evenly for a consistent dish every time. For those that come across a piece of cast iron cookware or have a family heirloom that seems past its prime, today we’re excited to show you exactly how to bring it right back to life, ready for display and use in your kitchen.
You may recall passing by stacks of rusty cast iron skillets, packed with years of buildup and grime at your local antique shop, flea market or yard sale like the ones we picked up to bring home and clean below (can you believe these are the same skillets you saw in the picture above?):

Old and rusted cast iron pan collection
Perhaps you received one passed down from a family member that came with some less than desirable remnants from past cooking adventures. Well, the real secret is — these classic pans really do stand the test of time and can be brought back to their original condition in a few simple steps. With a little know-how and elbow grease, you can scoop up the more affordable dirty versions, bring them back to their original glory and be the last one laughing, or cooking in this example.
Here’s a detailed before shot of the type of layered rust and buildup that can be restored like new (we know, it’s pretty bad):
Cast iron pan before restoration
There are many methods for removing the years of buildup and grime from aged beauties like these, the majority of which include heating the pan for an extended length of time to bake and burn off the rust and grease. One of the oldest practices involves resting pans in the middle of blazing hot campfire coals. Since open fires are illegal in the limited backyard plots of our city neighborhood, we’re going to share our favorite go-to method for restoring cast iron pans using little more than the oven and a little elbow grease!
Follow these simple steps to breathe new life into flea market cookware finds or family heirlooms that need a little love.
You’ll Need:
  • Cast iron pans or cookware
  • Oven with self cleaning setting
  • Heat safe gloves
  • Bucket or bin large enough to hold pans
  • Water
  • Distilled White Vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid soap
  • Scrubbing sponge and fine steel wool (optional)
  • Paper towels or cloth rag
  • Peanut oil
Lay pans upside down on top rack of oven overtop of a sheet of rolled out foil on the bottom rack. The foil will work to catch all the baked off buildup, making for easy cleanup on your part.
Baking off rust on cast iron pans
Activate the cleaning setting on the stove and wait for the full cycle to complete. Our cleaning mode runs for 3 hours and it will get very hot. If your oven doesn’t have a self cleaning setting, try heating your oven to 425 degrees and begin checking the pans after 2 hours.
Note: If your oven is anything like ours, this step of the process can get stinky, literally. Make sure you plan for a day where you can open the windows or be working outside while the cleaning setting works its magic.
Remove pans from oven once the cycle completes and pans have cooled. They’ll still look pretty rusty, but the majority of buildup should have loosened at this stage.
Restore cast iron pans in the oven
Immerse pans in an equal parts water and white vinegar bath, finishing with a healthy dollop of dishwashing liquid soap. Allow to soak for 3 hours — the rustier they are, the longer they should soak.
How to restore cast iron skillets
Remove and rinse pans well, wiping remaining dirt away with paper towels or a cloth rag until completely dry. If any additional rust or buildup remains, continue to scrub with a sponge or fine steel wool until smooth.
how to season cast iron pans
We’re now ready to season the pans! Seasoning is the process of creating a non-stick surface and if properly cared for, the seasoned coating will stand the test of time. Seasoning is a fairly simple process — if you already have cast iron skillets in great shape that just need an updated seasoning, this next set of steps is for you.
Wipe to coat the entire pan (inside, out and handle) with peanut oil.
how to season cast iron skillets
Place on top oven rack upside down and heat at 350 degrees for 1 hour. This process allows the pan’s pores to open up and absorb the oil, closing again to retain it once cooled. When removing from the oven, your pan will have that classic sheen and is ready for use.
Restored and seasoned cast iron pan
It’s hard to believe these are actually the same rusty and grimy skillets we began with:
Restored Cast Iron Pans
We went from something that looked like it belonged in the trash bin to a beautifully restored piece of cookware, filled with history and fit for display.
Before and After cast iron pan restoration
It just goes to show how these timeless pieces of cookware really do stand the test of time, especially when properly cared for. We hope now you’ll think twice before passing by that rusted over stack of skillets on your next treasure hunt or thinking those pans (filled with family history) in the attic or basement are too far gone too save.
Looking for more spring cleaning solutions? Find out how to make a natural cleaner for stainless steel and get ideas for how to safely clean every appliance in your kitchen in this eHow cleaning slideshow.
Mary & Tim
Keep up with Mary and Tim’s adventures in DIY, home and gardening on their collaborative lifestyle blog, 17Apart. Find them on Instagram (@17Apart) and page through delicious recipes on Tim’s food blog, E.A.T.

Photo credits: Mary & Tim Vidra

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