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Cooking Cast Iron - Long with many thumbnails

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Longmill well done
well done

Posts: 2667
Location: North Carolina
Stopped by one of my haunts the other day and bought this frying pan for a $1.00. The fork was also a buck. Better half thought that I’d thrown a dollar away on the pan. He didn’t think I could bring it back into usable condition. :wink:

Before: Image After: Image

In Between:
Actually, this post is a primer on one of the ways to season cast iron cookware or any other CI that needs restoration. While this discussion is for a large number of objects, done at one time, the concepts work for a single piece. Just scale back, as appropriate for the item.

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First, round up your supplies. You’ll need vinegar (white preferred, but cider will work, too.) Steel wool scrub pads - no soap, green scrub pads, wire brush, oven mitts, vegetable oil or Crisco shortening, paper towels (heavy duty shop type towels, or lint free cotton rags - preferred), basting brush, bowl for oil, mineral oil for wooden items, old towels, pliers of several sizes (as applicable to the objects), and a heat proof work surface. Here you see a card table topped with inverted full size baking sheets and a grill rack.

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Next setup your work area. In this case I’m using a turkey fryer and a water bath canner to “cook the cast iron”. Using the wagon brings the canner up to a comfortable working height. It was windy when this was done, thus it’s in a sheltered place. All the fallen leaves had been raked away. And a water hose stays at the ready, in case of need.

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Before pix of some of the cast iron included in this session.

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Broken bricks were used as a trivet in the canner. You can use any suitable object, such as canning jar rings for a trivet.

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Canner filled with water, vinegar, and cast iron. Filled the canner about ½ full of water. Added vinegar. Rough estimate is about 1 pint to 1 gallon of water. I’ve used varying ratios of water to vinegar with success. The stronger the solution the faster it will act. For first time users of this method, use a ratio of 4 or 5 parts water to 1 part vinegar. After that, vary the solution to meet your needs. Loaded in the CI, then finished filling with water.

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Because of the wind, I also used a windbreak around the burner. Brought the pot of water to a gentle boil and let it simmer for an hour or so. Then, turned off the heat and let it cool down. This takes a while. It’s often easier just to let the items soak overnight after heating. The heating process helps remove grease and crusty buildup associated with well used cookware. Helps, too with the removal of factory coating on new cookware. As long as the CI remains submerged, it won’t rust further, while soaking. Note: Don’t leave it for extended periods of time, as the acid may begin to pit the metal.

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Once it’s cool, time to scrub. Warm water and Dawn dish detergent is what I use. Note: Make sure the iron is cool. Cast iron can crack if subjected to extreme temperature changes. And, for safety reasons it should be cool before handling. Use the steel wool, wire brush, and green scrub pad to remove the now loosened rust and cooking residue. Be forewarned, this is a messy job. Wear old clothes. Use rags that will be discarded afterwards. If your hands are sensitive, wear rubber gloves. It’s best done outside.

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Clean until you have removed the rust and buildup. It isn’t necessary to try to remove stains, although if you continue to work on it, you can sometimes get to the bare metal. Each piece is different, so use your own judgement as to how much scrubbing to do. When finished rinse thoroughly, then rinse again. Dry the piece and immediately put it on a heating source to drive out the moisture that’s now in the pores of the metal. In this case, I’m using the side burner on my grill. Watch the color change, as the metal heats and the water is driven off. The lighter areas in these pix are dryer.

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Immediately apply a thin coat of oil or shortening to the piece while it is still hot. Protect your hands with oven mitts. Use an oiled shop towel, rag, or pastry brush (natural bristles, synthetic will melt) to apply the oil. Doing this while the metal is still hot does two things. First, the item will begin to rust immediately. You can watch it form as the item cools down. Immediately applying oil stops the rusting. And, doing it while the metal is hot allows the oil to better penetrate the pores in the metal. Your first step in getting a cast iron non-stick surface. Place the oiled hot pan on a heat proof surface to finish cooling, if you’re doing more than one piece at the time. For a single piece, go to the next step.

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Here you see my old Sunbeam grill set up to season CI. Using a grill is much better than doing this in the kitchen due to the smoke generated. And it will generate smoke!! Put cooled cast iron on a cool grill grate. Fire it up and shoot for around 350* grate temperature. Close the lid and bake until done. Most CI seasoning guidelines state to keep it in a 350* oven for an hour. When using a grill, the timing will depend on the color achieved. Often with small thinner pieces the color will go from brown to black in as little as 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on it. After the piece reaches the point of being nicely seasoned, continuing to cook will do harm instead. It drives out and burns off the oil you’ve so patiently applied. With a little too much time, the heat will remove the seasoning and you’re back to square one.

When the piece has turned black, turn off the heat, leaving the grill lid closed. Again, let the iron cool. When it is warm to the touch, again apply a light coating of oil. Use a rag or shop cloth saturated with oil to put on a sparce coat. You want a very thin film of oil. If you have the time and/or you didn’t achieve the depth of seasoning needed, repeat. Applying oil and heating several times will give the best results.

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Now, your iron is ready to go into storage or for the final step in this process. No pictures for this step, as this will be done when these pieces are used for the first time.

Wash and slice a good sized potato. Heat the pan or pot and add a generous amount of cooking oil or shortening. Fry the potato until crispy (like French Fries). Discard both the potatoes and the oil in a safe manner. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Now, you’re ready to use it for your favorite recipe. Frying of the potato removes the metallic flavor that often accompanies freshly seasoned cast iron and adds one more layer of seasoning to the pan.

Additional notes:
For the first few uses of the pot or pan, use it to fry foods such as bacon, sausage, and more potatoes. Each time it’s used for frying the seasoning is deepened and strengthened. Wait until it’s well seasoned before making tomato based stews. As with the vinegar cooking above, acid based foods will remove seasoning. Especially if it hasn’t been thoroughly cured.

Well seasoned CI can be washed with hot soapy water. I often read where this is a no-no. - That using soap will leave a soap flavor in the pan. - That using soap will remove the seasoning. If the first were true, manufacturers wouldn’t recommend using hot soapy water to clean their wares before seasoning. For the second, I’ve washed these pans for years in hot soapy water with no detriment to the seasoning. I DON’T let pans soak in soapy water.

To store your CI, put it in a dry place. Never store in plastic. Condensation from the air can lead to rust. Store the lids, separately, if possible, so the air can freely circulate around all the surfaces. A closed pan can have a rancid odor. If you do stack with lids on, put some folded newspaper strips between the pan and the lid, which will provide for ventilation.

If in long term storage, about once every 6 months to a year, wash and rinse the pan. Then, fry up another batch of potatoes and discard. Use a paper towel to wipe out the pan, leaving a thin film of oil on all surfaces. This renews the seasoning, heading off the potential for rust, and keeps the pans ready for use. Especially those pieces that you only pull out for special occasions.

In closing, the best way to store and maintain CI cookware is to use it frequently. For cleanup, wash, rinse, heat to dry, and oil, if needed. In time, applying additional oil following use won’t be needed, unless you’ve cooked a high acid food. Metal utensils won’t damage the non-stick finish, BTW.

Hope this cooking cast iron story has been of interest and offered some insights on cooking your own cast iron. Too, keep this in mind, the next time you’re at a yard sale or flea market. That rusty pan for a buck can become the perfect pan to use on your side burner or on the campfire.

Longmill

PS - Next CI project to tackle.
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CharGriller Super Pro SFB
Charcoal GOSM
Sunbeam gas grill

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:25 am
YardBurner BBQ Deputy
BBQ Deputy

Posts: 5376
Location: Damascus, Maryland
LM, that turned out to be a pretty nice
little carbon steel pan!

Your neighbors must think you're making another
batch of "Pot Soup" when you haul out that set-up.

You'll need a stock tank to boil that stove. :lol:

-YB
Weber Summit E-470
Weber 22" MasterTouch
Performer One Touch
Traeger Lil Tex
New Braunfels Hondo
Bar-B-Chef
Weber Q-220

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:33 am
thag rare
rare

Posts: 25
Location: Richmond, VA
Congrats on bringing that cast iron back to life!

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 12:09 pm
Longmill well done
well done

Posts: 2667
Location: North Carolina
YardBurner wrote:
LM, that turned out to be a pretty nice
little carbon steel pan!

Your neighbors must think you're making another
batch of "Pot Soup" when you haul out that set-up.

You'll need a stock tank to boil that stove. :lol:

-YB


Should have mentioned that the pan was carbon steel. :oops: This vinegar boil method does a good job on that, as well as CI.

"Pot Soup" reminds me that it's getting about time for a good Brunswick stew. Thinking about doing one for a fall get-together with the relatives before it gets too cold to spend the afternoon in the backyard.

Oh... next time we have a fish fry, I'll try to remember to get some pix. Use that setup with my favorite piece of cast iron - my father's 20" frying pan. That little cooker is betweeen 20-30 years old and still going strong. We can do a mean fish fry with that combo. 8)

You're right about the stock tank. :wink: A #10 wash tub will handle a lot of it, once I EVER get it apart. For the major pieces, I'll probably set up a kid's wading pool and use electrolysis, instead of "cooking". Sandblasting will be an option, although I don't want to use it, unless it's a last resort. Isn't recommended for anything that's considered to be antique and/or collectable.

Longmill
CharGriller Super Pro SFB
Charcoal GOSM
Sunbeam gas grill

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 12:16 pm
Longmill well done
well done

Posts: 2667
Location: North Carolina
thag wrote:
Congrats on bringing that cast iron back to life!


Thanks!

For some reason, I enjoy rescuing things that many folks wouldn't give a second glance. :lol: Don't know how much of it is just the 'challenge' and how much is a silent protest of today's trends towards a 'disposable' society. :?:

Longmill
CharGriller Super Pro SFB
Charcoal GOSM
Sunbeam gas grill

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 12:57 pm
Bob-BQN User avatar
well done
well done

Posts: 12904
Location: Texas
I have a few pieces of cast iron at the house in pretty good shape, but I copied your instructions just-in-case. :wink: Never know when you'll come across a treasure that needs a little TLC. Thanks for that in-depth tutorial LM. :D
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Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 1:48 pm
kiltedcook well done
well done

Posts: 305
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Just curious, has anyone tried the new Lodge Logic preseasoned cast iron? What do you think of it? I want to get a big skillet and a dutch oven to use on my CG.
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Char-Griller Super Pro w/SFB

Barbequed Haggis Anyone?

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 3:27 pm
Longmill well done
well done

Posts: 2667
Location: North Carolina
I've seen it, but haven't purchased any. I like to pick up cast iron at yard sales and flea markets. The old, old pans are usually of better quality than what we can buy today. Plus, I like to keep the heritage/history of these old pans going.

FWIW, I look for ones with a 'gate-mark' on the back. Dates back prior to the 1870's, if memory serves on the time this process was discountinued by manufacturers.

Plus, I enjoy the process of bringing them back into use. There's something satisifying about it. Very similar to tending an offset vs some of the 'set it and forget it' methods for Q. :wink:

Longmill
CharGriller Super Pro SFB
Charcoal GOSM
Sunbeam gas grill

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 7:46 pm
claffman rare
rare

Posts: 40
Location: Jackson,MI

Very cool!

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 7:53 pm
cmmull well done
well done

Posts: 350
Location: Florida Panhandle
LM,

Now I can buy with confidence once I settle into my permanent home (which BTW is going to be next July! I dropped my retirement paperwok today, so after 20+ years, I will be hanging up my AF boots). MY wife and I want to set up a decent indoor and outdoor kitchen and we both love CI. Thanks for the tutorial.

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 8:13 pm
BBcue-Z well done
well done

Posts: 3062
Location: Atlanta-GA
They look as good as new. :shock:
Great job LM, I did mine on the grill in the same fashion.
Now you’re ready for a camping trip. :wink:
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Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 8:33 pm

Posts: 47
Location: Crystal Lake, IL
LM, I gotta hand it to ya... that's a fine piece on how to restore cast iron.

I've got a pair of skillets in the basement that I didn't want to toss out, but I never really saw a clear plan to restore 'em until now.

Thanks...

Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 9:08 pm
ThrRoff well done
well done

Posts: 999
Location: Washington, DC

LM,

Wow, thanks for the lesson. I too have copied it for use someday.
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Post Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:55 pm
Leatherneck well done
well done

Posts: 898
Location: Florida
Those last pics look good Longmill. Got me wantin' to try this out. I've got some CI that needs an extra boost.
But... this weekend is the first weekend of bow season.
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Post Tue Sep 13, 2005 6:25 am
Longmill well done
well done

Posts: 2667
Location: North Carolina
Thanks, all, for your kind words. I was hoping this would be helpful for anyone with an old piece of cast iron (or carbon steel) that needs some TLC. It works well for iron objects. For example, I've boiled a rusty habachi and a set of iron horseshoes with stakes and seasoned them afterwards.

Tip: When buying old iron for cooking, don't worry about surface rust or the 'crud' that accumulates on the outside of pots and pans. The process outlined will take care of that. Do watch for pitting on the interior. Some very slight pitting can be ignored, but deep pitting generally makes for a poor cooking surface. Difficult to clean for one thing. And, as food gets embedded in the pits, it's more likely to stick.

In the case of *very* slight pitting, repeated seasoning sessions will fill those in with carbon. May take a half dozen sessions. So, you have to make the judgement call on whether the piece is worth the effort. May be for a spider, probably isn't for a 10" no name skillet.

When scouting yard sales and flea markets, look for a variety of iron to use for backyard cooking. Not only for open fire cooking, use it with your grills and smokers. Some examples:

Frying pans, breadstick pans, and cornbread pans - baking cornbread on the grill.

Griddle - smooth side for grilling items that fall through the grates.Make pancakes, crisp flat breads, heat (slightly char) deli sliced meats, fry whole eggs, etc. Look for both types of griddle. - Rectangular shaped ones that fit 2 burners on your kitchen stove. - Round ones that look like a frying pan with 1/2" sides.

Pots/dutch ovens: Keeping sauces hot, smoking baked beans, simmering a pot of pinto's or blackeyed peas in the smoker. Put the lid on it, when appropriate to control the degree of smoke flavor desired.

Again, thanks, and I hope this if further help with CI.

Longmill
CharGriller Super Pro SFB
Charcoal GOSM
Sunbeam gas grill

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