It’s a Miracle! Resurrecting Cast Iron

24 Feb

Yesterday, I talked a bit about my cast iron pan. It’s a standard 10-inch pan with high sides and a handle–perfect for stovetop or oven use, and well-seasoned so that it’s just as nonstick as any Teflon-coated pan you might have in your cupboards.

What I didn’t tell you is that I got my pan for the hefty price of $1 at a church yard sale years ago. It had been abandoned under a table in the church hall and was left there when most everything else had been picked over. Old and rusty and sad, it caught my eye nonetheless. And for $1, I figured if I brought it home and disaster ensued, I hadn’t broken the bank.

Today, five or six years later, that pan is gorgeous. It’s heavy and distributes heat evenly, and then holds it for a long time, making it perfect for “brown food” (Ever watch Secrets of a Restaurant Chef? Ann Burrell? Brown food tastes GOOD!) Black and shiny with seasoning, and one of my favorite kitchen toys, especially for browning meat, caramelizing onions, or frying from time to time. And it really didn’t take much to get it there.

If you’re lucky enough to find or inherit some old cast iron (or if you have a pan that needs some TLC), the first thing you want to do is give it a good wash with soap, water, and lots of elbow grease. This is the last time your pan will ever touch soap (if you love it, anyway), so make it a good one. Scrub until you can’t scrub anymore, and then rinse it well and let it dry all the way.

This next part should happen outside on concrete if the weather is nice, in your garage or basement, or somewhere away from your kitchen. Grab a can of oven cleaner, a plastic trash bag, and your pan, and head to the place of choice. Spray your pan liberally with the cleaner and tie it in the trash bag, folding it over to keep the cleaner on the pan and as many fumes inside as you can. And walk away. Forget about it. Don’t peek. Don’t nudge at it. Just go.

Give it a full 24 to 48  hours in the bag. Seriously. Trust me.

At the end of that time, heat your oven to 300 degrees. Put the whole bag/pan shebang into a sink or near a hose and unwrap it (wear rubber gloves!). Rinse it off and scrub it down with the scrubby side of a kitchen sponge. DO NOT USE SOAP. We’re done with that. Dry it well and head back to your kitchen, where you’re going to coat the inside of the pan with Crisco, pop it into the oven, and leave it be for two or three hours.

Finally, turn your oven off and let the pan cool completely. It’s going to stay hot for a long time–be patient. Wipe it out with paper towels and put it away. Congratulations–you’ve just brought a treasure back to life.

When you cook in your pan, use oil or butter on the bottom–you won’t need much at all. After it’s finished cooking, let it cool and rinse it out with water, scrubbing away food with a scrubby sponge. Again, no soap! Use some table salt if you really need to scrub. Rinse it, dry it, coat it with a little vegetable oil (a very little bit–a dab on a paper towel), and put it away.

My pan is several years old now and I skip that last veggie oil bit. I rinse, scrub, dry, and put it away. It’s seasoned enough that it maintains its wonderful nonstick coating.

And now you know how to bring an old pan back from the dead. I hope you’ll try it!

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One Response to “It’s a Miracle! Resurrecting Cast Iron”

  1. mary m February 27, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    I went to Goodwill the other day to get the ugliest hawaiian shirt possible for Tom to wear to work (the managers lost a bet with the employees and had to wear hawaiian shirts and shorts–it was 20 degrees out…lol). I found a cast iron skillet but they wanted $20…so I didn’t get it.

    Still trying to find a good one!

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