How to Restore and Season Rusty Cast Iron Cookware

Video how to restore a cast iron dutch oven

It’s easy! Whether the troop inherited vintage cast iron covered in rust or your patrol forgot to dry your skillet after washing, the following will show you the couple steps that it takes to easily restore your cast iron to like-new condition.

First, what is cast iron cookware? Cast iron, is the troop’s heavy-duty cookware, usually the dark, heavy-metal skillets, griddles and dutch-ovens. Cast iron is known for its heat retention, durability, ability to be used at very high temperatures, and non-stick cooking when properly seasoned. Seasoning is the process of treating the surface of the cookware with heated fat or oil in order to produce a corrosion-resistant and stick-resistant coating. When properly seasoned and cared for, cooking with cast iron is extremely easily, providing great culinary results!

A little (or a lot) of rust on your cast iron cookware is no reason to panic. Follow these simple steps to refurbish your cast iron finish, and you’ll be set for your next campout.

Step 1: Scrub and wash your pan

Scour the rusty sections with steel wool. Then wash the pan with warm, soapy water. This step may remove portions of the seasoning, but that’s okay because we’re preparing to re-season the pan.

For stubborn rust, soak the pan in a solution of half white vinegar and half water. Find a container that’s big enough to hold the rusty cookware and completely submerge it into the solution. Let it soak no longer than one to four hours. The acid in the vinegar will dissolve and loosen the rust. After an hour, rinse and re-scour the cookware with your steel wool in warm soapy water. When the rust is all gone, rinse your cookware rigorously.

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Step 2: Dry thoroughly

Completely dry your cast iron skillet with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. You can place it on the stovetop on medium-low heat for a few minutes to make sure it’s completely dry.

It is critical that your cast iron cookware is completely dry before continuing with the next step!

Step 3: Apply Oil

With the cast iron still warm from drying, add a very thin layer of cooking oil (Crisco is recommended) to the entire surface of your cast iron with a cloth or lint-free paper towel. Go easy on the oil! You want just a thin layer, not enough to drip or run when you tilt it. Thin layers are important for baking seasoning into the pan.

Step 4: Bake for 1 Hour

Preheat your oven to 350-400 degrees F. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any excess oil. Put your cookware upside down on the center rack. This helps prevent oil from pooling on the cooking surface. Bake for 1 hour. After 1 hour, turn the heat off and allow the cast iron skillet to cool in the oven. This allows the seasoning to further cure and adhere to the iron.

I tried to season my pan and now it’s sticky and gummy. Now what?

This will happen if too much oil is used to season your cast iron or if you didn’t heat it for a long enough time. It’s easy to fix! Just pop it back in the oven for another hour, or until the stickiness is gone.

My cast iron looks dull and burnt. How do I fix it?

Cast iron will become dull if it’s heated without any oil on the cooking surface, or if it’s heated without enough oil in the pan to cook the food. The dullness comes when the oil on the pan burns off before cooking. To fix this, just re-season the pan. If your cast iron still looks dull after re-seasoning it, repeat the process until it achieves a slight sheen.

Want to avoid a having a rusted cast-iron skillet in the first place? Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Never soak the pan. Since cast iron is so vulnerable to rust, it’s best to limit your pan’s exposure to water as much as possible.
  • Never, EVER wash with soap! Soap will remove the seasoning you’ve built up from your cast iron and make it much more susceptible to rusting. Cleaning your cast iron cookware is as simple as washing it in hot water, drying it completely and re-applying a thin coat of oil. …that’s it!
  • Don’t let the pan air dry. Wipe off any excess water with a towel immediately after rinsing. To get your skillet bone dry, pop it on the burner to remove extra moisture.
  • Lightly oil after use. Once dried, rub your skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil after every use before storing.
  • Avoid certain foods: Acidic ingredients like tomatoes or vinegar can eat into seasoning and lead to rust. If you have a well-seasoned pan, this shouldn’t be a problem-but avoid that cooking that tomato sauce in your brand-new skillet.
  • Use often: Cast-iron skillets love to be loved. They’ll start to rust if they’ve been cooped up for a long period of time without much air-circulation or use. This is often the case in coastal climates, where the salty air can have a big impact.
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Enjoy Cooking with Your Restored Cast Iron!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>