Cast Iron Cookware...Cleaning Swap Meet Findings

Willow_Summerland(NW AZ)April 28, 2003

Yesterday I picked up several cast iron skillets from our local swap meet that are very dirty. I know they can be cleaned and reseasoned but I was wondering if anyone knew the easiest way to get these cleaned up and ready for reseasoning. I've been told to use a lye wash but I'm not sure of the amount of lye to use. I prefer not using lye if I can help it. Can a steel wool soap pad work well enough without damaging the pans? Any advice is appreciated.



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frontiercc(MD Zone 6)

I've used a hot fire in the past. Both woodburning or a gas grill. If you have a gas grill, set it on HIGH, put the pans in and let the gunk cook off. Then follow up with a nylon scrubby or steel wool. It's worked for me. Steel wool is OK I think, but the pans need to be meticulously hand dried and then reseasoned after using it since it will remove any protective coating. I've burned off the junk in a wood fire in the woodstove also, worked pretty well. The high heat burns off any of the junk and then the nylon scrubbie cleans it up really nice to be reseasoned/.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2003 at 4:02PM
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ddunbar(z5 IN)

I agree with frontiercc, but I might also suggest using one of the wire brushes that you use for a grill as well; not hard, but to loosen stuff after it's been heated. I hate suggesting chemicals, but oven cleaner may help also.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2003 at 7:55PM
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The easiet way that I have found is to put them in a self cleaning over during the cleaning cycle. Comes out like new. Season with Crisco, not vegetable oil.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2003 at 2:25PM
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Willow_Summerland(NW AZ)

Thanks for all the great ideas. Unfortunately I don't have a self cleaning stove. I plan to bring the last stubborn one with me to camping this weekend and burning off the rest of what I couldn't get off in the campfire. All the others came pretty clean with a sos pad and reseasoning. I love the way things come out when I cook in them : ) I have to admitt they were definitely a great investment.
Thanks Again!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2003 at 2:11PM
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hotzcatz(Hamakua, Hawaii)

Cast iron is almost impossible to damage while trying to clean it. My personal preference is a sharp chisel for getting the hard stuff off. My husband, however, is always threatening to take my pans to work (he teaches autoshop at the local highschool) and cleaning them with the sand blaster, but he's more concerned with making the metal smoother since most of my cast iron is the newer pans with the rougher surface.

I just love cast iron! New cookware just can't compare.

Oh, when seasoning, I've heard that animal fats are better than vegetable oils.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2003 at 7:28AM
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Spray type oven cleaner will take the black stuff off (won't touch rust) and will not hurt the metal. Just spray the pan and put it in a garbage bag over night, then wash well in the morning. You may have to do this more than once on a really gunked up skillet. Name brand stuff works better than the Dollar Store brands. Be carefull you don't get it in your eyes (blindness) or on your skin (chemical burns).
Vinegar will take off rust ( even a little makes for rusty tasting food). It also eats the cast iron so don't leave it on there too long.

Sand blasting will ruin the fine interior finish that old Griswold and Wagner skillets have.Throwing them in a fire can ruin them also......I have one.
They ARE made out of cast iron....what auto engine blocks are made of....but they CAN be damaged by too much heat.

To season, wipe down the pan, inside and out, with Crisco...litely. Place in a 350 degree oven, upside down, for about an hour. If it's done, the burned on coating will NOT be sticky. You will probably have to season a well cleaned (grey) skillet more than least the cooking surface.
By the way, a nice large Griswold skillet can go for more than $50. Look for Wagner, they are almost as good as Griswold. But ANY pan, as long as the interior is smooth, will be fine. The new ones tend to have hot spots and just don't seem cook as good as the old ones, name brand or not.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2003 at 10:58AM
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clarysage1717(s.central pa z6)

I've rescued several pans and have kept them going for years and years, but a recent acquisition has me stumped. I have two cast iron pans for cornbread, that are molded to form sticks of bread shaped like ears of corn. The 'kernel' part of the pans has me stymied. Even a wire brush just doesn't seem to be able to get into the nooks and crannies, and an experimental baking ended up sticking horribly. Any suggestions?


    Bookmark   July 22, 2003 at 8:59AM
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bobrncz8(NC Z8)

All of those rusty, dirty , gungy cast iron things are a disgrace to have in your house. Go by new teflon cookware. Send the cast iron to me and I will dispose of it properly (:.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2003 at 7:32PM
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clarysage1717(s.central pa z6)

I received an email suggesting I use Coke to loosen the goo in the cornbread pan - brushes weren't getting into the little ear-of-corn pattern. The first round seems to have helped. Maybe another Coke-soak or two will do it.

Found a Griswold at a junk stand at the farm market tonight for $2.50. It's in remarkably good shape. Of course these bargains are eventually going to cost me a lot when I have to expand my kitchen cupboards to hold everything.....


    Bookmark   August 15, 2003 at 9:56PM
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Just bumping up this post... It's ancient, I know... but I love cast-iron, and I have seen very little threads on this at the cooking / baking sites here on GardenWeb!

I have Lodge cast-iron. I'm looking for Griswolds - but the pieces on Ebay - specially the really nice large-logo types - are quite expensive.

Any ideas where I can get vintage but reasonably priced Griswold's?


    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 3:30AM
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I boiled mine in a big kettle with water and baking soda .all day then scrubbed them with steel wool, and rinsed

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 4:59PM
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I boiled mine in a big kettle with water and baking soda .all day then scrubbed them with steel wool, and rinsed

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 5:02PM
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sandyl(Zone 6B -7)

I burn mine in a wood burning stove every 10 years or so. My corn bread cast iron skillets med and large never gets anything cooked in them but cornbread,and never get washed, just wiped out. neither of them ever sticks. I have one for frying chicken and I also have a dutch oven type. two of mine are close to 90 years old and used by my grandmother and great grandmother. No amount of money would buy them. Sandy

    Bookmark   August 10, 2010 at 4:58PM
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Hello Sandy -

I'm just curious - why do you burn your cast-iron pans every 10 years? is it to get rid of the build up of crud?

I only have mine for a couple of years. So far, I just add on the seasoning by oiling it up and putting it on the grill, whenever we have stuff for barbecue. Then it gets re-oiled and put away. So far, no build up yet of hardened debris.

I was wondering if I can just do this indefinitely - I am a bit wary of putting my pans in the fire for burning.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 8:51AM
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sandyl(Zone 6B -7)

The main reason I burn mine are by burning them it removes all the very black, which isn't really a build up. When they are burned they come out gray colored and just by reseasoning them the appearance is just more nicer to look at when they are hanging in the kitchen not in use. Now I do use mine several times weekly. I have a large Lodge 12" and 8" and a 12" Wanger Ware Stanley.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 1:08PM
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I have the cleaning part down, but need to know how to find the year of my skillet. I have a #12 griswold and it has ERIE PA U S A with cross and 719 says cast iron skillet
do not know if this is where to ask or not.
If you can help that would be great.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2011 at 10:04AM
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Leave it to a man ! Teflon !! It is carcinogenic and does NOT give the same cooking results.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 8:50PM
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Bumped into this thread. I have used a lot of cast iron; stole most of it from the old home so some pieces are more than 50yrs old and still kicking.

Best method for cleaning old skillets seems to be filling with cold water and bringing to a boil on the stove. Watch out that you do not cook off all of the water and overheat. Scrape off anything stuck with a metal spatula or scraper.

I was always told to avoid steel wool as the particles could clog the pores in the iron. A 3M scrub pad works pretty good.

I clean my skillets and dutch ovens occasionally if I have been sloppy; reseasoning with Crisco works; so does bacon grease (and it tastes better!)

Some good ideas above on rust removal; I will give it a try on a skillet and muffin pan.

One of the health lists advised cooking with cast iron was better for women because it can add iron to their diets which may be lacking.

Best bet for old cast iron is yard sales, estate sales etc. EBAY/On-Line tends to overprice and the shipping costs may negate any savings. Be careful and look for cracks/flaws. Just because it does not say Griswold or Wagner doesn't mean that the piece is without value. Keep you eyes out for cast and/or glass lids; they can turn your find into a multipurpose fryer or steamer.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2011 at 10:59AM
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Help!! A friend gave me a cast iron skillet, and I am a cast iron virgin. This pan, she swears, has never seen soap and water, but has been stored for 3 years at a house on the beach. It has rust color all over the cooking surface and up around the inside edges. I promised her I will not put soap or water in it. I told her I may need to restore it by removing everything and start over....she about died!! Can I post a pic and can somebody here tell me what to do? What I have done so far: salt scrub and coating with olive oil. I have also cooked very fatty bacon and massaged it all over (only to have that attacked by ants). We live in the Philippines, no self cleaning oven, no outside grill, no spray oven cleaner. It is still rusty looking but very smooth. Thank you!!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2013 at 4:45AM
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here's what i do with my rusty finds. preheat your oven to 250 degrees. soak the pan in a 2:1 mixture of *very* hot water and white distilled vinegar for 60 minutes. then wash it thoroughly with hot water. this should bring it down to the bare metal, which is a gray color. put it in the oven for about 15 minutes, then increase the heat to 500 degrees for another 45 minutes. take the pan out, turn off the oven, and very very carefully use a towel to rub in some lard or bacon grease, evenly, to season it. some people use crisco, but i have found that using vegetable based oils results in a sticky surface, so i always use animal fat. return the pan to the oven, and let the pan and oven cool down. every 15 minutes wipe off any excess oil, and every 30 minutes re-season. it may take more than one go at this process to get to really good looking black and glossy.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 5:17PM
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I use Lye solution one container of lye to 5 gals of water in a plastic bucket it removes all the black buildup tie a piece of wire around handle submerge for couple of days until the black is removed or sprays off with hose dry item heat and re-season as soon as possible. Ive tried burning and had some skillets discolor kinda reddish which I couldnot remove.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 9:05AM
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My mother would send us to clean her pans in the sand out in the yard.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 10:17PM
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