Category Archives: How To Guides

How To Restore Cast Iron

Go to our new site: The Kitchen Professor. We have a free eBook to help you find the date of your Wagner. Click HERE!

This post will be similar to our post on how to season cast iron, but from a slightly different starting point and focus. Here we will discuss the process by which the seasoning on a piece of cast iron cookware may be completely removed, followed by a guide on how to re-season the cookware with flaxseed oil.

Be sure to check out the video at the end of this post for more information!

How To Restore Cast Iron

First of all, why would you want to restore cast iron cookware? There are many possible reasons. Perhaps an ignorant house guest, in an effort to be helpful, washed your favorite, perfectly-seasoned pan with dish washing liquid and steel wool. Maybe you bought a vintage piece of cast iron online or from a shady back-alley antiques dealer and the seasoning is flaking off due to improper storage. Or maybe you foolishly cooked your grandmother’s famous salt and vinegar pie in the pan, not realizing the acid would eat away at the seasoning. Whatever the reason, let’s use a computer analogy and assume you’d like to completely reformat your cast iron’s hard drive and re-install a clean operating system.

This Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has lost some seasoning
This Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has lost some seasoning around the sides of the pan.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the seasoning on a piece of cast iron cookware is nothing but fat molecules which have bonded to the iron and other fat molecules present in the seasoning layer. Therefore, with a little tweaking, the seasoning may be removed by any method that you’d normally use clean up a big greasy mess (including Noxzema … probably).

One popular method is to simply place the cookware in the oven and run it through the self-cleaning cycle. The self-cleaning feature of modern ovens heats the interior to 700-, 800-, or even 900-degrees Fahrenheit, turning any organic material (read: food and grease) into ash. While we like to think of cast iron as indestructible, these high temperatures are capable of warping or even breaking cookware, and so this method is not recommended.

how to restore cast iron - using oven cleaner
Spraying Easy-Off onto the pan inside a trash bag

Therefore, this post will focus on a second popular method, which involves the use of oven-cleaner. A note of warning: Oven cleaners such as Easy-Off are essentially aerosolized lye. Wear gloves! Go outside!

The process is simple, if a little messy:

1. Apply oven-cleaner to the cast iron cookware.
2. Place cookware in a trash bag and let sit for at least 30 minutes.*
3. Remove cookware from bag and scrub using soapy water.
4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until all of the seasoning is gone.
5. Rinse cookware with a few tablespoons of vinegar.**
6. Dry cookware thoroughly.***

* The longer you let it sit and give time for the oven-cleaner to work, the fewer repetitions (Step 4) you’ll have to do. Some guides instruct you to let it sit for 7 days before moving on!

** This step really, probably, most likely isn’t strictly necessary, but just to be safe, the acidic vinegar will react with and neutralize whatever miniscule amounts of basic oven-cleaner is left over. And you thought you’d never use high-school chemistry again.

*** Your iron is now naked and unprotected. If you leave it wet from the sink, it will rust. If it’s a humid day, it will rust. See note about high-school chemistry above.

The unspoken Step 7 is that you should go ahead and apply at least one coat of your new seasoning immediately. If only there were a place on the Internet to learn how that might be accomplished …

how to restore cast iron
After 1 round of oven cleaner and soap scrubbing

 

After 3 rounds of oven cleaner and scrubbing
After 3 rounds of oven cleaner and scrubbing.. This pan is naked!

 

Please check out this super awesome video by TheCulinaryFanatic on YouTube.  He also goes by Jeffrey Rogers and he knows his stuff.  He actually explains this better and has a method of using the self cleaning oven cycle to strip the cast iron.  Please visit him at: https://www.facebook.com/aboutcastiron


Season Flaxseed Oil Cast Iron

Season Flaxseed Oil Cast Iron

So you’ve got yourself a new, nude piece of cast iron cookware and you’re ready to put a fresh coating of seasoning. In our previous post, we mentioned that really any type of fat will work, with vegetable oil or shortening being the most commonly used (due to their near-ubiquitous presence in modern kitchens). However, in the past few years, rumors of excellent cast iron seasons using flaxseed oil have caught our ears, and we were anxious to try it out.  If you have not yet tried to totally strip and re-season a piece of cast iron, please consider the process…and check out this other post to provide some context about the process, benefits, and why one may consider stripping the existing seasoning.  If you’re just interested in seasoning or re-seasoning your cast iron and you don’t have any flaxseed oil handy, check out the post using any old oil you have around.

What the heck is a flax?  

Great question. Flax is a flowering plant (the blooms are blue) that grows in the cooler part of the Northwestern United States and Western Canada.  Flaxseed oil contains a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids – we’re talking 8 grams per tablespoon. I know you won’t get all that tasty omega-3 fatty acid from seasoning your cast iron but you can use the rest as a dietary supplement. These are the same heart-healthy fatty acids promoted by cardiologists and dietitians found in fish and nuts (and flax seed). Interestingly, these same fatty acids apparently provide an extremely tough and slick seasoning layer when they polymerize to form the seasoning layer on the surface of cast iron.  I normally put a little flaxseed oil in my smoothies (~1 tablespoon in 20 oz) and the oil has a mild nutty flavor and when it is mixed in a smoothie, it works well with bananas and soy milk. 

The upshot of this is that you can find flaxseed oil pretty easily in the health-food section of your local megamart. The downside is that flaxseed oil has a distinct “fishy” smell to it due to the presence of these omega-3 fats. No worries, once polymerized by the heat, the oil will form a smooth, non-reactive surface and the fishy smell will disappear.  “How fishy?” you may be asking yourself.  It’s pretty darn fishy so prepare your significant other accordingly.  You might consider doing this on the grill if you have a command of temperature control or you have some hot coals smoldering from grilling some meat.

This guy cost $9 at the grocery store!
This guy cost $9 at the grocery store!

How to Season Cast Iron With Flaxseed Oil

There are many guides on how to season cast iron cookware. Below is the method we chose to use here, taken from a Cook’s Illustrated article on this subject:

  1. Preheat oven to 200-degrees Fahrenheit. Once preheated, place cookware into oven for 15 minutes.  [The important part here is to ensure the cast iron is dry and slightly warm which helps the metal take up the oil.]

  2. Remove cookware from oven, turn oven off, and open the door to let it cool down as much as possible.

  3. Place ~1 tablespoon of oil into the hot cookware and wipe it around with a wad of paper towel.  Be sure to get every nook and cranny, inside and outside. Using a second paper towel, wipe as much excess oil off of the surface as possible.

  4. Put the cookware upside down into the (semi) cool oven.  Turn the oven to “Bake” at its hottest setting (usually 500- or 550-degrees Fahrenheit). Once the oven reaches this temperature, leave the cookware inside for 1 hour.

  5. After 1 hour, turn the oven off and let cool completely with the cookware inside.

  6. Repeat Steps 1-5 at least 5 times, or until a smooth, black season is obtained.

Seasoned with Flax Seed Oil
Seasoned with Flax Seed Oil

As you can see, there’s not much to it, but unfortunately, a lot of waiting around is involved. Luckily, after the first coat is applied, the danger of rust is past and you can apply the other coats over a few days.  If you can only afford the time to apply just one coating, well, that’s good too.  Just start cooking on the cookware and you’ll be well on your way to having some very nicely seasoned cast iron cookware.  The more you use it, the better!

The resulting flaxseed seasoning probably won’t be any more slick than another, but the hype is that it’s much tougher than other seasonings. We’ll keep updating this post as we use the experimental flaxseed pan over the next few weeks and months.

Wagner Cast Iron Skillet: My First Vintage Cast Iron Cookware

 Wagner Cast Iron Skillet

Wagner Cast Iron Skillets
My first vintage cast iron – three Wagner Cast Iron Skillets

Here is my first vintage cast iron!  I have heard about how great the vintage Wagner cast iron (or WagnerWare cast iron)  is versus the new modern varieties that you might find these days. Today, Lodge dominates they market and I have plenty of Lodge cast iron cookware (skillets, griddles, and dutch ovens).  You can also find some cheaper brands, probably made in China, and most likely inferior to the Lodge. These Wagner cast iron skillets were actually in pretty darn good shape overall.  The quality was apparent even it if was partly psychological.  Either way, I could immediately see how smooth the interior surface of the skillets were.

Buying Vintage Wagner Cast Iron

WagnerWare Cast Iron: #3 and #6
WagnerWare Cast Iron: 1053 (#3) and 1056 (#6)

I found this piece on eBay as part of a lot of 3 Wagner Cast Iron Skillets – there was an unmarked #3, a WagnerWare #3 1053H, and a WagnerWare #6 1056N. In the photo on the auction, it was clear the 1053H was never really used – there was no seasoning to be seen, the color was of raw cast iron (gray), and there was a little rust clearly visible.  The unmarked #3 and the 1056N looked fantastically seasoned – shiny and black! Well, there you go, you can see for yourself

I was seeking out good deals for some Wagner skillets on eBay.  The thing is some of the very clean pieces that have been stripped, de-rusted, and re-seasoned can fetch a pretty penny.  We’re talking $20 or $30 up to over $100.  Surely some of these items are over priced to some extent, maybe some of the pieces are just really rare and hard to find, or maybe some bidders let their emotions take over and the final, winning bid was higher than they intended.  It isn’t like there is manufacturers suggested retail price for this stuff.

Anyhow, I focused my search on some of the lower priced items initially.  Once I narrowed it down a bit, I looked for items with some apparent and visible defects.  My reasoning was that it would be easy in most cases to fix any of those defects.  If a skillet is rusty, then you can clean it well, use some vinegar at a 50% dilution with tap water and soak it for a little while.  Maybe use a little steel wool to get the last bit off.  If a skillet is a little crusty or even a lot crusty with old greasy seasoning, you can still deal with that.  You’d be able to use some restoration methods and end up with a pretty good result.

You also have to think about the shipping costs with cast iron, after all, that iron is pretty darn heavy! Some of the pieces are bulky and require a awkwardly shaped box.  Essentially, you have to take into account the shipping cost when bidding because in some cases the shipping can make up 50% of the total price.  Just keep that in mind…

Here are a couple other tips when buying on eBay:

Size #3 Used for Serving
Cast Iron Skillet, Size #3 Used for Serving
  • Ask questions!  You can just be direct and ask about the condition: Is there any rust on the item? Is there any pitting?  Are there chips, especially around the edges?  Is the bottom completely flat and absent of wobbling?  Are there any defects?  You only want to purchase from a reputable seller and a reputable seller will answer your questions promptly and honestly. I actually bought a pretty beat up Wagner 1058 that was a little rusty on the inside and had 1/8″ of visible gunk and seasoning in some areas. I cleaned it up using some oven cleaner and patience. It looked pretty beautiful once it was cleaned up but a crack was also revealed.  It’s not a huge deal since it actually doesn’t seem to affect the cooking at all even though you can see the crack on the interior and the bottom of the skillet.  That’s a long way of saying that, 1) a crack isn’t necessarily a big deal, and 2) defects may not be apparent if the cast iron cookware has a thick layer of seasoning.
  • Flat bottom usually means no heat ring rather than non warped.  Check out a few of the auctions that do have cookware with a heat ring and  you will see what I mean. Cast iron can become warped if it was heated or cooled too quickly and the result is a permanent disfiguring of the metal.  It is most critical if you are cooking on a flat glass top and if the warping is severe, you may not be able to use the cookware effectively on the stovetop but the oven or grill would still be fair game. If you are using a gas range, or electric coils, the impact of a warped piece is far less important. To reference the Wagner 1058 again, this skillet was flat on the bottom with no wobbling initially.  Well, after all of the cleaning it turned out to be a little wobbly.  I do have a flat, glass top stove top range so this isn’t ideal.  However, the skillet is still usable and seems avoid having a hot spot based on the point of the skillet that is actually touching the stove. I do need to do some more research on that though.
  • Beware of reproductions.  Here is another gotcha that you can ask about and while the seller may not admit it directly, you will have made it clear that you know what you’re talking about! Look out for the “Wagner’s 1891 Original” which was manufactured from 1991 to 1999.  You can find these often; you’ll know they aren’t vintage because of the engraving on the bottom dated “1891” and the fact that they are completely underprices for some cast iron that is over 100 years old.

 

WagnerWare 1056
Wagner Cast Iron Skillet – 1056

How Much Does Vintage Cast Iron Cost?

In this case, I won the auction for $12.05!  A great bargin if you ask me!  “How much was the shipping?!” you say.  The shipping for the lot of 3 skillets was $15.85. Yep, the shipping cost more than the goods.  Each of the skillets was less then $10 a piece, they can pretty much last for a few lifetimes if you take care of them right.  I felt great about this deal overall.  This may be an exception as far as the pricing but I think if you lurk around and take your time while monitoring the auctions, you too can find a good deal. As I mentioned, you can find a full range of pricing, from reasonable to outrageous.

Afterthoughts: Quality of Vintage Cast Iron

Well, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the unnamed #3 but it turned out to be wicked smooth and in excellent shape.  The seasoning on this one was first rate! The 1053H was pretty much pristine – It looks like it was in the original box for 50 years and got a little damp.  I am certain that it was never used and after a little vinegar bath for about 30 minutes, plus a little baking with canola oil (how to season), this 1053H was better than it was new.  The 1056N looked  great with a very solid looking seasoning.  I took it for a test run with an egg and it performed flawlessly – no sticking at all! I am really happy with my purchases and look forward to finding more great deals on eBay.

 

Wonder why you can use a #3 or 1053 cast iron skillet for?  Check out this recipe for calzones cooked on the grill.

For some additional information, I encourage you to check out The Cast Iron Collector site. It has a huge amount of valuable information and a very nice community and forum.

Black Iron – Cast Iron Dutch Oven

The following article on the care of cast iron utensils, by Soc Clay,
is taken from the January/February 1992 issue of The Louisiana
Conservationist.

Black Iron and Black Magic

When the earliest white hunters and settlers came to Louisiana, one
important piece of equipment they carried was a cast iron Dutch oven.

Antique Cast Iron Dutch Oven

This highly practical cooking utensil was essential in the kit of even
the lightest traveling adventurer in early America. In fact, long before
Columbus began his quest of discovery, hunting parties around the world
depended uon some form of the classic Dutch oven to handle a multitude of
cooking chores.

The Dutch oven and other black iron cooking untensils continue to be
essential in hunting and fishing camps across Louisiana. An iron pot with
a tight fitting lid is still the prized possession of many camp cooks. More
than a few are also found “back home.” The fancy copper-bottomed and tinted
glass cookware may be prominently displayed, but the black iron is tucked
away close at hand.

Properly seasoned, a flat-bottomed Dutch oven is an ideal pot to whip
up a venison stew, work up a batch of gumbo or jambalaya, fry a mess of
quail or bake a round of sourdough biscuits. The late Ted Trueblood, one
of America’s most loved hunting scribes, was sold on the dutch oven as
being the most important piece of cookware. Trueblood was an open fire cook
of the first order. He saw no use whatever in packing in a camp stove and
fuel when he was in a serious hunting situation.

Trueblood, writing in the August 1960 issue of Field and Stream, talked
about the then-modern equipment available to hunters and fishermen. He
said, “Among all these good new items there are a few old ones that
survived with undiminished popularity. Almost without exception, they are
things that the working outdoorsman adopted as his own. The canoe and the
axe are classic examples. The Dutch oven is another old favorite.”

Trueblood’s observations ring true. According to America’s largest
manufacturer of black iron cooking utensils, Dutch oven users are thicker
than they have been in years. There’s even a Dutch Oven Society and a
bunch of Dutch oven cook-offs popping up all over the country.

Amazingly, more and more folks are going back to ironware, not only
because of its unique cooking and flavoring characteristics, but also
because cast iron has stood the test of ages as one of the safest forms of
cookware.

While a dutch oven is still a favorite tool of the open fire cook,
probably the most used piece of ironware in today’s camp kitchens is the
ever-faithful cast iron skillet. Throughout Louisiana, it is safe to say
that at least 80 percent of all households have at least one black iron
skillet in regular use.

Dutch Oven in Action!
Dutch Oven in Action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ironware was made for the cook who takes time to do things right. The
thick walls of the casting were designed to absorb and evenly distribute
heat from a licking outdoor flame or the flat top of a wood burning
cookstove. With modern camp stoves fueled by electricity, natural gas or
propane the iron pot continues to do a superior job. It just takes less
energy than most of the other cookware on the market.

Cookware made of glass, stainless steel, enamel, porcelain or copper,
or lined with a space-age non-stick surface, strives to leave no influence
of taste in foods. Properly seasoned ironware, on the other hand, emits a
savory seasoning “flavor” that no other cookware can duplicate.

But if black iron makes such black magic in the kitchen, how come even
more folks ain’t using it?

The answer is simple. Sweetnin’ the pot, as the old timers call it,
takes some time and patience. And once the initial job is accomplished,
some thought has to be given to maintaining the pot. When done properly,
fried foods won’t stick and the bitter taste characteristic of a new
casting won’t leak into your food. If you have picked up a new casting,
found a treasure at a flea market, or want to recondition a neglected
family heirloom, here are some tips I gleaned from an old Cherokee lady who
has used black iron to perform black magic in her kitchen for
three-quarters of a century.

First, inspect your black iron casting for a smooth interior surface.
The finish on the outside is unimportant. Quality ironware has a smooth
interior that readily accepts sweetening and provides a slick surface to
eliminate sticking.

Wash the new utensil, or one that has lost its seasoning, both inside
and out with a mild dishwashing deturgent. New castings come with a
protective coating that must be completely removed. Use a scouring pd if
mecessary, but this is the last time a black iron utensil should ever see a
scouring pad. Dry the casting throughly with paper towls and allow it to
air dry for at least 30 minutes

Use unsalted lard or shortening to completely coat the inside and
outside of the dry pot or skillet and then bake it in a 350-degree oven for
a total of 10 hours. This can be accomplished a few hours at a time while
baking other items if you make sure the old grease is wiped clean and a
fresh coating is applied each time the pot goes into the oven.

After 10 hours of baking, test the pot by using a little vegetable oil
to fry an egg. If the egg sticks, wash the pot lightly with soapy water
and a cloth or brush, re-coat it, and bake it for an additional three hours
or so. Then test it again. The sweetening process allows the porous cast
iron to absorb as much grease as possible. When completed, the pot will
take on a deep, shiny black finish.

Once the pot has been properly seasoned, never scour it or let the pot
sit in soapy water. Never place it in a dishwasher. Old time camp cooks
would break your arm for washing a black iron pot at all. They simply wiped
it clean and used it frequently to keep it in top condition.

When boiling foods in a newly seasoned pot, keep the water content low
and be sure to remove the lid from hot foods to avoid steaming the
seasoning off the lid.

Once the pot is conditioned, store it in a dry place without the lid on
between uses. A paper towel in the pot will absorb moisture. Most folks
who use black iron regularly like to apply a light film of cooking oil or
grease to the insides during storage. Finally, when you get ready to pass
along that treasured old pot or skillet, be sure the new owner also gets
these instructions.

There are other methods for sweetening black iron cookware, but none
has ever worked as well for me as the old Cherokee recipe.

Some would say black magic occurs in many forms throughout Bayou
Country. For good cooks, in camp and at home, across Louisiana some of the
very best black magic takes form when well seasoned black iron bubbles and
sizzles up some of the finest grub in the land.

How to Season Cast Iron – The Definitive Guide

Go to our new site: The Kitchen Professor. We have a free eBook to help you find the date of your Wagner. Click HERE!

Seasoning cast iron is a process and it is literally the foundation on which you cook your food.  It is critically important to prolong the longevity of your cookware and protects it fromt the elements, namely moisture.  If you ask 5 cast iron enthusiasts how to season cast iron, then you will probably get six answers.  And, if you ask the right person, he or she may have six answers all on their own!  Most likely, each answer is partially correct and will get you a pretty darn good foundation to cook on.

How to season cast iron

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 250F.
  2. Wash your cast iron cookware in hot water with soap and a stiff brush.
  3. Dry completely with paper towels then place in your oven for 20 minutes.
  4. Take out the cookware using heat resistant gloves or a heating pad.  Apply oil or shortening with a paper towel to the cast iron to coat it entirely.  Then get a fresh paper towel and wipe off the excess oil.  Then do it again. Yes, wipe off all the oil or shortening that you can.  Yes, I am serious.
  5. Put the cast iron back in the oven and increase the heat to 350F.  Allow the cast iron to sit for 60 minutes.  Apply the oil or shortening again using the same method as before.
  6. After the 60 minutes has passed, raise the temp up to 500-550F.   Wait for 60 more minutes and then turn off the oven.  It will take a few hours for the cast iron to cool and this is good.  We would like for the hot iron to cool down slowly in this case.
Cast Iron Skillets ready to be seasoned. Size #3
Cast Iron Skillets ready to be seasoned. Size #3
Cast Iron Skillets ready to be  seasoned. Size #3
Cast Iron Skillets ready to be seasoned. Size #3

After this process is complete,  you will have minimal protection for you cast iron and it will do the job for now.  Your job will be to use this cookware.  Cook your breakfast on there.  Use it for dinner too.  Use grease, oil, or fat on there too. Then do it again the next day and the one after that.  I think what I am trying to say is USE THE CAST IRON. This will only improve the seasoning and the non stick qualities of the cast iron.

“I thought you were not supposed to use soap on cast iron!?” That is definitely a good rule to follow but when you are laying a new foundation of seasoning, it is advisable to go ahead and strip off the old oil and start new.  Aside from this process, I have been able to refrain from using soap on cast iron.  I just haven’t seen the need so sure follow this rule outside of seasoning cast iron.

 



“My Meemaw said to only use bacon grease to season cast iron.”  That’s fine, use any kind of grease, fat, or oil that you prefer. Later we’ll explore using other fats like olive oil, flax seed oil, canola oil, crisco, bacon fat, etc…  The point here is to coat the metal with something that repels water, something that is food grade, and something that you have on hand.  It might be a little wasteful to use some first press California olive oil but it will still work just fine.  I am very interested in seeing how flaxseed oil works for the initial seasoning.

“I want a nice, thick, smooth, black coating of seasoning on my cast iron so why would I apply a super thin layer of grease and wipe it off!?”  Great question. If you put the oil or fat on thickly, then you’ll end up with a sticky, black mess of carbon-y grease.  Don’t ask me how I know that!  So the key aspect is to just be patient and put on a thin layer of your fat of choice. Your patience will be rewarded…and you impatience will be punished.

“I followed your instructions and my cast iron looks gray not black. My Pop Pop’s cast iron was literally as black as a cat on halloween night.”  Fair enough – that’s quite a metaphor and congratulations on using “literally” properly.  If you want your cast iron darker, then you can follow the directions above but just skip the washing part.  You will be able to add layer after layer of seasoning.  It will get dark, very dark, and a little darker each time with slightly diminishing returns.  You can keep on repeating, reheating, oiling, wiping, and cooling, again and again.

“My brand new Lodge Cast Iron <fill-in-your-cookware> is preseasoned from the factory in S. Pittsburg, TN. Do I need to re-season my Lodge?” Probably not but maybe.  It’ll do the job and if you do use your cast iron frequently and keep it clean and lightly oiled, then you will get the nice, slick seasoning you desire.  It will take some time but it will happen.

“My brand new Lodge Cast Iron <fill-in-your-cookware> is seasoned but it’s very rough and things stick! What is going on?” Modern cast iron is pretty much all like this.  The older cast iron cookware used to undergo an additional step where it was sanded, essentially polished down.  I did not realize how significant this was until I got my first WagnerWare Cast Iron Skillet, a 1056N.  It was like comparing gravel to freshly waxed car – well, maybe not that dramatic but it was significant.  A future article will focus on improving the surface of a modern Lodge Cast Iron piece.

Do you disagree with these methods?  Do you have a better way?  Let me know how you season your cast iron.  Comment below to let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Cast Iron Skillet - WagnerWare 1056
Cast Iron Skillet – WagnerWare 1056
Hot Skillet!  Spreading Canola Oil Around - WagnerWare 1056
Hot Skillet! Spreading Canola Oil Around – WagnerWare 1056