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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.
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.
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 …
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