Reviving a Cast Iron Pan

Cast iron has changed life around Windy Corner. And I don’t mean the clawfoot tub that’s waiting to be sandblasted…

Our cooking has really leveled up! Even with our electric stove (supposedly the last place a cast iron skillet should be), we are making our best food. And it all started with Feast by Firelight by Emma Frisch, a camping cookbook — and, of course, some Internet.

After catching wind of the toxic material that makes up our nonstick pans, I bought my first cast iron skillet from our local hardware store. Oh, young Beej. What was meant to be a tool became an experiment in serious neglect. I thought you could let it soak in soapy water, as the old adage goes.

Results: oxidation explosion.

Aaron chucked it in the barn. I sighed. Yet, one podcast & book at a time, I revised my outlook: cast iron can be reseasoned and resurrected. I just had to find that cast iron courage…

One day – zombie skillet. One dusty, rusty year later — revival.

Things have really opened up for us. English muffins, salmon patties, sauces, meats, vegetables, grains! Everything cooks and tastes magnificently. And! We have two.

My other cast iron pan is larger and heartier; I scooped it up at a nearby thrift shop. The clouds parted as I left the store.

That’s another delight: you don’t have to buy a new one. They are out there! Antique malls, charity shops, yard sales, the Internet, your friend’s aunt’s basement. Allow me and your immediate surroundings to convert you to cast iron.

Man, this is a restoration you will want to do again and again.


Step 1. Dust it off

Grab your cast iron skillet and dust it off. Don’t worry about getting it whistle-clean, yet!

Step 2. Get a copper scrub

I bought a copper scrubber at my local hardware store in anticipation of this event. Although we had it, I’ve read that steel wool is not the best fit for cast iron; all I know is copper did right by us.

Step 3. Scrub!

Put some pressure into your copper scrub and move it in a circular pattern. You should start to get some rust popping off here in the first 30-60 seconds. I did this dry-scrubbing for about two minutes total — I thought it wasn’t working because the color still seemed the same. And then…

Step 4. Wipe it down

I used a rather scrubby wash cloth made of recycled plastic to do the heavy-duty wipe down. Just a bit of warm water and a dot of dish soap took off the layers of dust, dirt & rust. George and I were amazed.

Step 5. Run it down with oil

I poured about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil onto a paper towel and ran it over the entire pan. That’s top, sides, rim, handle, underside — everywhere. Flaxseed oil binds the absolute best with iron, so if that’s easy for you to get ahold of, that’ll probably be the most satisfying one to use. Plus, it’s a a demonstrable benefit for folks with PCOS like me…

Step 6. Bake for 1 hour

Set the oven to 350° F and tuck your well-oiled cast iron skillet into the top third of the oven. Place a less-than-favorite pan in the oven to catch any excess oil from your cast iron. Bake for one hour. It won’t smell that weird.

Step 7. Take it out — carefully!

Use a thick towel or oven mitts to remove (please forgive the missing ‘t’ in the above ‘mitts’, sheesh). Let this bad boy cool for 10 minutes or so. This is good practice for cast iron cooking: when using it stovetop, the handle will eventually be as hot as the bottom of the pan.

Step 8. Get cookin’!

You don’t need to search far for amazing recipes with cast iron skillets. But let me suggest a few anyway!

  1. How to cook non-stick eggs in a cast iron skillet
  2. Sourdough English muffins
  3. Salmon burgers in cast iron
  4. Cast iron blackberry galette with whipped mascarpone