I don’t collect many things, but when it comes to cast iron skillets, I can’t help myself. I love the idea of having things that have been used for so many years. Some of the pieces of cast iron that I have are over 100 years old. I can’t resist an old cast iron skillet at a flea market, especially when it’s covered in rust and it looks useless. Usually, when it looks this way, the cast iron piece isn’t very expensive. Most people will pass it by. Not me! I take it home and give it tender loving care and turn it into a wonderful piece of cookware again. You can too if you know how to remove the rust and season an old cast iron skillet.
How to Remove Rust from an Old Cast Iron Skillet
Once you get the piece home, give it a good soapy bath.
At this point, it’s okay to use soap on your cast iron. Make sure you get all of the old “yuck” off of it. After the bath and after it is dried completely, check for rust. See if it needs to be overhauled completely or just needs a little touch up.
Wire Brush & Drill
If it has major rust on it, take a wire brush that I attach to a drill and give it a good going over. You can remove a lot of rust this way. I’ve had some pieces that were so rusty that I’ve had to use a sander intended for body work on cars. Be careful if you do this, though. Go slowly so that it won’t dig into the cast iron and cause it to heat unevenly.
If the cast iron needs just a little touch-up, take steel wool and elbow grease to it.
Follow this with a light sanding with fine grit sandpaper to get rid of any small grooves that the steel wool may have left behind. After you clean all the rust off of the piece, wipe it down with a clean cloth or paper towel to remove the dust.
How to Season an Old Cast Iron Skillet
Next is the fun part.
Take lard, shortening, or bacon grease and slather it all over the piece.
Get a good layer on it. Then place it on the top shelf in your oven that’s set at 225 to 250 degrees. Place a cookie sheet under it to catch any drippings and bake it for a few minutes to cook the grease into the piece. Take it out and wipe the excess melted fat off of it. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking it.
Some people bake the cast iron piece for about an hour. I bake mine for a little bit more—sometimes for as long as 2 hours. Once it’s done baking, turn off the stove and let it cool slowly. After this step, your cast iron piece is “seasoned.” Some pieces may need to be seasoned again; it all depends on the piece.
Do Not Put Your Cast Iron Pieces in the Dishwasher
In fact, once you have seasoned it, don’t even soak it in dishwater. It will damage the seasoning. I have found out that the best way to clean my cast iron is to scrub it with ordinary table salt—it’s a great scrubber! Dump out the salt and wipe clean. I always rub a small amount of grease back onto the piece. It keeps it from rusting if there is any dampness that gets to it.
Now that you have a good cast iron skillet, experiment. I think you’ll discover there’s a wholesome, satisfying feeling that comes with cooking in a piece like generations of our ancestors have done.
Sherri Lyons lives with her husband on their farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. They have grass fed cattle, horses, rabbits, and chickens. They plant a garden every year. They believe that you grow what you eat, and eat what you grow. You can follow their farming adventure on her blog at www.smallfarmgirl.blogspot.com
What about you – do you use cast iron? What’s your favorite thing to cook in it?