Thursday, March 31, 2016

How to Restore Cast Iron

My husband's latest hobby is cast iron cooking. I am all for it! Number 1- using cast iron makes zero dirty dishes, and number 2, it makes delicious meals. I hope this hobby continues for a long, long time :) 

Cast iron does cost a pretty penny, though. Buying it new can be very expensive, and honestly it isn't made with the same quality as the older cast iron. Buying cast iron second hand can bring down the cost pretty significantly and give you a higher quality cookware. However, second hand cast iron often comes with a lot of rust. Some of the pieces my husband has picked up really looked beyond repair, but it is incredible what the right techniques can do to bring out that beautiful black cast iron look again. 

The method that you use to clean it really depends on the condition of the piece. For this tutorial we are going to use a 12" skillet that we picked up at a flea market for $8 as our example. This particular skillet had so much rust on it, that it literally had layers of built on coating that you could feel with your fingers. On the back, we thought there were no markings (but we found them once we finished). So yeah, if we can restore this piece, I think these techniques can be used to restore just about any piece!

Here is what you will need:
Vinegar (lots of vinegar)
Salt (lots of salt)
Basin of water large enough to completely submerge your cast iron piece
BBQ grill wire brush
Potatoes (5lb bag should do)

The first step is to give it a good scrubbing. The best way to start off with a first layer of scrubbing is using salt and potatoes. Yes, that's right, salt and potatoes. Cut your potato in half, and cover the entire surface of the cast iron with a good dousing of salt. Don't be shy with the salt, get a really good layer going and then scrub the pan with the potato, cut side down. The salt will form a kind of paste and begin to break off the first layer of rust.


The next step is to soak. Fill a container with water that is large enough to completely submerge your cast iron piece in. Our 12 inch skillet ended up going into a trash can :) Fill the container with water, vinegar, and salt. You should have a 1:1 ratio to vinegar and water, and add salt until it can no longer dissolve. Make sure that the skillet is completely covered and let it soak for a LONG time. Overnight is best. You will begin to see bubbles coming up from the rust as it literally separates from the skillet. By the next morning, the water will look really dirty with all of the rust that has fallen off and in our case, there was an outline of foam along the edge of the skillet that you could see on the top of the water. This water was clear before, I promise. Did I mention that this skillet was really bad off?

After soaking, it is time for more scrubbing. Start off with a wire brush (the kind that you use to clean the barbeque grill). Scrub, scrub, scrub. Use that elbow grease! You should see a difference, and maybe all the rust will be gone...but depending on the condition, you may still have more work to do.

Place your cast iron on the stove and heat it until it is completely dry. You will see all the steam coming off as the water evaporates out of the skillet. Once it is dry you will be able to determine how much rust is still left on it. Unfortunately, cast iron always looks darker (and cleaner) when wet. 

This process takes off one layer of rust at a time, so if your piece is really bad off, expect to do several overnight soaks with scrubbing sessions in between. Repeat the process (potatoes and salt scrub, vinegar, salt and water soak, wire brush scrub, and stove heat dry) until ALL of the rust is gone. You do not want to season your cast iron with rust still on it.

Once you have finally gotten all the rust off, it is time to season your cast iron. At this point it is probably a new color- not rusty orange, but not cast iron black- more of a silvery color. The black color comes after it has been seasoned. To get it to that point, when it will be ready for kitchen use, all you need is some Crisco. Use a pare towel to rub a layer of Crisco over the entire piece of cast iron. Next place it on a baking sheet and cook it in the over on 275 degrees F for an hour and a half. This process will also have to be repeated several times for the cast iron to soak up all of the oil and coat the surface. This coating not only protects the cast iron from rusting again, but also creates the layer of non-stick coating that flavors the foods that you will cook in it.

 Look at that beautiful black cast iron shine! I can't believe this is the same piece that we started with, and it has quickly become one of our favorites to use when cooking!

 Here are some before and after pictures of a griddle that we restored at the same time. This one only required one soaking and scrubbing, and it was as good as new!