A couple of years ago I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t EVER loan your grandmother’s cast iron skillet to an amateur.
This 60-year-old skillet came back with rust! I lent the skillet to male members of my family for the Annual River Trip. I gave them clear, concise written instructions using capitalization and even underlining individual sentences several times. But those idiots didn’t have the skills to keep a canoe upright. And they didn’t bother to dry the skillet when they rediscovered land.
The following was an excerpt of the conversation we had when they returned the skillet. Some names have been excluded to protect idiotic male sensibility.
Cast Iron Crime
Idiot, “Hey, you won’t believe what happened!”
Me, “Where’s my skillet?”
Idiot, “We flipped the canoe and (idiot #2) busted his head open. There was blood everywhere; we had to carry him up a steep bank and take him to the ER”.
Me, “Where’s my skillet?”
Idiot, “We were in the ER for over 5 hours, but he’s okay and we were able to catch a mess of trout, there’s a cooler in the back of the truck with your name all over it.”
Me, “WHERE THE HELL IS MY SKILLET!!!!”
There isn’t a jury in the south that wouldn’t have considered this justifiable homicide. I’ve heard stories of sisters who have stopped talking to each other for 20 years because one inherited their Mama’s cast iron over the other. But, in my opinion, the younger sister was right…..her Mama apparently did like the older one better. This is serious business and I consider the head scar that my family member has is a reminder to him to be more careful of other people’s cast iron skillets! When word spread among the family I can’t tell you how many sympathy phone calls I received checking on my skillet’s well-being.
I inherited this one, but I have bought several pieces at garage sales in even worse shape, so this wasn’t my first Cast Iron Rust Rodeo. Here is how to bring them back to their glory.
There’s nothing like cast iron, every serious Southern cook has at least one piece of cast iron in her arsenal…. several if she comes from a large family. Food just tastes better cooked in cast iron and nothing beats it for frying for it’s no stick abilities. You can fry an egg in a well seasoned skillet and it won’t stick. It goes from the stovetop to the oven no problems! It does require some time and attention and if you can commit to that you’re good to go. But rust is it’s deadly enemy.
Know Your Enemy
If your skillet is the poster child for rust, you need to soak it in a solution of vinegar and water in equal amounts. If the rust is just on the surface and you can wipe it off with your finger you can skip this step and go directly to Step 2.
You can soak the skillet for up to 6 hours, but check it FREQUENTLY after the first half hour! The vinegar will loosen and lift most of the rust, but then it goes after your cast iron. If you leave this solution in your cast iron for very long it will pit and permanently damage the skillet. And BTW, if your cast iron has pits once the rust is removed then the only thing it’s good for is a door stop or an attitude adjustment tool for clueless idiots. ( I’m soooo kidding about that one, I don’t condone idiot abuse…..unless they don’t know how to manage a canoe). After you remove it from the vinegar bath and rinse it really well, and follow the remaining instructions below.
Using salt and a lemon half gently buff the skillet clean, if it needs something a little tougher you can use a fine steel wool pad but don’t get aggressive with the scrubbing you can scratch the surface, think ballet instead of football.
Change of Seasoning
Gently wash the skillet with mild soap and a soft bristle brush, rinse and dry with paper towels (cast iron will stain your good towels! Especially rusty cast iron). I place mine on a med/low heat stove burner to open the pores for the oil and to make sure that it is dry. Then apply a generous amount of crisco or veggie oil (my grandmother preferred Crisco) top and bottom of the cast iron.
Place a piece of foil on the bottom of your oven to catch drips, and set your oven to 300 degrees. Then place your greased skillet upside down on a rack and bake for 1 hour. This is called, “seasoning” your skillet, it is what gives it that shiny stick free finish we all crave. I will season a damaged skillet twice before using it, letting it rest for an hour in between.
Tricks of the Trade
The reason that inherited cast iron is so desirable is the years of seasoning that have occurred, it’s simply perfect. Even new cast iron doesn’t compare to an inherited piece in my opinion, so I wanted to give you some tips on keeping your skillets inherit worthy. Seasoning is the ONLY time that you will use soap on your skillet. After each use, rinse it with hot water while it’s still warm and dry it over low heat on the stove using paper towels, then apply a new thin layer of veggie oil. If it needs a little more cleaning than than, use salt or a stiff brush. Your goal is to keep it dry and oiled.
If you are stacking cast iron pieces together, place several layers of paper towels between them as they can damage each other. Or check out this beautiful tip from What’s That Smell. Cast Iron Pan Protectors, I love this hack and will be doing this myself really soon! When your skillet begins to stick, season it again. And for goodness sake, don’t EVER submerge it in water, put it in the dishwasher or loan it to idiots going on an annual fishing trip.