Sheryl Canter

Perfect Popovers (& How to Clean & Reseason Cast Iron)

See this later post for a more scientifically sound seasoning technique:

http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/


My fascination with popovers began with a new cookbook I purchased just before Christmas. This led to a search for the perfect popover pan, which turned out to be antique Griswold cast iron. That, in turn, led to intensive research on how to restore an old cast iron pan covered with rust and crud. I succeeded, as you can see in the picture below. In this post I’ll describe how to restore a cast iron pan, and then use it to make perfect popovers.

Popovers in my newly restored Griswold popover pan

Popovers in my newly restored Griswold popover pan

My first popover efforts used pyrex cups. It worked pretty well, but I wanted to see if I could get them to rise even higher in cast iron, the “gold standard” in popover pan perfection.

Popovers in Pyrex

Popovers in Pyrex

Lodge Logic Muffin Pan

Lodge Logic Muffin Pan

Lodge Logic makes a cast iron popover pan, but it doesn’t have the space between the cups that I read is important. So I turned to eBay and found an antique Griswold popover pan that was perfect. It was no big surprise that the perfect popover pan would be a Griswold because old (pre-1940) Griswold pans are widely considered to be the best cast iron cookware ever made, and are highly collectible.

I wasn’t looking specifically for a collectible pan, just one that was well made, not too pricey, and in good enough condition to be used (perhaps after restoration). Here’s the one I bought – these are the original pictures from the eBay listing:

Griswold popover pan, before cleaning

Griswold popover pan, before cleaning

Griswold popover pan, before cleaning

Griswold popover pan, before cleaning

I could see from the listing pictures that there was rust under the seasoning, but I couldn’t see any significant pitting so I thought I could restore the pan to usable condition (though, admittedly, I had never done such a thing before).

Removing the Crud

When I received the pan, I found it had a fair amount of crud on it, and felt a little sticky from a bad seasoning job. The ideal way to clean cast iron is through electrolysis, which cleans off both crud and rust. An electrolysis setup involves a car battery charger, a large plastic tub, stainless steel pipes, and good ventilation – none of which I have in my tiny NYC apartment in the dead of winter. And even if I did have these things, I’d be afraid of doing something wrong and blowing myself up.

Another good method is a self-cleaning oven, but there are some risks. There have been reports of the crud catching on fire inside the oven, which is locked during the cleaning cycle so you can’t open it and put out the fire. There is also a risk of warping the pan at self-cleaning temperatures, which are 900-950°F. Most of the time, neither of these bad things happen and it works great, but I don’t have a self-cleaning oven.

Next best is a lye bath, which cleans off crud and old seasoning, but not rust (that requires a second step). That was also a no-go for me due to the lack of a plastic tub, and my general fear of substances that could explode and kill me. But oven cleaner usually contains lye, and I thought I could handle oven cleaner.

Oven Cleaner Method

I put some cardboard down in the bathtub and laid the pan on the cardboard. Before spraying thoroughly on both sides, I suited up like an astronaut – long rubber gloves (double, thin latex underneath, in case there was a tear), double mask over my nose and mouth (one isn’t enough – you still breath vapors), and goggles over my eyes. This is not excessive precaution. I somehow got a drip of oven cleaner on my upper arm and it burned right through my skin. I flushed it very thoroughly in water and then dabbed on some yogurt since lye is base and yogurt is acid – that soothed it.

After thoroughly spraying the pan with oven cleaner, I popped it into a large, thick plastic bag, closed the bag tightly, and put it in a small plastic wash tub in the general vicinity of my radiator so heat could help it along (not on the radiator, of course, just near it). I waited 24 hours, then donned the gloves again and took a look. A rinse and a scrub told me it needed another dose. I again suited up like an astronaut, sprayed it down again, and put it back in the sealed plastic bag near the radiator.

Twenty-four hours later I looked again, and this time all the crud was gone. But the pan was covered in thick rust that went way beyond my scrubbing ability. I didn’t take a picture of the bottom of the pan, but even the letters on the bottom were encrusted with rust.

Popover pan after treatment with lye to remove crud

Popover pan after treatment with lye to remove crud

Removing the Rust

Removing crud from the pan is dangerous to you but not to the pan. Lye does not damage iron. Removing the rust is just the opposite. You remove rust with a 50/50 solution of distilled white vinegar and water. This is safe for you but can destroy iron if you leave it in there too long. (Electrolysis is a safer method for the pan because it removes rust as well as crud so you can skip this step.)

When you put a pan in a vinegar and water solution, it sort of simultaneously rusts and derusts. The vinegar will cause the excess rust to lift off the pan and bubble up, but when you take it out of the solution it instantly starts rusting because the iron is utterly unprotected. A very thin film of rust is unavoidable – you just oil the pan and wipe it off that way. Don’t leave the pan in the vinegar indefinitely waiting for it to come out perfectly gray. It never will.

You want to leave the pan in the vinegar for the shortest time possible, so check it frequently, and never leave it in the vinegar solution for more than 24 hours. I checked the pan every couple of hours. At about the 12 hour mark I dumped out the rusty solution and put in new, clean solution. A few hours later, no more rust was bubbling up from the pan so I figured it was done.

I removed it from the vinegar solution and scrubbed it down with washing soda (like baking soda, but much stronger) to make sure the vinegar was complete neutralized. Washing soda is base; vinegar is acid. Then I put it in a 200 degree oven to make sure it was bone dry. When I took it out, I oiled it all over with avocado oil. I’ll explain the reason for avocado oil in the next section.

I want to emphasize how important it is at this point to rinse all the vinegar off using washing soda to neutralize, thoroughly dry the pan, and then thoroughly oil it. Do not wait even 10 minutes to do this because the pan is already rusting and you must stop the process.

Here’s how the pan looked after drying but before oiling:

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust but not oiled

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust but not oiled

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust but not oiled

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust but not oiled

And here’s how the pan looked after oiling but before seasoning:

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust, oiled but not seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust, oiled but not seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust, oiled but not seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned of crud and rust, oiled but not seasoned

Rub the pan really well all over with oil – especially in crevices – to wipe away the surface rust. Change paper towels frequently! You’re cleaning it with the oil. When you stop seeing rust on the paper towel, you can start seasoning. Note that you’ll still see dark residue from the iron before the pan is seasoned – that’s normal.

Notice how the pan is a medium gray, and not the black usually associated with cast iron? That’s because you’ve cleaned it down to the metal, which is gray. It’s the seasoning that makes it dark. That comes next.

Seasoning Cast Iron

To “season” a cast iron pan means to create a slick, glassy coating by baking on multiple thin coats of oil. This is necessary for two reasons:

  1. It protects the iron from rust.
  2. It makes for a glassy nonstick surface that’s better than any commercial nonstick surface, and far better for you.

(If you didn’t know that commercial nonstick pans contain extremely dangerous toxins, now you know. These toxins are released when the pan is old and the surface starts flaking into your food, or when you heat the pan above medium-low temperature, which people do all the time. Pet birds will drop dead of fumes from an overheated nonstick pan, and the fumes not so great for humans, either.)

When you start to research how to properly season cast iron, you quickly realize that no one fully understands the science behind it, and advice is based on folklore and superstition. Do you use solid fat or liquid fat? If liquid, should it be polyunsaturated or monounsaturated? Should you bake it at high temperature or low? Should you heat it above the smoke point of the oil you use, or below? You’ll find ardent supporters of all these practices on the internet.

I can’t say that the method I used is the only way or even the best way, but I did end up with a beautifully seasoned pan, as you can see. Compare these pictures to the ones above with the purple background, before the pan was cleaned. Much better!

Popover pan, cleaned and seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned and seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned and seasoned

Popover pan, cleaned and seasoned

Start with Avocado Oil…

It seemed to me that the important factor here was polymerized fat. That’s what’s so hard, glassy, and slick. The black color (as opposed to deep brown) comes from burnt material – carbon – bound up in the polymerized fat when you bake the pan above the oil’s smoke point. I didn’t like the idea of doing that because heating oil above its smoke point releases free radicals, which are carcinogenic. That’s why you never ever want to heat oil above the smoke point when cooking. I liked the idea of a monounsaturated oil because it doesn’t go rancid. You don’t need to refrigerate olive oil, which is mostly monounsaturated. And I thought that high oven temperature made more sense than medium or low for creating a hard glassy surface rather than a sticky surface.

Putting all that together, I decided to use avocado oil, which is monounsaturated and has the highest smoke point of any edible oil (see this chart of smoke points). Avocado oil doesn’t smoke until 520°F. If I had a decent oven I’d have baked it at 500°F, but unfortunately my oven only goes up to 450°F, so that’s what I used.

Coat every surface of the pan with the oil and then wipe it off with a paper towel so it’s very thin. You do not want pools of oil on your pan or they will stay forever sticky and you’ll have to strip it back down with the lye and start again. After oiling, put the pan face down in a cold oven (face down so as little surface is touching the rack as possible). Put a pan or some foil below the rack to catch any drips, but it should not be dripping much if your coat of oil is sufficiently thin. Then turn up the heat to 500°F (or as high as your oven can bake). When it’s done preheating, set your timer for an hour. When an hour has passed, turn off the oven and leave the pan inside without opening the door until it’s cool enough to handle. That takes at least two hours.

Then take the pan out of the oven, and rub it with oil and bake it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. You need at least six coats of seasoning because each coat must be very thin. You can’t speed this up. If you use too thick a coat of oil, it will never get hard and you’ll have to strip it all off and start over.

…Then Two Coats with Bacon Fat

After six coats I started to wonder if the glaze would ever be sufficiently thick, so in frustration I added two coats using a different technique. Instead of avocado oil, I oiled the pan with strained drippings from some bacon I bought at the Farmer’s Market – no nitrates or other chemicals in it. Again I wiped it out with a paper towel so it was very thin, but saturated fat (fat that’s solid at room temperature) always goes on thicker than liquid fat. I then baked it for two hours at 350°F and let it cool down in the closed oven.

When the pan had cooled, I opened the oven door and put a finger on the pan. It felt a little sticky, so I closed the oven door and cranked the temperature up to 450°F, leaving the pan in the oven while it preheated. When the oven was at 450°F, I set the timer for an hour, then turned off the oven and let the pan cool down in the oven. When I took it out, it had a thicker glaze on it and looked quite nice.

I went one more round with the strained bacon fat (organic! no nitrates!). The second time I baked it for one hour at 350°F, and then two hours at 450°F, letting it cool down in the closed oven. When I removed the pan, perfection!

Why start with the lower temperature when seasoning with bacon grease? It prevents smoking. I don’t know why, but it does. The smoke point of lard (pork fat) is 370°F. Baking it at 350°F changes it somehow so when I raise the temperature it doesn’t smoke. If you season a pan with lard without this first lower-temperature step, it will smoke like crazy. Reports on the internet warn you to open windows and door, turn on fans, etc. None of this is necessary if you bake it at 350°F first.

I’m not sure whether my pan got so lovely and well-seasoned after the bacon grease because it already had six coats of avocado oil on it (it did get darker with each application), or the bacon grease has some sort of special qualities. I’m about to season a skillet, so I’ll soon find out. Next time I’ll start with the bacon grease and see if I can get it to the beautiful point with fewer layers. I was starting to worry I’d wear out my oven (not to mention the damage to my electric bill).

Perfect Popovers

All of this was in quest of perfect popovers, so here is my popover recipe. I like to keep it very simple, just four ingredients: milk, egg, flour, salt. I’ve tried a little melted butter in the batter, but it rises less that way and I don’t find I need it for taste.

For the small, 6-cup popover pan I just cleaned (or three 6oz pyrex custard cups), you need:

  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour (preferably with the germ)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

I make it in a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup. Preheat the oven to 450°F. While that’s happening, pour ½ cup of milk into the measuring cup and crack in one egg. Beat that with a wire wisk. Add the salt and beat some more. Measure out ½ cup of flour and dump that in. Wisk it together until it’s smooth, then as soon as it’s smooth (no lumps) stop mixing. Don’t overmix it. Let the batter sit while the oven continues to preheat.

If you’re using cast iron rather than pyrex, rub avocado oil into the popover cups. At some advanced point when the pan is excruciatingly well seasoned this won’t be necessary, but for now it’s necessary to keep the popovers from sticking and it also serves to add seasoning to the pan. When the oven is preheated, put the popover pan into the oven to heat empty for five minutes. Your popovers will pop higher if the pan is preheated. You do this with oil rather than butter because the butter will burn.

When the hot pan comes out of the oven, put a tiny dab of butter in the bottom of each cup. This further ensures nonstickiness, adds seasoning to the pan, and adds flavor to the popovers. Then pour the batter into the cups – filling only about halfway. Don’t overfill the cups or they won’t pop sufficiently

Put the pan back in the oven, this time with the batter, and set your timer for 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 350°F (do not open the oven!) and continue baking for another 15 minutes. (If you’re making them in 6oz pyrex cups, bake for 20 minutes at 350°F rather than 15 minutes.) When the popovers come out of the oven, they will look like the first picture in this blog post. Here it is again for good measure:

Popovers in my newly restored Griswold popover pan

Popovers in my newly restored Griswold popover pan

As soon as they’re out of the oven, pull them out of the pan (they should slide right out), put them on a cooling rack, and stab them with a small knife to release the steam inside so they don’t get soggy.

I like popovers for breakfast with butter and jam. They’re also good as sandwich bread for lunch. When they pop really high they’re hollow inside, and you can fill them with tuna salad.

So does cast iron make a difference? Popovers made in pyrex are perfectly good, but the ones made in cast iron are crispier on the outside and pop higher. And I enjoyed learning how to clean and season the pan.

Do you have opinions – preferably science-based – on seasoning cast iron? Liquid or solid fat? Smoke or no smoke? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with this.

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63 Comments

  1. Sheryl Canter:

    I’m reseasoning a Griswold skillet now that I stripped with oven cleaner. (It had very little rust – got it off with some scrubbing.) I’ve learned a little more about seasoning…

    Lard (filtered, no-nitrates bacon fat) is thicker than liquid oil and gives a nice, solid base, but it is never completely flat – no matter how hard you try – and doesn’t give the same kind of glassy glaze as multiple thin coats of avocado oil.

    This time I started with a thin coat of lard for a base, and now I’m adding coats of avocado oil. This is giving me a really nice finish. The avocado oil layers even out the lard layer.

  2. doris mosier:

    Hello, Sheryl–nice write up on the entire process, from beginning to end.

    Thanks for the offer to connect to your web site for cleaning suggestions. I’ll put it on our club’s web site, http://gcica.org/ under cleaning iron…..thank you. Doris Mosier

  3. Jena Dewyea:

    How could I clean a butchering Kettle with your techniques? Im trying to clean it up so I can use it but I dont even know where to start because it is so big! Help me please!!!

  4. Everett Burt:

    Sheryl

    I was lucky and ran across this write up first. It is great. I am curious why you did not consider peanut oil.

  5. Susan:

    I have found an easy way to remove both crud and rust. I get coals going in my barbecue and then set the pants on top of the coals. I works like a charm and rather quickly.

  6. Cedarglen:

    Great article. I have stronng reservations about the oven cleaner om a food-contact surface. Most is Sodium Hydroxide and I do NOT want that in my food. (Alternatives are Potassium Hydroxide, less effective, but still a poor choice. The dilute vinegar and then soda wash is fine.
    Frankly, I;m a big fan of the Self Cleaning oven method and I’ve usedit several times. If the Iron vessel to be cleaned is *seriously* encrusted, perhaps one pre-treatment with oven cleaner, the the SC Oven routine. Thoughts on seasoning attached to your later article. Good work, although I do not agree with everything. Thanks.

  7. john:

    My cast iron pan has had some small black debris coming off on the food so I was looking up some info on seasoning it, your techinique is different from what I’ve seen on other websites but it seem to make sense, I giving it a try today so hopefully everything works out well

  8. Ted C.:

    @John,

    If your pan is already seasoned but has some crud accumulating on it, I have what I think is the best way to clean/recondition it. Warm it on stove slightly, pour a small mound of course sea salt on the cooking surface. Pour oil of choice on top of the salt until soaked. Scrub the salt/oil mix into the cooking surface with a clean rag. The stuff will come off very rapidly, make sure not to press too hard. Dump out the salt and your done.

    Good luck.

    ted

  9. sam:

    try rubbing your cast iron with a cut onion for 5 minutes, it will remove all rust stains. its organic.

  10. patti:

    Great information, Sheryl, thanks for sharing! I only wish I’d come across it sooner… I started seasoning my pan today but I used regular (non-organic) bacon grease. I have a de Buyer carbon steel pan, not cast iron — though from what I’ve read online, the seasoning process seems to be very similar. I’ve only done one layer, preheated and baked at 400 degrees for an additional 30 minutes and cooled, but it seems pretty sticky. Maybe I put on too much? I certainly didn’t wipe off any excess, though there were no drips onto the cookie sheets below. I’d come across the same list of smoke points for different oils and thought avocado would be a good choice but I haven’t found any yet; I was glad to see that you’d had such success with it, and that it seems to even out the uneven base layer of lard. Do you think that the first base layer of (non-organic) lard will be ok if I were to follow with several coats of avocado oil — or should I strip it at start from scratch? I’m not wild at all about the idea of suiting up and using a toxic spray oven cleaner, and I’ve seen at least one reviewer’s warning that putting the de Buyer pan through the self-clean oven cycle will ruin it (I suppose it depends on the oven, but why risk it)… It’s a brand-new pan with only the one layer of lard seasoning; do you know of another option for removing it so I can start from scratch, or would you recommend moving forward with the avocado oil layers, as you did with your Griswold skillet?

  11. Gary:

    Great information. I did not know about carinogens being released after oil goes past the smoking point. I often cook steaks in my CI pans in the oven at 500 degrees. My question is the fat from the meat smokes, so am i getting carinogens?
    Hope not, but I not going to quit, because it’s so good.

  12. Seth:

    What kind of oven cleaner do you recommend? A cursory search on Amazon returns lots of options! Any specific advice?

  13. Cam:

    I’ve been trying to read all the various posting and keep hearing about the self-cleaning oven process, but I can’t find how long it needs to be in the oven? My self-cleaning oven allows the user to select how long they want the process to occur.

    I usually run it for between 2-1/2 to 3-hours, depending upon how dirty my oven is. Is that how long I should run it for my cast iron pan? I’ve already cleaned the grill pan with a cold processing oven cleaner, but some gunk is still on the twice cleaned pan.

  14. Cam:

    As an update, I cleaned two pans by running my self-cleaning oven cycle for 2-1/2 hours, and they came out stripped to the base metal. Absolutely the only way to clean cast iron, in my view!

    I completed the pans by following the directions at this site for seasoning with 3-coats (although I did 7) of flaxseed oil wiped completely off and baked at 500-degrees for 1-hour, with 2-hours cooling in an unopened oven between bakes.

    Thanks so much for the information offer at this site!

  15. Chris:

    Hi! I’m on day three of using oven cleaner to get the crud off my cast iron pan so I can re-season it with flax oil. I have been alternating spraying the pan, leaving it for 24 hours, then scraping the crap out of it with a utility knife before spraying again to get another layer off. If this doesn’t get it all off I’m moving on to lye solution (I have some lye in my garage…I wish I would have gone with this first!). I think once it is done, though, my pan will thank me for it (and I’ll be ready to resurrect pan #2). Thanks for the research into the flax oil!

  16. Sheri:

    What wonderful detail you’ve given, and the science behind it. Thank you, Sheryl! I’ve been cleaning a bunch of cast iron skillets in my self-cleaning oven lately. Two hours seems sufficient, but I’m noticing that a few of them are ending up with a big black patch of discoloring on the bottom. Maybe these were the ones that were sitting directly on the bottom of the oven. Mostly I try to stand them up on their sides so that I can fit 4 to 6 at a time. Of course the racks have to come about because the high heat will adversely affect the coating on them. I’m thinking of going the spray oven cleaner route, but it’s so messy, that I’d love to avoid it. I love Sam’s idea of rubbing a cut onion over the pan to remove the rust. I think I shall try it, before I go out and buy gallons more of vinegar.

  17. CherylCame o:

    Love this info. gave me great ideas but when my husband saw me using oven cleaner then chipping away at my 100 year old CI pan donated to me he brought it to work and sandblasted it. It came out gun metal gray and I followed your seasoning method with the avocado oil for six days, then two days with organic coconut oil. My 100 year old pan is beautiful!

  18. Theresa:

    “…scrubbed it down with washing soda (like baking soda, but much stronger) to make sure the vinegar was complete neutralized.”

    Hello! I am fascinated by your research in seasoning cast-iron ~ thanks for sharing!
    I have a dutch oven that I ’seasoned wrong’ and ended up with a sticky mess. I put the pan through my oven’s self-cleaning cycle, and it is no longer sticky…but very rough, and, as you discuss above, rusty. I’m ready to do the vinegar/water bath. My question is about the washing soda…I’ve never heard of it, and don’t have any idea where to get it. Can I use lots of baking soda and still get a good result? Or where can I find washing soda?
    Thank you!

  19. Sheryl Canter:

    You get washing soda in the grocery store in the detergent aisle.

  20. Stu:

    Hi Sheryl, thanks for writing all this great material. I was wondering if there are way to remove a bad seasoning job without resorting to harsh chemicals or self cleaning oven (which I don’t have) When I first got my skillet it was very rusty and I used canola oil and salt rub to clean it up then put in the oven and baked it with salt/oil, repeated until clean. So is there any way to just remove the old seasoning and then move on to seasoning with flax oil as per your other article? Possibly just washing soda and vinegar or salt? Thanks I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

  21. Barb:

    Hello Cheryl,
    I am beginning to look into cast iron cookware and have been especially interested in vintage pans. I have read your 2 articles, one about cleaning an old pan and the other seasoning. Why are 2 different oils used, avacado for the cleaning and flaxseed oil for the seasoning?

  22. Craig:

    Love all the info! Thanks for taking all the time!

    One method I have not seen listed here for removing rust in cast iron pan , is one I just did and it worked perfectly, and in about 5 minutes!

    I just put some vegetable oil in the pan, added a bit of water, and scrubbed hard with steel wool, in circular motions… the oil/water was my idea for lubricating (the steel wool and pan) as I cleaned… and it seasoned the surface at the same time: When I finished scrubbing, I thoroughly rinsed pan with hot water, and then towel dried it with paper towels… it had a perfect smooth layer of oil still on it, and was ready to be baked, all done in 10 minutes! And no rust!

    Seems a MUCH easier alternative to lye or vinegar, etc.. No??

    Happy cooking everyone!

  23. Nancy:

    Instead of purchasing flaxseed oil in a bottle, I’ve used my Costco flaxseed oil capsules I take to lower my cholesterol. 6 capsules emptied into my large dutch oven seems to cover it and the lid well. Great website ~ I really appreciate the good science behind your recommendations!!!

  24. annette:

    you mentioned that could use electrolysis, how (in detail)would i go about completing that process. i would really like to restore a set of cast iron pots, pans, and skillets.

  25. Jon:

    Great post and blog! The biggest drawback on seasoning cast iron for me (esp. with flaxseed) is the smoke.

    Many ovens send the smoke generated through the top of the stove, rather than directly outside. As soon as I can figure out how to direct the smoke straight to the exhaust vent, I’ll try it again. 3M particulate filter masks are too painful to wear for the extended time required (completely blocks the smoke, though!).

    30 minutes at 200°F, then 1-1/2 hours at 500°F worked great for me with refined almond oil (Spectrum says it has a smoke point of 495°F). I took some poorly seasoned cast iron pans to completely black in just one bake. For me the key was the 30 minutes at 200°F and leaving the pans in the oven until cold. A little bit of grape seed oil spread around the pan and the eggs didn’t stick.

    I heated the pans at 200°F (put the pans in the oven, set the temp to 200°F and turned the temp up to 500°F after 30 minutes) because I didn’t like the idea of handling a 200°F pan. Lucky me. Next time I’ll extend the time at the 200°F setting a bit longer and use flaxseed oil.

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  27. Amelia:

    I received a brand new Cast Iron 2 Burner Reversible Grill/Griddle and it says it has a matte enamel finish. No need for seasoning. I wanted cast Iron so I would not have to worry about what was coming off my cookware into my food. Would you recommend stripping it, and would it work to do the self cleaning oven one, or using as is? I was a bit confused if it was seasoned or if it needed to be. I looked it up to get more information and found the enamel finish info. Thank you for any help you can suggest. I am excited to use your information to strip and season my grandmothers skillet, so I can use it.

  28. Jon:

    If it is really matte enamel, there is no need to season. If you try to strip off the finish, you will be trying to strip off the really hard-to-remove enamel.

    Some, myself included, have sometimes added to the existing coating of matte enamel. Now I just season regular cast iron.

    Since there have been lots of spare the air days in our area, I’ve not tried seasoning with flaxseed at below smoke point for an extended time, followed by 500 degrees F for several hours. Looking forward to trying it to see if it will eliminate or reduce smoke. I will have my particulate respirator handy, just in case (3M particle filter with dual cartridges from hardware store). No smoke is safe. Flaxseed oil smoke is really, REALLY bad.

  29. David:

    Thank you so much for all this wonderful information. Im about to tackle the process of cleaning and reseason two cast iron skillets. I was wondering if after the cleaning process I need to oil with avocado or do I go straight into reseason with the flaxseed oil? I was also wanting to get a recommendation on oven cleaner?

  30. lars mars:

    Sheryl, I am curious what your opinion might be of GRAPESEED OIL for this use. I have found it has high smoke point and very high content of poly-unsaturated fatty acids which are active in the cross-linking that creates the hard ’seasoned’ layer.

  31. Jon:

    Does heating an oiled pan up to 100°F (or other amount below the smoke point) work for all oils?

    I tried flax seed oil at 200°F for 1 hour followed by 500°F for another hour. I still got lots of smoke. I’m wondering if the 200°F was too low or the 1 hour too short (or both).

    Has anyone else played around with this “no smoke” technique?

  32. Kim:

    What is this “washing soda” you speak of to clean the rust?

  33. guest:

    “Washing soda?” Is this perhaps more commonly known as brand names like Ajax & Comet?

  34. Sheryl Canter:

    > “Washing soda?” Is this perhaps more commonly known as brand names like Ajax & Comet?

    Absolutely NOT. GEESH!! Good grief!! Read the original blog post. I describe what it is in there. You can find it on the shelf of your supermarket in the cleaning section.

    Please, people, don’t post wild ridiculous guesses that you pull out of your ass. If you have no knowledge to contribute, silence is the best policy. Ajax or Comet will destroy cast iron cookware.

  35. guest:

    >> Sheryl Canter: “…Please, people, don’t post wild ridiculous guesses that you pull out of your ass. If you have no knowledge to contribute, silence is the best policy…”

    No need to be rude Sheryl.

    It was NOT a “wild ridiculous guess that I pulled out of my ass.”

    It was just a QUESTION – and the last one I’ll ever ask you.

    Between this article & your “Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning” article, a number of people asked what “washing soda” is. It’s not a commonly-used or frequently-mentioned item. I even got confused looks from grocery store employees when I asked where to find the stuff.

    I’ll try to find more helpful (and more friendly) sources from now on.

  36. Fascinated:

    Fantastic info here. I am amazed at the extent and detail you have itemized with this process and I do believe it will work.
    So what if Sheryl is frustrated at ONE point in this blog. Not a big deal to me.
    Sheryl, please keep us informed of your findings.

    I have been seeking a way to find that beautiful, shiny black frying pan my Grandmother used to cook everything in. I will be trying Sheryl’s ideas. These have been the best and most well thought out ideas that I have come across in my quest to “reinvent the wheel” (aka my GrandMa’s cast iron frying pan!

  37. Edi:

    I was listening to a talk show on public radio about cast iron clean up. Putting foil down on the lowest oven rack first, putting the pan on the upper rack on it’s bottom. If it’s really bad put it upside down so ash would fall to foil. Put oven on clean cycle. Turn down house heat furnace, open windows, put on a few fans & leave. Letting pan totally cool w/ the oven cool down. Having a good wobble in this particular fry pan, when it came out of the oven it was “healed”!!! On to seasoning. I also came home to no smoke or fumes etc.

  38. Chris:

    Love the post. Here is one minor variation that I found useful. Rather than bothering with protective gear, I just put the pan AND the spray bottle of oven cleaner in a giant ziploc bag. It’s easy to grab and spray even when the oven cleaner is inside the bag. There is no smell and no mess. After letting it sit, I then open the bag just an inch or so and fill with enough water to dilute the oven cleaner to the point that it is safe to handle.

  39. Kevin:

    Liked the article and the pictures spoke volumes. On a different note, I just received some lodge cookware, and I intend to season using your method. Is it necessary to clean or strip before seasoning? I havent used them as yet.

  40. Sheryl Canter:

    Lodge cookware comes preseasoned with a waxy finish. It doesn’t require seasoning. Only antique cast iron requires seasoning.

  41. Tonya:

    So after I do this, how often should I repeat the process? And the do I need to start from the bottom or just clean and add a new cost of seasoning?

  42. Kaylie:

    Hello Sheryl,

    I’m sorry if someone already asked this question, but would it be all right to simply scour a pan with steel wool instead of cleaning with the oven cleaner? I bought a new pan about a year ago, scoured it until it seemed the preseasoning was gone, and tried to reseason it using far too much oil and low heat. The pan sat and rusted for months before I scoured it again, and it now has been sitting for another few months, so I’m sure it is slightly rusty. Back to the point, do you think it is absolutely necessary to use the cleaner? It terrifies me! Thank you.

  43. Kaylie:

    Also, when it comes to the washing soda stage, do I mix a water-soda solution and use that? Just wondering about the specifics, thanks!

  44. Max:

    Hi Sheryl,

    Why do you use Avacado oil here when you specifically said to use Flaxseed oil in your cast iron pan post?

    Thx,
    Max

  45. Sheryl Canter:

    Max, scroll all the way up to the top of the article, and read the very first line, in bold italics, for the answer.

  46. Max:

    Totally missed that! Sorry! Thanks!

  47. Nancy:

    Ammonia will remove old seasoning from cast iron. Wrap in something like an old sheet soaked with the ammonia, put in plastic bag or covered pail to contain fumes and minimize evaporation. If possible leave the whole thing outdoors. The oil/grease comes off in a gelatinous gloppy layer. Might have to repeat.

  48. Allison:

    WOW, this and the flaxseed post are fantastic. I have a new gas stove that has a cast iron griddle, but all my eggs have been sticking. :( I’m cleaning it with oven cleaner now, and I can’t wait to season it with flax.

    Thanks so much!

  49. TomH:

    Sheryl I found a web site that details how to use electrolysis:

    http://www.dannylipford.com/how-to-remove-rust-using-electrolysis/2/
    (copy and paste if need be)

    This can be done with no cause for alarm inside a ventilated area.

  50. Laura:

    Hi Sheryl, Like so many others, I am very grateful for your exhaustive, science-based discussion of the care and feeding of cast iron! Thank you!

    For those who are in the dark about “washing soda,” Arm & Hammer, the brand my Mom used years ago, may be familiar to some readers. Certainly it is still available (see Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Church-Dwight-03020-Hammer-Washing/dp/B0029XNTEU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339029350&sr=8-1). This stuff is sodium carbonate. Apparently it is manufactured from salt and limestone, and is still used as a water softener. I also saw a brand name “Nellie’s” at Amazon.

    Please advise everyone NOT to confuse “washing soda” (Na2CO3)with “baking soda (NaHCO3).” NOT the same stuff!

    I am currently obsessed with cast iron, and its cleaning and seasoning. I just tried the self-cleaning oven method on my Griswold skillet, newly acquired from eBay. It had a thick greasy cooked-on build up that could be scraped with a fingernail (not much more fun that a chalkboard, let me tell you!). I crossed my fingers, decided to sacrifice one of my new stove’s oven racks (it has 3), put the skillet on the rack, face down, in the middle of the oven, set the self-clean cycle for 3 hours, and walked away. The manual that came with my stove says that the racks may be left in the oven during self-cleaning, but they will not be as shiny, and will not slide as easily. The manual advises applying a small amount of cooking oil to the sides of the rack to remedy this. Everyone is advised to READ the manual to THEIR OWN stove regarding oven racks and self-cleaning before siccing their lawyers on me! :-) )

    And, 3 hours later, I am ecstatic! ALL the gunk became dust, which is easily wiped off with paper towels and flax seed oil! The pan did not split or warp (though I would suggest that anyone who has cast iron with hairline cracks think it over before putting them in for an oven-cleaning cycle!), and the stove did not burst into flame (I have a fire extinguisher).

    The skillet is now lightly oiled and awaiting the seasoning process. Thanks again, Sheryl for these excellent posts!

  51. Laura:

    By the way, popovers are the same thing as Yorkshire Pudding. I know the recipe by heart (virtually identical to yours):

    1 c milk
    1 c flour
    2 eggs
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 c pan drippings or vegetable oil.

    I would follow the same baking procedure, temp and time that you suggest above.

    My new (to me!) Griswold popover/muffin pan is now on its way from ebay. It will be the next candidate for cleaning and seasoning.

    I especially want to thank you again for these excellent posts on cast iron. I never would have purchased a skillet in the condition mine was in if I had not already read your posts! But I took the chance, and I am thrilled! Thank you!

  52. Patrick:

    Awesome blog. I’m using the techniques now and they are working well. By the way what did you pay for the Griswold popover over pan?

  53. Kim:

    Sheryl

    Thank you for this information and for sharing it. I plan to put it to good use next week. I wanted to say, to those that are having the smoking problem during the seasoning, that we have been putting our CI griddle on our propane grill and shutting the lid. It has a temperature gauge on it so we can get it to 475+ and then I just let it go for an hour. I sit in the kithen and watch the smoke and, well, just let it smoke.

    Also, we live in AZ so I plan on putting the oven cleaner on the griddle, inside the plastic bag and setting it outside in the heat. I’ll see if it is hot enough to do the job.

  54. Jacquie:

    Sheryl,
    Thanks for the information. I have two CI frying pans over 40 years old. I use all the time. I just use wadded up foil to “scrape” the gunk out of the pan, rinse with water, no soap, then dry with a paper towel. I usually use some type of oil to spread a thin layer on the pan and store it in the oven. If I need to use the oven, I pop it out, then put it back in when I am done, even if the oven is warm. I have not had to re-season the pans for several years, maybe 10. But, they are getting a little scraggly looking so will scrub them up and season with flaxseed oil. I always have some on hand. I hope to get a smoother finish than I ever have, sometimes I do get a little sticky if I wipe too much oil on the pan. Thanks for all the research and information.

  55. Regina:

    Sheryl
    I’m probably as detailed as you are when it comes to my cast iron pan’s cleaning.
    Thank you so very much for posting all this info online!
    I have two chicken fryers (Griswold and a Wagner), for the last 30+ years, and use one for salty foods and another for sweets and caramels.
    I’m glad you mentioned the avocado oil.
    I’ve been using almond oil on my sweet pan and peanut oil on the salty one.
    Just as maintenance!
    Both my pans are better than the slickest Teflon around!
    Thanks again for the awesome article!

  56. Bob B.:

    About the electrolysis. You never use stainless steel in electrolysis because it can cause hexavalent chromium to form. Stainless steel contains chromium. Chromium in that form is highly toxic and is proven to increase the risk of many serious types of cancer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3AElectrolysis#Stainless_Steels_and_Anode_Consumption

  57. Demi:

    2 questions:

    do I mix the soda with water during this stage?
    can I use the flax seed oil for oiling it after drying it in the oven?

    Thanks. Any response will be appreciated since I am doing this to my pan right now. Thanks.

  58. Onion:

    I’ve physically removed the crud with wire brushes and smoothed pitting out with sandpaper, you aren’t facing the risks of cracking or warping like with the high heat method…

    The fastest easiest way is to take it down to a local metal shop and let them sandblast it. If they aren’t busy it shouldn’t take any longer than five minutes and they shouldn’t charge much if you are nice to them:)

  59. Nate:

    In lieu of using oven cleaner, you can use lye crystals to make a base bath in your sink and soak you pans that way. I found that the fumes of oven cleaner were irritating and an annoyance.

  60. Logan:

    Thanks so much for your site, Sheryl! I have a few Lodge pieces (if I weren’t in college and could afford more, I would certainly have a kitchen full). My Lodge pieces have done me well for about 2 years but recently it has become apparent that they needed to be stripped and re-seasoned. Your tutorials are FAR more detailed and helpful than the brief, vague paragraph offered by the manufacturer. Thanks again for your help!

  61. capmed:

    I was given a counry cabin 12″pan with the thumb rest. It had a stain on the bottom.I put it in a camp fire untill the pan was glowing red hot…..it did not warp. The stain is gone. I used a wire brush and steel wool to get off all the rough spots. I am trying to get the red color out of the metal.
    The onion just made me cry and didn’t work. I tried the grape seed oil it smoked and burned off –left another burn stain. Now i am trying the flax at 200 degrees.

  62. Ali:

    I have made it all the way to the avo oil cleaning and have been wiping and wiping, but I am still getting black on my paper towel! Is this okay or should I do another vinegar bath? Keep wiping?? Stop and continue with the next step? My pan was very rusty to start.
    Thanks for all your help!!!