Friday, December 04, 2009

Reconditioning a Cast Iron Frying Pan

When I'm not busy wrestling middle-aged women for vintage cookbooks at garage sales, I can be found rummaging through piles of bric-a-brac for old kitchen treasures. Say hello to my latest acquisition, an old, cast-off cast iron frying pan. With an eye to restoring it back to its former glory (thanks to Greg's post here), it accompanied me home to the Kai Lab.



The beauty of cast iron cookware is that it can be bought relatively cheaply, albeit in used condition. Being of sturdy build, they'll take the knocks and will last for ever as long as they're looked after. They are prone to rusting but this is remedied by seasoning. The process is a form of polymerisation, which in this instance involves bonding oil to metal through heat, thus forming a protective skin. Done properly, this will prevent rust from forming, as well as rendering the pan non-stick and therefore easy to use and clean.

You will need:
  • a can of spray-on oven cleaner (possibly two cans; this depends on how bad a state it's in)
  • an old oven tray or dish (or a disposable one)
  • white vinegar, 1 litre
  • 0000 grade steel wool or a plastic pot scrubber
  • gloves
  • paper towels
  • cheap olive oil (pomace or similar)
  • large rubbish bag
  • 7 litres of hot water


Dressed like a budget-constrained Bond villain, it was off to work. Place your pan over the roasting dish and spray all over with the oven cleaner. By the way, make sure the area where you're working is well ventilated - the OC is toxic stuff.



Pop the roasting dish with the pan into the rubbish bag, seal (the bag serves to stop the oven cleaner from drying out) and leave for a few days for the cleaner to work its magic. Depending on how encrusted your pan is, this may require several applications and a lot of time. Mine took two attempts over five days before it looked clean. After each session, wipe off the cleaner with a sponge or rag, and scrub the pan in hot soapy water - dry immediately.


Time to take care of the rust. In a bowl or tub, pour in your white vinegar and hot water. Place your pan in this mix for 30 minutes; during this time, preheat your oven to 130c. Once the time is up, remove the pan, dry and then sand off the rust with the steel wool (pop some gloves on before you start - the wool will break up as you work the pan and imbed itself in your fingers. While it doesn't hurt, it can feel a bit niggly). Afterwards, wash the pan in hot soapy water, towel off and then pop upside down in the oven to dry for 45 minutes.



Now crank the oven up to 280c and leave at this temperature for 45 minutes. This is the stage where we'll season the pan. Have a rack ready on your kitchen bench. Remove the pan from the oven (don't switch it off), place on the rack and rub all over with olive oil using paper towels - according to Greg, about two tablespoons or so should be sufficient. Do this until it develops a sheen. Once done, place the pan back inside the oven for half an hour. Once the time is up, turn the oven off, and open the door, but just a crack. Once the pan is cool, remove and give it a final wipe.


Voila! A clean and rust-free pan, ready for use.


The interior of the pan came up well; there was a little spotting but nowhere near as bad as the underside. I'm guessing I used far too much oil, resulting in pooling and subsequent staining. It's no bad thing as the pan is still seasoned and usable. This could well correct itself over time.




Now that it's clean, it doesn't look that old after all. Gone is the dream of appearing on Antiques Roadshow, proudly displaying the pan that could well have been used to fry up Captain Cook's bacon - I can't imagine there've been many people appear on Antiques Roadshow uttering the expression, "D'oh!".

Don't forget, every time you use your cast iron cookware, wash it in hot soapy water, dry with a tea towel, followed up with a brief spell in a warm oven. Give
it a light spray with cooking oil before putting it away, too. Pans like this are always to be found at second hand stores and garage sales, so take a chance and buy one, and give this a go.

28 comments:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Nigel,
That is a beautiful result. I love the old pans but have seen a few I was too afraid to buy, but no more. I also bought an old clay cooker a few weeks back for 5 bucks. I am trying it out tonite.
Cheers,
Robb

Nigel said...

Robb, that's fantastic! Take a look around blackirondude.blogspot before you start though - Greg's an expert at restoring cast iron cookware & chances are he may have a tip or two which may result in a better finish for you. You should post pictures of your finished product too!

mico santos said...

Nice post i like it . thanks:)

julianz said...

That looks great! I'm not sure about washing them with soapy water on a regular basis though, I've certainly never used soap on any of our cast iron pans (other than the first wash) and I'd be a bit hesitant to do it. It's not like they really need it, nothing ever sticks to them.

Nigel Olsen said...

Cheers, Mico!

Julianz, you're probably right and it would definitely add to the pan's patina. I don't think washing does any harm, especially given that the oil is baked into the pan. It'd take considerable effort to degrade the seasoning through washing & it's not as if I'm attacking it with a pot scourer. You do make a good point.

Heidi said...

That pan looks amazing! A job well done and a useful lesson in caring for good quality kitchen ware. Cast iron pans are way better than some cheap, crappy old Warewhare jobby.

Lou at Domesticscene said...

Aha! I'm going to be on the scout now for some of these pans, thats a super result. Im Welly based but will be popping up to Provedore for breakfast tomorrow, howabout that!

Nigel Olsen said...

Heidi - too true!

Lou - I have a feeling these pans are going to become hard to come by... If you're popping in for brekky, I recommend the Grind if you're after something hearty, the mince if you're particularly famished, & the Avo/Tom if you're wanting something light yet flavoursome :)

Louise said...

Justin had "The Grind" and I had ciabatta with haloumi and the deli pork sausies... followed by a quick day trip up to Waipatiki to check out a new house we designed, and now I'm back home to give the kids their kai... wish my whirlwind trip could have been a bit longer...

Nigel Olsen said...

That is a whirlwind trip! Bring your littlies next time :)

peasepudding said...

That was a good find and came up a treat. I love cast iron pans, bought a really cheap one years ago from Briscoes!

Genie said...

Wow. I'd never guess that the after could have come from that before picture. Well done. You know you could make a living restoring old pans.

Nigel Olsen said...

Genie: that's not such a bad idea, but it's simple enough to do at home.

Alli: sweet! They'll last forever; them, Twinkies & cockroaches.

Nigel Olsen said...

Genie - you're Budafist?! You guys are awesome!

Genie said...

Yeah, thanks :) Have you seen anything aside from our website?

Greg said...

Strong work and that is a great looking pan!

Greg

Nigel Olsen said...

Genie - Yeah, you did some work for Fu bar & Zen, & didn't you design Kolab's tour poster?

Greg - Thank you! It is a beauty & is the default pan in my kitchen. I love your blog by the way.

Genie said...

Hmmm...I wonder if we know some of the same people?

Nigel Olsen said...

Probably not! I spend most of my time in the kitchen but having said that, we get a lot of people eating here at Provedore from your scene, not to mention Napier's.

Kitchen equipment said...

Excellent job, I keep meaning to pick up my own cast iron cookware on the cheap and go through the same process, I know someone who picked up an 8 inch wagner for $10 and now it looks like new!

Alas, I still need to find time,
Thanks for sharing!

John.

Anonymous said...

Um... "Now crank the oven up to 280c..." Wouldn't that be 536f? Is that too hot?

Nigel Olsen said...

Yes, that's 536f & it's absolutely spot on for conditioning a pan - the results speak for themselves(& not just mine - check out Greg's site which I used as my primer: http://bit.ly/890lCH ). I understand your hesitation; it is fiendishly hot, but it is a piece of metal that was originally forged in much hotter conditions.

Anonymous said...

Rats. I live in the US and my crummy old 1936 oven doesn't go a hair over 500...

So far it's working but I can't help but wonder how much better it would be just a tad hotter.

Nigel Olsen said...

1936? What kind is it? An Aga?

Anonymous said...

I am 80 years old and I have been using cast Iron all of my life. I have collected it over the years from yard sales, thrift stores etc. and have an extensive collection. I am surprised that no one ever tells how to clean a skillet or other utensil of the built up baked on grease that accumulates. The person who suggested putting it in the self cleaning oven has the right idea but not all of us have the self cleaning oven. I have used the following method in camp fires and also in my fireplace. Simply place the utensil in the flames and keep an eye on it, turning it as the build up burns off. it will soon be as clean as a new one. Then season it as suggested. I also routinely wash my cast iron when washing dishes. I have also put it in the dish washer. I make sure it is dry and then give it a quick wipe with some shortening. If I think there is a danger of food sticking, I give it a shot of pan spray.

Nigel Olsen said...

Hello! Your method makes perfect sense, and has probably been the standard method for time immemorial. Thank you for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

Since cast iron is porous, are you not concerned about the chemicals in the oven cleaner?

Nigel Olsen said...

Not personally, although I guess I should be. You could try the method Anonymous mentions, two posts up.