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, litre
- grade steel wool or a plastic pot scrubber
- paper towels
- cheap olive oil (pomace or similar)
- large rubbish bag
- 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 minutes; during this time, preheat your oven to c. 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 minutes.
Now crank the oven up to c and leave at this temperature for 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.