How to Clean and Season a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet

Even the most careful cooks will get a little rust on their cast iron once in awhile. For small spots, here is a trick my grandmother taught me.
How to clean a rusty cast iron skillet

Like me, most people who have tried cast iron skillets, grills and dutch ovens love them. I have fond memories of the traditional ‘pop and sizzle’ of the pan as my Mom tested dropped a bit of water to test its heat. Cast iron has been used for decades and many people still own the ones their grandmothers used.

How to Clean a Rusted Cast Iron Skillet

Even the most careful cooks will get a little rust on their cast iron once in a while. For small spots, here is a trick my grandmother taught me.

The potato trick: Cut a raw potato in half. Shake a little baking soda onto the rust spot and rub with the potato. Watch the rust disappear! Rinse with hot water and dry thoroughly.

For larger rusty areas, you will want to use steel wool. Scrub the area with steel wool until all the rust is gone and you are down to bare cast iron. Then wash in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly. Reseason your pan as described above.

How to Re-Season Your Cast Iron Skillet

Whether you purchase your cast iron skillet or dutch oven already seasoned or not, you will want to re-season it before your first use. This is a very simple process but it does take a little time.

  1. Wash the pan in warm, soapy water.
  2. Dry the pan with a soft towel. Make sure it is nice and dry. Put it in a 200-degree oven for a few minutes to make sure it is completely dry. A warm pan will also season better.
  3. Brush all of the interior and exterior surfaces of the pan with a thin layer of oil. Wipe the oil off gently with a paper towel or soft cloth. You want the coating of oil to be very thin. There are differences of opinion in what oil to use, but organic flaxseed oil will give you the hardest finish.
  4. Place the pan upside down on the middle oven rack and turn the stove to 450 degrees. Once it has come to temperature, turn the timer on for 1 hour.
  5. Repeat the process a few times to build up a nice heavy coat. Your pan
    should have a black semi-matte sheen and will last for years.

How to Care For Your Cast Iron Skillet

Once your pan is well seasoned, you want to care for it properly to maintain the seasoning.

  • Wash your cast iron pan immediately after you have finished cooking in fairly hot water while the pan is still warm. You can use a gentle scrubber, plastic brush, baking soda or salt to help release stuck on food.
  • Do not use soap or metal utensils to scratch off debris. This will degrade the seasoned surface.
  • Once clean, dry the pan completely. Do not let water sit in the pan as that will encourage rust spots. Warm the pan over a burner or in the oven to make sure it is completely dry.
  • Whenever you cook, brush a little oil over the interior of the pan and heat the pan slowly over the burner. Remember, it will get as hot as you want and stay hot for a long time, so don’t rush this step.
  • The pan has come to temperature when you put a drop of water in and it pops and sizzles. Quick evaporation means the pan is too hot.

Although it may seem like a lot of work, once your pan is initially seasoned you will love cooking with it. If you care for your cast iron skillet, grill or dutch oven, it will give you a lifetime of cooking pleasure.

Benefits of Cast Iron Skillets

If you don’t own a skillet or dutch oven like this, you will definitely want to add one to your kitchen. They are extremely useful, durable and a great all around tool.

They are nearly indestructible

They are heavy weight and can be used on top of the stove or in the oven. You can even use them over an open fire. They are great for one pot cooking where meat is browned on the top of the stove and then put into the oven to roast or braise. You can make an excellent frittata in one for the same reason.

Iron pans conduct heat very well

This means even cooking and excellent results. Many southerners use cast iron to bake cornbread and give it that signature crispy crust and tender interior. Cast iron also gets nice and hot, so it’s great for frying chicken and searing meat.

It will hold its heat!

Because it retains heat very well, it will keep food warm for quite a long time.

How to clean a rusty cast iron skillet

Cast iron’s seasoned non-stick quality gets better over time

Although they need a little TLC and seasoning when new, the more you cook in them, the more non-stick and easy to care for they become. This is especially true if you use oil when you cook in them.

A heartwarming, rustic look

This old world charm will show off your food beautifully.

Cooking in cast iron adds to your nutrition

As a dietitian, one of the instructions for people who have low iron stores is to cook in cast iron. It will impart some of the iron into your food and increase your intake.

Great Value and Durability

If you are a garage sale junkie, you have probably seen them hanging out there, in fine shape for a few dollars. Even brand new, they are inexpensive and, when cared for, last a lifetime.

Check out this cast iron pan set on Amazon


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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Hi Billi,

    Love the potato trick for removing rust.

    This is my first visit to your site. Looking forward to reading and learning more from your informative posts.

    1. Susan, so glad you found something you can use. We want to provide a lot of valuable and practical information. Thank you for your comment and for visiting our site. We hope you will come back often.

  2. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was entirely right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine simply how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

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