Instructions for how to clean a rusty cast iron skillet. After a thorough cleaning, we will also tackle how to season a rusty cast iron skillet.
I do like my stainless steel cookware, but when it comes to non-stick, a cast iron is my go-to pan. Truthfully, well-seasoned cast iron cookware is not as ‘non-stick’ as some other “Non-Stick” labeled cookware. But I’m too suspicious of the chemicals and processes involved in making the ‘non-stick’ feature of other non-stick cookware. I’ll always default to a low-tech, no chemical, tried and true item that’s been safely in use since the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD).
In addition to the set of 4 Lodge 5-inch cast iron skillets that I’ve written so fondly about (skillet apple crumble, skillet brownie, skillet pecan pie, individual almond fig clafouti); I also regularly use a Dutch Oven, a 10-inch skillet, a 12-inch skillet, and a 2-sided grill/griddle.
All that being said, you can’t just throw your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher or, for that matter, just wash and forget it. So this is where I got stuck (no pun intended) on my cast-iron learning curve. Of course, I never put it in the dishwasher! But I know I didn’t ‘tend’ to it regularly as I should have.
My skillets are actually in pretty good shape, but the lid of my dutch oven became rusted on the inside because I didn’t make sure it was dry when I put it away. And my grill/griddle was just a hot rusted cast iron mess because I seasoned it poorly several years back.
I recently decided it was time to rescue my rusted cast iron and resolve to be a better cast iron owner. To that end, I researched how to clean a rusty cast iron skillet. I realized that I needed to take off whatever finish remained on the dutch oven, its lid, and the griddle and start from scratch.
Before we dive in to how to season rusty cast iron skillet, let’s first discuss how to clean it.
With your cast iron cookware in your oven, turn the oven on to the self-clean mode. The approximately 850° temperature of self-clean mode carbonizes and turns to ash the finish, build-up, and dirt from your cast iron as well as your oven.
Once it is cool, use a 2″ wire cup brush or 2″ wire wheel brush drill attachment to take down any remaining rust on your cast iron item. The two together cost less than $10. If your cast iron is not quite as bad as mine, you can probably use a wire brush instead of the drill attachments.
Once you feel you’ve nailed all the rust on your cast iron with wire brushes, give your cast iron a good rinse with water, but don’t use soap.
Dry the cast iron off, but then put it in the oven to thoroughly dry out and warm up a bit. I set my oven to 450° and put the cast iron in when I turned the oven on and ‘baked’ it for about 5-10 minutes.
If you haven’t already done so, set your oven for 450°
Thoroughly rub your clean cast iron with grease, keeping the layer of grease as thin as possible.
I tried using paper towels (the lint/fibers got all in the grease), a bristle basting brush (the bristles fell out and got in the oil), and a silicone basting brush (just a pain in the neck). I finally realized that getting my hands on the cast iron and rubbing the grease all over was the best solution. PLUS…my skin was so soft after the process! Just a warning, you want to do this when your cast iron is warm, but not too warm that you can’t rub your hands all over it.
Deciding what oil to use is probably the hardest thing when figuring out how to season your rusty cast iron skillet. There are just so many options.
I’ve read about Flax Oil (which is expensive to be coating your cast iron with), lard, vegetable oil, and coconut oil. I’ve worked with the vegetable oil with moderate success (operator error, I’m sure), but this time I thought I’d try something new.
I read about a product called Crisbee and decided to give it a try. Scouts honor, I am not affiliated with Crisbee at all, and they don’t even know I’m writing about them. Crisbee comes in a puck form or a stick, rather like stick deodorant. It is a proprietary blend of soybean oil, palm oil, and beeswax. The company claims that the addition beeswax helps the oil bond to the cast iron better than just vegetable oil. I liked that it was solid, making it easier to get the thin coat you need on your cast iron.
I think where I went astray in my past cast iron seasoning attempts was that I had too much vegetable oil and it puddled or baked unevenly. Both the stick and the puck are so easy to use, especially on an ongoing basis after each use.
After thoroughly coating your cast iron with your preferred grease/oil (I’m sticking with Crisbee!) and getting any excess off, put your pieces in the oven. I put my dutch oven in upside down so that any runoff wouldn’t puddle on the bottom of my pot. You may also want to put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil at the bottom of your oven to catch any drips.
Bake for 1 hour.
Let your cast iron cool to the touch, but still warm and repeat the greasing/oiling and baking process 2-3 more times.
TADA!! Will you look at that shine!! That’s pure non-stick goodness right there!!
I read somewhere that instead of baking the cast iron in your oven, you could do it outside on your grill. Although the Crisbee put off fewer fumes than vegetable oil, there is still a burnt oil smell coming from the oven. So, I thought ‘What a great idea!” and turned my grill on.
Here’s the rub…my grill thermometer doesn’t work very well…I guess. After one hour, my grill/griddle looked like it did after the self-cleaning mode. The heat from my grill removed the oil I had just put on. Obviously, my grill was hotter than what the thermostat claimed. Plus there’s the whole thing of having indirect heat in the oven versus direct flames on the grill.
At the end of the day, I figured I was better off doing it inside and dealing with the burnt vegetable oil smell. Luckily it’s a cool day and I can have the windows open.
Now that I’ve cleaned my cast iron and re-seasoned it, I am determined to keep it well-seasoned on a regular basis. It will be easier than going through this process again.
Plan to invest several hours; 4 hours for the self-clean cycle and 3-4 for each 450° ‘baking’ cycle…up to 20-hours total baking time. Although you are not actively involved most of the time and the process can be spread out as long as you need, but why bother if you just keep it well seasoned! (Can you hear me motivating myself to do a better maintenance job?)
Cleaning my cast iron was on my to-do list for some time and it feels good to scratch it off.
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