A New Season

Something we’re getting into is buying up old cast iron cookware, and restoring it. We’re starting with my late grandmother’s old #8 skillet, which was in horrible shape when I got it. I only made it worse by using it to hold hot coals for my smoker, which stripped a lot of the seasoning off and opened it up for more rust. I also bought, for six dollars at a thrift shop, an antique #8 skillet from the turn of the century (the last century), which has a few rust spots on it, but otherwise looks to be in quite good shape. Over the holidays, Bitter’s mom gave us an old #10 skillet that needs to be restored.

As a kid growing up, my mother always had well-seasoned cast iron cookware, which I learned to cook on. After my mom died, and we all moved out of the old house (my dad remarried, and my sister got married), either my sister or my dad got my mom’s cast iron. None of the modern pans I’ve used since have been their equivalent, so I’m looking to make some of my own, and ditch the modern non-stick el-cheapo crap. I’ve been making more pan cooked dishes lately, and miss the old cast iron. If this all works, I might look at trying to score a cast iron wok.

25 thoughts on “A New Season”

  1. If you want to strip them down to metal and re-season, the best way is to stick them in the coals of a wood fire for a few hours – the seasoning will burn right off. Quickly get them out and put a light coat of your choice of oil (I prefer lard) and stick them in the oven for an hour or two. If you don’t have a wood fire handy, you can try using the self-clean function on the oven – it does the job, but you have to jump on it fast to keep it from forming rust. (Or just hit it with a wire wheel after the rust forms anyway.)

  2. You can pick up nice heavy cast iron at many “modern” stores. K-mart has a 3-piece set for $20. Most camping stores will have a cast iron cookwear for cooking over a fire. We have a great piece with the ridged bottom and it’s great for broiling steaks.

    1. The modern stuff doesn’t seem to be as good. I’m seasoning a modern piece right now, and the iron just isn’t as smooth as what I remember. The antique skillets we’ve acquired are very smooth, even absent the seasoning.

      1. You just need to use the new stuff for 5 or 6 years till it breaks in. Yes I realize that sounds crazy. I have a mix of old and new with the old older than me and the new about 6 years and now they are about the same. Some I only use a couple times a year but they are well oiled and seasoned. The time on the shelf seems to do them good. The old ones probably sucks for there first couple year too.

      2. They are supposed to be smooth? Every summer I use one that my great grandmother used that is far from smooth. However, that is probably the remnants of 100 years of corned beef hash.

  3. I love my cast pans, I rarely touch a teflon pan these days. One thing I learned is that new ones are not cast as well; they get a lot better after a protracted session with a palm sander and 100 grit, though. I use canola to season mine, but they still smoke pretty good if I get them too warm. I have a gas range now, which helps a lot. I’ve heard that coconut oil is good for seasoning (higher smoke point) but I’ve never tried it. How do you clean yours? There’s about as many opinions on that as there is on guns- I’m partial to scrubbing with kosher salt, myself. Can’t go wrong with a good cast pan.

    1. Well, my grandmother’s I partially unseasoned with heat. We’re trying multiple applications of oven cleaner (basically lye) on the rest followed by a soak in vinegar (acid) followed by a good steel wooling… then re-seasoning.

      1. Just run it through the self-clean cycle of the oven. That should do it. Use steel wool to take off any rust. Wash it with hot soapy water, thoroughly rinse it and thoroughly dry it (put it back in the oven maybe). To season it, put a thin coating of oil on it and run it in the oven on medium heat for a couple of hours or so. Repeat that 15 to 20 times. You’ll have a pretty good seasoning. What you’re doing is creating a psuedo-ceramic coating. It’s kind of like painting– the best results come from many thin coats.

  4. Lodge branded iron cookware comes already seasoned. Good reviews from my local foodies who have used them, of course, not as good as grandmas. The best seasoning is just to use them every day.

    1. I have a couple new Lodge pans- but I don’t think I would pay extra for a pre-seasoned one. Those are the ones that needed sanding smooth, as they cast with much coarser sand now than 50 years ago. They were so rough that, once hot, they would take apart a plastic spatula almost instantly. Chunks of fried plastic in your eggs are less than ideal. I’ve also had good luck with seasoning on a camp stove. Get the whole thing smoking hot, then hit it with an oiled rag (use a glove. Learned that the hard way) or spray with Pam Grilling spray and wipe in. If the rust is etched in, it will still take a while for the seasoning to fill up the pits, but its worth the effort.

      1. If the surface is hot enough to melt a plastic spatula, it doesn’t matter if it’s cast iron or teflon, or smooth or rough – you don’t want that either way. Even if you’re not getting plastic bits in your food, what chemicals are melting out and into what you’re eating? I’ve moved to metal spatulas almost exclusively because of that, and don’t regret it one bit.

        Honestly, the only reason for plastic spatulas is to avoid damaging the non-stick surfaces on teflon/whatever coated pans. Why bother if you’re using seasoned cast iron?

  5. Last year while in rural eastern Washington I came across a country consignment store. I scored a few old cast iron items, including a Griswald. Think I might have paid $20 for 4 pieces total.

    While the new stuff isn’t as nice, if you seriously work it over, it improves. Season, scrape abusively and season again. While not practical, frying 500 or so eggs in butter would do it. :)

  6. You can get some of the antique pans on EBay. Wagner and Griswald are the big names.

  7. A technique that seems the most promising to me for smoothing the interior is hitting it with an angle grinder with a flap wheel before reseasoning. Way better than sanding by hand, and should smooth the surface dramatically. I have some newer Lodge stuff that I’ve been meaning to give that treatment to, as they definitely use fairly coarse sand for the initial casting.

    1. I was tempted to do the same a few years ago with some new Lodge pans I bought. Glad I did not.

      The coarse surface got completely smoothed out once it was “comfortably” used. Compared to some other brand pans where the bottom was not as coarse, the Lodge is holding it’s season better. No flaking of the coating.

      I can wash the Lodge pans in hot water and soap (the horror!) and still keep that season in place. My wife left water in one when we went away for a few days. No rust. Sometimes periods we use them frequently, sometimes not so much. They hold up either way.

      Just some food for thought, before you warm up that angle grinder.

      1. As for what I meant by “comfortable” use, I think the first few months of life for those pans involved a lot of high-heat searing of meat. We’re talking high heat on the dry pan for 10 minutes before a thick ribeye even touched the surface. Then a flip and finish in a warm oven. For a while, just about every item that was getting browned started in those pans – even a pot roast that only needed a few minutes searing before hitting another pan. So we’re not talking delicate use.

        I don’t think I could have fried an egg in the first few months. Now I can.

        If you want instant smooth, then the angle grinder might be your friend. But if you can use them hard for a few months on food requiring less fine treatment, you might end up happy by leaving it alone.

        Just another free penny-thought over the internet.

      2. When I sanded my Lodge stuff, I didn’t go all the way to polished smooth, just enough to take the sharp grain off, but still leave enough for the seasoning to get into the pores. An angle grinder seems a little robust to me, but YMMV. As for the plastic spatula thing, I wasn’t melting them- the grit was so coarse that it basically ground them off, leaving shreds of plastic. I eventually got enough money to buy metal spatulas. I can use them now without problems, though.

  8. If you don’t mind spending more, good hard-anodized aluminum such as Calphalon’s is the next step up from cast iron. You season and maintain it the same way, you use metal tools with it, and it’s got a better nonstick surface than the new rough cast iron.

    Advantages are better heat conduction, lighter to handle, and doesn’t rust if a helpful guest puts it in the dishwasher (but will need reseasoning).

    I don’t actually have any idea why someone would remove seasoning. As an amateur blacksmith faced with an old pan, I’d sand it if it needs smoothing, wire brush it (with a drill or other power tool) to remove rust and burnish the surface a bit, and season over it.

    I do my normal cleaning with water and a stainless steel kitchen scrubber.

    1. Got ’em. Like ’em.

      Lifespan of maybe 5 years moderate to heavy use. The surface gets a bit rough and things start to stick. We’re at the point of only using it for rough searing.

      Not knocking the pans in general. They are good. Four to five years of good use from a single pan makes me happy.

      We tossed a few of them this summer. They sit in the garage today with holes and dents of various caliber over their surface. FMJ .40 will go clean through them at 15 yards. FMJ 9mm pretty much the same, but not as uniform. FMJ .380 not so much. Never punched through, but Fiocchi and Federal 380 ACP hollow points made a larger and deeper dent. I haven’t met a centerpoint rifle cartridge that would not go through. Even 5.7 left nice holes.

      New fun with old pans.

      1. Huh, my oldest and most-used hard-anodized pan is 15-20 years old and doing fine; only problem is a little warping. But maybe I don’t cook as much. :)

        1. Or maybe you just cook better. ;)

          We used them a lot for high heat stuff. Lots of searing, etc. I bet that will eat them good. I have broken all clad and calphalon, stainless and coated alike. They actually do get a ton of use. We don’t go out and eat anymore and the microwave might as well be broken.

          I echo your suggestion for anodized stuff. Good pans.

  9. One of the great things about good cast iron is it freaking ROCKS on a modern induction cooktop. You want to sear the everloving bejeebus out of a steak? A well seasoned cast iron on an induction burner will amaze you.

  10. What a pile of gun-totin’ hateful neanderthals we are, us and our iron cookware.

    1. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. If I could buy a cable subscription for 10 bucks a month that was just food channels and Outdoor Channel, I’d do it. That’s the only think I miss about cutting the cord.

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