Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don't Cast Away That Crusty Cast Iron!

A few of the many Wagner and Griswold cast iron cooking utensils at Susantiques in Aloha, OR

They're heavy and they're not exactly maintenance free, but well-seasoned old cast iron pans are considered indispensable by many cooks, and very much in demand by collectors, particularly brands such as Griswold and Wagner.

Sue Keith, of Susantiques in Aloha, OR, has been accumulating cast iron cookware for years, in various conditions, and recently she got some sterling advice on how to get off the black, funky crust that might otherwise be difficult-to-impossible to remove. A cast iron collector advised her to place the pan in a plastic bag with a rag moistened with about a cup of ammonia. She placed a box over the bag to contain the smell and left it alone for more than a week. Here's a photo of a Wagner skillet after this treatment, and before she scraped off the crust, cleaned it and treated it with Pam, producing an almost-new-looking, well-seasoned pan.

Here are some tips from Antique and Collectibles News Service for cleaning and seasoning cast iron:
1. Hand wash with hot water, and a sponge or a stiff brush, no synthetic detergents (non-fatty oil based soaps). Dry on the stove at low heat and then apply a thin coat of solid vegetable shortening or a spritz of PAM, wiping off the excess. Until you've used your pan a few times, avoid using it to cook acidic foods such as tomatoes or beans, and remove the lid after cooking so condensation doesn't remove the seasoning.

2. Rust may sometimes appear on cast iron, but it can be removed with steel wool or a wire brush, then re-season.

Here's a novel suggestion: lightly sand rusted surfaces and apply Coca-Cola for at least ten minutes. Wash with mild soapy water, thoroughly dry over low heat and apply the Crisco or Pam.

Now here comes the controversy: A&CNS says to place the pan in a cold oven, set it for 400 degrees and bake for 90 minutes. Sue, however, who has cleaned, de-rusted and seasoned a LOT of cast iron, says to skip the oven treatment. "I think it would burn them again. Just put on the Pam and rub with a cloth, or if removing rust, with steel wool."

3. Set your burner at medium to medium-high temperature settings, and don't place a cold pan on a full flame.

4. Store with lids off, upside down in a warm, dry place.


Islaholic Trixie said...

Now I'm going to have to pull the old cast iron skillets out of the camping stuff that is stored on a shelf in the garage!!

The Cochrans said...

Trixie - I bought a smallish cast iron pan from my friend Sue, she shipped it all the way to the AZ border for me, and I've used it every day since I opened the box!

BayouBlssm said...

Wanted to comment on the seasoning in the oven... I'm a Louisiana girl using fourth generation cast iron pots. Here in south Louisiana, good cooks use cast iron (almost) exclusively. Lord knows, anyone that's been down here knows cooking is serious business, second only to eating and laughing, and we know how to do it c'est bon! Ha ha, some households even have "his" and "hers" and don't dare touch each other's pots! We have always used the 350-400 degree oven for a couple of hours to season our cast iron (then letting it cool slowly in the oven,) gives it a good glaze and keeps it from needing reseasoning for a long time. It absolutely doesn't burn the seasoning off. However, we NEVER use Pam to season as it has ingredients other than oil - matter of fact, while some people use oil due to the easiness factor, the older cooks only used solid shortening (or lard). Using oil was a sacrilege! :)