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Cast iron reconditioning confusion

 
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I have used primarily cast-iron cookware for the last 10 to 15 years. I maintain them well (wipe out food residue and add a dab or fat), they are amazingly non-stick and gleaming black. I do love cast-iron.

I recently inherited a pretty gnarly, rusty lodge cast-iron pan. I was a welder and metal worker in a previous life, so I know a thing or two about metal, and have many tools to work the material.

I restored the pan by wire wheeling it, grinding it with a flap disc, and then orbital sanding it, starting at 40 grit and working up to 320. It took about 20 minutes from rusty to shiny. Nearly all of the pitting is gone, it is nice and smooth, but it is silver because it is raw cast iron without any seasoning.

I brought it in from the shop, put it on the stove, wiped it out a couple of times to get all the abrasive grit and metal dust out of it, threw a pad of butter in it and cooked some eggs. It performed excellently, just as my other pans do, no sticking whatsoever.

I know that cooking with cast iron is a skill that I have honed over the last decade, but it is definitely not rocket science.

So, why is it that the cast-iron was nonstick after effectively zero time spent “seasoning” it? The pan had oil on hot metal for a maximum of five minutes before it was cooked on for the first time.

Why do we waste time and energy seasoning when apparently it is totally unnecessary?

 
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Yup, totally not necessary to season before using. Think of stainless steel pans, get it hot before using, use plenty of lube and they're perfectly non-stick.

A layer of seasoning will build up over time with cooking, which will make things a little bit more non-stick and prevent rusting, but you can definitely use a bare iron or steel pan no problem. I think a lot of the whole obsession over seasoning is just to get things to that perfect, uniform shiny cast iron look that everyone knows and loves. Seasoning solely from cooking does tend to look a little inconsistent, especially up the sides.
 
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The reason I season my cast iron cookware is because if I don't it will rust from water and oxidization from the air.

It would be like this:

Scott said, "I recently inherited a pretty gnarly, rusty lodge cast-iron pan.

 
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Hi, I've been trying to love my cast iron and I need some help. I don't like seasoning my cast iron (takes too much effort and the oven makes my house smell) so maybe you can give me some tips?

My biggest frustration is that if I cook fish or chicken, pieces of it gets stuck to my cast iron. Then it becomes burnt and gets stuck to the cast iron. After wiping down with napkin, I still end up burnt food stuck to the cast iron.


A layer of seasoning will build up over time with cooking, which will make things a little bit more non-stick and prevent rusting



If I continue cooking over time, will the burnt food that is stuck to the cast iron eventually go away?

attached a few pictures of my cast iron, one is before wiping with napkin and one is after wiping with napkin.

Perhaps I'm using a bad cast iron pan and maybe I should buy a new one? According to this article: https://richsoil.com/cast-iron.jsp


use a good cast iron skillet with a glassy-smooth cooking surface (Griswold or Wagner). The new cast iron with the rough cooking surface is gonna be frustrating (Lodge Logic).



My cast iron has a rough cooking surface?

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after_wiping_with_napkin.jpg
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Scott Lawhead
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Before we get too far into this, in my experience the spatula used is the second most important factor, after the pan.

What type of spatula? I use a stiff stainless spatula with a flat front edge, so I can thoroughly scrape the pan after cooking. This scrapes off any food bits, but it also slowly starts wearing down the little peaks of the rough surface of the cast iron. Do this scraping every time you clean the pan, and after a whole you will end up with a nice smooth surface.

Or, take sandpaper and remove those little peaks all in one to, rather than incrementally over time.
 
Amay Zheng
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Scott Lawhead wrote:Before we get too far into this, in my experience the spatula used is the second most important factor, after the pan.  



Okay I will try this for a year and hopefully it will improve my cast iron experience. Thank you very much. For spatula, do you think this is a good start? I have never bought a spatula before so I don't know what to look for.

https://www.amazon.com/Bellemain-Stainless-Spatula-Hardwood-Hamburger/dp/B0BB3FTMJH/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3VYQFSK3VCSFL&keywords=stainless+spatula+flat&qid=1671034879&sprefix=stainless+spatula+flat%2Caps%2C308&sr=8-2

 
Anne Miller
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My cast iron cookware consists of several frying pans, a griddle, and two dutch ovens.

Most of my cast iron has only been seasoned one time which was the initial seasoning.

I do not use soap on my cast iron and I do not soak my cast iron.

Over time there is a build-up of oil that makes the coating non-stick.

To me, using the frying pans to fry non-breaded meats in an ample amount of cooking oil helps build up that patena.

When I cook chicken fried steak I have at least a half inch of oil in the pan.  After cooking the steak I pour of the cooking oil and make pan gravy.  Then I wash the pan in hot water only and put the remainder of the oil back in the pan after the pan has dried.  This is the way my mother taught me to cook.  My frying pan with oil in it is either on the back of the stove or in my not being used oven.

I have a small cast iron frying pan I use for omelets, fried potatoes, or fried onions.  This pan has a nice patina and the omelets never stick.  After the omelets I might wash the pan in hot water or just wipe the pan out.

If my pan looks like it needs a little oil I just apply the oil with a cloth.

I doubt others handle theirs this way.  This way how I was taught.
 
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Amay, some years ago I bought a Lodge cast iron pan ("pre-seasoned"). Even after several years of use it is not nonstick- the bottom is not smooth enough: looks just like the one in your pic. I use it to cook flatbread or for things that can char and stick (potatoes, etc), but never eggs.
Grinding it down to a flat surface has been on my list for ever, since cast iron is not a thing where I live. I have other metals I have seasoned (a steel wok, notably, is totally nonstick and super awesome!). One day I'll get around to it. Til then, I use other pans if I want nonstick performance.
 
Scott Lawhead
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All of these are great tips!

Anne, what kind of oil do you generally use? I have read that there actually is a difference in “seasoning ability “ of different oils, depending on the make up of the fats. I’ve read saturated fats are not as good because they are more stable and less likely to polymerize, and unsaturated fats are better for the same reason. Which is why butter is not used in wood working and linseed oil is.

I have not seen much of a difference in my own experience.

OP, that spatula looks decent, but you may want to sand off the corners to more thoroughly scrape out the corners of your pan.
 
Anne Miller
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Scott Lawhead wrote:Anne, what kind of oil do you generally use? I have read that there actually is a difference in “seasoning ability “ of different oils, depending on the make up of the fats.



I usually buy that stuff called canola.  The thing about my oil that is in my frying pan is that it may end up being a blend of whatever I cook.

My mother always said that cooking french fries clarifies the oil so I have used that as my way of thinking too.

The oil that I get nowadays doesn't seem to last as long as the oil used to as it starts to foam.

 
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Scott,

I fry only on saturated fats and also use olive oil when making paella or manestra and my pans are perfectly non-stick. Frying onions and vegetables can create nice layer of stuck material on a new pan and then you just scrape it without mercy using metal scraper. That's it. If it gets too filthy and leaves residue on the foods you fry, just wash it hard with sponge and detergent - no mercy for cast iron. After washing I just heat it - so it's dry and will not rust.
 
Scott Lawhead
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That’s what I like to hear, no mercy!

I had a roommate in college who had a really awesome, unbranded old cast iron. His grandparents house burned down in the 50s and their cast iron pans were some of the few items that they salvaged after sifting through the wreckage. 50 years later, still going strong.

You just can’t kill good cast iron.
 
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If you polish the metal to much it can get so smooth that the seasoning fails to stick


For the rough skillet picture above scrape the rough stuff off to level the seasoning
 
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I have two cast iron pans. One is a Lodge. The other is a Japanese company that makes a thin cast iron pan, it's light!
Both work great, and are mostly non-stick.
There were both seasoned.
I make sure the pan is pre-heated and has oil before adding any food. I don't need a lot of oil.
For cleaning, I use hot water and no soap. I used a scrub brush called a tawashi, made out of coconut husk.
Then towel dry.
I only add a light coat of oil if I'm not going to be using it for awhile.
The Lodge had bumps, but now not so noticable. I don't think you need to sand it down.
 
Amay Zheng
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Quick update, Got the stainless steel spatula, gotta say WOW! It was so good at scraping bunch of black gunk from the cast iron, now it looks better.

With excitement, I cooked an egg, which stuck to the pan and broke the egg (image attached). Cast iron is really hard to love. I actually hate my cast iron to be honest because I watch how easy my MIL cooks her egg with her non-stick pan. Her egg slides off, making her cleanup so easy. With my cast iron, cleanup means a scrape down with my steel spatula first.

Will I have a better experience if I spend more on a better cast iron pan? I came across https://finexusa.com/ but it seems like they are also owned by Lodge. I am the Gilligan of using cast irons and ideally I'd like a Gillian proof cast iron pan.

Screen-Shot-2022-12-16-at-5.21.20-AM.png
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Anne Miller
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Amay, you are not giving your cast iron pan long enough to not be able to use no oil.

When cooking and egg there would need to be at least 1/8 inch of oil that way it will not stick.

Generally, it's good to get your pan heated before you crack the egg on it. That helps it not stick. Medium heat tends to work well for me when cooking an egg.

Put a bit of butter or other oil in your pan. You don't need much. Wait until the oil is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on the oil in. Now crack your egg in! Depending on your egg, you might want to turn the heat down to medium-low (duck eggs tend to do better at lower temps), but, some people like their eggs crispy, so cook your egg the way you want!



https://permies.com/wiki/30/103204/pep-food-prep-preservation/Fry-egg-cast-iron-skillet
 
Amay Zheng
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Anne Miller wrote:Amay, you are not giving your cast iron pan long enough to not be able to use no oil.

When cooking and egg there would need to be at least 1/8 inch of oil that way it will not stick.

Generally, it's good to get your pan heated before you crack the egg on it. That helps it not stick. Medium heat tends to work well for me when cooking an egg.

Put a bit of butter or other oil in your pan. You don't need much. Wait until the oil is hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on the oil in. Now crack your egg in! Depending on your egg, you might want to turn the heat down to medium-low (duck eggs tend to do better at lower temps), but, some people like their eggs crispy, so cook your egg the way you want!



https://permies.com/wiki/30/103204/pep-food-prep-preservation/Fry-egg-cast-iron-skillet



Oh thank you so much! So I don't need a new Cast Iron Pan I just need to put more oil. I will try that. Thank you for the frying egg thread it is inspiring to see so many eggs sliding around the cast iron pans.
 
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looking at what I see in your picture I am guessing you did 3 things wrong.  Betting you put your egg in a relatively cold pan.  The pan need to be hot, freshly oiled while hot and then the egg put in.  Then guessing you ran too hot.  If the butter/oil not with the egg is turning black you are too hot.

Try it this way.

1.  scrape all the bumps off till the pan is a nice flat dull black.  
2.  Add a tiny amount of oil or butter and heat till it just barely starts to smoke.  Remove from heat
3.  Wipe it down with an oily rag till the rag quits gathering large amounts of black.(if it looks like you are scrubbing thru the black completely stop.)
4.  Now heat the pan on about medium heat until it is too hot to touch but just below boiling water to just barely above boiling water.
5.  Add your oil and keep heating till the oil just barely begins to color.  They key here is the pan surface over boiling so the steam layer keeps stuff from sticking or dropping thru the oil
6.  Now drop your egg in.  it should basically float on the oil.  The hot oil will keep the egg from sticking and the pan will behave almost like a non stick pan.  You will want to turn the heat down a bit likely.

Do this for a number of batches without getting it too hot and without scrubbing it clean and you will end up with a thin flat layer of harder carbon that when you scrap any burned stuff off looks mildly oily rather than flat black
 
Anne Miller
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C. Letellier wrote:looking at what I see in your picture I am guessing you did 3 things wrong.  Betting you put your egg in a relatively cold pan.  The pan need to be hot, freshly oiled while hot and then the egg put in.  Then guessing you ran too hot.  If the butter/oil not with the egg is turning black you are too hot.



I am thinking that this too might be the problem.

For an experiment, I saw that I have a small never used seasoned cast iron pan.  

I added some oil, maybe not quite 1/8" though close.  Heated the skillet until I could tell by the ripples that the oil was hot.  Added some sliced cooked potatoes, turned down the heat, and fried the potatoes.

The potatoes did not stick though the pan looked gunky.

I let the pan get cold then rinsed it with very hot water.  There was one spot that looked like something stuck so I used my fingernail to loosen it and the pan looked just like it did before I cooked in it.



 
C. Letellier
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Anne Miller wrote:

C. Letellier wrote:looking at what I see in your picture I am guessing you did 3 things wrong.  Betting you put your egg in a relatively cold pan.  The pan need to be hot, freshly oiled while hot and then the egg put in.  Then guessing you ran too hot.  If the butter/oil not with the egg is turning black you are too hot.



I am thinking that this too might be the problem.

For an experiment, I saw that I have a small never used seasoned cast iron pan.  

I added some oil, maybe not quite 1/8" though close.  Heated the skillet until I could tell by the ripples that the oil was hot.  Added some sliced cooked potatoes, turned down the heat, and fried the potatoes.

The potatoes did not stick though the pan looked gunky.

I let the pan get cold then rinsed it with very hot water.  There was one spot that looked like something stuck so I used my fingernail to loosen it and the pan looked just like it did before I cooked in it.



It might help if I explain the how it works

Side note 1/8" is way more than you need.  You need enough oil to completely coat so it will run in the area you want to cook on.  If you can cook on 1/8 of the skillet surface only the area you are cooking on really needs to be oiled.  But to protect the rest of the seasoned area you need really good temperature control.  Usually is easier to coat the whole flat surface so you can watch oil color.

If the food is put in a cold pan it settles thru the oil and can then stick to the surface by cooking onto the surface.  The picture above shows exactly where the eggs started out in the pan.  That is that almost mountainous looking region beside the eggs in the picture above.

But if the oil is above the boiling temperature of water when you drop a water based food in it hits the oil and immediately creates a steam layer between the food and the oil.  This layer is leidenfrost effect.(easy google)  It basically holds the food separate from the oil till the skin of the food has dried out enough and cooked creating a thin dry cooked layer.  Now the food mostly can't stick to the pan because of a combination of that dry layer and the oil.  Flip the food and again you have moisture making steam to begin with on the oil basically jacking the food away from the surface of the skillet and the oil till that dry cooked layer has a chance to form.  In most cases that dry layer absorbs a tiny bit of the oil and surface tension does the rest to keep the oil between the food and the skillet from then on.  Next most common mistake is getting the skillet too hot and burning that oil into sticky charcoal.  Keep the skillet hot enough to cook but not hot enough to make the oil black.(brown maybe but if the oil is turning black you are too hot.  You can see the blackened oil around the eggs in the picture above.  Usually end up with burnt food crumbs mixed with the burnt oil sticking.  My father's answer was simply to scrape off all the high spots and wipe everything loose off with a towel smearing a few drops of oil on right at the end.  The skillet was almost never washed.  His theory was the skillet was sterilized by the time the skillet got hot enough next use.  If you get it too hot the thin layer of charcoal impregnated with those drops of oil burns the oil out leaving just black powdery charcoal.  That is the dull dark gray look after scraping.  Under the right conditions it actually repels the oil because of surface tension till the oil gets hot.  Since it is more poorly bonded and colors the food that was why it was wiped down till the rag mostly  quit coming up black or until it started scrub thru.

You can actually see the effects of this dry layer in a non stick skillet.  Cook a grilled cheese sandwich and fairly heavily butter the bread.  after the butter melts shake the skillet a bit and it looks like it is sticking to the surface.  This is because of the surface tension of the butter in the pores of the bread.  Cook a bit longer and when the bread browns and the butter is absorbed deeper in the bread suddenly the sandwich turns loose and begins to slide easily when shaking the skillet.  You find this in pancakes, waffles and other non stick cooking operations.  At some point something that acts sticky turns loose.  You just get there by a different path cooking on cast iron.  Which is why the surface you are cooking on needs to be hot to start with and have a tiny bit of oil so leidenfrost effect can help create that first bit of no stick.
 
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In cooking school (French) we used coarse sea salt and oil (any oil)
Simmer for 15 min. Salt rubs away all rrsidues. No chemicals.
And trust me, a restaurant pan gets heavy use!
 
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