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Cast iron Troubleshoot

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Hello there,

First time poster -

Anyway, I have been some trouble with cast iron seasoning and restarting. This past 1-1½ years I have been trying to "get it" - but the proces seems illusive to me.

I have been reading various threads and articles, and watched various youtube videos on the subject - but I am still somewhat of on getting this thing down.

What I have tried so far:

Restart cast iron that has been a bit neglected, but not terribly so. I have seen various suggesting on starting the proces:
- oven cleaning cycle (I have no access to any oven that has that setting, so that was a no-go)
- Heating in a fire on the embers (seemed to risky)
- Oven Cleaner (seemed toxic and nasty - but lackin any better alternatives I went with a similiar approach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_hydroxide - this is some offensive stuff, but it sure works)

For seasoning I have tried out Sheryl Cantors method (mentioned in Pauls Cast Iron article: http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/) - with out much success: Seasoning flaking off, seasoning being mottled etc etc
Tried both seasoning on a stove top and in the oven, at various temperatures.

Lately I have been trying just to use my cast iron pan, not do much washing afterwards - hoping to build a good seasoning eventually - though it currently is very non-stick I seem to be having two problems:
a. If I look closely at the surface there seems to be something greyish, so I figure I have not actually succeeded in building a sufficiently thick seasoning layer.
b. When ever I cook something, though it most obvious when doing eggs, some black spots seem to be sticking to my food - they are fairly tiny - not bigs flakes, but I reckon that is either seasoning or old foodstuff (well that is the same basicly) But it seems to be to excessive.

My current skillet is basicly a little bit to large for the stove, so there might be an issue with reaching temperatures sufficient for seasoning at least near the edges where most of the black "spots" seem to be coming from.

Basicly I am a bit at a loss at where to start, since it seems I have tried just about every suggestion - and yet people have been doing this for ages with out any elaborate schemes. Anyhow, pictures can be supplied need be.


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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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For me, the biggest issue was the fat I was using to season the pan. I tried all sorts of things from crisco to olive oil. I've narrowed it down to one fat that works best for me. BACON FAT!

Start with a clean dry pan and heat it slowly. SLOWLY! If your pan is too large for the burner, try this: Turn the heat on as high as it'll go and heat the pan for a minute. Then turn the heat off and let the pan distribute the heat through the pan. Usually after about 2 minutes the pan feels mostly uniform in temperature. Then turn the heat back on and heat for another minute. The goal is to get the pan evenly hot without over heating the center of the pan. Cast iron will take and hold heat for a good long time and it slowly distributes that heat throughout the pan. Ideally you want the pan evenly heated to just below the smoke point of the fat.

Take the pan off the heat and use a paper towel with a little fat and some salt crystals to rub the pan. Enough oil to coat the pan but not enough to flow on the pan surface when tilted. The salt will help remove any flaky, burnt food bits (the stuff on your eggs), while the fat immediately reseals the pan surface to prevent rust.
Repeat this process until no more food bits come off. You'll want to keep the pan good and hot while you do this. What you should have at this point is a pan with a good smooth and shiny surface. Now add enough fat to coat the pan once again and reheat it in the same way as before. You want the pan to heat as evenly as possible so that you don't burn the middle of the pan before the outer area is fully heated. Keep rubbing the pan surface with the oily paper towel (no salt) until the fat polymerizes on the surface. You'll know it's done when you can wipe it with a dry paper towel and can't remove the oil, but the surface is still shiny and smooth.

Let the pan cool. At this point you can put it away or use it to cook with. When I get a new pan I do this process a few times before I cook on it.

Once you've used it to cook with, you'll need to do some upkeep. If food sticks, use a dry paper towel with salt to gently remove the stuck stuff. NO WATER! From time to time just reapply the oil in the same manner as above.

On cooking: Cast iron takes a while to heat up evenly. If a pan isn't up to temp, food will stick every time. Some burners are just awful at heating evenly so you may find that you have to rotate the pan to keep one side from over heating. Don't be afraid to use a little more fat if you are cooking somethin that's more likely to stick. Better safe than sorry.

Good luck
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