28 November 2011

How to re-season used cast iron cookware in 12 easy steps

Having and knowing how to cook with cast iron cookware is a useful self-reliant skill. Cast iron is versatile, since you can use it in in "normal" cooking (e.g., in an oven or on a stove) or "primitive" cooking (over a fire, on a grill, or by itself with charcoal).

New cast iron cookware can be a bit pricey, especially for quality products made in the USA. Fortunately, second-hand cast iron can be found for pretty low prices at garage sales, flea markets, Goodwill stores, and so on. Don't forget to check with older generations in your family too; you may have parents or grandparents who have cast iron sitting around waiting for you to resurrect it.  ;)

Old cast iron will probably need to be cleaned up, and perhaps have some rust removed, depending on how it was stored. Searching online will result in a pretty broad range of cleaning approaches, including the use of oven cleaners and/or other harsh chemicals. Below is the restoration process I've used, as demonstrated on a cast iron griddle I recently got from the elder Freeman (my father):

  1. Examine your cast iron thoroughly before you buy it to check out its condition. Evaluate the amount of rust, if any, and look for cracks in particular. (Generally, a cracked piece of cast iron is of little use.) Some surface rust shouldn't present a problem (even on the cooking surface) since you can remove it and then re-season the metal.

  2. Use a wire wheel to remove rust
  3. Remove surface rust with a wire wheel in a drill. Have your cast iron secure before using the wire wheel on it, and be sure to remember gloves, goggles, ear protection, and a dust mask.

  4. The cleaned cast iron will shine
  5. Soak especially rusted surfaces in vinegar for about an hour. After, dry the surface well and wire wheel it again if necessary. When done, the cast iron surface should look clean and shiny.

  6. Course salt and vinegar makes an effective scrub
  7. After all rust has been removed, sprinkle some course salt on the surface, pour some vinegar over it, and use a stiff-bristle brush to give all surfaces a good scrubbing.

  8. Wash the piece all over with hot, soapy water.

  9. Dry the cast iron thoroughly, being sure to get every crevice.

  10. In your oven, place aluminum foil on the lower rack to catch any oil dripping from the cast iron.

  11. Preheat your oven to 350°F. As it's heating, put the cast iron in the oven to help dry it out and warm the metal slightly.

  12. After about 5 minutes or so, remove the piece from the oven and apply oil liberally over all surfaces, inside and out. I generally use canola or vegetable oil, but some people swear by lard.

  13. The final product: re-seasoned cast iron
  14. Put the fully oiled piece back in the heated oven and let it sit for 1 hour. Check the cast iron after 30 minutes and lightly wipe it to remove any pooled oil (if necessary).

  15. After an hour, turn the oven off and let the cast iron cool to room temperature.

  16. If the new surface looks "patchy," perform steps 8 through 11 again.
Once re-seasoned, your cast iron should serve you as well as new, factory-seasoned cookware, especially if it's maintained properly. About.com has an excellent guide on How to Care for Cast Iron Skillets, Griddles and Cookware, which will help you to do so.


  1. This was a thorough and well-timed post. I just scored an oval-shaped cast iron griddle for $4 from a second hand shop! Here's a question though...do you know how to tell the age of a "discovered" piece of cast iron?
    Keep up the great work!

  2. Hi Carolyn, thanks for stopping by!

    First, I am not and expert in dating old cast iron. :)

    However, two good articles about doing so are: How to Identify Antique Cast Iron Skillets or How to Tell the Age of Black Iron Skillets, both from eHow.com.

  3. Great article Atticus, just a little tip for you, if in your excursions acquiring your second hand cast iron wares, should you look upon a makers stamp of "Griswold" be advised that it could be a very desirable and valuable piece to collectors and fetch a tidy sum. Google "Griswold cast iron" and look around and you will see what I mean ;-) retweet!

  4. Thanks for the comment, and the tip on cast iron for used cast iron. As I looked up the eHow links above, I read more about Griswold, as well as some of the other manufacturers. I'll definitely keep that in mind as I shop. :)

  5. Very good! I think that you have done a great job! FANTASTIC!!!!
    Cooking Equipment

  6. Magi, thanks for stopping by and adding some nice comments!