General Question

valdasta's avatar

Does rust mean an iron skillet is trash?

Asked by valdasta (2144points) March 25th, 2010

I have an old cast iron skillet that my mom used to cook with. I ran across it in storage, but there is some rust. Can I clean it up and use it or is it no good anymore?

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20 Answers

wonderingwhy's avatar

clean it up! unless it’s getting noticeably thin it’s probably got a lot of good years left.

Trillian's avatar

You can scrub it with a Brillo pad and get rid of all the rust. Then just size it in the oven with oil. Good as new!

ubersiren's avatar

Try “exfoliating” with some oil and coarse salt. Use steel wool and re-season it if that doesn’t work. Don’t throw it away!

Also, here is the best cast iron skillet care article I’ve ever read. Good luck!

dpworkin's avatar

Not at all, scrub down to the iron, and then re-temper the pan with oil.

grumpyfish's avatar

Worst case, you can have the skillet sandblasted, then re-season it with the oil.

Here’s a good article:

And if you don’t want it, I’ll take it!

mrentropy's avatar

If you can get it, clean it with Barkeepers Friend. It’s what I use when my cast iron really needs a scrubbin’.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Unless it’s heavily pitted with rust, a light and fairly uniform coating of rust is pretty normal for an old cast iron skillet. Most of mine get a bit rusty if I haven’t used them for a few years (it happens) and they respond well to a stainless steel scrubber (the kind you’d never use on non-stick cookware) and an abrasive cleaner.

Afterward, definitely re-temper it with oil and low heat so that it’s not going to rust with every use. Then simply wash (hard washes are fine) and dry quickly whenever you use it.

faye's avatar

I tried and tried with a cast iron dutch oven I bought at a garage sale. Nothing worked and I never did use it. I even tried frying oil in it on top of the stove, no.

YoBob's avatar

Absolutely not!

Use a brillo pad to scrub the rust off, re-season it, and it will be good as new.

To re-season apply a thin coat of vegetable oil to the entire pan and then place in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for about an hour (caution, this is likely to smoke) and then let cool to room temperature.

thriftymaid's avatar

You can use rust remover, clean, season it again.

valdasta's avatar

Thank you so much for the responses. I had a feeling that I shouldn’t throw away the pan.

I think the Fluther is unanimous on this one.

I can’t wait to fry some eggs or mush in my 40+ year old skillet!

faye's avatar

@valdasta I couldn’t keep the rust off.

valdasta's avatar

@faye My pan has some rust, but it doesn’t look too bad. Seeing all the responses on here has me feeln’ pretty optomistic.

chin up deary

faye's avatar

It was beautiful

grumpyfish's avatar

@faye—one trick my brother used is to put the cast iron thing on a really really hot grill outside, wait until it’s really hot, then just keep dumping oil in small amounts on it*, then let that burn off. It’s pretty dangerous (the oil will probably catch fire at some point), but it’s in a grill, so you can just let it burn out. This gets a LOT of carbon into the cast iron skillet, closing up a lot of the more open pores.

Let it cool, and then try seasoning it again. You might get lucky!

*—This is the dangerous part. I recommend using something like a shotglass held with tongs to get the oil into the pan. It’s going to flare up, and you don’t want your eyebrows anywhere near it, nor do you want a bottle of oil over the grill when you do this.

faye's avatar

Thanks @grumpyfish If I get another I’ll try that. My rust bucket has gone to the great beyond. I used it as a plant holder for years until the bottom was truly gone.

valdasta's avatar

@grumpyfish I wouldn’t mind trying this myself – I like the danger involved.

grumpyfish's avatar

@valdasta It’s pretty cool, and pretty impressive. I’ll note that I have lost hair to a grill (not doing this—the first time the grill at the shop got a grease fire going, I managed to open it without using a long stick…)

YoBob's avatar

@valdasta and @grumpyfish

I would be darned careful with this. It sounds like a great way to earn a trip to the burn unit.

What you brother is doing is a technique known as “deglazing”, which is usually done to create sauces using a less flammable liquid like wine, or some sort of stock. The cold liquid on the hot pan causes all of the crusty stuff to release from the bottom of the pan and become flavoring for the sauce.

If you want to do this to remove crust from your old skillet, please consider using water instead of oil. You should get similar results without the fireball. You’ll still have to season in the oven, of course, but that will give you more consistent results than doing it on a grill anyway.

grumpyfish's avatar

@YoBob thanks for the safety tip, and well noted.

What’s actually going on is that the oil is combusting completely, leaving behind more or less pure carbon which can fill gaps in the very hot cast iron. You do indeed need to finish it with a traditional seasoning, but with a new or badly abused pan, this can get you a good shortcut to a decade’s worth of seasoning.

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