Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How To Restore Old Cast-Iron Cookware

So, your grandmother said you could have all of her old cast-iron.  Great!  But she hasn't used her cast-iron in years.  This could pose a problem.  Unless cast-iron is stored properly, it will develop rust and worse, pits.  There also may be burnt-on particles of food from sixty or seventy years ago that need to come off.

How can old, abused cast-iron cookware be restored?  There are several ways....

First, determine whether the pan has serious cracks or pits on its surface, or is warped.  If so, it may be time for the junkpile.  A crack means it has to go now.  Deep pitting will ensure that your food will not cook evenly and defeats the purpose of using cast-iron in the first place.  And you don't want a warped pan, do you?

So, the pan doesn't have cracks, warps or serious pits, but it has a ton of rust, several dead spiders and looks like it has been in the barn for fifty years.  Well, it may have been.  Rust isn't a deal-breaker.  Almost all old, unused cast-iron pieces have rust - no big deal.

Some techniques for removing rust:
Sandpaper, fine to medium grit, may do the trick. 
Scouring the rust with dish detergent and steel wool.
Scouring powder and a potato cut in half.  The potato acts as your scrubber.
Drill and wire brush sander.  Be very careful - you don't want to sand too much off of your pan.
Sandblasting (by a professional).  This also removes any markings on your pan - and if your marking says something like "Griswold" or "Wagner" this is a very bad thing.  I wouldn't use this option.

Once the rust is gone, you will need to remove the gunk that has built up on your pan.

Some techniques for removing gunk:
Put the piece in your self-cleaning oven and turn on the cleaner.  This burns off the gunk at a very high temperature and should remove all it.
Using plastic gloves, spray oven cleaner on the pan and put it in a plastic bag for a couple of days.  Then wash off the cleaner and wash the pan in hot water and soap.  Rinse twice to make sure all the oven cleaner is off the pan.

So, there you have it.  Restoring old cast-iron isn't rocket science, and it doesn't require any special equipment.  Once you have restored your piece, you will need to re-season it.  That's a subject for a later blog....

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