Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Care and Feeding of Cast Iron: Damage Control

Cast iron is incredibly durable and can last virtually forever. As I mentioned last week, cast cookware can often be found very cheaply at yard sales and thrift stores, but the downside of these low prices is that the cookware is often in pretty rough shape. Thankfully, cast iron is also easy to rescue from a life of rough treatment.

Rust and Removal
When buying used cast iron, inspect it for major damage. Rust and minor pitting are easily fixed and not a major concern. Major pits, as well as any cracks or breaks, make a pot a no-go. Lids should fit snugly and also be in decent shape.

One you've determined that your pot is physically sound, you can get down to repairing damage. First, you need to remove any loose rust or debris, and a wire brush is great for this. Large areas needing rust removal might call for a wire wheel or cup brush mounted in an angle grinder, or a brush mounted in a power drill. If you do use power tools, be sure to wear appropriate gloves and eye protection! Use light to moderate pressure on the tool to clean the heavy rust areas.

Once the worst rust is removed, lighter abrasives are used to remove the remaining rust. I'm a fan of non-metallic scouring pads for this, but another great alternative is coarse salt, like kosher or brining salt; two tablespoons in a dry dutch oven make a wonderful scrubbing medium. If you do use salt, be sure to rinse and dry your pot thoroughly afterward to prevent further rust intrusion.

At this point you have a clean, raw, unseasoned piece of cookware. In order to protect and make it useful, you need to season it. Luckily, this is a pretty simple process, and can be done in your kitchen oven.
  1. Preheat your oven to 325° with one rack set in the center position and one in the bottom position.
  2. Apply a thin coat of oil to the cast iron, inside and out, just as you would after a regular cleaning.
  3. Place the pot upside down on the center rack, and a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any oil drips.
  4. Bake at 325° for 1 hour.
  5. Open the oven door and allow the pot or pan to cool naturally. 
Once your cast iron is cool, it is ready to cook in or store properly. In the future, simply clean and maintain it normally, and it will serve you well for a lifetime and more.


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