Restoring Old Cast Iron in a Self-Cleaning Oven

All the modern “nonstick” cookware available today just does not have the same level of character for cooking on (or in) as good old cast iron. I have found that many things never taste quite right if they are cooked on anything else.

Sausage, bacon, and many other types of meat really need to be cooked in cast iron skillets to have the correct flavor, and to make the perfect sear.

Restoring Old Cast Iron in a Self-Cleaning Oven | Foodal.com

And I’ve recently discovered that it’s also great for baking a giant chocolate chip cookie, with a perfectly buttery, crispy crust and ooey-gooey center! 

Porcelain-covered cast iron Dutch ovens are perfect for “pot roasting” and braising.

In addition, cast iron camp ovens (often erroneously labeled as “Dutch” ovens) make camping trips a real treat, since you can cook dishes that most people would never dream of serving away from the vicinity of a modern kitchen.

Cast Iron Camp Stove | Foodal.com
Often erroneously termed “Dutch” ovens, a cast iron camp oven is great to have for your outdoor adventures. Note: a Dutch oven has a rounded lid and no legs, while a camp oven has three legs and flat top, to allow coals to be placed on top and below the vessel. The camp version will also have a “bail” or wire handle to allow the pot to be hung from a tripod, as shown in this photo.

This material is versatile and can do a lot more than most modern cookware. In fact, you can still purchase new, made in the USA cast iron skillets, frying pans, and Dutch ovens.

This is fairly inexpensive (but not as inexpensive as buying used, in most cases).

Where to Find It

I look for old examples at flea markets, yard sales, and junk shops. Some of my best cast iron skillets belonged to my great-grandmother, and they have been handed down from various family members.

These skillets have a date of 1894 molded into them, and they are still perfectly usable today. Find me a piece of modern cookware that will last like that – Good luck!

I would have to say that frying pan was well worth the money my great-grandfather paid for it.

The problem with almost all of these pieces is that they have often sat unused for years, because they are “nasty looking.”

I will not argue that point.

My own were nasty looking when I got them. In fact, some of them were very nasty looking, but today they are clean and usable.

How did I do this?

No, I did not use a small mountain of steel wool and gallons of oven cleaner, or scrub until my arms fell off.

In fact, I watched TV while ages of old gunk was stripped off these wonderful old pieces. When the process was done, it took me about an hour to “cure” the freshly stripped cast iron, and ten minutes to clean up.

If you’re looking for a thorough purchasing guide on cast iron cookware (along with other types of skillets), do feel free to explore our thorough review on the subject!

Restoring with a Self-Cleaning Oven

In order to clean cast iron in this manner, you will need a self-cleaning oven. If you have one, you are in luck.

Your restoration efforts will be a snap!

Your first step is to inspect the pans before you even purchase them. Make certain there are no cracks or breaks – otherwise you are just wasting your time.

If the piece is sound (just cruddy from years of gunk and crud buildup), you may be able to get it for a good price.

Once you get your bargain home, knock off any excess buildup outside, using a stiff wire bush. Then prepare your oven for cleaning, in accordance with the oven manual directions.

My oven says to remove both of the wire oven racks. I leave one in for the cast iron to sit on, and have never had any problems.

Once the oven is prepped, I place the wire rack on the next to the bottom guide rails, and then place the cast pieces on the rack.

Each piece should be turned upside down and, while you may place them as closely together as possible to get as many as possible into the oven, they should not be touching each other or the sides of the oven.

I can usually get four pieces in my oven, unless I am restoring large Dutch ovens.

Once you have placed your frying pans and/or Dutch ovens inside, close the door, lock it, and set the timer. While most ovens can be set from 2 ½ to 5 hours I have that found that 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours seems to work best for stripping the pans.

Of course, you are also cleaning your oven while doing this, and you need to consider how dirty it is to start. I doubt the cast iron will be hurt if you leave it in for the full 5 hours; I have just never tried it myself.

During the course of a self-cleaning cycle, the oven works by using very high heat to burn away built up gunk and mess. It is this heat that will burn away the gunk on your pans.

The cycle can produce strong odors, so I usually turn the ventilator fan on high and place a window fan in the kitchen window, sucking air out of the kitchen.

When the cycle is finished, you will need to allow the oven and the cast iron time to cool before you try to handle them.

In addition, I recommend utilizing some very good hot pads. You will find a pile of black ash in the bottom of your oven, which will need to be wiped up.

This ash will be loose, not stuck to the oven floor. It is all that remains of the gunk that covered your cookware.

Seasoning and Curing

The cast iron should be bare metal iron now. It looks nice, but it is not ready to use. If you leave it like this it will rust quickly. You must first “cure” or “season” it.

While it is still warm (not hot), use a folded paper towel or clean cotton cloth to grab a scoop of shortening (such as Crisco or any generic brand) and spread it evenly over the pan.

You want to coat the entire surface of the iron, inside and out. Make sure you do not miss any spots or you will have rust in these areas. Ideally, your pan is still warm enough at this point for the shortening to melt into the metal.

If not, you will need to turn the oven back on to about 300ºF, and bake the vessel(s)  just long enough to melt the shortening after each of the first three coats.

Be careful to put a drip pan of some sort beneath the pan(s), or you will mess up your freshly cleaned oven by dripping shortening all over it.

Restored Cast Iron Skillet | Foodal.com

After three coats, I put one VERY thick coat on my iron and place it in the oven, at 300ºF for about 20 minutes.

This sometimes produces smoke, so again, I usually turn the ventilating fan on high, and put a fan in the kitchen window, sucking air out of the room.

After 20 minutes I shut the oven off, open the door, and allow the iron to rest until it is cool to the touch. Then I take it out and wipe it down. It is now ready to use, and as good as new.

Your only task now is to ensure that you properly care for and clean it.

Conclusion

Using this method, old “junk” that was purchased for next to nothing can quickly become valuable and usable cookware.

I have even been considering picking up some old cast iron cheap, restoring it, and taking it to the flea market to sell.

Who knows, it might work to bring in a few bucks!

No matter what, I still have a nice collection for my own use, which I keep up and use regularly.

I hope this helps some of you to save old pieces and put them back to use, rather than seeing them thrown out for no real reason, only to be replaced by cheap “made in China” crap. Good luck!

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23 thoughts on “Restoring Old Cast Iron in a Self-Cleaning Oven

  1. When I was a kid we always had a black cast iron skillet in the kitchen. When ever I see one I try to get one. I season mine by rubbing it with oil and baking it for a few hours in the oven. Good information here.

  2. I’ve seen cast iron ccokware at yard sales before but was always discouraged from buying it due to the amount of elbow grease I thought I’d need. I had no idea that they could simply be cleaned in the oven. Next time I see one, I’ll be buying it and giving this method a try!

  3. The cast iron skillet was always king in our house too. It is so true that the food taste better when it is cooked in the cast iron. perhaps it is the environment created from the thickness, the warmth it circulates and its nature to just lock in the flavors.

    As of a few years, I have been without cast iron in my kitchen. I am so inspired by these insights and just want to get started using one again. Knowing how to clean and cure it is priceless! It is also encouraging in the purchasing of one, so it can be in my kitchen for years to come.

  4. There is a lot of good information here for someone wanting to learn how to clean/season their cast iron pans. We just received a set of cast iron pans and skillets that seem to be really good quality. However, I don’t think we used enough layers of Crisco when seasoning the pans, since it seems to disappear whenever we cook in them. I will have to try adding a few more layers, as you described.

    • Mdrogge, try coconut oil. It’s nearly as good as lard and other animal fats and has one of the highest smoke points. Lard is the absolute best but some folks can’t use it for health or religious issue.

    • The problem is not the number of coats, it’s the type of oil. Flaxseed oil dries/bakes to a harder grade finish than usual vegetable oils and animal fats, which results in a softer, more wear prone finish. Flaxseed oil will provide a harder, significantly more wear resistant coating.

  5. I found an old cast iron pan half buried in my backyard. It was a mess so I just tossed it into the garage for another day. Now I know how to restore it. Thank you!

  6. I have been wondering for the longest time how I could clean and restore my cast iron pans. Now thanks to your article I have got the information I need. I have several pans that need a little love and attention!

  7. I heard from my mother that those “non-stick” pans generally have chemicals that leech off into your food while cooking and are actually not safe. As a result, I have used nothing but cast iron products for cooking. This article was especially helpful to me as I have two twin cast iron skillets that have rusted over that I used to love making omlettes in. They have not been in use for years because of this. Thank you so much for these tips!

  8. This is absolutely brilliant! I have used cast iron cookware off and on for most of my adult life, and sometimes it’s been a struggle to keep it clean. For some reason, it never occurred to me that my self-cleaning oven could take care of it for me! LOL It sure is good to know this.

  9. Thank you so much! I’ve spent so many hours with brillo pads and scourers trying to bring my older iron pots and pans back to life, because the non-stick ones just don’t last as well. This sounds as though it is a lot easier, simpler, and so much less painful. Now I just need a larger oven since I can only really fit one pan in at a time.

    The only problems I can see is that I’d be worried about a couple of the vessels that have wooden handles. They are older pots so I can unscrew the handles and will probably take them off first. Are yours all solid, or do any of yours have different handles, and how do you handle it? (pun intended)

  10. I have a Lodge Cast Iron Sportman Grill, that’s basically a miniature BBG grill. It is mainly rusty, and not much “crud” build up, and wondered if this technique would work for cast iron that is mostly rusty.

    • Bridgette, Rusty cast iron can be cleaned by using a white vinegar and water solution. Google it and it will give you explicit directions on how to take the rust off. Cast Iron Collector is a good site to use for finding out exactly what you have and how to clean and care for it.

    • Vinegar will take rust off of a skillet also. It is acid and will eat away the rust but be careful – it will also start to eat away the iron of the skillet too if left too long. Mix a solution 50/50 of plain white vinegar and water in a container large and deep enough to cover the skillet. It will depend on how much rust is on the skillet how long it needs to soak. It may take anywhere from an hour to four or five. I would check back after an hour. Once the rust starts flaking off easily, take it out and rinse it off with hot water, and scrub with a good stuff brush or plain steel wool. That should work well on the rust.

  11. Thank you for this article. Someone told me several years ago to use vegetable oil to cure my cast iron skillet and Dutch oven and what I got was a sticky mess. I was discouraged and just put both away and not looked at them since. Now, since my oven needs cleaning, I can do both at the same time.

    • Scrub off the rust and then immediately season the pans. The rust will form if there is no protective layer of oil but you can easily remove it and the pans are good as new.

    • Save the elbow grease & countless steel wool pads! Use a coarse drill cup wire brush attachment on a drill. It worked like a charm removing all rust and restoring the iron back to original. Clean skillet thoroughly then season as needed.

      *Safety Note: Make sure that you’re in a well-ventilated area and using safety glasses and mask because you don’t want to breathe in the rust/iron dust. It can cause a terrible headache for days among other issues.

      • The thing with this method is that the steel in the wire brushes are slightly harder than the cast iron. It will leave scratches. It’s an ok method for common pans, but please don’t do this on anything collective (i.e. early Erie, Wagner, or some of the other brands).

  12. Love my cast iron. I’m trying the self-cleaning method today. I think cast iron is superior to all those nonstick pots and pans – food tastes great and no fear of chemicals. No matter what you do, nonstick always seems to peel and chip.

  13. A product called evapo rust will work. It is pour down the drain safe too. Used it many times for all sorts of stuff. 20 a gallon tho… Reusable until it’s depleted. I’d clean, then soak cast in it.

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