My favourite pieces in my kitchen are the cast iron pans and skillets that I’ve collected and refinished over the years. It is so rewarding to find some discarded rusty lump of iron and end up with a shiney patent black frying pan to rival anything you can find in a fancy kitchen store. They last for ever, and once you get the hang of cooking with it, a good sized one with a lip can replace most of your pots and pans out there.

Refinishing old cast iron skillets are one of my favourite things, and really not too difficult despite how lengthy I’ve made it sound. You’ll need lemon juice, salt, some coarse iron wool and some cooking oil with a high smoke point – peanut oil or canola will do well (canola is what I use), but I’ve read people swearing by shortening.

  1. Scrub the pan well with lemon juice, salt and some coarse iron wool, ensuring any rust is completely removed. You cannot ruin the pan, so give it a good scrub so you’re starting with a new surface.
  2. Wash and dry it well, with a bit of soap if you’d like. This will be the last time you let soap touch this pan, unless it gets to this state of repair again. If there are any wooden parts to the pan, see my note below.
  3. Turn the oven on to 370F. Place a baking sheet on the bottom shelf of the oven with a rack above it for the pan. Open the windows because it might get a little smokey.
  4. While the oven’s heating up, heat the pan on the stovetop on medium. It’s better to use a slow heat to heat the pan up evenly than a fast heat. Let it get nice and warm so that you can feel the heat with your palm an inch above the pan, and a droplet of water sizzles. Turn off the burner. The pores in the iron are nice an open now, so you want to coat it with oil.
  5. Pour a little of the oil in the pan and carefully spread it around to coat the inside evenly.
  6. Using an oven glove and a paper towel to help you, carefully spread some of the oil on the rest of the pan (bottom and handle). Make the coating nice and thick, but not dripping. If the pan is very heavy, you may want to have a trivet set up so you can rest it while turning the pan around.
  7. Put the greased pan into the oven above the baking sheet to catch any dripping oil.
  8. Leave the pan in the oven for an hour. If it starts to smoke alot, you can reduce the heat to about 350F. If it still smokes, you may want to try again with a higher smoke-point oil.
  9. After an hour, turn off the oven and let the whole thing cool down to room temperature.
  10. Clean the cool pan with hot water and iron wool (no soap!) and dry well. Repeat from step 3 onwards one or two times until you get a nice shine to the pan.

I usually do the whole process twice and then let normal use do the rest. Some tips:

  • Always make sure the pan is bone dry when you store it.
  • Whenever you’re cooking something with oil or butter, heat up the pan first and then add the oil. This will add a new thin layer to the seasoning.
  • Whenever you think it needs a refinish (for example after cooking something acidic) then just do step #3 on – i.e. heat the pan up, oil it, and put it in the oven for an hour.
  • Cooking acidic things in the pan will strip off a layer of the seasoning, however, after a while regular use will make the coating much more permanent.

**If there are any wooden parts to the pan, like a handle, then do not refinish it until the rest of the pan is seasoned properly. Wrap the handle a few times in wet rags, and then in tinfoil, and it should be fine in the oven.

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