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Rehabilitating Rusty Cast Iron Skillet

I have been given my grandmother's cast iron skillet, one of the big, deep chicken frying jobs with a domed lid. Some quick research shows that it's a Griswold Cast Iron Lidded Covered Deep Chicken Pan 777 Size 8 with 1098C Lid from some time between 1937 and 1957. I don't think it's particularly collectable and it's pretty badly rusted, but as kind of a family heirloom I'd like to salvage it.

I've made good progress getting the rust off with SOS pads (steel wool) and warm soapy water. One problem is that with my limited attention span I haven't been able to knock off all the rust in one session and get it seasoned. Should I season it between work sessions, even though it isn't fit to cook in, yet? My guess is that if I keep at it for a few evenings over a couple of weeks I'll have a small bit of fresh surface rust on the areas I've scraped up with the steel wool, but that should be easy to remove at the end, shouldn't it?

The other problem is that the lid has ridges in a series of concentric circles on the inside. It's been rough getting the last bits of rust at the base of the ridges. I've just been scrubbing in an arc with the SOS pads. Is there a better way to attack the rust in the lid?

I am considering switching from the SOS pads to using a drill mounted wire brush to remove the rust. That seems like it would make the job so much easier that there has to be a problem with it that I have not thought of. Can anybody dispell or confirm those fears?

My plan is to get it cleaned up before I put the grill away for the winter so that I can season it outside, thus not smoking up the house while seasoning it in the oven.
 

Isaac

B&B Tease-in-Residence
Moderator Emeritus
You need to do a lye bath. I forget the ratio, but I'm sure a quickninternet search will yield results. I think I had spake mine for a day or two which strips it to bare metal. You can begin the restraining process once you have done that. It should only get better from there.
 
Alternately, if you're friendly with your neighborhood body shop, you can ask them to media-blast it for you. I've done that before, and if you're nice you can sometimes get 'em to do it for a six-pack and a couple bucks.
 
I did a mass resurrection of 5 cast iron pots/skillets about 2 years ago. I soaked them oven cleaner, sealed in trash bags for 48 hours to remove grease and old seasoning and then used the 50/50 vinegar/water soak method for removing rust. If it's really bad crusted rust you'll need to soak the pan for a while but don't go over 6-8 hours or the vinegar will start to dissolve the cast iron. Once you remove it from the vinegar bath be sure to wash it thoroughly to remove and neutralize any leftover vinegar, a little baking soda will help in making sure it's all neutralized. Then just grease it up and start your seasoning!

Some swear by cleaning cast iron using the self clean cycle on their oven, but I don't recommend it. Some ovens can reach 1000°F during cleaning cycle and that can warp or crack your cookware, it's rare but it can happen and you don't want to risk it with an heirloom Griswold from your grandma.
 
I used a wire brush attached to my dye grinder when I cleaned up an old fry pan I picked up at Goodwill. It did a great job cleaning out all the pores in the metal. Then I cleaned it with dish soap and hot water and then seasoned it with Crisco and stuck it in the oven at 350 degrees until it had a patina look to it.

Clayton
 
Here's something that's worked for me in the past:

Put a tablespoon of kosher salt in the skillet, along with a couple tablespoons of oil (canola, vegetable, whatever). Scrub with steel wool until you're pretty sure the majority of the rust is gone. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

I season mine on a gas grill. Wipe with a thin coating of oil when hot, and repeat as necessary. Make sure to not use too much oil, or it will get sticky.
 
Just oil it between work sessions. A spray of PAM ought to be sufficient to prevent new rust for a couple of days.

Sandblasting works great. I use a wire wheel in an electric drill, followed by lots of hand sanding. I have even done that to new cast iron.

In Belize I couldn't find cast iron that was not galvanized. I had to hand sand the zinc from the iron before seasoning. I thought that was rather odd.
 
Thank you all for your suggestions! You confirmed that some of what I hoped would work wouldn't damage the pan and suggested some great labor saving ideas. I think I'm going to continue with abrasives on the pan and top side of the lid. I'll try the vinegar and water solution on the interior of the lid, but really want to try and find another project to use the electrolysis on.
I did a mass resurrection of 5 cast iron pots/skillets about 2 years ago. I soaked them oven cleaner, sealed in trash bags for 48 hours to remove grease and old seasoning and then used the 50/50 vinegar/water soak method for removing rust. If it's really bad crusted rust you'll need to soak the pan for a while but don't go over 6-8 hours or the vinegar will start to dissolve the cast iron. Once you remove it from the vinegar bath be sure to wash it thoroughly to remove and neutralize any leftover vinegar, a little baking soda will help in making sure it's all neutralized. Then just grease it up and start your seasoning!
This is going to be plan A for the lid. I think I can skip the lye soak, but I like the idea of using oven cleaner instead of a lye and water bath. The vinegar water bath sounds pretty straight forward and fool proof. The only question is how well it will work.
Some swear by cleaning cast iron using the self clean cycle on their oven, but I don't recommend it. Some ovens can reach 1000°F during cleaning cycle and that can warp or crack your cookware, it's rare but it can happen and you don't want to risk it with an heirloom Griswold from your grandma.
Yea, I kind of want to keep as much heat out of the house this summer as I can, so that's another reason not to go with the self-cleaning oven cycle.
You may want to give this a try electrolysis
My pan isn't quite as bad as the dutch oven in that thread! The pan itself is coming along nicely just with the SOS pad. It's mostly those ribs on the bottom of the lid that are being problematic. If I had a muffin tin or ribbed grill pan this is definitely the way to go, as I have all of the components, even the washing soda. We'll call this plan B. As one responder said in that thread, I want to go find some really nasty pans to try this with. Maybe not this time, though.
Alternately, if you're friendly with your neighborhood body shop, you can ask them to media-blast it for you.
I'm pretty sure my neighbor, a farmer who has a machinist for a brother in law, could and would do this for me. I didn't know if it would leave a pebbled surface or not, but since this will most likely be just the interior of the lid that gets special treatment, I'll consider it as a viable plan C, mostly because the neighbor isn't necessarily going to work on my schedule.
You need to do a lye bath.QUOTE]
I looked into that at the Wagner & Griswold Society web site that one of the other threads led me to. The lye would be good if I had a bunch of other gunk on the pan, but they say it doesn't help with rust. Definitely something I will do if I over do the layer of Crisco when I season it, though.
I used a wire brush attached to my dye grinder when I cleaned up an old fry pan I picked up at Goodwill. It did a great job cleaning out all the pores in the metal.
Clayton, I hadn't thought of using the wire wheel in my grinder, just a drill mounted brush. Your suggestion would be much better. It's good to know that the wire brush is a viable alternative to scrubbing as I was afraid it would scratch up the surface too much or create a swirled pattern. I think that if I have some stubborn spots on the pan itself this is how I will deal with them. My concern is that this is going to be more difficult than the vinegar soak for the lid due to the concentric ridges on the inside of it. I am guessing that I would have to work all the way around the lid following each of the ridges to get the rust on both sides of each ridge. I'll do it on the lid if I have to touch up some spots the vinegar and water soak doesn't get.
Put a tablespoon of kosher salt in the skillet, along with a couple tablespoons of oil (canola, vegetable, whatever). Scrub with steel wool until you're pretty sure the majority of the rust is gone. Rinse and repeat if necessary.
Since the salt isn't going to dissolve in the oil it will act as an additional abrasive. I'll defintely try this on the pan as it is already coming along well with the SOS pad and water, but this should be better. If I wipe it out instead of washing it out between work sessions I will have dealt with the protective coating issue.
I season mine on a gas grill. Wipe with a thin coating of oil when hot, and repeat as necessary. Make sure to not use too much oil, or it will get sticky.
That's pretty much my plan. It might have been this very pan that I seasoned in the oven as a kid when my grandmother first gave it to my mother. Maybe we used a tad too much Crisco, but it smoked up the house in a bad way.
Just oil it between work sessions. A spray of PAM ought to be sufficient to prevent new rust for a couple of days.
Good deal. If that's the case and I use the salt and oil mixture advocated by Jones, the residue after wiping the salt and the bulk of the cooking oil from the pan or lid should suffice.
Sandblasting works great. I use a wire wheel in an electric drill, followed by lots of hand sanding. I have even done that to new cast iron.
General consensus seems to be that there is no abrasive that cast iron can't shrug off.
In Belize I couldn't find cast iron that was not galvanized. I had to hand sand the zinc from the iron before seasoning. I thought that was rather odd.
Isn't the zinc toxic?
Just keep scrubbing. That's what your grandma did.
Yea, but I'm pretty sure that grandma never left it sit with no attention in a damp basement for thirty years.
 
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I accidentally had my cast iron skillet go through the self clean cycle on the oven (didn't look in the oven before self cleaning, my bad) and while I'm not recommending it, I can attest to the job it does. That pan was spotless!! Frankly I'd do it again if I needed to, but my pan isn't a family heirloom either.
 
I accidentally had my cast iron skillet go through the self clean cycle on the oven (didn't look in the oven before self cleaning, my bad) and while I'm not recommending it, I can attest to the job it does. That pan was spotless!! Frankly I'd do it again if I needed to, but my pan isn't a family heirloom either.

Despite the concerns of a previous post, I can't see temperatures of 1000F being a problem for cast iron, just don't cool it rapidly.
 
Despite the concerns of a previous post, I can't see temperatures of 1000F being a problem for cast iron, just don't cool it rapidly.
I think I just let it ride until it was cool. I'm thinking the only real problem one may run into is if there was some unseen cracking that could pose a problem at those temps but like I said, I'd do it again. Plus the big bonus is there's no chemical of any kind that you have to wash off. Lye and oven cleaner are both nasty and can cause all kinds of fun burns if they get unruly.
 
COHunter - Did your pan start out rusty or just kind of gunked up? Would the self-cleaning cycle be hot enough to drive the oxygen from the rust or how does that work?
 
Since it was accidental it was just gunked (seasoned) but honestly the only thing left was some powdery residue (cabon) and the pan was the color of raw iron all over.
 
Definitely oil it between scrubbings.

What I did was start the way you did. Scrub like crazy with steel wool and those green scrub pads. Then I dried the Jong and fired it in the propane grill at max temperature with the lid closed for an hour. The important part there is to start with a cold grill and heat up both a cast iron and the grill together. After it cooled, one more scrubbing was performed and the it got seasoned. I've rescued to cast iron pieces that way, and have another waiting for me to get to it.
 
I did a mass resurrection of 5 cast iron pots/skillets about 2 years ago. I soaked them oven cleaner, sealed in trash bags for 48 hours to remove grease and old seasoning and then used the 50/50 vinegar/water soak method for removing rust. If it's really bad crusted rust you'll need to soak the pan for a while but don't go over 6-8 hours or the vinegar will start to dissolve the cast iron. Once you remove it from the vinegar bath be sure to wash it thoroughly to remove and neutralize any leftover vinegar, a little baking soda will help in making sure it's all neutralized. Then just grease it up and start your seasoning!

Some swear by cleaning cast iron using the self clean cycle on their oven, but I don't recommend it. Some ovens can reach 1000°F during cleaning cycle and that can warp or crack your cookware, it's rare but it can happen and you don't want to risk it with an heirloom Griswold from your grandma.
This is what I've done and it's worked very well. Make to use a good amount of oven cleaner and completely cover the piece. It may take a second application of oven cleaner.
 
couple of observations from my skillet collecting past:

you can never ever hurt a skillet with lye.
do NOT dilly dally if you soak in vinegar, rust will start forming the moment air hits 'em.*
electrolysis cleaning is a big mess and not a method i employ any more.

i'd only direct coals clean a "modern" piece of iron as they're heavier, so less likely to warp/crack and also they have little monetary value relative to the good stuff from the great old days.

i wouldn't hesitate to media blast a heavy coating of rust-you cannot add value or function by leaving it on!

lye is for the baked-on organic solids. a long enough soak in lye eliminates the need for wire brushes.

also

baking cornbread in 'em is the fastest way to a super-even, FULL, re-seasoning. can be tasty too, depends on your quickbread skills yo. i'll try to get a pic up.

*if you don't rinse/plunge them immediately out of the acid (vinegar) bath. adding baking soda to the rinse water would be best. i abandoned this step before i rethought it.
 
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