Cast iron pans come pre-seasoned from the factory. They have a coating of oil baked on to them for protection of the surface and to make them non-stick. As the pan is being used the protective coating (seasoning) can wear off. Especially if it is not cared for correctly.
I only use my Lodge combo cooker for breadmaking purposes which does not damage it that much. But it gets abused from time to time especially when I use the pan as a steam generator. Sometimes I pre-heat it with the oven and when the bread gets placed inside, I pour a cup of boiling water in the pan to create a cloud of steam. While being an extremely effective method for producing steam it does wear off the seasoning and makes it more susceptible to rusting.
Washing and handling can also cause some wear on the finish. If the pan is not dried well or if it is placed on a wet surface, it may rust.
What you will need to wash and refinish a cast iron pan.
Dishwashing soap to wash off any grime and rust. A scrubber like a metal scourer or Brillo pad. Kitchen roll or a lint free towel for drying and applying the oil. Oven gloves for handling the pan. Oil for seasoning.
Many oils can be used for seasoning like rice bran oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, canola, grapeseed oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, shortening, and coconut oil. Some like olive oil and coconut oil will leave a flavour behind. And peanut oil will leave an allergen, so if you are going to cook for other people then do not use peanut oil just in case.
How to wash a damaged cast iron pan.
Whether your pan has lost only some of the seasoning and has developed a little surface rust or whether you’ve inherited a super rusty pan, the cleaning and seasoning process will be the same.
First, get the rust off. All you need is warm soapy water and something to scrub the pan with. I think the metal scourer is more effective, but a scouring pad also has its place because it has straight edges it can be more effective at cleaning around the lip of the pan.
Dry the pan. Use thick kitchen roll or a lint free towel. Do not try and use tissue paper because it will break up and make a mess, and it will be even worse when you try and rub a hot pan with it when seasoning.
After drying the pan, I would suggest placing it in a pre-heated oven (250C or 480F) for 1 minute to flash off any remaining moisture and ensure it is completely dry.
How to season a cast iron pan.
Remove the dry pan from the oven and pour about a tablespoon of oil into it. Use a piece of kitchen roll to pick up the oil and spread it all over the surface of the pan covering every millimetre of it on both sides. Use a fresh piece of kitchen roll to pick up any excess oil. Place the pan in the oven on a rack close to the heating element. Bake at 250C (480F) for 1 hour.
Remove the pan from the oven and repeat the same steps for coating it in oil, then place it back into the oven to bake for another hour. Repeat until the finish is nice and even and black all over. I applied three coats in total because my pan was not very damaged. It could take up to seven coats or more for a very rusty pan.
Be extremely careful when handling and coating the hot pan! If you don’t feel confident, then leave it to cool down completely between coats. It will take longer, but at least you won’t have any accidents.
How to clean and store a cast iron pan.
Most of the time all you may need to do is to wipe the pan clean with kitchen roll without even needing to wash it. If there is food stuck or burnt to the surface, then scrub it off with a Brillo pad and wash it in warm water. Using soap can wear off the seasoning, so you should only use soap when you are going to refinish the pan anyway.
After washing dry the pan with kitchen roll (and then in a hot oven for an even better drying effect), rub it with a light coating of oil, and store it in the oven until next use. The inside of an oven in the prefect place for it.
How to avoid damaging a cast iron pan and to prolong the life of the seasoning.
Try not to cook very acidic foods (tomatoes, vinegar, fruits) in the pan as they will eat away at the seasoning. Do not scratch it with sharp and pointy utensils. Do not pour boiling water in the pan to create clouds of steam for breadmaking, and then forget to wash and oil after use (note to self!). Do not place the pan on wet surfaces.
The more you use the pan for cooking the thicker the seasoning will become. As you apply oil and cook with it some of the oil will stick to the surface and strengthen the seasoning layer.
If you’re like me and only use it for breadmaking, then owning a cast iron pan takes no effort at all. I’ve had mine for many years, and this was the first time I seasoned it. It took quite a lot of abuse (even deliberate) to get it as rusty as it was in the video.
A cast iron pan with a lid is a home baker’s best friend. It is extremely effective at keeping steam inside it and making the bread rise better, colour more evenly, and develop a crispier crust. It’s the next best thing after an actual bread oven. Definitely a good investment that will last a lifetime and more.
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