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Cast-iron cookware restoration

A pan that’s become rusty and lost its seasoning can be helped

When we’re camping, my two favorite pans to cook in are a cast iron skillet and Dutch oven. I usually use a liner when I bake something in the Dutch oven because it makes cleanup easier, but food does occasionally spill out and cook onto the pan. Sometimes I can scrape it out, sometimes I can’t.

Mark Kelly is the public relations manager for Lodge Cast Iron. He says stuck-on food comes off pretty easy with water and heat.

"Put water in there and get it to boil for a few minutes, and all that gunk will scrape off," he says. "One trick I use quite often is, I use a paste of coarse salt and water, and rub it on there and that takes care of a lot of the stuck on food."

Make sure the pan is completely dry, and store it in a cool, dry place. Keep the lid off and put a paper towel inside. If there’s any moisture left, the pan might rust, but Kelly says it can be rubbed out with steel wool.

Sometimes cast iron becomes so rusty and coated with grimy residue, it loses its smooth, non-stick surface. In this case, you’ll have to restore it. There are many ways to re-season cast iron, but this is what Kelly recommends.

"Put aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven, and preheat it to 350. After you have done the steel wool and the oven gets warm, rub a light amount of vegetable Crisco all over the pan. Put it in the oven upside down and bake it for an hour. Turn off the oven, let it cool, and then just start cooking," says Kelly. "That updates the seasoning and it bakes in the oil."

A little time and effort is worth it. And once it’s restored to its shiny, smooth black patina, the best thing you can do for your cast iron is to cook in it. And cook some more.

Find more tips on caring for and restoring cast iron cookware

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