Cast Iron: Care, Maintenance, and Restoration

Why Cast Iron?

People have been cooking with cast iron for centuries and with proper care and maintenance, they should be able to last about as long. 

Cast iron is preferred for its durability and even heating. It's a solid piece of metal--meaning there are no welds or rivets to break down over time. The heavy material allows it to hold more energy giving it great heat-retention qualities as well.

Since the iron is cast from a mold and not precision-machined, there will always be tiny imperfections in the surface of the iron that will prevent it from being perfectly smooth. This pitted surface is necessary for the seasoning process. 

What is Seasoning?

Seasoning is an effective way to preserve cast iron. It creates a protective layer of carbonized oil between the iron and oxygen from the air around it. By heating the oil high enough and long enough to the point it breaks down and bonds to the rough surface of the iron, you can ensure they last for many years while protecting it from rust.

What is Rust?

When iron is exposed to oxygen (with water or air moisture as a catalyst), it can undergo a chemical reaction causing it to turn into a form of iron oxide we know as rust. It can be seen as a reddish-brown coloring on the surface of iron grills and pans. The longer the iron is exposed to oxygen and moisture, the longer this corrosion will occur; causing further decay to your products.

As long as the iron isn't to the point of crumbling or fraying, there's no reason it can't be saved. Very small amounts of rust are not believed to be dangerous, so no need to throw out your food if you notice a small spot on your grates or skillet. 

How to Season and Maintain Cast Iron Cooking Grates/Pans

Seasoning:

  1. Apply a thin layer of a high-fat cooking oil like grapeseed oil  then wipe away. 
  2. Heat the cast iron on the grill or oven to roughly 450F-500F for about half an hour and then allow to cool. The high heat will break down the oil and bond it to the iron creating a protective layer to prevent rust as well as making it non-stick.
  3. Repeat this process as many times as you like to build up the effectiveness of the non-stick.

Maintenance:

  1. Before and after each cook, apply a thin layer of oil to the surface. Not too much or there will be a sticky layer that will not cook well. 
  2. Use a natural fiber brush to clean the cooled surface, as it will absorb some of the oil and help you season as you clean.

Do not use a harsh abrasive on the surface or it will scratch away your seasoning exposing it to the air for oxidation.

Do not air dry cast iron after washing, it will form a surface rust.

How to Remove Surface Rust on Cast Iron:

  1. Using a mild abrasive, scour away the rust and then wash clean. 
  2. Towel dry immediately and then heat up the item while applying grapeseed oil (or something similar). 
  3. Heat to 450F-500F for half an hour and allow to cool until you are able to handle the product again.
  4. Reapply thin layers of oil and heat as many times as desired for increased non-stickiness.

Alternate Method: place item in oven and turn on self-clean. It will heat everything to around 900F and burn away the top layer of seasoning and rust, leaving unfinished iron. This will allow you to start the seasoning process from the beginning. Note that this method may make your kitchen very smoky as the oils burn away.

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