How to refurbish a cast iron skillet

Cast iron really is the best thing to cook on, in my opinion.

So imagine my delight when I found a lovely ten inch cast iron skillet at the thrift store one day. Used cast iron delights me even more than new cast iron. I like the idea that something is old and still perfectly, delightfully good to use. I like the durability. I like knowing that countless generations of my ancestors cooked on castiron: Colonial and pioneer alike.

So, I've had this small, ten inch skillet hanging on my wall as decoration because it had crud on it. Mystery, thrift store crud. You know, black build up. Most likely food, but there's that thought: what if it's NOT food. Or what if it belonged to some weird cannibalistic sicko and this is Bubba crud. My brain goes in these directions.

So I googled on how to clean a cast iron skillet. The cure for the crud is fire. Lots of it. Hot heaping coals of it. All night long heaping coals. The kind only to be found on a camping trip.

Well, the first night out, of course we made fire. Foundered ourselves on s'mores and various types of wieners hailing from various teutonic european cities originally. All in the woods, in the mountains. Pure bliss. Trees are such gentle creatures and I can't get enough of them.

So, the cast iron skillet went into the fire. We built the fire around it, on it, in it, shoveled embers into it. It glowed, it set the tip of a stick on fire when I touchd it. I thought about theosis and played with the coals. Pure bliss.

Next morning, there sits my humble skillet. It passed the test. Gray with ashes. It had not cracked. I retrieved it. Gave it a quick rinse at the camp pump and admired the result: shiny, black metal. Not a bit of baked on crud to be found. No germ could have survived that fire.

So, I proceeded to cook a bit of bacon in it, and them some eggs. The eggs hardly stuck at all. Needs a wee more seasoning, but that will come in time. I'm so thrilled. Now I have a big skillet and a small skillet. Never again will I wonder if I should pick up a teflon skillet for cooking an omelet.

Now, you, too, can be on the lookout for cast iron at the thrift store, knowing that refurbishing it is as simple as a wood fire and some hot coals.


Susan said…
I love my cast iron. I, in fact, made a mixed berry cobbler in my 10 inch skillet today.
I didnt know about the fire. That seems rather odd, but hey, if it works. Guess you could do it in a fireplace or woodstove too.
Laura said…
Thank you! I have from my grandmother and one from the thrift store. Both in need of a good cleaning!
Philippa said…
Glad you posted this. I am not a camper so would a fireplace work? I must have 6 or 8 cast iron frying pans and one dutch oven. The fry pans range from 6 inch to 18 inch (which I can hardly lift). One of the pans is nearly rusted. I don't use them but the smallest since I can't seem to get them non-stick enough.

Maybe I'll try this when the hubster builds a fire in the winter months. Or could I do them one at a time in the bar-be-que?
alana said…
Seems to me like any fire would do, whether camp fire or fire place. I don't know if charcoal would work in the bbq, but if you could build a nice wood fire in there, it might work.

I'd recommend plenty of wood. We sat around that fire for many hours.

After the crud is burned off, rub them in butter or lard and bake in the oven for a good seasoning. Or bake something really greasy in there like cheap fatty ground meat.
Meg said…
Crud is disposed of via fire, hmmm? You *must* have picked up on the theological implications. Reminds me of the story about how silver (and gold) are tried by fire, burning all the impurities off: The smith stops when he can see his reflection in the metal. I love these stories of how fire purifies; it helps to remember them when your life is filled with crud.

More mundanely, modern cast iron is *nothing* like the old-fashioned kind. You practically have to inherit good cast iron, or, as you said, buy it in the thrift store.
alana said…
Lodge has been making cast iron cookware for a hundred years. Available at

I've never actually purchased from there, but any place that carries one of those hinge things for fire place cooking probably carries really good cast iron. Lehmans has loads of low tech/old fashioned stuff for luddites and Amish alike.
Mimi said…
I brought DH (the main cook in our family) a cast iron skillet back from KY when I visited (I bought it at Cracker Barrel) and he loves it.
Tabitha said…
We went camping this past weekend too. After ten years of marriage I finally got to use my cast iron skillet over a fire. I happily commented to the gathered family that now, at last, it had been properly seasoned. Thank you for the deeper spiritual implications. It adds yet another layer of meaning to our camp-out time.
Anonymous said…
Would a self cleaning oven clean it or melt it ?
Alana said…
It wouldn't hurt, and it just might work. Just don't put any chemicals or cleaning agents on it.
Ken's Mask said…
Glad I found this site. I have a good size collection of cast iron cookware, 4", 6", 8", 10", 12", 22 total skillets, and 8 dutch ovens. I have been accummulating over last 40 years. Mom gave me my first when my wife and I married 40 years ago and I kept getting more. I don't know why I started, and my wife wished I never heard of cast iron, but I like them, and they are nice decoration in kitchen and dining room. But now I have the bug torefurbish them and start using them. I am retired and do all the cooking here now as she works and we have her brother and his family living with us from Guatamala, all of whom work. So, I don't mind. Thanks for all the helpful hints about cleaning and seasoning these things for use. Wish me luck, I have a big job waiting. I may be back with more questions and screams for help. I have one skillet right now in the oven on self clean and another in a firepit where it has been "cooking" for several hours.
Alana said…
Awesome, Ken's Mask. Enjoy cooking on your cast iron cookware. I have a cast iron dutch oven on my current culinary tools wish-list.
Ken's Mask said…
I have a number of dutch ovens. I got 4 from ads on Craigslist. I have a lot of work waiting to get them usable though. I finally got one of my 12" skillets cleaned up and seasoned, and made a batch of biscuits last night that were killers.

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