How to Clean and Season Neglected Cast-Iron Cookware

Got a dirty or rusty cast-iron pan on your hands? Here's how to make it good as new.

Old, well-seasoned cast-iron pans have become heirlooms, making it hard to find even dirty, rusty, perfectly cruddy pans for a bargain at yard sales and flea markets. If you are lucky enough to find one, it deserves a place at the stovetop.

After scraping up a couple of dirty pans with several grades of sandpaper and emery cloth—both being too harsh for even these badly rusted pans—we settled on the following method to restore pans that have been subjected to such neglect. (Of course, if you have a blazing wood stove handy, you can just stick the pan in along with the logs. All of the detritus on the pan will be combusted.) To maintain clean pans, follow step 5 below after each use, using a washcloth to scrub the pan with salt if the hot water alone doesn't do the trick.

  1. Rub the pan with fine steel wool.
  1. Wipe out loose dirt and rust with a cloth. (Repeat steps 1 and 2 until the pan is largely cleared of rust.)
  1. Place the pan on the burner over medium-low heat and add enough vegetable oil to coat the pan bottom heavily. Heat for 5 minutes, or until the handle is too hot to touch. Turn off the burner.
  1. Add enough salt to form a liquidy paste. Wearing a work or gardening glove, scrub with a thick wad of paper towels, steadying the pan with a potholder. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the pan is slick and black.
  1. Rinse the pan thoroughly in hot water, wipe dry, and then coat with a thin film of vegetable oil, wiping off any excess with paper towels.

This is a members' feature.