As far as I’m concerned, cast iron cookware is a must-have for off-grid survival. It’s strong, durable, made to go directly over a fire and in the coals, and will last for generations when properly cared for.
New cast iron can be a little pricey, but you can often find old pans for very little money (or even free!) at yard sales or flea markets. We actually salvaged several rusty old skillets from my husband’s grandfather’s house. They looked rough, but since they weren’t rusted through I knew that with a little elbow grease I’d be able to restore them. So read on to find out how to clean a rusty cast iron skillet and bring it back to life!
The first thing you want to do when restoring rusty cast iron cookware is to scrub it out really well with a strong brush or steel wool pad. You can also use a wire pad on the end of a cordless drill to sand off the rust. You want to remove as much dirt and rust as possible.
If your pans are really rusty, you can soak them in a solution of half water, half white vinegar to help remove the corrosion. Soak them for an hour and then see if the rust is easily removed. If it’s still bad, continue soaking for up to 4 hours, checking after every hour to prevent over-soaking. The longer the cast iron sits in the solution, the more it wears away at the metal, so less is best. Wipe them dry with a rag.
Once you’ve removed as much of the rust as possible, you’ll need to bake off whatever remains. You can do this by putting the pans directly into a campfire, or by placing them in the oven. I prefer the oven method, because it’s quick and easy, and it works.
As an added bonus, you’ll be cleaning your oven as well. Which, as you can see, I was in desperate need of doing anyways. Grease fire. Need I say more.
Move the racks in your oven to the very bottom rows. Place your cast iron upside down on the top rack, and set your oven to self-clean. This cycle on my oven goes for 4 hours. Once the self-clean cycle has finished, allow your pans to remain in the oven until cool.
Tip: Do not line the bottom of your oven with foil, as it can melt during the self-clean cycle.
Before baking, this skillet had an extremely thick layer of black crusted film all around the outside. The self-cleaning process completely disintegrated the gunk, turning it into an ashy layer of dust. Now we’re down to bare bones metal. It still looks bad, but hang with me.
Next you’ll want to scrub it again really well, making sure to get the inside crevices thoroughly cleaned, as well as all around the outside. Then dry it well with a towel.
Now that your pan is scrubbed clean, it’s time to season it. You’ll want to grease the pan, inside and out, with vegetable oil, shortening, or some kind of fat. Wipe the excess grease off with a paper towel. You’ll be baking it again, and you don’t want oil dripping off the pan into the bottom of the oven, creating a fire hazard.
Line the bottom rack with a sheet of foil to catch any oil drippings. Place your greased pans upside down on the upper rack, either in the middle or bottom of the oven. Set the oven to 350*, and bake for 1 hour. Allow to mostly cool in the oven before removing.
Before the pans cool completely, you’ll want to spread another layer of oil or fat all around them to finish the cure. Be sure to grease the inside and out, bottom and all.
And that’s it! Isn’t that amazing?! Completely restored and ready to prepare your next meal. The more you use it, the more seasoned it will become. Never use soap when washing your cast iron, or you’ll lose the non-stick seasoning you’ve worked so hard to build up. I scrub my cast iron with a good brush and rinse in hot water after each use. Always lightly oil your pans before and after each use as well, to keep them in top condition.
If you can’t find any old and rusty pans you can always pick them up new here:Cast Iron Cookware From Amazon