My first crack at reconditioning my old cast iron pieces involved trying to build up a new seasoning layer with high-quality bacon grease. Perhaps this could have worked, but I think I used too much grease and did not build up enough layers. The seasoning didn’t seem to hold, it was uneven, and food kept sticking. A bit frustrated, the pieces made their way back to the dark recesses of my cookware cupboard, where they once again entered hibernation. I didn’t give up on the concept though. A few months later I picked up the ball again researching restoration and re-seasoning methods. This time I hit the jackpot discovering a couple of key recommendations:
#1, How to COMPLETELY remove the old seasoning by putting them into a hot campfire or bonfire, and
#2, How to build up a proper seasoning layer using Flax Seed Oil.
Here’s a summary:
Removing the old seasoning:
The “campfire” method for removing the old seasoning is apparently an old tried and true method. It involves simply putting the cast-iron cookware pieces into the middle of a very hot campfire or bon-fire (I made an improvised “campfire” in an old Weber barbecue). You can either wait until the fire dies down (i.e. the next morning) or you can remove them using an appropriate tool (I used a modified wire coat hanger). The trick is you have to be careful as to not go overboard and to let the pieces cool off slowly. Too much intense heat over a long period or too rapid of cooling may lead to the pieces cracking. After I removed my pieces from the fire I placed them on some ceramic tiles I had laying around and let them air dry. Done right, this method will completely remove the old seasoning. If your pans still have some rust on them, you can use vinegar to clean off any rust.
Creating a proper seasoning layer:
Using Flax Seed Oil to create a new seasoning coating was the real key. I discovered this method from Sheryl Canter’s blog. At first I thought using Flax Seed Oil would be a terrible idea, knowing that Flax Seed Oil oxidizes very easily and can create harmful free radicals. However, the high oxidizability of Flax Seed Oil is what makes it work well for establishing a good seasoning layer. And you only use the Flax Seed Oil for building up the initial seasoning layer at the begining (not cooking with it). Basically the method involves applying a VERY light coating of Flax Seed Oil to the cleaned-down-to-bare-metal pieces and putting them into a 400 degree F oven for a couple of hours, letting it cool down, then repeating the process 6 to 8 times. During the seasoning process, the fatty acids in the Flax Seed Oil transform into inert polymers, which is the “magic” substance that creates an ideal stick-resistant seasoning layer. See Sheryl Canter’s blog here for detailed instructions. This method worked very well for me and I’m happy to recommend it to anyone looking to recondition their cast iron cookware.
Should you decide to try these methods, please let me know how they worked out in the comments below.