The process of restoring rusted cast iron cookware can bring a family heirloom back to life and make it a fully functional asset in your kitchen. You can even salvage a garage sale or flea market find that looks too far gone. The beauty of cast iron cookware lies in it’s rugged durability and versatility. Cast irons durability results from the quality and thickness of the material from which the pan was made. Older cast iron is especially tough since it was made before the time of cheap imports that do suffer some quality issues. But, nonetheless any piece of cast iron that is structurally sound can be restored and put to use in your kitchen.
Before beginning the restoration process, you must carefully inspect the pot or pan and make sure it is truly structurally sound. Look for cracking or pitting in the surface of the pan. If the pan is cracked or severely pitted then it would be best to set that pan aside and not proceed with restoration. a cracked cast iron pan is very hard to repair and requires a process called brazing to fix the pan. This is usually an expensive process and even with repair the possibility of contamination of your food from the repair process makes the pan pretty much useless for use in the kitchen. If you would like you can restore the damaged pan and use it as a decorative reminder of days gone by in your kitchen.
Once you have established the soundness of the cast iron, you can begin the process of restoration. Start by using steel wool or a wire brush to remove as much surface rust from the pan as possible. You can then soak the pan in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water for a day or so. This will help to finish dissolving any rust that remains on the surface of the pan. If you run into a pan with severe rusting, then you may have to use a product like spray on oven cleaner to remove a heavy layer of rust. Be careful when using caustic chemicals like oven cleaner. Wear personal protection such as gloves and a mask to prevent personal injury. Also, avoid using any other highly caustic chemicals on your cast iron. Solvents and similar chemicals can soak into the loose pores of the iron and then leach into your food at a later time.
After you are sufficiently satisfied with the initial phase of restoration of your cast iron, then you can proceed to the seasoning step. seasoning is a simple process whereby the clean pan is coated with either lard or bacon grease and repeatedly heated in an oven. This process creates a durable non-stick finish for the cast iron and makes it easy to clean after use. For a more detailed look at the seasoning of cast iron cookware, please review my other article at Recipe-Rack.com