Friday, October 30, 2020

How I Restore and Maintain Cast Iron Skillets for Use On The Grill

[FTC Standard Disclosure] I received no compensation for this blog post. I will include Amazon Affiliate links to show a source for products that I use; however, you can likely find the same or similar products at your local kitchen or home goods store.


When I post pictures of my cast iron collection, I often get comments and questions about how I season and maintain them. As promised (ahem...months ago), here is what I do to keep my cast iron looking black, shiny, and beautiful. 

Some of the cast-iron cookware that I use day to day.


I'll start by saying this. Maintaining cast iron isn't about a magic product or special oil. Maintaining cast-iron skillets is a behavior. If you clean and spend 10 minutes reseasoning your skillets each time you use them, they will stay immaculate, non-stick, and last a lifetime. 

A second important point. Cast-iron is meant for use day-in, day-out. The best thing you can do to maintain your cast-iron cookware is to use it often.

Restoration

A good story starts at the beginning so let's start with the 1930's era Griswold #8 skillet that I restored earlier this year. 

When Do I Need To Restore A Skillet?

Typically, when a skillet loses its seasoning or gets a little flaky, the cast-iron just needs a thorough cleaning, reseasoning, and frequent use. But when a piece of cast-iron cookware has been abused and has built-up carbon or large sections of rust, the restoration will make it as good as new. Restoration is time-consuming, but you should never have to do it again if you maintain your cast-iron in the first place. Restoring cast-iron includes: 

  • stripping/cleaning, 
  • establishing a base coat, and then 
  • repeated use to build up the seasoning.

How I restored this 1930's era Griswold cast-iron skillet
This skillet definitely needed restoration. It was made over 80 years ago and had definitely seen better days. 


Stripping and Cleaning

There are many ways to strip cast-iron cookware for reseasoning.

  • Place in an oven with the self-cleaning feature turned on.
  • Spray with oven cleaner and leave in a garbage bag.
  • Build an electrolysis tank.
But this is about what I do, and of course, I use the grill to strip down my cast-iron. I use a Big Green Egg, but any grill capable of running 700°f temps should work. Be forewarned that excessively high temps can destroy a felt gasket. My Big Green Eggs are retrofitted with Rutland gaskets, so I don't have to worry about that. 
  1. I set up a large Big Green Egg for direct heat and load the Kick Ash Basket with a full load of lump charcoal. I light it using my J.J. George Grill Torch and fire it up. I fully open the lower and upper vents to "let 'er rip, potato chip." 
  2. Once the grill hits 550°f, I put the cast-iron cookware in, close the lid, and let the temperature keep climbing. When the temp hits 700°f, I'll cut back the vents a little to keep it from climbing too much higher.
  3. After an hour, I put on extreme heat-resistant gloves and flip the skillet. Then I ignore the skillet until the fire runs out. About 8-10 hours later, the skillet will be cool enough for handling.
  4. Now, I will wash the skillet with a steel wool ball or a Brillo pad and warm soapy water. All of the previous seasoning should wash right off.
  5. Finally, immediately and thoroughly wipe the cast-iron dry; otherwise, it can flash rust.


Restoring a griswold cast-iron skillet
Why bother going through all of this when a brand new cast-iron skillet is only $20-30? Many older skillets are different than today's modern cast-iron. Griswolds haven't been made for decades and are known for their light weight and smooth cooking surface. They were rumored to be made from a special formula of iron.

Using the Big Green Egg to strip a Griswold cast-iron skillet for restoration.
Using fire to remove the carbon deposits from decades of use and abuse.

Not all grills can safely run at 700°f, but it's a walk in the park for quality kamado grills like the Big Green Egg.

You can see how the build-up has been incinerated from hours of high heat.

Restoring cast-iron skillets using a big green egg
The skillet might look worse than when you first started at this point. Don't panic; it will easily wash off.

This is what a raw, stripped and non-seasoned piece of cast-iron looks like after you wash it.

How to reseason cast iron on a grill
I had to strip this piece. I was cooking something in a pot the day before, removed the steamy lid, and placed it in this skillet. I left it there overnight by accident, and the next morning, the seasoning was trashed and rusty.

Stripping Lodge Cast Iron on a Big Green Egg.
Compare to the previous picture, and you can see how the seasoning is starting to come off.

It looks rusted after stripping but check out the next video for how it washes off.



Establishing A Base Coat of Seasoning

Giving the raw cast-iron a good base coat will protect it enough that you can start using the skillet. There are plenty of oils you can use for creating the base coat of seasoning. I prefer to use an oil that is solid at room temperature for my first few coats, so I like to use either:
  • Beef tallow - I make this by rendering the fat trimmings from brisket or rib roasts. 
  • Crisbee Stick - This is a commercial product that includes beeswax combined with oils. 
Here's what I do.
  1. I set up my Big Green Egg for indirect heat and preheat it to 350-400°f. 
  2. I preheat the cookware by placing it in the hot grill for about 10 minutes.
  3. Wearing protective gloves, remove the cookware from the grill and wipe a thin layer of oil all over the skillet, inside and out.
  4. Now I take a blue shop towel or lint-free cloth and wipe it off. That's right, wipe it off. This will leave behind a thin layer of the oil; you really are just wiping off the excess oil. 
  5. Place the skillet upside down in the grill, close the lid, and let it go for an hour.
  6. After an hour, shut down all of the vents and leave the skillet in the grill (no peaking). Let the fire die and the grill fully cool.
  7. Wash the skillet with only hot water and a piece of chain mail or nylon scouring pad.
  8. Repeat two more times.
Now you have a good base coat, and you're ready to start cooking with the skillet or pot.


I like to use my brisket and rib trimmings to make beef tallow because it is all-natural and has a high smoke point. 

Using Crisbee Stick to reseason a Griswold cast-iron skillet
Applying Crisbee Stick to the Griswold for my base coats. Less is more, don't overdo it. Crisbee uses oil and beeswax to give a durable coat of protection. I think it is better than just oil by itself.


Ready to go into the grill.


I used an Adjustable Rig, but any indirect set-up on the Big Green Egg will do.

For the base coat, I do about 1 pass on the skillet like this and then wipe it in with a blue shop paper towel.




I like the blue shop towels because they are more lint-free than normal paper towels.

Seasoning Lodge cast iron on the Big Green Egg
See how light the first coat is? The skillet isn't even black yet.

I think this photo was taken after the second coat for this skillet.

Do you see the few burnish marks? This skillet had some pitting and damage, so I used an abrasive wheel to smooth it out a little, and after only a few coats of seasoning, it still stands out. Later in the post, I have current pictures, and you can no longer tell those were there, thanks to layers and layers of seasoning.


Black and slick!


Routine Maintenance

Taking care of cast-iron cookware is easy as long as you are consistent about it. What I do takes 10 minutes and keeps my cast-iron looking and cooking better than brand new.

Tools and supplies that I use for maintaining my cast-iron cookware
This is everything that I use for restoring and maintaining my cast-iron cookware. Just one type of oil, chain mail, and scraper will handle the vast majority of your needs.


Cleaning

As soon as my cookware is cool enough to handle, I clean it. Don't leave it overnight. Don't fill it with water to soak. As Shia LaBeouf would say, JUST DO IT
  1. I get my faucet running the hottest water it can and use a piece of chain mail to scrub out the inside of the skillet. Use the chain mail like a washcloth. I would estimate that 90% of the time, I only need hot water and chain mail to clean my skillets.
  2. If, after doing that, I still see a section of debris or cooked-on food, I will use a plastic scraper or a nylon scouring pad to scrape or burnish it off. This usually gets rid of any stubborn issues.
  3. For the worst issues I've had, I put water in the skillet and bring it to a boil for 5 minutes. Dump that and immediately go back to step 1. 
  4. When done, I immediately dry the cast-iron with a lint-free cloth and proceed with reseasoning.

Reseasoning 

I do this EVERY TIME that I use one of my skillets. I wear light cotton gloves since the cast-iron will be too warm to handle during this process.
  1. I put the skillet on the gas stove-top or induction cooker over medium heat for 5 minutes. Electric coil stove-tops may take longer. If you hold your hand an inch over the skillet, it should feel warm.
  2. I use a blue shop towel or lint-free cloth to wipe a light coat of Crisbee Cream (sunflower oil and beeswax) or peanut oil on the inside of the skillet. Then I take a clean section of the towel and try to wipe any excess oil off. The surface should look shiny but not wet. 
  3. Put the skillet back on the burner, reduce heat to medium-low, and leave it on for 5 minutes.
  4. Turn off the burner, wipe the entire skillet with the shop towel, and then leave it to cool. This smooths out any patchy spots inside the skillet, and then the now slightly greasy paper towel is like a chamois for the rest of the skillet, giving it the slightest protective coat.
So that's it. 

Using the Thermoworks TimeStick
Five minutes over medium heat gets the cast-iron warmed up and ready to accept the oil for seasoning.

Preheating cast iron on the Trimontina induction cooker
If you hold your hand 1" above the skillet surface, it should feel quite warm, almost hot.

Seasoning cast iron using Crisbee Cream.
I used to use only peanut oil for day-to-day reseasoning. But I tried Crisbee Cream (does NOT taste like a donut, just sayin'), which is sunflower oil and beeswax, and I liked the results better.

Seasoning a Griswold #8 cast-iron skillet - go sparingly with the oil
I can't say it enough, less is more. If you use too much oil, your skillet will be nice and shiny - but also sticky.

After applying oil, a good rule of thumb is to pretend it was a mistake and try to wipe it all off. 


I have found I like using an induction cooker for seasoning because it warms the skillet up differently than applying high heat to the bottom like gas burners do. Not a big deal, just a preference.


How I maintain my cast iron cookware like this Griswold cast iron skillet
This is how that Griswold looks today, no burnish marks visible. The best thing you can do for a skillet is to keep using and reseasoning it.

The backside of the same skillet. 


Special Tip for Kamado Grill Owners

When you shut down a ceramic kamado grill, it stays hot and slowly cools for hours. Take advantage of that! That is ideal for seasoning your cast iron. So I will often shut the grill down, apply a coat of seasoning to some of my cast iron and stick it in the grill for the cool-down period. 

Seasoning cast-iron cookware on a Big Green Egg

Seasoning cast-iron cookware on a Big Green Egg

Seasoning cast-iron cookware on a Big Green Egg

Seasoning cast-iron cookware on a Big Green Egg







Never miss a post; subscribe by email
and follow me on

2 comments:

  1. Great write up Chris, I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent post with good detail, thanks

    ReplyDelete

Comments are moderated and won't appear immediately.