This griddle was admittedly gnarly—filthy after sitting on a curb during a rainstorm, and rusted from neglect.
But to me, a beautiful addition to my kitchen lay beneath the oxidation and grime.
Why restore cast iron?
Cast iron has a bunch of advantages that even a novice cook can appreciate:
That last point isn't an exaggeration; Romans used cast iron in Pompeii 2,000 years ago, and there are copious online forums dedicated to using, preserving and restoring cast iron cookware. It's truly a buy-it-for-life product, and then some.
What about rust on cast iron?
Aside from burning meals by using the wrong temperature, novice cooks are intimidated by maintaining cast iron. It's far easier than it seems, but if it starts to rust, as it did in this case, most people wouldn't be bothered to repair the damage. It's just $30 for a new pan or grill, after all.Lodge Pre-Seasoned 9-Inch SkilletLodgeamazon.com$17.90Shop Now
But my dad was a TV repairman in the 1970s, and I come from a long line of poor hillbillies who fix things. To me, rusted cast iron screams "WEEKEND PROJECT." I did something similar about three years ago, when I also found a Lodge 9-inch cast iron skillet on the curb. People really just don't take care of the things they buy, and find it's easier to just buy new things instead of fixing broken ones. Alas.
What you need to fix rust on cast iron
You can find tons of guides online about how to shrug off rust and re-season cast iron, and you're reading a metaversion of that now. For superficial rust (i.e. it's not completely falling to pieces), you need just a few common household items:Heinz White Vinegar (64 fl oz Jug)Heinz Vinegaramazon.com$0.00Shop NowOXO Good Grips Angled Measuring Mop Bucket, 4 GallonsOXOamazon.com$16.99Shop NowScotch-Brite Stainless Steel Scrubbers, 3 CountScotch-Briteamazon.com$4.98Shop NowArm & Hammer Baking Soda - 64 ozArm & Hammeramazon.com$8.45Shop NowCrisco Pure Vegetable Oil, 64 OunceCriscoamazon.com$0.00Shop Now
How to repair rust on cast iron cookware
Repairing rusted cast iron entails about 20 to 30 minutes of real work. Some cast iron fans use Yellow Cap Oven Cleaner and a trash bag to fully strip seasoning, while others opt for electrolysis. I skipped both, as my pan wasn't in dire need of a full strip. If you choose to use oven cleaner, make sure you're in a well-ventilated area. And as for electrolysis...well, you're combining water and electricity. Make sure you know what you're doing.
In my novice approach, the majority of the rust removal and re-seasoning involves soaking and seasoning, with a little bit of scrubbing in between.
Place the cast iron in a 50/50 vinegar solution
Find a container big enough to fully submerge your pan in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. Vinegar will dissolve rust, but you don't want it to eat away too much of the pan, so it's better to use a diluted solution.
Because of the flat, but long and wide shape of the cast iron griddle, I used a sheet pan for soaking. For normal cast iron pots and pans, use a bucket or consider plugging your sink for this step.
Soak the pan for about an hour
After about an hour, the vinegar solution should have done its work (I soaked for about 90 minutes) but don't throw out your solution just yet! You may want it for a second soak.
Scrub the pan with steel wool
At this point, you may want to consider wearing latex gloves to protect your hands—while baking soda, vinegar and dish soap aren't harsh chemicals, they can still irritate your skin. And the steel wool can do a number on your hand if you use it long enough.Clorox Comfort Choice Gloves (M/L)Cloroxamazon.com$0.00Shop Now
After the soak was over, I rinsed the pan and sprinkled with baking soda for extra grit. This isn't strictly necessary; the steel wool should be plenty abrasive on its own. But I scrubbed the pan for about 5 or 10 minutes on each side, periodically rinsing to discard rust and to get a look at the pan's surface.
Rinse, soak and scrub again, if needed
I put the pan back into the vinegar solution for another hour, just to tackle some of the tougher spots, then did another round of scrubbing.
Dry pan fully
After another rinse, I gave the pan a once-over with a clean dish towel. Because of all the crevices between grill sections, and those little nooks along edges and corners, I threw the grill on top of my oven range and turned on both burners. This evaporated all the remaining moisture on the pan's surface and readied it for seasoning.
Apply a thin layer of high smoke point oil
Allow the pan to fully cool before you start this step, and pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees so it's close to ready once you've applied oil.
As for what oil to use, avoid olive oil, as it has a low smoke point. With cast iron, layers of oil go through a process called polymerization, which means that they fuse together to create that smooth, black surface you see in ads and on TV.BetterBody Foods Avocado Oil, Refined Non-GMO Cooking Oil for Paleo and KetoBetterBody Foodsamazon.com$7.49Shop Now
Avocado oil or Crisco are great choices, but I used plain old vegetable oil for this part because it's cheap and I had it handy. Use a rag or paper towel to spread an even layer of oil over the entire pan, but wipe off excess oil. The pan should not be dripping with oil; you just want it to be coated fully.
Place the pan in the over at 450 degrees for 1 hour
Put a layer of aluminum foil or a sheet pan on the bottom rack of your oven to catch potential drips, then place the cast iron on the middle rack of the oven. If you're seasoning a skillet, place the skillet in upside down. For the griddle, I placed in grill side down. Leave the cast iron in full heat for 1 hour, then turn off the heat.
Allow the pan to fully cool and admire your handiwork
After turning off the heat, I let the pan sit in the oven overnight to fully cool before giving it a look. It came out gleaming and looked nearly brand new—not 100% perfect, but pretty close. And after all, I'd be throwing on food with more oil, so I wasn't worried about the pan being a work of art. That's the beauty of cast iron: You can beat the hell out of it, and it'll just keep doing its thing.
Post all about it on social media to the wonderment of your friends
If its not on Instagram, it didn't happen. I posted photos of this process, including the final result, and I had about 20 people DM me about it. Clearly, my followers have a soft spot for hard iron.
And the next day, it did a bang-up job grilling calamari for me. It's a fun toy to play with in my kitchen.
Thanks to whoever threw this griddle in the trash—you helped make internet history, and dinner for me.More Shopping
Hearst Newspapers participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.
Ryan Craggs is the Director of Content Marketing for Hearst Newspapers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.