Cooking with a cast iron skillet is one of the oldest ways of heating and preparing food. Cast iron skillets are a staple in many households because they are known for being durable, dependable and highly preferred as a way to cook food over a long period of time.
Like any appliance or piece of cookware, however, cast iron skillets must be maintained and cared for in order to function properly and last for as long as they are intended to. Sometimes, rust can form on cast iron skillets that have been neglected or improperly dried, but several simple cleaning methods can rid your pan of rust using regular household ingredients, like Coca Cola.
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How to Use Coca Cola
If you have rust on the surface of your cast iron, Coca Cola is an inexpensive ingredient you can use to remove the rust safely and effectively. If your cast iron piece is small enough to fit inside of your kitchen sink, simply fill the sink tub with about 2 liters of Coke, submerge the pan in the soda and let it soak for about 24 hours. Once the cast iron pan has been treated with the Coca Cola, remove it from the liquid and rinse it with clean water before wiping it dry with a clean towel. After your pan is dry, rub a bit of cooking oil into the surface of the pan to season it and protect it from rusting in the future.
For larger cast iron cookware pieces, pour Coca Cola directly onto the rusty areas and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then, soak a sponge in more Coke and use it to gently rub away the rust that had been soaking in the soda. You can repeat this process a few times if you have stubborn or large rust stains, just be sure to rinse your skillet with clean water, wipe it with a towel and season your skillet once everything is complete.
Cast Iron and Rust
Although cast iron skillets do offer a great way to cook inexpensively, they can become worn down over time if you don't take care of them properly. Unlike non-stick pans that are coated in chemicals like Teflon, cast iron skillets require their own do-it-yourself method of treatment to not only keep food from sticking to their surfaces, but to ensure their longest and most effective use. This process is known as seasoning, and it's a very easy process that takes just a little bit of time and a couple of very basic ingredients.
The reason a cast iron piece of cookware gets rusty in the first place is because the surface isn't seasoned. If you wipe your cast iron cookware down soon after using it, allow it to dry thoroughly, then season it well, you will be less likely to run into issues like a rusty surface. Fortunately, for old cast iron or just iron cookware in need of a little extra love, making a cast iron skillet rust-safe is fairly simple and can be done with just a little bit of time and a few inexpensive household items.
To season a cast iron skillet, you'll need to wipe the surface clean of any food or baked on grime with a clean towel or a paper towel. Some people will then run their skillet under warm water to remove any remaining residue with a non-abrasive brush, although others swear that water will ruin their pan,
But whatever you opt for, just make sure that the cast iron skillet is dried well before you season or store it away. To season your skillet, pour a small amount of oil onto the middle of the skillet's surface, wipe it into the pan and let the oil burn off slowly by heating the skillet over low heat.
The Best Oils for Seasoning
Keeping cast iron cookware is a bit of an investment, and if you take care of it properly, you can get several lifetimes worth of use out of just a single pan — in fact, it's not unusual for cast iron skillets to be passed down for generations. In order to get this long shelf life out of one pan, however, you can't skip seasoning, which must be done with oil and heat.
The best oils to use are those that have a high-smoke point, which is why it's most often recommended that people use vegetable oil, shortening that's been melted or canola oil. If you use your cast iron skillet frequently, you can also use lard to season your pan, which was the traditional method for seasoning. But just be sure that you don't store lard-treated pans for too long or the animal by-product will start to go bad.
Sometimes, too much oil can build up on a cast iron skillet over time, which can lead to a sticky surface or handle. If this is the case, you can bake your extra oil off of your skillet in your oven. To do so, simple set your cast iron skillet upside down on a rack in your oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. Let it cool completely before handling or using the pan, and repeat the process again if you feel that there is still too much oil on your pan.
Alternative Methods for Reconditioning Cast Iron Skillets
If you don't want to use Coca Cola to get your cast iron skillet looking and working like new, you can also remove rust from cast iron with salt. To use this method, start by pouring about 1 cup of kosher salt onto your skillet. The more coarse the grain of salt, the better. Then, use a clean kitchen towel to gently scrub the rust away by rubbing the salt into the surface of the skillet. Once the rust has been treated, rinse the skillet with warm water and dry it thoroughly with a clean towel or over the heat of your stove before you season it with oil.
Much like Coca Cola, white vinegar is highly acidic and can aid in removing rust from a cast iron pan. You can do this by mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in your sink and soaking the skillet in the solution for anywhere from one to eight hours, depending on how much rust you have to contend with. Then, using a tiny bit of dish soap and fine steel wool, scrub away any remaining rust before rinsing your skillet clean. Like any rust-removing method, follow up with a good, thorough drying and reseasoning of your skillet with oil and heat.