The preservation of western cultural and the American Cowboy. Sharing the history of the early trail drives, the Chuck Wagon and those who pioneered untamed land. The content is for educational and entertainment purposes. Cowboys and Chuck Wagon Cooking reviews cooking techniques, products and western gear which today is part of western life style. We hope you will enjoy your visit and look forward to comments, recipes and shared heritage. Thank you for your visit. Hope you follow us along the trail of news, stories and the Cowboy way.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Restore and Clean CAST IRON COOKWARE

Restoring Cast Iron Cookware
Every week I receive several emails that  I enjoy replying too. Although, one subject continues to be of major concern is how to restore or season a piece of cast iron cookware. Often, people desire to over complicate a simple process of cleaning, rust removing or even the seasoning process. I'll agree there is more than one way to do things and sometimes more than one way to perform a task ending with the same results. The point here is to share with you the safest and easiest way to perform this task. Work smarter - not harder or as some may state; "the Keep it simple principal." This is the most affordable and safest method for restoring cast iron.

My first step for restoring is emotional. Is this piece of cast iron really worth restoring? That is up to you but personally, if I can find a piece of cookware for nearly nothing that is rusty, I'll likely take it. I have so many smaller skillets that I no longer desire another, but they make great gifts later and also look wonderful hanging like art in any kitchen. Although, my kitchen is outdoors from a chuck wagon. So, is the piece worth cleaning up, sure it is. Even the junk made overseas today has an emotional value and sometimes, it is difficult to know if the piece will truly be collectible until it is cleaned so that you can identify the manufacture marks.

Cast Iron after wash
The next step is evaluate the condition on how rusty or bad is this piece. Soap and water with a wire brush may be all that is needed. What to look for when inspecting; amount of rust, crustacean of oxidized metal, heavy carbon build-up, burns and pitting. Before starting, I wash the item in plan luke warm soapy water normally from a 5 gallon plastic bucket out doors or in the garage as the kitchen in the home is off limits to this out door cook.

If the rust comes off easily with some cleaning from the wire brush, I don't need to add any other chemicals nor use any special tools. However if there is heavy build up of carbons and or deep rust, I will either soak in vinegar mixed or go straight to using and electric drill with a wire brush attachment. I prefer to normally soak an item first after washing. Since warm soapy water will not be enough to break down the corrosion I rinse and discard the soapy water replacing with vinegar and water mixed. This is to make the job easier to perform and different methods can come into play.

The electric drill with the wire brush attachment may be needed. However, it is more work than using a soaking solution plus as the non toxic chemical works away the rusty surface, it makes it simple to clean and finish.

The cheapest and safest chemical is soaking in white vinegar. While it can be used as is, I dilute it 50/50 for heavily corroded surfaces. If it in minor rust which is not but in some spots, I will dilute 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water. However, for serious restoring, 50/50 (one to one) is the way to go for a heavy job.
I like using a 5 gallon capacity plastic bucket. Fill (1 gallon vinegar with 1 gallon water) into the bucket, then place the cookware item in completely covered by the solution. For griddles or extremely large pieces, a plastic wash tub may be needed in order to completely cover the piece under the solution.

Allow the item to soak until the rust is gone or easily moved off with the wire brush. Since vinegar can have a mild odor, I recommend doing this outdoors. Check on the item periodically and remove the piece from the vinegar bath as soon as the rust is gone or easily removable. This will depend on the level of rust and may take anywhere from a few hours to soaking overnight. Scrub using a wool pad in small areas under handle or rim and dip back into the solution as you clean. Once finish, rinse and then wash in warm soapy water again.


Rust Remover Toxic Chemicals
Others will suggest using Coke Cola as it too has an acid level along with using a lye solution. That is up to you should you decide too. Do they work better? Not really but they do work. If deciding to use a lye solution, you should include rubber gloves and goggles as it is a hazardous chemical that will cause skin burns and avoid getting into your eyes. Vinegar being less harmful works and if I need to revert to more extreme measures to remove rust, there is always the electric drill with the wire brush attachment. Although, some will use and swear by harmful chemicals such as Navy Jelly, Oven Cleaners, Lye, Lime Away, or commercial industrial cleaners like Boeshield, Bull Frog, Evapo-Rust or Gempler's. Yes they remove rust, but they are toxic and even after thorough washing, a ever slight film of toxic remains which when heated can mix into foods. Why pressure yourself with harmful risk taking chemicals if you can just avoid this by not using them. If the Hazardous material list on the product indicates it is harmful, it is. So use vinegar. Vinegar does the same job except rather than in 15 second, 15 minutes, it might take 15 hours but does not leave a toxic application after being washed.

Although, if I was getting ready to paint a piece of metal like outdoor furniture, I'd might use it since I am not cooking on it. These chemicals have a place but not on cookware. Why worry about micro traces of harmful chemicals? They can leave traces of toxins that can be fatal. In an age of healthy living, use what you know is safe.


You can elect to use electrolysis which works very good in aiding to remove the rust. Electrolysis will make it look nearly new bathing from one day to several days in chemically charge solutions using a battery or other form of electricity. Professionals do this often but you need to have the equipment and skill and some practice working with electrolysis because while it works great. It can also be set up for under fifty bucks, but if you do not know what your doing, you can also begin eating the cast iron away doing this wrong. It's a great method for those who have the skill while being fairly inexpensive doing it yourself.


Sand blasting will also turn your piece into looking brand new. It works well, cost much more unless you have a friend who is in the auto-body repair shop or industrial paint shop business. Sand blasting strips everything to bare metal requiring only to reseason the cast iron. However, since most can do this task cheaper, why expend more than the cost of replacement of the item. It is not cheap paying someone to do this.


Grinding tools: If the piece is so heavily rusty that simple cleaning will not do the job easily, this is the next best thing. It is using a hand drill, wire wheel, or rotating wire brush. Some of my friends ask, why don't I just go straight to using this first since it does a great job removing all the unwanted rust and restoring the piece to bare metal: Well, it is simple but not as safe requiring eye protection, gloves for hand protection and the place to operate the drill, normally outdoors, the garage, basement or barn since the wife continues to rule the not working in the kitchen policy. . When using the hand drill, I also use a dust respirator or tie my bandanna around by face to prevent breathing micro particles that could be harmful.

The hand drill does leave sometimes a larger mess and takes a little more work but it is affordable. A Dremel tool could be used but I prefer the hand drill as it is able to perform a heavy duty job. Using the electric wire brush, allows you to remove the surface rust easily. Some folks will even use a propane hand torch to heat the surface which can help remove that unwanted rust. Is it necessary to do so? Not really. So I don't mess with that process.


The method which is the safest, most affordable with the least effort of elbow grease is best. Working smarter, not harder. While many select different methods, I went with this Old School method used by my grandmother and then my mom as it takes little effort getting your cast iron looking new again. Here's our step by step how I restored the above BEAN POT, but this works with all cast iron cookware.

First:   Wash in lukewarm water. After the wash, I took my hand steel brush to the lid and found the rust would easily remove with some elbow grease. I brush all the surfaces and found that it was getting more difficult removing some areas.

After Soaking Cleans Easily
Second: Taking my 5 gallon plastic bucket, I filled (1) gallon of white vinegar to (1) gallon of water and allowed both the pot and lid to sit for one hour. I came back and the rust easily was removed using the wire brush without the need of using my drill. I scrubbed all the rusty surface clean.

Third: Wash and rinse; thoroughly in warm soapy water. The soapy water neutralizes the vinegar acid.

Forth: Wiped dry with a towel and place in the pre-heated oven at 250 degree (F). This temperature is used to dry the cast iron.
Plus it allows the cast iron to preheat while drying. Always slowly heat
cast iron cookware.

Dry in oven before Seasoning
Fifth: Wearing a pair of leather gloves, I remove one piece as this has a lid. Placed on a cookie sheet, I rub it down with a thin coat of lard or shortening. This is the seasoning process that protects the cast iron from oxidizing and prevents acidity in cooking some dishes to effect the cast iron plus on skillets creates the carbon bonds needed to make a non-stick surface.

Cover the entire area inside and out, I place the item aside and removed the lid from the oven repeating this wiping down with lard process top and bottom. I once again, place both items into the oven, increasing the temperature to 500 degrees (F) and allow it to sit for one hour.

Sixth: I remove the items from the oven inspecting for any missed rust, coating and appearance. It looked good requiring no further work cleaning or seasoning. I placed back into oven with one light coat rubbed very thin and turned the oven off. I allowed it to cool overnight until the cookware returned to room temperature.  When you remove your cast iron cookware, it should left with a dry, smooth non stick surface. If it is sticky, you may not have had it in the oven long enough or hot enough. 
Read  Seasoning your Cast Iron Cookware   concerning questions about seasoning.

Finished restored CAST IRON
Over time, rust may reappear. If this should occur, simply mix a tablespoon of oil to a teaspoon of salt and scrub the area with a paper towel. The salt works like an abrasive. The oil recoats the area oxidizing.

Note: As the oily surface heats, the coating creates a sealant on the metal surface. This oil can also burn creating smoke. A fan above the oven should be used or use the outdoor grill with enough coals to allow the temperature to achieve 500 degree (F).

Tools needed:
1 gal white vinegar
1 five gal plastic bucket
1 hand wire brush
1 cloth towel
1 steel wool pad
1 can Crisco Shortening
1 pair rubber gloves
1 pair leather protective gloves or pot holders
1 electric drill with wire brush attachment if needed

Cast Iron Restored Bean Pot

Cowboy and Chuck Wagon Cooking


  1. Hi!

    I stumbled upon your site while searching for information about the Bobby Flay Throwdown. To my delight I landed here! I also searched the Food Network site and discovered that the Chuckwagon episode I was looking for will air tonight, Wednesday 1/19 at 8pm. I have just started exploring your site, and have added it to my blog reader so I won't miss anything upcoming. My husband and I are fans of Chuckwagons and all things associated with the old west. We look forward to future posts.

    Buck and Deborah
    Vista, CA

  2. Thank you Deborah. We are honored to have you follow us as we share our stories around the camp fire of the trail.

    While I seem to wrangler from the Ramada, a cowboy always has his hand in at the chuck wagon. We look forward to you and Buck riding flank with us on the trail.

    Roger Edison
    Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking

  3. Thanks, I needed that. My 87yo dad called a few days ago saying he wanted to do a little cooking (he is in an independent living facility). He usually eats cereal at night (the only meal that isn't provided), but lately he has asked me to cook a few things for him.

    Now he wants to experiment on his own a little after watching me cook every Sunday for him. He asked if I had any extra cast iron, maybe a skillet and a small pot. We just so happened to have some items that were in need of restoration and I was not in a hurry before since I had two of them anyway. So long story short, he is enjoying the two restored pieces.
    Thanks again... love this site.

    Houston, TX

    1. TJ, I wish I still had my Dad to spent time enjoying some of the simple things in life such as cooking. I would enjoy seeing photos of your restoration if you care to ever send us an email attaching them and I am so pleased that you have enjoyed our site.

  4. I cannot thank you enough. My dad passed away recently and left me his old catfish/hush puppy pot. We had many a good fish fry with this item when I was younger. But, it has been neglected for a long time and is very rusty. I have been looking for clear restoration instruction and stumbled upon your site. I am sooooo excited to get started and will let you know how it turns out. It is an oval pot with a beautiful lid. He also left me a few skillets of various sizes. I think I will be busy for awhile.

  5. Just want to let you know that I have a dutch oven, bean pot, and a good half dozen "nesting" iron skillets ... all of which need restoring. Actually found three of the skillets under the house when I moved in!!! I am so glad that your site offers alternative ways of fixing these up, and since I am definitely old school and have sold my glasstop range for a regular one so I can use the iron (which I much prefer), I doubly thank you for making this information available.

    1. We have a glass top stove in our home. Some folks are afraid to use their cast iron on them, but it is safe to do so. Although, I do miss our old gas range but the glass top came with the new house. Thank you for your nice comments and hope to see your items someday.

  6. It worked!!

  7. I found a really large cast iron skillet in a plastic bag in my mom's garage. It was in terrible shape. I tried a wire brush and finally broke out the dremel tool (all before I looked at this blog). I got it pretty clean, but it looks almost shiny inside. Will it still be OK to use after it's seasoned?

    1. It will get that shinny steel look when cleaning down to bare metal. Once completely clean, follow the steps for seasoning. As the applied oil is heated, slowly the metal turns dark. Once really nicely seasoned, the item will have a black or nearly black surface color. IF you have ever shopped for cast iron, you will notice the different in color between a non-seasoned piece and a preseasoned item. Providing you followed our steps, yes it will always be safe to use. Good luck with your item.

  8. I can't wait to give this a shot. I have been collecting and using cast iron pieces for just over a year now, finding great buys (people selling 10.5 + inch pans for $5 at flea markets) and taking the time to use some elbow grease and a wire brush to restore them. However, I picked up a waffle iron circa 1880's from a flea market for $10, and has been quite a struggle to get all of the inside waffling clean. My arm goes basically numb trying to scrub out the rust. I have been contemplating using a dremel with a wire attachment, but the vinegar method sounds like the best route at the moment. Thanks for the wonderful post!

  9. Thanks! This makes me sooooo happy!

  10. can you use coconut oil instead of crisco?

    1. Yes Amanda, you can use coconut oil to season cast iron: It has a smoke point of 350(f)degrees and I like a higher smoke point of 350 plus: Linda Stradley of What's Cooking America I believe uses Coconut oil too. The main thing about seasoning is allowing an oil to cook onto the surface. Most oils work well but I suggest not using the most expensive oil for your seasoning but use them for cooking. Try the coconut, just treat it like any other oil and follow directions for seasoning.

  11. I recently bought some cast iron skillets at an antique place and am restoring and re-seasoning them. One of them has been sanded with a rotary sander or wire wheel and has visible scratches on the cooking surface. They are deep enough for my fingernail to sort of hang up in when I scratch against them. Is this pan safe to use, or should I try to sand the scratches out? I can't find much info about this issue and hope you can help!

    1. That's sad that someone scratched the surface that deep. Not being able to see how deep the scratch is, it's hard to say or recommend what to do. Sometimes seasoning can fill these scratches without problem and once season, not even noticeable. However, if it is really deep, yes you could machine it or sand it out, but if you do, sand the surface evenly. That is a tough job and you will need to stop and check you work ensuring an even sanding or machining. Not knowing how deep the scratch is, I'd try seasoning over it and enjoy using it. Removing more metal is OK too, but if your not skilled at doing so, you could end up damaging it further. Can you send me a photo?

    2. My Fiance,recently bought a tripod to use over his firepit.He stated he wished he had a kettle to hang over it..I told him I had one I call a bean pot/lid/handle to hang on his tripod.He was absolutely thrilled..So,I got on goggle as to find out how to make the pot useable.It is not rusty,so my job of cleaning it up for him,sounds like a snap.I have the bucket,and will get to it tomorrow..Thank you so much for making my job so easy.The pot will come in so handy for his tripod...Then He can cook me a wonderful meal in it...I hope to get it looking like your pictures...I am excited..I also have acouple skillets.I think I started something!!!!!Thanks again....

    3. I'm so glad that you have found some excitement. The bean pots are wonderful for many dishes such as stews, chili, etc and for some enjoyable recipes, check out or come join some discussions and share pictures and recipes on facebook at chuckwagon cooking group

  12. Thank you for the informative and interesting article. I am a flea-marketer and have recently stumbled upon several great pieces of cast iron, including antiques, all of which require restoration. I have already started the process, but thought it would be a good idea to check it out online to see if I'm doing it correctly. I had never heard of using vinegar, and will try that out on several pieces today.

    Thanks again!

    1. Look forward hearing your results. Good Luck and enjoy.

  13. I was out of town hitting up a "Junktique" store filled with odds and ends when I discovered a well-rusted 4 qt dutch oven for $5. I googled "restore cast iron" found this article, and was emboldened to plop down a Lincoln. Thank you!

    I'd be happy to share the before & after - what email can I send them to?

    1. Joseph, I wish I found that item first as that is a sweet price that I too would thrown a Lincoln out real quick. Join us on facebook at Chuckwagon Cooking Group or send an email too, I look forward seeing the item before and after and my favorite is when you put the piece to work cooking up your favorite dish. Good luck.

    2. OK, just sent the Before & After to your email address. Also included was a "during"...

      I cleaned that rust bucket by making a puree out of half a cup of white vinegar, half a cup of water and a whole white onion tossed in the blender to make a paste - slathered the contents inside and out, than baked it black on a closed grill for 30 minutes. (I included a photo of the Dutch oven covered in baked/burnt-on onion puree). When I pulled it our and let it cool, the burned on onion flaked off and the rust came off with steel wool with ease.

      I seasoned using the grapeseed oil in the oven with high heat for several cycles and then seasoned with lard I rendered myself for several more. For about a week it just stayed in the oven and "hung out" with whatever I was baking.

      I have this half-baked theory (get it!?!?) that using multiple types of fats and oils with different smoke points and higher iodine values (drying oils) improves and speeds up the overall seasoning process. What do you think?

  14. I have been collectong,using,and restoring cast iron for many years.I have my moms 1950 Griswold double skillet(lid) for an example.I use the same methods as above,but have found out that after wire brushing,I use wet-or-dry sandpaper with shortening then rinse well with very hot water,then season again.good luck and enjoy!!!!!

  15. I have a cast iron dutch oven.I have seasoned it soo many times and it still does not season well.I sanded down the rust before seasoning which turned it grey.I oiled it with vegetable oil and put it in the oven.When i took it out it was orange!!! I dont know why it waS ORANGE EVEN THOUGH I DERUSTED IT.Please help!!!

    1. If all the rust has been removed, it should not turn rusty brown when season but black. A few things could be a problem, but first, I would soak it in vinegar again. Overnight, then scrub it well until it is very clean of seasoning and rusty. Then quickly wash in soapy water. Once washed, rinse well and place on the stove with low heat to dry. Once dry, I would lightly oil the complete piece and increase the oven heat. I have seen items turn a slight redish tint only when pit rust has not been removed. If you have an outdoor grill, you can take the oil beyond the smoke point and get it to sear into the iron turning a very dark black. That's what it should look like. Maybe you did not take the oil to it's smoke point.

  16. Wanted you to know I was able to salvage a colonial breakfast skillet with your help. It was amazing to see the difference. Sadly I didn't get any before pictures, but the thing looked beyond hope. I found it outside 2 years ago, and got sidetracked by a hornets' nest, leaving it out there until today. A lot of scrubbing and a run through the oven, and it's hard to believe it is the same item. So glad I found these tips!

    1. Glad you were able to salvage the cast iron skillet. It sounds like she must be pretty and I bet she will be serving up breakfast again.

  17. Your post give such a good information about Car accessories Store’s and you sold their products at affordable price.

    rubber casters & nylon wheels

  18. I am so delighted to have stumbled on your tutorial. I bought a deep, footed pot at a yard sale that someone had used to hold a plant, as you can imagine it was so rusty they gave it to me for a dollar. Now all I need is a lid, your method worked beautifully. Thank you so very much, sir. ~ Katherine B.

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