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After reading this article, I want to try to re-season a skillet with flaxseed oil; I'm fairly certain I did a terrible job when I seasoned the skillet several years ago. Is it possible to do this with steel wool or vinegar? (I don't have a self-cleaning oven, so that method is out.)

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i don't think you really would want to season a skillet with flaxseed oil. flaxseed oil has a really low smoke point. Wikipedia has it listed as 225F –  Chicken Pie Jan 29 '11 at 3:54
    
I remember reading something last year talking about different styles of seasoning -- basically, there's the rock-hard style they talk about in the article you linked to, but also another style where the pan's kinda sticky when cool, but gets really slick when heated up. (so just saying; even if flax seed gives the rock hard finish, it might not necessarily be the best style of seasoning) –  Joe Jan 29 '11 at 4:03
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@Chicken Pie, actually flaxseed oil is a good oil to use depending on the kind of finish you want (as Joe alluded to), read the linked article for some more details as to why. The low smoke point is a benefit when seasoning (Sheryl goes into detail as to why it's not detrimental and you actually want to exceed the smoke point of any oil when seasoning) –  stephennmcdonald Jan 29 '11 at 17:09
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In the article/comments she writes "I use oven cleaner with lye." –  johnny Jan 31 '11 at 3:43
    
Some of the answers allude to this, but nobody has said it explicitly: There is a big difference between "stripping" the pan, and simply cleaning it. Most times, you just want to clean it off, and on occasion you will re-season it. Stripping the pan down to bare metal is much more drastic measure, that you generally only want to do when a pan is in very bad shape as a result of poor cleaning over a long period of time. –  Colin K Jan 31 '11 at 15:14

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Do you need to remove a bunch of burnt-on stuff as well as the season? If the pan is clean but not rust-resistant or non-stick like you want, I'd suggest just treating it like you were doing it for the first time and just season over the old. It's not like you care about hurting the old season--you'll just be thickening it and filling in gaps.

If you need to get it back to day zero, there are definitely questions here with good answers about how to do it.

But the first thing I'd try, since the day zero cleaning methods are fairly drastic, is to make sure it's as clean as you can manage, then just go ahead and season. I have had good luck rehabilitating pans that were poorly seasoned but otherwise OK by doing this.

Based on your response in the comments, I would definitely heat up the pan in the oven as high as it will go, and let it go until it stops smoking (put the cold pan in the cold oven to start). That should burn off/dry any excess oil, which it sounds like you have. Then I'd let it cool enough to handle, then season as if it were new. I don't care for the "tacky" seasoning because it's too easy to get a buildup of unseasoned grease. So I'd cook that down/off and start over. And I always rinse with the hottest water my sink makes, to prevent buildup--no soap, though.

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The existing surface is a little tacky and definitely not non-stick; I generally scrape it clean with a spatula after use, then gently wipe it with a wet sponge (maybe a little touch of soap, maybe not) then rinse and dry the pan. –  Neil Fein Jan 29 '11 at 1:21
    
@bikeboy389 - Sounds like good advice; do you want to edit this into your answer before I check it as the "accepted" answer? –  Neil Fein Jan 29 '11 at 17:05
    
Do you recommend cleaning the pan again after it comes out of the oven and cools? –  Neil Fein Jan 29 '11 at 17:27
    
@Neil: It wouldn't hurt to give it a rinse after. Just make sure you dry it very well--towel dry then heat it a bit. –  bikeboy389 Jan 29 '11 at 19:34
    
Wouldn't there be residue from the stuff that burnt off? Or am I misunderstanding the process? –  Neil Fein Jan 29 '11 at 19:36

From what you're describing, you probably just need to clean it (maybe a little scrub; I use some coarse salt and oil) and re-season, not fully strip it ...

... but you have a nasty, disgusting pan ... the sort of thing that's found when cleaning out someone's barn or otherwise neglected for years, first start with:

  • self clean cycle of an oven
  • fireplace (once the fire's going well, just set it in the hot coals, and leave it 'til the next day)
  • campfire (pretty much the same thing)
  • grill (if charcoal, follow the fireplace rules; if gas, just crank it as high as it'll go)

Next, you'll need to scrub. A wire brush is your friend for this. (I have some finer steel wire brushes and brass wire brushes; the heavy duty steel ones for scrubbing paint off of concrete block might be a little rough on the pan; a grill brush might do okay).

Then wash, dry, heat and just season it as if it were new.

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I'm going to try bikeboy's answer, then do this if the above doesn't work for me. –  Neil Fein Jan 29 '11 at 17:07
    
@Neil : good plan -- if the pan's not in bad shape (trust me, I've seen some pretty ugly pans), you can just keep adding layers of seasoning ... stripping the seasoning is a last resort. –  Joe Jan 30 '11 at 1:49

You could also take your pan into a sandblasting company and get it sandblasted. That will leave you with the grey/silver cast iron like when you get it new.

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To strip seasoning just heat it up real hot, or throw it in the fire for a couple of hours

You should be able to re-season a pan as often as you like

You should have to ever do this unless you don't look after it (let it rust, or use vast amounts of vinegar etc

The best seasoning is one that is built up from many thin layers over many years

Flax seed oil is fine, so is practically any oil, the oil gets converted by the heat into a polymer of sorts, so the exact type is somewhat irrelevant

If you seasoning is sticky, just heat it up hotter till it either sets or incinerates off

That's the beauty of cast iron, you cant go wrong. More heat will always fix the problem :-)

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I read the same article and immediately stripped and reseasoned my #7 Griswold. I mainly focused on stripping the cooking surface (not caring as much about the sides). I alternated between

  • scrubbing with Barkeepers Friend and a scouring pad
  • letting it sit on the burner on high heat until all the crap turned to dust.
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Scrubbing is hard. In general, burn it off.

You have to get the pan super hot, and it will have to stay hot until the carbon (oils and food bits) turn to ash (white). This takes awhile.

You can stick it in a fire. In my restaurants, we stick it over a vey big flame.

For the home, you can flip it upside down and put it in your oven on a self cleaning cycle. The clean mode is HOT (800 edges?) and your pan will come out clean. Easy.

Just remember to REMOVE the racks, otherwise they'll get destroyed.

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As I said in the original question, I don't have a self-cleaning oven. –  Neil Fein Feb 9 '11 at 6:16

Sandpaper, works like a charm. Just takes a little persistence, and then a thorough washing to get the fine bits of crud/iron out.

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My preferred method is lye. Strips the seasoning without hours of playing around with sandpaper. Soak the pan in strong lye overnight, then wash with lots of water.

Take precautions while working with lye (NaOH), the stuff is very corrosive.

Don't use acids on an iron pan, they rust the surface in seconds. (So no barkeeper's friend!)

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