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After an unsuccessful first attempt at seasoning my carbon steel pan, I've been trying to strip it back for another attempt. I've done several overnight vinegar baths, added baking soda at the end, and scrubbed with steel wool. Even so, there are parts that are stubbornly remaining in place, as you see in this photo:

pan after several vinegar baths

Do I need to get this right back to zero before re-seasoning, or does the above suffice? Also, the underside is still not cleaned. I assume I can just leave that as is because it's not rusty or anything.

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    You might want to try an oxalic acid cleaning product such as "Barkeeper's Friend".
    – JimmyJames
    Dec 27, 2023 at 16:03

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It’s a good idea to remove any rust before treating the surface, and extremely thick caked-on deposits (the sort that flake off when scratched with a thumbnail) should also be removed, but otherwise there’s no need to strip your pan.

Seasoning a carbon steel or cast iron pan is not a matter of making a perfect coating which you’ll use from then on, in the sense of (say) a teflon-coated pan. “Seasoned” in this context just means it’s been doing its thing for a while, as in a “seasoned traveler”. The idea of there literally being a “seasoning” is a later, and inessential, development. Cook with your pan for a while and it will become a seasoned pan.

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    +1...just use your pan. Excellent advice! Yes, do an initial seasoning, but don't get hug up on the seasoning step.
    – moscafj
    Dec 27, 2023 at 2:44
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    As someone who did an imperfect first seasoning, and then an imperfect stripping and re-seasoning, I can attest to this. After my imperfect stripping, my re-seasoning left the pan with a weird, almost Damascus-steel-y pattern. Over use, that faded away as the seasoning evened itself out; now it's not noticeable. And throughout the process, it cooked fine (which is what really counts).
    – yshavit
    Dec 27, 2023 at 22:40
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    @yshavit I’ve had much the same experience (but without the cool patterns). The coating on a carbon steel or cast iron pan is evolutionary; it grows stronger over time because only the strong parts survive.
    – Sneftel
    Dec 27, 2023 at 22:44

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