I have this cast iron pot that my friend completely burnt. I was wondering what might be done to save this pot. I realize that this question seems similar to this one but in that one his skillet is not burnt and it is seasoned.

Thanks for your help.

  • 3
    What exactly do you mean by burnt? Is there some food totally burnt on to it?
    – Sam Holder
    Commented Sep 11, 2010 at 18:04
  • Cast iron does not need saving unless you somehow actually broke it in half or cracked it or rusted it or something. Use almost anything to scrape smooth: wood, steel wool, metal utensils, whatever with the goal to be quick and efficient. Just don't gouge it with a drill bit or something dumb. Then reseason and carry on like nothing happened. Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 13:58

9 Answers 9


Scrub the heck out of it with Kosher salt and the tiniest amount of water, then start all over again seasoning it. A fair amount of work, but well worth it to save a good skillet.


my 'nuclear option' for cast iron skillets is to put them in a basin of lye solution, and let the pan sit for a week or a month (depending on how fresh and how concentrated the lye solution is.) We keep a plastic basin out back for this. lye is bad stuff, so if you have kids or pets, do please be careful. The lye, however, will take off anything organic, and bring the skillet back to bare metal (well, some scrubbing may be necessary. use a plastic scrubby). in this condition, the skillet will start to rust instantly. I work as follows: after the four weeks, take the skillet out of the bath, scrub it and hose it off, then immediately pour white vinegar on it: the acidity prevents rusting. Then put it in a 450 F preheated oven for half an hour. Then start the reseasoning process.

As I said, this is the method of last resort.

Here is a photo of a #3 cast iron pan, rolled back to 'year zero' after a few months in a lye solution, next to a seasoned #2 pan. The iron actually looks like metal. In this condition, you can check the surface for pitting, cracks, etc. The vinegar is on hand to prevent rust.

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  • 5
    No vote up or down: just wow :-)
    – sdg
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 17:11
  • rescuing Griswold skillets from thrift stores was my former hobby...
    – shabbychef
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 21:18
  • @shabbychef The only lye I've found comes in dry form. I've read that mixing it with water can give off large quantities of heat. Do you buy it in a liquid form or solid form? If solid, do you follow any specific procedures for hydrating?
    – Eric Hu
    Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 2:38
  • 2
    I buy the 'Red Devil' dry lye, at the hardware store. The approved usage of same is for plumbing. You are probably remembering the 'acid-to-water' advice from chem lab (antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/safety/faq/…). For solid lye, wear eye and hand protection, keep it away from kids and household pets. I do not remember the proper 'dosage', but a too basic solution will not harm the pans (it will pose a hazard). Over time, the solution will become less basic, and less efficacious. HTH, and be careful!
    – shabbychef
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 5:06

I thought that as it was cast iron you could just put the whole thing in a big fire and it would burn off whatever was burnt on and then you could scrub off the ashes, which should be fairly easy to do once the are realy just char..

The second comment here seems to think you can do this as well.

You might also be able to do this in a couple of other ways:

  • Put the pot upside down over a high flame to burn off the food. they used to do this at a Chinese restaurant I worked at to clean the woks. The woks weren't cast iron though.
  • Put the pot in a self cleaning oven on the clean cycle.

Disclaimer: I haven't done this, but I think it should work. If it gets voted up, then you should be ok, if it gets voted down, [peer pressure] for me.

You'll need to re-season afterwards.

  • 4
    +1: If you've burned something into cast iron that has a higher melting point than cast iron (about 2100 degrees(F)), then you're screwed. Otherwise, just heat it up, and you're good to go. YMMV if your pan isn't pure cast iron (e.g. if it's enameled or has a handle made of some other material, etc). Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 1:22
  • 4
    I would suggest not putting cast iron directly into fire, especially not the coals. Although cast iron will melt at 2100 F, it can actually crack and warp at a much lower temperature. You can also harm the temper, making it more likely to crack under normal use.
    – hobodave
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 4:03
  • 6
    My mom collects cast iron, and she'd get the nasty looking ones because they'd sell cheap -- she'd then put them in her fireplace (I don't have a fireplace, so use a hot grill (barbeque for our Australian friends), or in the oven on a 'clean' cycle). You then take a wire brush to it to take off any remaining spots of rust or whatever, then proceed to re-season.
    – Joe
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 4:08
  • @Joe That's exactly the sort of story I'd heard, and the wire brush idea is a great on for the remainders...
    – Sam Holder
    Commented Sep 12, 2010 at 8:42
  • 3
    @Satanicpuppy What in the world are you cooking on your cast iron that has a melting point above 2100 F???
    – Eric Hu
    Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 9:08

I had two pans that were in pretty bad shape from an antique store. My "reset" button for them was an overnight camping trip. I stayed in the tent. They stayed in the campfire. I built a large batch of coals and, before I went to bed, I buried the two pans in the fire circle under about 4 inches of coals. In the morning, I pulled them out and scrubbed them down with sand and some steel wool and they went straight to the seasoning process. The fire carbonized the caked on food which then scrubbed off easily. The #8 is now one of my favorites.


Biological laundry detergent (just mix the powder into a paste) and leave somewhere warm for a day or so will remove anything organic - this stuff is scary.

If anything is left, scrub with a paste of bicarb and water

  • 3
    This post was right on. I had burned some food onto my cast iron dutch oven, which has probably been in the family for at least 100 years, and went online to see how to get it off. I sprinkled some Biz laundry detergent on the mess, added a little water and brought it to a boil. Left it to soak for about an hour and then scraped the gook off with a plastic spatula. The burned food came off in chunks and it was almost all gone. I repeated this and got even the small bits around the edges of the pan off. Great way to save your cast iron pots!
    – user13997
    Commented Oct 20, 2012 at 20:12

A sandblaster will quickly remove burnt-on stuff from a cast-iron pan. I gave a pan to a friend with a sandblaster to treat it for me, and he never gave it back. So, that's a risk with this method.

I have scraped with a table knife. That worked well for burnt-on stuff in a small area, but it's a huge job to clean the whole pan.

Coarse steel wool or brass wool can work, too.

Many people don't realize how much stuff is burnt on to their cast iron. They're not supposed to be black & rough, but dark grey and very smooth.

As others have said, be sure to season as soon as they're clean. Or at least oil them to protect against rust until you're ready to season.


Seeing as I am an hard core new Englander, having lived in new Hampshire all my life, and very savvy to the old way. If your cast iron pan gets a lot of build up due to burnt food, throw it in the stove the next time you put fire wood in. When that filling or wood is burnt down and ready for a refill, pull out the pan, using a set of tongs to grab it with. The dam pan is hot and will burn you bad. let it cool and then steel wool it and your good to go


I just thought I would add what to do with an ENAMELED cast iron pot, like a Le Creuset. I had a doozy once, just black carbon scalded to the enamel. After trying everything, I put it on a hot flame (gas range) and kept dripping in white wine and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. Took about a half hour and a whole bottle of wine but it worked...or maybe I was just sipping on the wine as I went, and that's why it took a whole bottle :)

  • If you are going to use an acid you may as well go straight to white vinegar. Small amounts of water on spots with a spatula would do the same thing though. Personally I just scrape the burnt area flat and reseason. Instantly back to a nice smooth black non stick surface. Then reflect on your sins and stop leaving the kitchen when cooking. Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 13:53

I got most off with single edge razor scraper. ( a bit off work, heavily coated). I then thought of oven cleaner. Let it soak awhile in garage and was able to get it clean enough with scraper again and wipe off with rag and one off those scrub pads. Much easier. Rinse under hot water and dry off. I think I'll try to find sandblaster though (local welder?) for outside and touch up inside if cheap enough. Will offer him 5 if he will do next time he uses blaster for his own work.

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