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I recently was given an old family cast iron skillet and noticed that the outside of it had serious buildup. Basically I can take my fingernail and lift several, thick, black pieces off. The inside of the pan is fine. I was wondering where this comes from and if this affects cooking on the pan. Also what would be the best way to remove the buildup? Thanks

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  • Do you have a gas stove or electric or induction? – The Photon Jan 26 at 17:52
  • I've been using a gas stove. – Carl Edwards Jan 26 at 17:53
  • could the pan have been used on open flame, e.g. been taken for camping? – rumtscho Jan 28 at 8:54
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The inside looks absolutely fine, so assuming you will protect that if you do any actual work on the outside I see a couple of routes you can take...

  1. You can ignore it & see if it will reach a new equilibrium with your own cooking equipment & technique.

  2. You can clean it off & quite quickly return the outside to a lesser seasoned state - as you're not cooking on the outside the seasoning is far less important, & as you've already discovered, the outsides of pans can get a lot more build-up over time than the insides*.
    You could attack it with sandpaper, or a drill & wire brush attachment, though you need to beware of the mess that can make if you do it indoors... or you could take it to somewhere that could shot-blast it for you. This is an industrial cleaning process, depending on abrasive type can be extremely vicious, but it's rapid & they could clean the outside back to shiny iron in 2 minutes.

You can then re-season the outside.

*You should have seen my old wok before my partner threw it away. I eventually forgave her ;)

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    Another aggressive mechanical attack is a drill-mounted wire brush or sanding disc. If you've got a drill they're both cheap – Chris H Jan 26 at 19:36
  • I'd considered that as an option - & probably ought to add it to the answer, thanks... but I was just thinking about the mess ;) Sanding is bad enough. If you find somewhere that does shot-blasting [or one of the myriad varieties of it] then they've got extraction & filtration so you don't need to worry... & they'll charge pence for it, because one of the guys will just do it for you there & then, no booking, no real fee, just bung the guy a few quid. – Tetsujin Jan 26 at 19:40
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    I've got a garage set up as a workshop, googles and masks to hand, so I wouldn't worry. I can see how that might not work for everyone. Even a big handheld steel wire brush might do something good – Chris H Jan 26 at 19:55
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    I'm the only one in my entire extended family who never took up a manual trade. I learned quite young that it's simpler to find 'a bloke who can do that' than attempt it myself ;-) – Tetsujin Jan 26 at 20:00
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    @GeorgeM - The 'why' is that it's shedding faster than a a labrador in summer. The 'why not' is covered in my first point. – Tetsujin Jan 31 at 6:38
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Placing the pan in the oven during a self cleaning oven cycle will make the peeling layers turn to ash, and they can be easily scoured off using a steel wool scrubber. (Tried this from experience with a pan very similar to yours)

Unfortunately, this will require re-seasoning the entire pan.

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Taylor Jenkins is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
  • The high heat won't cause the pan to crack? – Carl Edwards May 16 at 11:44
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    @CarlEdwards cast iron is able to withstand temperatures over 500C without any problem. Put it in the oven when cold, start your self-clean cycle, and make sure you let the pan completely cool in the oven - don't try to cool it down quickly by other means. – canardgras May 16 at 12:50
  • @canardgras Thanks for clarifying. – Carl Edwards May 16 at 12:51
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I am always looking for things to break out my dremel....iT would work perfectly on a cast iron pan that has build up...In fact you could used several different attchments to really take off the black bumpy stuff....I would have a ball if I had a cast iron skillet that was old and needed this I have it looking new in no time at all and you could too !! grab your dremel and get to work !

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Gary Sachs is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
  • What tip would you use for something like this? A wire cup? Wire wheel? sanding disk? And are you talking about a large dremel, like the trio (more rotozip sized), or something smaller like the original stick ones? – Joe May 15 at 13:24

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