I committed a travesty last weekend. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I somehow allowed one of my beloved cast-iron skillets to rust. The sight of it nearly brought tears to my eyes. My darling, how could I!
I have a feeling I’d rinsed it after an especially gnarly batch of bacon and eggs and then didn’t dry it diligently enough. However it transpired, I awoke one morning to find the poor dear dusted with a thin coat of rust. Aw, phooey.
I’d had to deal with rust before. When I moved into my furnished apartment in Mexico, I excitedly got right to clamoring around in the kitchen cabinets and readying my home-warming meal (which ended up being these Mango-Tomatillo Tofu Tacos, by the way), only to find that two of the four pots and pans I had to work with were seriously rusted. I guess that’s what you get for living beachside.
A little research found that all I needed was a wad of aluminum foil and some baking soda. So I tried it out. I dumped baking soda into the rusty pans, used the foil as a scouring pad, and scraped it all away. It worked like a charm, but didn’t end up being a one-time fix.
I found that since these pans had seen a lot of wear (and weren’t of the highest quality to begin with), the rust spots often returned, no matter how good I was about drying them, which in the end led to me leaving them in the cabinets and buying my own.
Plus, I felt awfully uneasy about taking that harsh ball of foil to my sweet little cast-iron. This is probably silly, since you have to say goodbye to your seasoning layer to get rid of the rust anyway—it’s probably just due to a memorable childhood experience.
Nonetheless, I found a really cool alternative just for cast-irons, which seems to be an old frontier trick. Next time you’re lighting up the grill or building a fire, leave your pan sitting in the smoldering coals overnight. The next morning, all of the rust (and other accumulated bits on the inside and out) will have turned to soot.
It happened to be a cold and blustery night that night, so this worked out perfectly. We built a cozy little fire and left the pan in the fireplace before bed. The next morning we gave it a little spit-shine (figurative, not literal), and it was good as new.
I also stumbled across a tidbit that running your cast-iron through the self-cleaning cycle on the oven will achieve the same results. If you’ve got a self-cleaning oven, that is.
And, most important of all! Do not forget that you’ll need to treat your cast-iron with a little tender, loving care to get it back to its original condition. A little rust is no big deal, but it will start your seasoning over from scratch.