Can I use a self-cleaning oven to strip a cast iron pan?

The short answer is yes.

The more complex answer is … maybe.

A self-cleaning oven is the closest most of us have to a blast furnace inside of our homes. And as many people will tell you while there are multiple ways to strip old seasoning from cast iron, the high heat of an oven’s clean cycle might be the simplest.

My oven claims that on self-clean mode the temperature gets to nearly 900 degrees Farenheit (or about 480 degrees Celsius.) That’s hot. Hot enough to incinerate the seasoning off of any pan.

So what is cast iron seasoning anyhow that we can burn it off our pans, pans that we use over heat all the time?

Cast iron seasoning is a layer of polymerized oil.

Oil is a word we use to describe a vast variety of chemicals with complex molecular structures and specific physical properties. Cooking oils generally come from crop plants and we can eat them.

Polymerizing is a fancy way of saying that many smaller molecules can be chained together to form one massive molecule. Plastic, rubber, nylon are examples of polymers you might be familiar with already. Cast iron seasoning is also a type of polymer.

Cooking oil at the right temperature can be turned into a polymer onto many types of surfaces. We take advantage of this process to season cast iron cooking pans, covering them with lots of very large oil polymers that at the correct window of temperatures create a non-stick cooking surface. Simplistically, we are creating a kind of coating by linking uncountable small oil molecules together using heat.

This coating improves and strengthens with just enough heat, but as with many types of natural compounds if we use even more heat we can destroy it too. By design, because we like to have clean things, it incinerates at the same temperature of other charred food bits, grease, and cooking stains… or the temperature a self-cleaning oven.

So, yes, you can exploit the almost-blast furnace temperatures available in your kitchen to burn the polymerized oil layer from your cast iron pan and “clean” it bare in your self-cleaning oven. Almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit will reduce those polymerized oils to a fine ashy powder that you can wipe off with a damp cloth.

The maybe part of this answer is that high heat is unpredictable. Even some of the best cast iron is not made as uniformly as it may appear as you heft that heavy pan onto the fire. Pans are meant to be heated and then disperse that heat in a specific way (into food, into the air, etc.) So when you heat a pan in very hot in contained space, in a way it was not designed to be heated, there is a chance it could crack or warp.

I’ve personally stripped multiple pans by this method and never had a problem, but all of those pans were replaceable and inexpensive. If I was restoring something more valuable or an antique, I might not take the shortcut of a self-cleaning oven.

So again, can you use a self-cleaning oven to strip a cast iron pan… maybe. This method is fast and convenient (especially if you’re already cleaning your oven) and you can start fresh with a bare metal pan. This might be worth the maybe.