Strip this Pan, Part Four

In short, and to conclude this short series of posts, the effort to strip and re-season the twenty-inch reversible grill was a modest success.

In the end, it was a combination of elbow grease and chemical oven cleaner that seemed to net me the best result of the multiple methods I tried.

I found that using a wire brush to score the surface of the old seasoning then applying a liberal dose of chemical cleaner overnight allowed the bare pan to be the most easily exposed.

Four cycles of re-seasoning later in the oven and I tried grilling up a batch of chocolate chip pancakes this morning. That was definitely a success.

As far as cost goes… alas between buying scouring pads, a wire brush set for my drill, and a can of oven cleaner, I probably spent close to thirty bucks to achieve what I did here. A cycle of the self-cleaning oven is not free either, but it wouldn’t have been thirty bucks.

In then end and all that said though, having tried all these alternative methods to remove the old seasoning, I think I might just go back to the self-cleaning oven method next time. Simple. Effective. And not so nearly smelly, painful, or expensive.

Strip this Pan, Part Three

Time being limited and linear, it’s taken me over a month to get around to tackling the twenty-inch reversible grill reseasoning project.

For reference, check out parts one and two wherein I presented my options to deal with the pitting that was destroying the five-year-old seasoned surface of my Saturday morning pancake flattop and tried the least aggressive way I had read about, soaking in vinegar, to strip the seasoning. Spoiler alert, vinegar didn’t work.

A couple days ago I went to the store and picked up a can of oven cleaner, a pack of abrasive dish cleaning pads, a roll of industrial strength paper towel, and a pack of steel brush wheels for my power drill.

What I’ve read online (since I’ve never stripped a pan this way before) was that spray on oven cleaner is an agressive chemical approach to degrading the seasoning of the pan enough that you can pretty much just wipe it off.

It wasn’t quite that simple, of course.

The instructions I had read told me to coat the surface in oven cleaner, wrap in a plastic bag, and wait twenty-four hours.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Furstratingly, a day later, I had a pan with some very clean, but still very firmly attached, seasoning.

Back to the drawing board.

Yesterday afternoon I rinsed off the pan, and switched over to the drill and wire brush method. Forty-five minutes of shoulder aching, noisy, smelly, whirring away on the pan, I had stipped about half of the top surface down to bare iron.

To be honest, I’ve not been too worried about the edges or the reverse side. The bottom of this pan is a ridged grill pan that I think we’ve used less than five times since we bought this piece. It’s not that it isn’t useful, it’s just that this grill is pretty much my dedicated pancake pan and the smooth side gets used weekly and so consequently the smooth side is the side that I care about.

But even given that I only cared about the top half of the pan, a day plus forty five minutes of neighbourly-annoying outdoor cast iron maintenance had only got me part way to what I’d accomplished pretty much passively when I reseasoned this years ago by the self-cleaning oven method. That method, of course, has it’s risks not the least of which is the risk of the pan cracking in extreme heat, but with a crick in my back and a small bit of flaking seasoning embedded under my bleeding thumbnail (did I mention that part?) I was starting to reconsider the risk versus reward calculation.

Then I had a bit of an idea … mostly because I was tired and it was starting to get dark out

I lightly burred down the rest of the still-seasoned parts of the cooking surface with the steel wire brush, then resprayed with oven cleaner before stuffing it back in the bag and stowing it once again for an overnight.

This morning the results of the combined method had seemed to have paid off respectably well.

Over the pan where I had scuffed the surface of the seasoning, the chemical oven cleaner had been able to get under and into the old seasoning. It was able to do the job I had expected a day earlier. The bulk of the old seasoning flaked off and easily washed away with a little bit of light scouring from a dish pad.

I was able to grind the remaining stubborn specks off with the drill setup, wash it down really well, dry it up, and …

… as I write this post the pan is in the oven baking on a first coat of bacon grease seasoning.

I’ll spend the day doing multiple coats of a new seasoning layer, getting it back up to a surface that I can attempt some pancakes on in the coming week, and of course, report back with how it all turned out!

And hopefully part four is the part where I tell you how great it all turned out … and not me resorting to the self-cleaning oven again.

Strip This Pan, Part Two

I know that with a name like “the cast iron guy” you might expect that I’m some kind of guru in cast iron when in reality it as much about a philosophy of life that is expressed in the form and function of cast iron as much as a so-called cast iron expertise.

I write this as a caveat because often I post ideas that I’m as much interested in exploring more about or expanding my experience with and not so much sharing some deep knowledge of or advice in.

Like, say, recommendations for stripping a cast iron pan for reseasoning … with, say, vinegar.

Something that I have to report that as of my experience over the last twenty four hours did not work out at all for me.

I set up a shallow basin in the backyard.

I rested my twenty-inch cast iron grill in the basin.

I submerged the grill with a generous glug-glug-glug of multiple litres of 5% white vinegar.

I let it sit for sixteen hours.

The result? My pan was wet and smelled of vinegar, but there was no noticable breakdown of the seasoning let alone was it completely flaking off or otherwise dissolved. In fact, I would say all I accomplished was wasting about five bucks worth of vinegar. The pan after drying is unchanged from its soak in food-grade dilute acetic acid.

I suppose the allure of this idea that vinegar might have come from the notion that acids are bad for seasoning. We’re told to limit how much you might, say, cook with tomatoes (which are an acidic food) because they degrade your seasoning. A few years ago I made the mistake of leaving a bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a pan (someone else put the lid on and it got missed in clean up) and a couple days later the seasoning had degraded to the point where I needed to run it through the oven a few times.

Also, vinegar seems like one of the easier and/or cheaper methods of stripping a pan. No fancy chemicals cleaners or tools or long, energy-expensive trials in the oven: just a bit of solution from the cupboard.

It’s also suprising how many search results appear for this, too, complete with warning about how the pan might rust up as soon as you pull it from the vinegar bath.

I suppose, if I’m being generous to these content farmers, there are many vaguely worded bits of advice about using vinegar on cast iron and there seems to be a genuine misunderstanding between “cleaning” a pan and actually stripping the seasoning. It’s easy to assume it will work “as advertised” if you’ve never tried it for yourself.

Which I have now tried.

And which I’ll not be trying again, unless someone happens to point out some glaring error I may have made in my simplistic trial of (basically) soaking my pan in kitchen chemical overnight.

Bringing me back to my point of experience versus expertise: prior to this weekend I had no experience with vinegar and cast iron, whereas now I can confidently advise that I don’t recommend you bother with this method.

Strip This Pan, Part One

My big ol’ twenty inch reversible grill has developed some pitting over the summer and I’ve been contemplating the pros and cons of various methods to strip a pan down to bare metal and start the seasoning process from scratch.

1. A self-cleaning oven on clean mode heats up the pan hot enough to incinerate the seasoning and burn off everything down to raw iron, but it heats up the house and has been linked to cracked pans.

2. Roasting a pan in a fire or over the barbecue can get the iron hot enough to turn the seasoning to cinders, but the heat is uneven and, again, has been said to warp or crack cast iron if not carefully monitored.

3. Elbow grease and a lot of sandpaper or other mechanically abrasive system will rip down the seasoning on all or part of a pan, and is a method I’ve used to spot repair seasoning, but the work involved is definitely… well, work.

4. Posts online have claimed that soaking in white vinegar overnight can erode the seasoning on a pan down to the point where it can be wiped off easily. I’ve never tried this, but with a twenty inch pan I might need a bigger sink or a big tub of some kind.

5. Back in the realm of over cleaning, chemical oven cleaner sprayed on the surface (then tuck the piece into a couple layers of garbage bags) is said to strip a pan to bare metal, though my suspicion is that the mess at the end might leave me wishing I’d tried something simpler.

6. And finally in the realm of complicated (and perhaps expensive if you don’t own the set up) is using electrolysis which likely involves some clever chemistry knowledge and a bit of electricity to erode the carbon of the seasoning.

I’m going to pick one of these before the week is out and give it a whirl.

Stay tuned.