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Rusty Smithey skillet

Here's how to restore your rusty cast iron skillet back to its shiny, seasoned glory

Here's how to restore your rusty cast iron skillet to its shiny, well-seasoned glory

A rusty cast iron skillet may look beyond the brink of repair, but anyone can clean and restore it with the right how-to guide. Here's how we do it at Southern Kitchen.

We've all been there. Your previously well-seasoned cast iron skillet gets in the hands of someone who forgets to dry it thoroughly and sticks it deep into a cabinet. Or maybe you've picked up an old, neglected skillet at a yard sale and you're ready to give it some love. As rusted and busted as your skillet may be, you can always get your cast iron back to its shiny glory. All you need is some elbow grease and patience. Click through the arrows above to learn how.

All photos: Ramona King

Scrubbing smithey with steel wool

Step 1: Scrub with steel wool. Really, really scrub.

Pull out your newest pad of steel wool and start scrubbing. Your goal is to get all of that gunk and rust of the inside, bottom, sides and handle of the skillet so that the surface is totally smooth. Don't be shy — think of this as your arm workout for the day.

Scrub with hot soapy water

Step 2: Hot soapy water

Forget what your great aunt told you — it's time to give your skillet a hot, soapy bath. Gentle dish soap soap will pull up any additional scum, grease and gunk from the pan, so, again, don't be shy. Use a sponge to continue to scrub the skillet until it feels clean and grease-free.

Rinsing skillet

Step 3: Rinse

Next rinse off all of that soap and any additional bits of rusted or blackened bits from the skillet.

Dry skillet with paper towels

Step 4: Dry very thoroughly

Now here's the most important step: Dry that skillet thoroughly. We like to use paper towels — lots of 'em — to get each and every nook and cranny of the skillet bone-dry. Remember, water is likely what got you to this task in the first place, so make sure to dry it up as best as you can.

coat skillet with oil

Step 5: Coat with oil

Next, pull out a clean, dry paper towel and dab it with a neutral polyunsaturated oil with a high smoke point, such as canola. Spread that greased towel all over the skillet to coat everything, including the bottom and the handle, with a thin layer of oil. You don't want to see any oil pooling up on the surface; you're looking for a nice shiny layer, and that's it.

Baking skillet in oven

Step 6: Bake

To transform that coat of oil into cast iron seasoning, you'll want to heat up the skillet slowly. We like to do this step in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Place the skillet upside down on the center rack and place a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any drips. While you wait, go watch an episode of Stranger Things.

Evaluate seasoning

Step 7: Evaluate

Depending on how damaged your skillet was to begin with, you may or may not be finished at this point. Take a look at the skillet and see how it looks. Is it shiny and smooth, with a bonded layer of oil that looks almost like plastic? Great! Let it cool and you're ready to cook. However, if there are still discolored or sticky spots, you'll want to continue seasoning. Return to step 5 and re-oil and re-bake the skillet. Evaluate again and continue to repeat until your skillet looks awesome.

After scrubbing skillet with steel wool

No rust, no problem

See any rust? Us neither. This is what your skillet should look like after you're done scrubbing.

seasoned smithey

Step 8: Cool and store

Once your skillet looks like this (or, likely, a darker shade of black), you're done seasoning. Make sure to let the pan cool completely and to rub it down with a thin layre of oil before storing it, preferably in a place where it won't get dinged, scratched and rusted.

Want to learn more? Watch our detailed video below:

Get your own Smithey Skillet here

Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.