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In a Pickle: What to do if your cast-iron pan rusts

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer who contributes regularly to publications on three continents. She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Sa...

Make your pan last a lifetime

Cast-iron pans are absolute workhorses in the kitchen. They heat evenly, can get very hot, are fairly inexpensive and, when cared for properly, can last a lifetime. If your cast-iron cookware is rusty don't discard it just yet!
Vintage cast iron pan

Learn how to get it looking like new and how to prevent it from rusting in the future.

It may seem like a lot of extra work to care for a cast-iron pan, but it couldn't be easier and your efforts will be paid off with an amazing piece of cookware. With a few simple tips you can get that garage sale cast-iron skillet looking fresh as new. You'll be cooking everything from steaks to frittatas and cornbread to pita in this multipurpose pan.

Learn how to care for your cast-iron pan >>

How to remove rust from your cast-iron pan

Whether your cast-iron pan is vintage or brand new, if not cared for properly it can easily rust. You will need a mild abrasive to get rid of it. Believe it or not, table salt is one of the best things you can use on your cast-iron cookware.

Dab some vegetable or olive oil on a paper towel and pour a generous amount of salt in the pan, especially on the rusted areas. Using the oily paper towel, rub the salt into the effected areas until the rust or other debris is removed. If this doesn't work, then try a slightly more abrasive steel wool pad. Wash the pan with soap and warm water and dry thoroughly.

How to prevent your cast-iron pan from rusting in the future

Once you've rid your pan of rust, there are a few easy steps to make sure that it stays rust-free. This is called "seasoning" or "curing" the pan, and you should also follow these steps with a brand new cast-iron pan. First, rub the entire cooking surface of the pan with a light layer of vegetable oil. Then put the pan in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees F and allow it to sit in the heat for two hours. Turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool completely before removing it.

Some experts recommend doing this in much higher heat for a shorter amount of time, and many say that it is best to repeat this process a few times, especially if it is the first time you are doing it. This allows the oil to seep into the cast iron and creates a nonstick seal.

Read about how to season cast iron for a nonstick finish >>

More tips to keep your cast iron like new:

  • Never run cold water over a hot cast-iron pan. This could permanently damage it.
  • Instead, wash with hot water as soon as it has cooled down enough to handle.
  • Never, ever put a cast-iron pan in the dishwasher.
  • If anything is stuck to the pan, use salt to rub it off.
  • Once the pan is clean, make sure that you thoroughly dry it to prevent rusting.
  • Although it may seem counter-intuitive, once the pan is clean and totally dry, rub a very, very light coating of oil on the surface. This will help maintain the seal and also guard against rust.

In another pickle? Find more solutions to common kitchen problems >>

More kitchen tips

How to remove rust with a potato
How to store your leftovers properly
Hand wash versus dishwasher: Which items need more TLC?

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