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How to Season an Antique Cast Iron Pan

I found this adorable cast iron muffin pan in a cardboard box in my basement. It must have belonged to my grandmother, so it’s likely more than a hundred years old. It’s so cute that I wanted to use it immediately, but first I had to season it.

I looked for advice all over the internet on seasoning cast iron and settled on the voice of experience: Lodge, which has been making cast iron pans in the USA since 1896. That’s a lot of time to perfect one product, so I trust their advice.

Basically, the seasoning process is this: Use steel wool to scrub off the rust, wash and dry the pan, coat it with a very thin layer of cooking oil, then roast the pan for 1 hour in a 450-500 degree F oven upside down on an oven rack, placing foil or a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Allow the pan to cool in the oven, and it’s ready to go.

I followed the instructions on Lodge’s website, and sure enough, it worked, sort of. My century-old cast iron muffin baker was rather rusty, so it took a lot of elbow grease to remove most of the rust with steel wool. The rest I gave up on.

I washed the pan with soap, dried it thoroughly, and then rubbed avocado oil all over its many interstices with a paper towel, which removed more rust. I suppose that’s good? Lodge’s website is silent on this point.  Their “antique” pan looked perfect and rust-free after scrubbing.

I baked my avocado-oil-coated pan in a 450 degree F oven for one hour. I put foil on the rack beneath the pan to catch any oily drips. As Lodge instructed, I let the pan cool in the oven to allow it to cure even longer.

It looked pretty good when I took it out of the oven. It had a nice sheen, and was mostly black, except in areas where the rust wouldn’t budge. Fortunately, these were on the outside of the pan. The inside of each muffin compartment looked black and smooth, so I wouldn’t be baking any rust into my muffins.

I made some gluten-free corn muffins in my spiffed-up muffin baker, and it worked like a charm. I oiled the muffin pan liberally and heated it up in the oven before pouring in the batter. The muffins developed a nice crust on the outside, and were soft and delectable on the inside.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve discarded several rusty old cast iron pans in the past. After trying this experiment, I’ll never do that again. When my muffin baker starts looking gray-ish or develops rust spots, I’ll season it again.

One caveat: Cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce in cast iron pans can add a lot of iron to food. If you can’t have any iron in your diet, it’s best avoid using cast iron pans or use ceramic-coated cast iron pans. Seasoning a cast iron pan makes it less likely to leach iron because the oil bonds with the iron, making a coating that’s almost non-stick.

After this successful experiment, I’m off to Goodwill to scavenge for cast iron pans to use cooking outdoors over my new firepit. The pandemic has forced me to change my indoor ways, so I’m experimenting with outdoor cooking. Seasoned cast iron pans are great for roasting potatoes and vegetables on a grill over an open fire.

Springhouse Turtle

This rusty antique muffin pan was made about 100 years ago by Griswold Manufacturing in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Sitting in a cardboard box in my basement, the pan acquired a lot of rust.

Before seasoning an antique cast iron pan, scrub off the rust with a scouring pad.

Wash and thoroughly dry the scrubbed pan.

Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil (I use avocado) with a  paper towel to all surfaces of the pan.

A thin coating of oil will bond with the iron surface of the pan without making it gummy.

Place the oiled pan upside down on the rack in an oven heated to 450-500 degrees F for one hour. Place foil on the rack beneath the pan to catch any drips of oil. Turn the oven off, and allow the pan to cool in the oven. It’s ready to be used.

You need to oil a seasoned cast iron pan, but you won’t need a lot of oil, and it won’t get rusty. Corn muffins baked in this pan develop a nice crust on the outside and are soft and moist on the inside.

Springhouse Turtle


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