How to remove rust from cast iron

I love cooking with cast iron. It makes the skin of my salmon or potatoes crispy and is so easy to clean – meaning it requires virtually no cleaning. A rinse of the pan with lukewarm water and a touch of soap, a complete wipe with a paper towel or a cloth and a little oil, voila. This is the ultimate lazy cookware. But that laziness can have unfortunate side effects, like a rusty cast-iron skillet.

This has happened to me over and over again. A small stain on the underside of the pan, a small mark around the perimeter, but nothing to worry about, is it? Brush it aside (mentally, that is) and keep searing, sautéing, and baking. But it can’t be good to let the rust fester, can it? Let’s see what my good friends at the USDA have to say: “Rust is not a food safe material, so it should not be ingested. If you see rust on the surface of a utensil such as a cast iron skillet or knife, remove all rust before using.” Fair enough.

remove rust

So how do you remove rust from a cast iron skillet? Start by scrubbing the rusty part with a steel wool brush; cast iron is super durable and can withstand the abrasive and aggressive surface. In fact, that’s exactly what you need to remove rust. Use plenty of elbow grease and continue until you think you’ve removed all the rust (this may take a few minutes or an hour, depending on how rusty the cast iron cookware is), then rinse the pan thoroughly . with warm soapy water.

From there, dry the pan thoroughly. Like really thoroughly, with lots of absorbent towels. If you skimp and miss a few water spots, more rust will eventually form. “Moisture is one of traditional cast iron’s worst enemies,” says Food52 buyer Peter Themistocles.

You did it ! You removed the rust! But in the process, you’ve also removed some of the layers of coating that build up every time you cook with your cast iron skillet. Food52 editor Rebecca Firkser dries it over low heat on the stove. Now you will need to re-season the cooking surface using a thin layer of vegetable oil. Apply it with a towel to make sure the oil is evenly distributed. “Traditional cast iron is prone to rusting. Seasoning will help prevent this. As you season it will also create a naturally non-stick surface,” says Themistocles.

Once the oil is applied, heat the oven to 450℉ to 500℉. Turn the pan upside down, allowing any excess oil to drip off, with a foil-lined baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven to catch the excess (and avoid a fire oven). “Baking” the pan for an hour, then allow it to cool completely before storing.

For a necessary process, I guess that lazy girl can handle it after all.