How to save our skillets
August 22, 2009 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Our cast iron skillets caught fire. Can they ever be used again?

We have 2 cast iron skillets, and in the process of re-seasoning them after a washing mishap, the oil in them caught fire. We put out the flames with an A,B,C dry chemical fire extinguisher, then put the pans outside to cool down (and not smoke up the house any more).

The chemical extinguisher mixed with the oil, and it seems like it's not coming off of the skillets.

What's the best route to take from here. Can the skillets be saved? If so, what's the best way to go about cleaning them?
posted by specialagentwebb to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would get them nice and hot to burn as much as you can off and then maybe leave them out in the elements for a while. They might get a little rusty, but you'll be able to get that off with some steel wool and then reseason them.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:42 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

The "active ingredient" in ABC extinguishers is usually ammonium phosphate, which is corrosive when concentrated but not toxic. After all, it's one of the main ingredients in agricultural fertilizer. Just wash, scrub well, and re-use. If you're really paranoid, cast-iron skillets are dirt-cheap to buy in chinatown or at Ikea.
posted by randomstriker at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2009

Next time, baking soda. Puts out a grease fire in a cast iron pan like nobody's business. (Not that I caught grease on fire a few weeks ago doing just what you were doing or anything...)

Have you tried to get the burnt on goo off with some steel wool? I've restored some cast iron that was in pretty terrible shape with an extensive going over with steel wool, followed by re-seasoning.
posted by mollymayhem at 7:48 PM on August 22, 2009

If you hadn't used the dry chem they would definitely be fine. I would suggest you go at them with a power sander to get the dry chem off (and use VERY VERY good breathing apparatus while you're at it, a proper filter-cartridge mask that seals against your face, not some crappy paper mask) and then you'll be left with fresh cast iron which can be seasoned again.

You want to minimise scoring of the iron surface since straight from the sand-mold it has a nice smooth (non stick) form. If you need to use a coarse sanding grit to get the dry chem off, use a few progressively finer grits afterwards to smooth the surface back. You may end up with a way nicer pan than you started with!
posted by polyglot at 7:48 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Run it through one cycle in a self-cleaning oven (with the pan upside-down), then use some wire/sandpaper afterwards to smooth it out. It'll be fine.

Make sure you do this in a house with a good fan.
posted by Jairus at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2009

I did this oh, over a decade ago (long story involving a flaming skillet, my dad''s rescue skills and a bemused Avon delivery man) and yes, they can be cleaned and reused. Nothing short of a nuclear holocaust can destroy those things.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:12 PM on August 22, 2009


I've rescued all kinds of damaged cast iron cookware this way. You can certainly do it by hand, but sandblasting is fast and cheap if you value your time more than your cash. Look at local powdercoating or car painting business. Some places have different media, I've used sand, plastic beads and some kind of nut shell. I've paid anywhere from $5 to $40 to get a skillet done.

They will be all clean and shiny, you will have to season them ASAP before they rust.
posted by dirty lies at 8:35 PM on August 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

As per some of the previous answers, if you want to save the skillets you probably need to get down to the bare iron and then re-season. I think sanding is probably too hard on the iron surface. Steel wool and an abrasive cleanser and a lot of elbow grease is another option. I have heard that you can run them through a cleaning cycle in a self-cleaning oven, but I have also heard that the heat of that can warp them. And if there is nasty stuff on them from the extinguishers, your house might get stunk up with it. Finally, my personal favorite, you can clean metal items using electrolysis. I've done this to remove the seasoning from a cast iron pan and it does an amazing job of getting down to the metal without damaging it or requiring any elbow grease, but it's very slow (days).
posted by madmethods at 8:36 PM on August 22, 2009

I think sanding is probably too hard on the iron surface.

It's a solid piece. Of iron. You can't kill it.

I love the sandblasting idea if you have a few pans (and it sounds like you do), since that's quick and easy. Or, as much of the advice above suggests, torture the hell out of it with heat, sanding, steel wool, and lots of elbow grease.
posted by rokusan at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2009

I would never have thought of sandblasting... but, it's absolutely the right choice.
posted by Netzapper at 9:02 PM on August 22, 2009

Only to add to the pile, but yeah, it's solid iron. Strip it down to where you're at pure iron again, re-season, and you're good. I know of people who have rescued skillets from years languishing in back yards under the elements using chisels and sanders to do the job. Might also not hurt to put the thing in your oven and put it on a self-cleaning cycle. 800 degrees fahrenheit will carbonize your mom, much less whatever's on your skillet.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:18 PM on August 22, 2009

Some of our cast iron rusted after being in storage for a decade. Sandblasted and reseasoned this spring and it's good as new.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:42 PM on August 22, 2009

I use a grinder with a wire wheel and get it shiny when I've done something stupid like leave it out all winter.
posted by mearls at 9:47 PM on August 22, 2009

It's just iron, so in the absolute worst case you just employ stronger and stronger abrasives until you remove the crud and a layer of iron, and then you re-season.

I'd probably employ steel wool first. If that doesn't work, you could try the self-cleaning cycle in the oven, and then use stronger abrasives like sandpaper. (A small palm sander might be helpful; I've used a Dremel tool to remove rust from cast iron as well.)

If you have a friend or otherwise have access to a sandblaster or shotblaster (which is like sandblasting but with metal shot, it's even better) on the cheap, that would probably do the trick in short order, but getting it done professionally is going to cost more than the pan is worth. Even if it's a good Lodge one.

Other things to try might be a wire brush on a power drill, and caustic oven cleaner. Some people suggested in this thread that oven cleaner is a good way to "reboot" cast iron when it has a lot of stuff built up on it. I've never done it (although I have used it on cookie sheets and other pans), but I wouldn't hesitate to try it if nothing else was working. It might not work well on inorganic buildup, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:03 PM on August 22, 2009

If you have a self-cleaning over, put the pans in that and give it a long cycle. All the organic crud will turn to CO2 and a little ash. Clean it off with salt past ie salt with a tiny bit of dampness. Then wash and season. That's the best and easiest way I've found. No elbow-grease needed, and restored like new. But, if you have plastic or wood handles, either remove them or don't do this -- no sense in setting a new fire.
posted by anadem at 10:37 PM on August 22, 2009

I wouldn't use the self-cleaning oven. High temperatures, iron and inorganic compounds sound like a opportunity for pitting and corrosion.

Abrasives and elbow grease, or a suitable substitute.
posted by Good Brain at 11:58 PM on August 22, 2009

If you want to go a step beyond just saving your skillets, to perhaps actually improving their performance in cooking, look into having them shot peened, preferably with medium steel shot, or possibly glass beads. This will work harden the surface of the metal, increase crack resistance, and produce a fairly smooth, random surface finish, devoid of tool or casting marks. Do several cycles of carefully controlled oven seasoning over a freshly peened surface, and you get a very durable result that makes any synthetic "non-stick" coating look like sandpaper. It's also more resistant to seasoning failure (rust), if you don't use the skillet often.

Shot peening a 12" Lodge skillet a few years ago cost me about $80, at a local machine shop.
posted by paulsc at 1:41 AM on August 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

If it were me I'd go with Duncadunc's suggestion. I think it's sort of like putting dry erase marker over dry erase marker to get the dry erase marker off--the residue will come off when you get the rust off.

Also, it's the least amount of effort and I think the function of cast iron pans is to be low effort and indestructible. I wouldn't go sand blasting it. Not because it wouldn't work, but because I'm lazy.

I bet oven cleaner would also work, but kind of chemical and gross and why bother if all you really need to do is leave it in the rain?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:44 AM on August 23, 2009

I would never have thought of sandblasting... but, it's absolutely the right choice.

eh. It's way more expensive for the DIYer than a wire wheel and arguably just as efffective.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:55 AM on August 23, 2009

Yes they can be saved - if you have access to a woodburning stove or a place to have a bonfire - then your best best is to pitch the cast iron utensil into a roaring fire and let it burn - this is the cheapest (as well as the traditional) method for cleaning/restoring cast iron.

If the cast iron caught fire, you were using way too much oil! (I use Crisco to season/re-season my cast iron - I rub on a light coat and place them in a 350 degree oven for an hour.)
posted by cinemafiend at 8:41 AM on August 23, 2009

« Older Can literary journals ask for a reading fee?   |   I am not ashamed to admit I like the harp. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.