Fixing large rough spot in cast iron skillet
December 15, 2016 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a Lodge 12" cast iron skillet. Before using it, I cleaned it and did 3 seasoning cycles in the oven with Crisco, and it was reasonably non-stick for a new skillet. I burned some food during the first cooking attempt, and now part of the skillet is messed up.

I fried some veggies in it for fajitas, and some of the food stuck to a hot spot in the pan. I cleaned it with water and elbow grease and dried it, but now that part of the pan is rough and matte (as opposed to the rest of the skillet, which is nicely dark and non-stick). I'd describe the messed up spot as sticky, but it's different than the tacky sticky that occurs when you use too much oil in seasoning. This feels like the cast iron itself, as opposed to an oil layer.

My working hypothesis was that I stripped the seasoning from that area, so I've tried a couple of reseasoning cycles. That spot hasn't improved. Do I keep going, or do I need to try something else?
posted by philosophygeek to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Don't stress too much about uneven coloring. Maybe cook something fatty like bacon next time. It will go away over time.
posted by faustian slip at 7:28 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Quick addendum: I'm not worried about the coloring, but I am worried that there's a large area of the pan that is not non-stick. I don't want to constantly have food stuck to the bottom of half the pan.
posted by philosophygeek at 7:29 AM on December 15, 2016

It took me years, YEARS, to get my cast-iron totally non-stick. I second the call to cook (and eat!) more bacon.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:30 AM on December 15, 2016 [16 favorites]

Yeah, just keep using it. I have that exact model and even though it comes pre-seasoned, it was definitely not non-stick at first. It took me maybe 3-4 years of regular use to build up a good, smooth, reliable non-stick surface. If you eat meat, try to get in the habit of always cooking meat in it.
posted by superfluousm at 7:31 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

What we call seasoning is actually microscopically thin layers of cross-linked oil particles built up one layer at a time.

It's best that the pan be absolutely smooth for the seasoning to build up evenly.

Use steel wool to get it smooth again, then go through a bunch of seasoning cycles.

Use plenty of oil when cooking veggies and eggs.

Congratulations on your acquisition of a cast iron skillet. In time you too will experience ridiculous levels of love and loyalty for this awesome hunk of metal.
posted by metaseeker at 7:37 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Use some steel wool to smooth down the edges of the good area (to avoid lumpy bits that might over-build-up and then chip off), and use it for cooking fatty relatively dry foods (fajita veggies have a lot of water, which doesn't give you the best polymerization of oil onto the surface, whereas meat steams a bit and then kind of stays dry until you reach later cooking stages; also you may have to make more cornbread than you might usually do, if you can stand the sacrifice). It will equalize with use.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:50 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Agree that you can forge on, and it will get better with proper use/care.

BUT- this also may be a great opportunity to switch to FLAX oil for seasoning. Unlike all the other food oils, flax is a 'drying' oil, and will make a glossy, glassy obsidian-like nonstick surface that may bring a tear of joy to your eye.

More info here.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:54 AM on December 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

good seasoning layers come and go. sometimes, cooking something a bit too wet, crowding the pan, or high heat (or some combination of those - or some other factors) will wear away at your seasoning. and then you just have to keep cooking to get it back.

i've found that the best way to rebuild the seasoning is simply: lots of oil; fairly high heat; reasonably dry foods; plenty of room in the pan.

the more you use your pan the more you'll figure out what stuff really works perfectly in the pan, and what seems to muck it up a bit.

don't worry. just keep cooking.
posted by entropone at 8:02 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I gave up on cast iron because despite what the Internet says it never worked for the things I actually wanted to be non-stick: eggs in particular. Ymmv.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with most of what people said above, but I would suggest that you not use steel wool. Use one of these instead, or a scotch brite pad. Steel wool can leave scratches that will require even more layers of seasoning to cover up..
posted by mudpuppie at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2016

The colored plastic mesh "steel wool" works better than actual steel wool and is way cheap.

+1 bacon is the best way to build up a nonstick coating. Here's my method for getting cast iron nice and nonstick:

Cook bacon, get excess fat out (either pour while hot or scrape out with a teflon spatula once it hardens), scrub with the plastic steel wool under running water, wash gently with soap and water (with a regular sponge).

Then dry with a towel and place on a burner over medium heat for a few minutes to dry thoroughly. Turn off the burner but leave the pan there. While the pan is still hot, apply a bit of oil (flaxseed is the best choice here) with a paper towel, folded at least four times so you don't burn yourself. Let the pan cool, then repeat as needed.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:48 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's definitely an age thing. The big cast iron pan I bought about 1.5 years before my small cast iron pan (both purchased from the same store, same brand/line) is way, way more non-stick than my small one, particularly for scrambled eggs, which is where I always have the most sticking. Rubbing my fingers over the bottom, the big one is noticeably smoother. Cook a lot in it, yes, but also scrub it a lot. I just got one of those chain mail scrubbers two days ago and it's a noticeably different feeling cleaning the pan with it versus steel wool.

And don't forget you can actually clean really bad spots with soap.
posted by olinerd at 8:51 AM on December 15, 2016

Steel wool is too delicate, get a more substantial scrubber.
posted by rhizome at 9:34 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I gave up on cast iron because despite what the Internet says it never worked for the things I actually wanted to be non-stick: eggs in particular. Ymmv.

Eggs will be non-stick in a cast iron pan if you cook only eggs in that pan. I promise. I keep a small one for eggs, and eggs don't stick, ever.

I agree with all who say keep cooking -- it takes time.
posted by Dolley at 9:38 AM on December 15, 2016

I've got a Lodge 12" that stays on the stove, it gets cooked in so much I don't worry about nicks and scratches in the seasoning. They'll heal in the next 2 or 3 times I cook with it. Using a 3" steel spatula with a straight front edge tends to keep rough spots planed down. Sometimes after browning a bunch of food, I'll have to simmer some water for a few minutes before the spatula will peel the rough spot off.

The Wagner and Griswold stuff that doesn't get used everyday gets treated a little nicer, like the comments above suggest.
posted by ridgerunner at 10:09 AM on December 15, 2016

I've found that kosher salt makes a very good scrub for cast-iron pans, especially when mixed with a little oil to make a paste. I use a paper towel or a cloth with this paste to scrub 'n' oil at the same time.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:38 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oil will first polymerize first into a sticky substance, I have given up on seasoning this way. When I look at a good non-stick cast iron pan it has a black - and therefore burnt - coating. Cooking at high heat is the best thing, I will sometimes use oiled toast to season a spot - keep it oily and let it get inedibly burnt.
My grandmother, who was an old school professional cook (her first job was for a very old Robert Lincoln), used to get the pan hot, add oil and then scrub the pan surface with paper from a brown paper bag just in prep for using a cast iron pan.
posted by 445supermag at 11:01 AM on December 15, 2016

From what I have learnt, never heat the pan on high heat, it needs to get hot slowly. I usually start the burner in advance for the pan to get it slowly and evenly hot (while cutting veges and all that). Slow heat up =best food and no sticking on the Lodge. To tackle the stuck up problem, try this-slow heat the pan, put oil, take a paper towel and rub off the area. See if that helps.
posted by metajim at 3:46 PM on December 15, 2016

My experience is that it is hard to keep cast iron seasoned when cooking only vegetarian food, but effortless when bacon, hamburger, and sausage are in the rotation. There are probably tricks and techniques to accommodate for that, but it definitely will take more work if you aren't cooking meat.

I don't do anything special other than using only metal spatulas and avoiding scrubbing hard with soap. I actually just bought one of those chainmail things linked above and it seems to work ok but I'd be hard pressed to say that it is worth the money compared to cheaper options like a scrubby pad. I've never used steel wool so can't comment on that as an option.

In your situation I would just keep cooking, making sure to use a metal spatula and trying to cook a few meals in a row that aren't acidic or watery. If you eat meat, this would be a great excuse to cook some bacon, then hamburgers the next day, and then pork chops, say.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:59 PM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

For reasons, I've ended up owning six or seven Lodge cast iron skillets over my lifetime and have seasoned or reseasoned each multiple times. Lodge uses a sand casting technique that leaves the surface a little pebbly. My observation is that there is some variance from one Lodge to the next. Having seen a lot of these "help me season my skillet" questions over the years, there are always some commenters who will say, "just keep going! cook a lot of bacon! it will be fine." And others who ended up giving up after many attempts. My theory is that most people only end up owning one or perhaps two, and there is some luck of the draw of getting one that is smoother (or rougher) than the norm. Lodge even acknowledges this in their FAQ here: My point here being, if you try some of the gentler methods of reseasoning up thread and it doesn't work, don't be afraid to resort to sandpaper. (If you do that, please remember to wear a mask). The Lodge FAQ I just linked mentions sandpaper as a touch up for rough spots and if you do a little casual googling, you'll see that there are plenty of youtube videos and instructables and such on how to sand your cast iron. I ended up sanding two Lodge skillets that I'd already owned for a couple of years. I couldn't be happier with the result - much quicker to season or reseason, just a layer or two and you've got a great non-stick surface that previously took me a lot of layers of seasoning and/or cooking to achieve.
posted by kovacs at 6:26 PM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, sanding is a popular "turn your Target Lodge into a Wagner" technique. I haven't tried it myself, but I'm a terrible cast-iron custodian anyway. I literally do not even try to be fancy with the care. I used to be all "kosher salt and some scrubbing," then I would just grind a metal scrubber into it, and now I use only a bamboo wok brush. If bamboo is good enough for torture, I figure it'll have no problem with bacon fond, and it doesn't. I don't fry eggs in mine, though.
posted by rhizome at 8:58 AM on December 16, 2016

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