“Cleaning Cast Iron With Fire” is my latest YouTube video on the subject of cast iron cookware.
Back in the old days cleaning cast iron meant throwing it into a fire to burn off the old seasoning and crusties. However, this can lead to overheating so it’s important to carefully inspect antique cast iron for damage, such as warped bottoms and cracks. If you’re considering an item always check it on a flat surface for wobbles before buying it. A little bit of wobble might be acceptable if the pan is cheap but if it’s badly dished out, keep looking.
Because the risk of damage is so low electrolysis remains my prefered method for cleaning cast iron, but in certain cases the fire method can be quite handy; it’s fast, you don’t need much in the way of special equipment, and clean up is a breeze.
So if we’re going to clean cast iron by fire how do we reduce the risk of damage? I’ve heard that putting a pan inside an oven and running it through a self-cleaning cycle is a safe alternative but I haven’t tried that myself. In fact, I’d never, ever, try it with a pan like I’m cleaning in the video. The smoke would be horrible, not to mention the possibility of having the crud catch fire inside the oven; at 3:55 in the video you can see the pan smoking heavily and by 4:25 the old crust is going up in flames. I certainly wouldn’t want that happening inside my oven!
Here are a few key points on reducing the risk of damage when cleaning by fire:
- Don’t put the pan into a raging fire. All you want is a bed of coals and just enough heat to burn off the old seasoning. Any more than that just increases the risk damage.
- Don’t put a cold pan on a hot bed of coals. Pre-heat the pan to give it a head start and reduce thermal shock.
- In the video I set the pan on top of some pieces of bark instead of placing it directly on the coals. This allowed the pan to heat up gradually and evenly, further reducing the risk of thermal shock.
- Watch for hot spots. If areas of the pan begin to glow, that’s too hot! Rotate or turn the pan from time to time to keep the heat even.
- Allow the pan to cool down slowly. Ideally overnight.