How To Fix Gunky Cast Iron


I picked up some vintage iron at an estate sale, but they’re encrusted with burnt-on gunk. How can I remove it?

—Paul C., Tennessee

If you are fortunate enough to inherit a cast-iron skillet passed down through your family, think twice about removing the burned-on gunk from it. Those crusty layers represent a legacy of family meals, prepared by hands that are no longer with us, and when you cook with that skillet, it’s like those people are still with you.


Serious cast-iron collectors will debate until the cows come home about the best way to strip a skillet for reseasoning. They commonly use some very sophisticated techniques, such as setting up electrolysis tanks and lye baths in their garages. But you can achieve the same results with a few common kitchen items.

What you’ll need:

A can of oven cleaner

A large black trash bag

Protective rubber gloves

White vinegar

1. Wearing protective gloves, spray cast iron with oven cleaner. Spray it on thick and be sure to coat every surface. Be careful not to breathe in the fumes.

2. Place the skillet in the trash bag, and tie it tightly.

3. If the weather is warm, you can leave the trash bag sitting in the sun on a porch or driveway. If the weather is cold, place the bag in a plastic tub and bring it inside. The oven cleaner will do its work better if it stays warm.

4. After one week, remove the skillet from the bag using protective gloves; rinse it with a vinegar solution to neutralize the lye in the oven cleaner.

5. Dry the skillet completely and reseason.



  1. I like what Kent Rollins says about cleaning cast iron. “Never put anything in your pan that you wouldn’t put in your mouth. And he’s a cast iron specialist.

    • I have used this method a lot and it works well. The vinegar neutralizes the degreaser so it is not toxic, but I also wash it really well once it is gray (bare metal). Kent Rollins is now my go-to guy for all cast iron information. I like his method and I also use Jas Townsons method for seasoning cast iron
      using first press flax seed oil.

  2. I found a Hackman cast iron dutchoven in garage on shelf. It has never been used. It is sticky on inside and out. It was hard to remove lid.
    It Has been exposed to heat , cold and dampness in garage.
    How do I clean it?

  3. The tip of “Never immerse your cast iron in water” is incorrect. It should be, never immerse your cast iron in cold water, only hot water and the water must be as hot as it gets. Heat the pan to about 350-400 degrees and put under running hot as it gets water from your tap. It is the easiest way to clean it without messing up the seasoning.


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