I was recently given a collection of very neglected cast iron cookware.
They had been left sitting out in the weather for at least two winters and were in pretty bad shape.
I experimented with several methods to clean them and the easiest by far was vinegar.
Removing the rust
Soak the pot in cheap white vinegar. White vinegar is higher in acetic acid than brown or malt vinegar, hence it works best. The acid in the vinegar reacts with the metal leaving the pot clean and rust free.
Wash the pot
Some people say you should not wash your pot in soapy water as the pores in the metal will absorb the soap. The pot does not have pores like a sponge. Under a microscope the pot is not perfectly smooth even when new. It has what looks like scratches and small indentations. As long as it is rinsed well, the pot will not absorb the washing up detergent and taste soapy.
Seasoning is a process where the pot is coated with a thin layer of cooking oil and heated until the oil polymerizes and chemically changes to form a hard coating. You know the brown substance that forms on the outside of your frying pans? That is the same substance we want to coat the camp oven with to protect it.
How to care for your pot after re seasoning
Treat it like Teflon cookware and don’t use harsh abrasive cleaning methods. I usually wipe out excess food and oil with a paper towel and wash in hot soapy water and rinse well.
Each time you use it give it another thin coat of oil, wipe off the excess and heat in the oven or over the fire. Be careful heating it over the fire because a fire can get much hotter than your oven and your coating will burn off.
Some people say washing it with soap will remove the coating and make the pot rust. If it has been seasoned correctly there is no way normal dish detergent will effect the coating.
If you burn the pot while cooking in it, don’t despair. Scrub it clean and simply apply another coating of oil to repair the seasoning.
There are other methods you can use and some of them are just as effective. Using a wire brush on a drill is quicker but can leave deep scratches in your pot and make it more difficult to create an even coating of seasoning.
I have heard of people successfully using one part molasses to nine parts water and soaking the pot in the same way as the vinegar method.
A lot of people told me Coke worked and I experimented with both regular and Diet Coke, but after four days my pot looked no different, so I gave up on that one.
After posting this method on Facebook a lot of people commented that they oil their cast iron ware and put it away without heating it. That will prevent it going rusty but the oil makes it sticky and my pots ended up covered with fluff and dust so I prefer to oil and heat them. The heating process also creates that hard Teflon like coating that makes the pot non stick.
So don’t throw away that rusty cookware you have sitting in the shed. A few litres of cheap vinegar and some cooking oil and your cast iron camp oven will be ready to use in a couple of days.