Friday, November 4, 2011

Old cast iron pots restoration project

I got these old, dirty and rusty cast iron pots in a second-hand store for a few dollars each. From a brief inspection and an Internet research, it appears that the small one used to be a Cape Cod fire starter (they would fill it with lamp oil, soak a lava rock with an iron handle in it overnight, then light it and put it in the fireplace to ignite the firewood), and the large one was a cooking pot used over an open fire (the outside was covered with sooth), both about 100 years old.

I loved the shapes of the pots, and I wanted to use them in my kitchen. How do I clean them?
A wire sponge and Barkeeper's Friend didn't achieve anything.
Medium-grade steel wool showed me that there may be some metal underneath the dirt and rust, and if I keep rubbing, in the next 500 hours or so I will see more of it.
A drill with a wire brush attachment blew a lot of rust iron dust in my face and cleaned some parts of the pots almost OK, but it couldn't reach inside the pots.

Finally, I took my pots to the local Porsche repair shop to be sandblasted. It took them a week, and they charged me as for Porsche repair, but the result was perfect, clean cast iron, stripped bare, beautiful dull-grey gun-metal color, and ready to start rusting again any moment now.

Now, I had to act fast. I took my pots home and started the seasoning process righ away.

A layer of rendered bacon fat, brush inside and out, wipe, into 400 degree oven. Lots of smoke. Let cool.

A layer of olive oil, brush inside and out, wipe, into 400 degree oven. Lots of smoke. Let cool.

Repeat three times.

The pots are gradually developing a shiny non-stick coat of polymerized fat, turning from dull grey to reddish-brown to black.

Now the 100 years old pots are ready to cook again. I already used the small one to cook white beans with bacon and chorizo on my gas grill, and made a mutton stew with onions, carrots, and rice, and a borsch, in the larger one, on the stove. Waiting for the weather to put them on the open fire. Or should I give up on the weather and use them in the fireplace?

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Location:San Rafael, CA

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