How to Fix a Cast Iron Skillet That’s Been Left on the Burner: A Guide to Restoring Your Cookware
Some of us are forgetful and tend to leave our cast iron skillet on a burner. Before you know it, it’s flaking, worn, and looks ready to throw away, or even worse, it’s cracked or warped.
So is there anything you can do to fix it? In most cases yes.
In this article I’ll be going over the different scenarios and how to deal with them.
What happens after leaving a cast iron skillet on the burner?
When you leave a cast iron skillet on a burner, there’s different things that can happen.
1) Burnt food – If you’ve been cooking with food and left your cast iron cookware on the burner, chances are you’ve burnt the food, a lot. And that burnt food is now stuck to your pan.
2) Burnt seasoning – Another possibility of leaving your cast iron cookware is the seasoning has burnt off, leaving your cast iron looking ruined, however it’s not, it’s just very unsightly to see.
3) Cracked or warped cast iron – Cast iron is extremely durable, however it’s not indestructible. Overheating cast iron (Which is difficult) can lead to the cast iron cracking or warping. If this has happened, this isn’t fixable, and you should replace your cast iron cookware as it’s structural integrity has been damaged.
The different symptoms and what they’re a sign of
If you’re new to cast iron, or you just haven’t had much experience with the problems yet, you might not know exactly what’s wrong with your cast iron skillet after it’s been left on a burner.
Here’s a list of symptoms and what they mean.
Black flaking – If there are any black flakes coming off your cast iron, that mean the black coating is coming off (The seasoning) in this instance, you’ll need to strip the seasoning and reapply a new coating.
Orange or brown patches – This is a prime indicator of rust. If you are experiencing this you’ll need to remove the rust and take better care of your cast iron whilst cleaning it.
Patchy greyish color – This happens when the seasoning if coming off, it will look patchy or splotchy, both in the color of the pan and texture. If this is what you’re experiencing from leaving your cast iron skillet on the burner then you’ll need to strip the seasoning and reapply it again.
Thin lines – If you have thin lines running anywhere across your cast iron skillet, the chances are it’s cracked, and unfortunately there’s nothing you can do to repair this. It’s best to buy a new cast iron skillet if this is the case as the structural integrity of your cast iron pan has been damaged.
Distorted shape – If you hold your pan up in the hair, and it’s not completely flat and the shape has changed slightly, then it’s began to warp. If it’s only warped a little, it will be fine to continue using it, however if it’s warped a lot then I’d recommend buying a new cast iron pan.
How do I know if I ruined my cast-iron pan?
Cast iron skillets are pretty durable, they can take a lot of damage. However they do have a weakness, and that’s rust which is caused by left over moisture. You can ruin a cast iron skillet within a matter of days when it comes to rust. However, not all rust will ruin your cast iron pan though, it’s only ruined once it’s pitted (Deep rust), as superficial rust can be cleaned off your cast iron cookware.
Other than rust, cracking and warping will also ruin your cast iron.
The good news for you is, rust, cracking and warping are basically the only thing that can damage cast iron cookware, if you’ve left your cast iron skillet on the burner and it’s just got burnt food stuck to it, or the seasonings ruined, it’s easily fixable.
How to fix a cast iron skillet that’s been left on the burner
The first task you need to do is strip the seasoning or burnt food off altogether. There are a few ways to do this, so I’ll list them below and give a brief overview of each one.
The easiest method if you have a self-cleaning oven is using the self-cleaning function to remove the seasoning. The self-cleaning function will heat the oven to a high temperature and burn the seasoning off, it will also strip any burnt food off the pan.
Self cleaning ovens are extremely beneficial for this scenario since it’s incredibly easy to do, and no effort is required.
To find out how to use the self-cleaning function on the oven, look in the manual for the model of range you have.
Leaving it in a fire
Another easy method, but not as convenient. Get some coal, place it into a fire-safe container and place the cast iron skillet in the fire until the fire has burnt itself out.
The prolongued extreme heat will act the same as a self cleaning oven and strip any seasoning or burnt food of your cast iron pan.
Warning: This can potentially damage your cast iron, to do this as safely as possible, heat the pan up before placing it in, to avoid thermoshock. And once it’s done, do not rapidly cool the pan down by throwing water on, let it cool by itself as thermoshock will crack your cast iron cookware.
Soak in white vinegar
The last method for stripping the seasoning off the cast iron is soaking the cast iron pan in white vinegar for 24 hours. Try to aim for a white vinegar that’s 5-6%.
Fill a bin bag or something similar up with the white vinegar, place the cast iron skillet into the white vinegar, and leave it for 24 hours. After 24 hours, start scrubbing the cast iron skillet with a scrubber; this should take any of the seasoning off.
Reapplying the seasoning
Now that you’ve removed the current layer of seasoning and any burnt food. It’s time to reapply the new layer of seasoning.
To do this, follow the below instructions:
Make sure your cast iron skillet is very clean. Then, get some cooking oil, preferably flaxseed oil, wipe a thin layer of it all over the cast iron pan.
Place your cast iron skillet into the oven (do not preheat the oven) and heat the oven to 400F. Once you have reached 400F, put the cast iron skillet in for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, remove the skillet from the oven and wipe it off with a damp cloth; this will remove excess oil and prevent food from becoming too oily when you next cook with it.
Leave to cool for an hour, and then repeat five more times, so you have six layers of seasoning.
We also have a more in-depth guide on how to season cast iron skillets if you need more information on this.
How long can you leave a cast-iron skillet on the stove?
Technically, you can leave cast iron on the heat forever. Heat doesn’t tend to crack or warp cast iron, at least the kind of heat you’ll get from your kitchen stove or oven, it’s simply not enough.
If heat has cracked or warped your cast iron, this is an exception and a rare event.
But, leaving your cast iron skillet on the stove will cause the seasoning to burn off, if that happens you’ll need to reapply the seasoning. There is no specific time as to how long it takes for the seasoning to burn off.