A cast-iron skillet is a lifesaver for many recipes and if you have old ones in the attic, it’s worth checking them out. But how long can you use one? And at what point do pans stop being practical and become more of a hassle than they’re worth?
The answer is not an easy thing to pinpoint because so much depends on your own needs, cooking habits, and circumstances. But there are warning signs that tell when a pan should be discarded:
When to throw away a cast iron skillet?
Below are 7 reasons to throw away your cast iron pans, sometimes it’s just not worth it and it’s better buying a new one.
However some of these reasons are debateable, so it’s up to you to make a judgement call on whether you should throw them away or not.
The seasoning has worn away
This happens gradually over time but can also occur quickly if the pan is left soaking in water overnight or washed with soap or steel wool. (Some people use soap to get rid of stuck-on food, but washing cast iron like this damages the seasoning and should be avoided.) You can try seasoning it again but you’ll never get it back to the years and years of seasoning that had been built up over time.
Rust has begun to appear
There will be signs of small pockmarks in the bottom, sides, or handles. This is a sure sign that a pan has been sitting in water for too long–and that the rust is just beginning. A pan left too long will become unusable. The pan needs a new seasoning before being used again.
The texture of the pan is troublesome.
If you’re using it constantly, it may be time to throw it away. The most common problem, especially in older pans, is that the surface of the iron becomes pitted from years of use and cleaning. But you may also run into some other trouble with your cast-iron cookware. If the pieces are old enough that they’re rusted inside, do not try to season them. There’s no way to bring back pans that are rusted on the inside.
The cast iron is discolored
This happens when a pan is left in direct sunlight or in places that are too humid for extended periods of time. It is hard to clean
Like any pan, your cast iron will need to be cleaned after use. If it becomes difficult, or if you’re experiencing food sticking to the surface, chances are there is some seasoning left and you should try to season it. But if no amount of scrubbing helps matters, it may be time for a new cookware set.
There is no longer any visible iron in the pan because it has been oxidized over time.
This can happen if the pan gets too much heat from an oven or from using high heat on high for a long period of time. (It also can happen when a pan gets stuck in an oven that does not have enough ventilation or if a burner turns on and off frequently. Cast iron tends to turn a dark brown when it oxidizes.
The pan is rusting
if your pan has a rusting problem, we don’t recommend using any type of abrasive to clean it because it could result in the contamination of the food that you’re cooking. If you have a rust issue, you may be able to recondition the pan by following the steps outlined in this post. If your pan is badly rusted and there’s no hope of reconditioning it, you should consider replacing it.
The pan is too small for its intended use
Many old cast iron skillets and pots found in attics or garages are just too small for most modern recipes. If you don’t cook large amounts of food or if you only use the pan occasionally, a smaller size probably won’t be an issue.
It’s been dropped or chipped.
While a cast-iron skillet can be durable, there are instances when a little bit of damage will reduce its usefulness; an added problem is that once one chip shows up, you can expect to see more. If you’ve dropped or chipped a pan, try to find someone who can weld it. If it’s too far gone, though, it may be time to replace it.
With all that being said, if you find yourself with a pan that is not any of these things, you really can’t go wrong by using it. All cast-iron skillets from the past hundred years or so will work just fine (although some might require reseasoning). After all, the products we use today (our pans and our utensils) are light years ahead of what we had in the past. If you find one at a flea market or junk shop for a couple dollars, it’s worth buying. And if you’re out in the yard doing your spring cleaning, it’s worth a look.