I restored a vintage Wagner cast iron skillet and it has a pretty remarkable transformation from garbage-ready to kitchen superstar.
I’m a lover of cooking in cast iron, but until recently I had only picked up some recent Lodge skillets and griddles. I do like cooking in them, but getting them seasoned just right has always been tougher than it should be, since the rough cooking surface hinders getting a perfectly nonstick result.
I’d never had the opportunity to work with any vintage cast iron until very recently. My grandmother sold her house, and I was given her skillet that was a wedding gift from 1949. It wasn’t in great shape, since it had been sitting in a basement for many years, but I decided to give it a go and clean it up.
I was fairly convinced that this skillet was damaged beyond repair. It looked to me like there was extensive pitting to the metal, and the red sections seemed to indicate that the skillet had been put in a fire and were heat damage (yes, apparently you can overheat a cast iron skillet).
There are a few different methods for cleaning up vintage cast iron… since I don’t have multiple pieces to work on, I went the simple route of a spray-on lye oven cleaner (Easy Off) rather than an electrolysis bath.
It became apparent after spraying on the oven cleaner, waiting 12 hours, and rinsing off the skillet that the skillet was in better shape than I had imagined. I did multiple rounds of oven cleaner, with great results each time. I eventually got impatient and started leaving the oven cleaner on for only a few yours at a time, then scrubbing with a scrubbing sponge. I probably would have saved more time had I let the lye stay on longer for each round.
The end results were astonishing. What I had assumed was a very damaged skillet turned out to be nearly mint coondition under all of the carbon buildup. There are a few rough spots on the bottom still, but I am eager to start using the skillet.
The interior of the skillet is so much smoother, even without any seasoning, than my recent Lodge cookware. It felt great to be able to restore something this old, particularly something with family history like this skillet.