It can happen to the most seasoned of home cooks: You turn away from your eggs for just a moment and — suddenly — they've burned to the bottom of your beautiful cast-iron pan. Even worse? Perhaps a few errant water spots have left your prized pan polka-dotted with a layer of rust.
Does that mean everything needs to be thrown out? Nope! Don't panic. While a cast-iron pan can crack irreparably if you place it into cold water while it's still searing hot, most other issues have an easy fix.
Here are the best ways to mend cast-iron cookware.
How to remove burned bits of food
For a gentle but effective scrub, take a tip from the spa and use salt. Generously sprinkle kosher salt or coarse sea salt into the pan and scrub it with a clean, damp washcloth. For extra stubborn spots, use a plastic pan scraper to work the burned food off the pan. Stay away from steel wool, scouring pads or detergent scrubs, which can remove the seasoning on the pan or make the damage worse.
How to fix a rusty cast-iron pan
Use a gentle detergent scrub, such as Bon Ami or Bar Keepers Friend, to clean off the rust or any acid-damaged spots. Rinse well and dry thoroughly.
Rub the unseasoned, scrubbed parts of the pan with vegetable oil, canola oil or melted vegetable shortening. Depending on the number of unseasoned spots on the pan and their location, you can re-season the pan on the stovetop or in the oven.
For smaller spots on the interior of the pan, place the pan over medium heat on a stove burner and heat for 10-15 minutes, until the oil has baked on. Turn the burner off and leave the pan on the burner until it has cooled completely. For larger spots, or if the spots are on the underside or exterior of the pan, re-season in a 350-degree oven as instructed here. Place the pan upside-down on the top rack of the oven and bake it for 30-45 minutes.
How to fix a vintage cast-iron pan
This is the one instance where you'll want to go to town with steel wool. Scrub the pan inside and out to remove any remaining seasoning (and anything else that's been baked onto the pan over the years) until you see the natural, unfinished gray-blue iron.
Wash the scrubbed pan with gentle dish soap and water, then dry it completely. Follow these seasoning instructions, repeating them two or three times, until the pan has blackened to a familiar cast-iron sheen.