Why You Need Vinegar To Remove Rust From Your Cast Iron Skillet

Most great home cooks swear by their cast iron skillets. That includes The Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond. "One thing I've learned through the years is, when you're cooking, you really don't need a whole bunch of fancy stuff — case in point, iron skillets. These things are the best. They're absolutely indestructible," Drummond stated in a Food Network interview. That is, unless they get rusty. All is not lost, though. Even if you forget to care for your cast iron and it gets badly rusted, all you need to get it back in shape is a trusty bottle of white vinegar and some clean water.

How does that work? In simple terms, the acetic acid in vinegar reacts with the rust and makes it flake off the surface of the iron so that it can be washed away with water. So, yes, with a vinegar bath and some preventative maintenance to follow up, you can get your cast iron ready for cooking and baking up all those foods that come out so beautifully when prepared in cast iron.

The recipe for cleaning rust from your cast iron skillet

The two main ingredients you'll need for cleaning your extremely rusted cast iron pan are vinegar and water. If you don't have a disposable aluminum pan big enough to hold the rusty skillet, be sure to pick one up since that's the best type of vessel for this purpose.

To get started, place your cast iron skillet in the aluminum pan. Fill the pan with enough vinegar to submerge the skillet halfway, then add an equal amount of water to completely cover it. Stir the liquid around with a wooden spoon to mix it thoroughly. Let the skillet soak for about an hour and then check on it. Don't soak the skillet in the vinegar solution for too long, though — the acetic acid will start eating into the iron as well.

After the soaking period, use a stiff scrub brush or plastic scouring pad and a little mild dish soap to help loosen up the residual rust flakes if needed. When you're done, be sure to rinse the cast iron pan to remove all the vinegar. This not only gets rid of the rusty residue lingering in the pan — it also stops the reaction between the vinegar and metal. After rinsing, dry the skillet thoroughly.

What to do after your cast iron skillet is free of rust

Once your cast iron pan is clean and completely dry, you can season it to keep future rust at bay. To do this, take a paper towel and rub a thin coating of vegetable oil on the entire pan. Place the pan in a preheated 450-degree oven and let it bake for an hour. If you think you might have gotten too zealous with your oil coating, it's okay to place it on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Completing this process once will probably be enough since your skillet will continue to naturally season as you cook greasy foods in it — but you can repeat the process if you feel like it's needed.

When the skillet is totally dry, be sure to reapply a thin layer of oil to the inside before putting it away. Following this regimen will keep your cast iron ready for use, and you should never have to worry about giving it a vinegar bath to remove rust again.