There are so many choices of cast-iron cookware on the market today. It’s a gourmand’s dream! But did you know that there’s an entire market available for restored vintage pans?
You no longer have to scour flea markets, garage sales, and Facebook Marketplace to find an old piece of cast iron—and you don’t have to restore it yourself. Instead, you can scroll through one of the many websites or Etsy stores online that feature vintage cast iron that has been professional restored.
These restored pans look like they just came out of the foundry. Clean, dark seasoning. No rust, cracks, or warps. They’re perfect for any kitchen.
But are they safe to cook with?
Most restorers use lye baths and electrolysis tanks, which do not use caustic chemicals. But some resort to Easy Off, Carbon-Off!, or Evapo-Rust when faced with a stubborn pan or an enclosed piece like a humidifier. Since I started using cast iron as a healthy alternative to aluminum and chemical nonstick pans, the use of these chemicals gave me cause for concern.
Could these chemicals get trapped in the pores of the cast iron? Could they leach into my food while cooking?
Determined to give these products a fair shake, I reached out to Sam Rosolina. He holds a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Although there are no established tests to identify these chemicals if they do remain in the pan, Sam was able to research the chemical components listed in the products’ Material Safety Data Sheets and came to a surprising conclusion.
He found the main ingredients in Easy-Off and Carbon-Off! are soluble in water and should rinse off cleanly after use. Restorers season pans by baking them in the oven, and that heat helps to drive off any remaining residue from these chemicals. Sam states, “Personally, I don’t see a problem using something like Easy-Off in the same way someone would use oven cleaner—finishing by heating it up in the oven at 450 degrees F.”
Unfortunately, Evapo-Rust uses proprietary ingredients, so Sam wasn’t able to provide the same assurances. However, the manufacturer does claim their product is non-toxic, water-based, and safe for use on cookware.
This is great news to those of us who love vintage pans and want to buy them restored and ready to use. Check out my Cast Iron Research page, including the full Chemistry Q&A with Sam Rosolina, PhD, for more insight into the cast iron and the restoration process.
For more details on restoration and a list of professional restorers, check out my book, Skilletheads: A Guide to Collecting and Restoring Cast-Iron Cookware.
(The image in the header is from What’s Up Homer Skillet?, a serious restorer with a funny name based out of Georgia.)
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