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Ask Mary: What is this flaking on my vintage Griswold cast iron skillet?

Shirl M. from Ann Arbor, Michigan sent in two photos of her large block logo Griswold no. 5 cast iron skillet, and said:

I purchased a set of Griswold pans from [a seller] a couple of years ago.
I’ve really enjoyed them. I don’t use soap, mostly plastic scraper.
However, one of my pans is flaking ‘black’ flakes. Attached are a couple of pics.
What should I do?
I’m not worried if real or fake. I’m more interested in how to fix the flaking issue, if possible or if I should trash the pan.”

Don’t trash the pan, Shirl!

From the photos you sent, it appears to me that the pan has some carbon buildup, which is flaking off. I would take that as a sure sign that you should strip the pan and re-season it.

I have heard of certain kinds of seasoning – flaxseed oil in particular – flaking off such as I see on your pan. From what I understand, flaking doesn’t happen immediately – as is true in your case.

I don’t know if you purchased the pan already cleaned and seasoned or whether it came to you in “as found” condition. I can tell you though, that stripping and re-seasoning will take care of the issue for you.

Cooks Illustrated did a nice tutorial on how to strip a cast iron pan using the “Easy Off” method. When you just have one or two pieces to strip, that’s often easier than setting up a lye bath…and it’s certainly easier than trying to figure out how to set up an electrolysis system!

As for seasoning, your question reminds me that I have been meaning to write another blog post about how I season my cast iron. What I can tell you is that if you ask 10 cast iron aficianodos how they season their iron, they will have variations, however slight. Some folks swear by flaxseed oil; I have heard from too many people that it flakes as time goes by. Serious Eats wrote a post about seasoning which is similar to how I season; you might want to check that out.

I hope your pan turns out beautifully and gives you many more years of use, Shirl. Thanks for the query!

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