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Deodorizing Cast Iron

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2012

We discovered a better way to remove stinky fish oils from a cast-iron skillet.

In the past, we’ve tested ways to remove stinky, stubborn fish oils from a cast-iron skillet—without stripping its valuable seasoning—and landed on heating a thin layer of oil in the pan to its smoking point. We found that this eliminated the fishy taste and smell, although it left an oily mess to clean up.

But after discovering that superheating a grill grate that reeked of salmon for a few minutes burned away the stench, we wondered if the oil was even necessary, since heat alone should be enough to eliminate the two sources of fishy funk: compounds called trialkylamines, which evaporate at around 200 to 250 degrees, and oxidized fatty acids, which vaporize at temperatures above 350 degrees.

We cooked fish in a few cast-iron skillets to deliberately foul them up and then heated the empty pans over a medium flame on the stovetop for 15 minutes and in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Sure enough, both methods worked equally well at eliminating odors—and saved us the hassle of cleaning up oil. We particularly liked the oven method: It’s fast and doesn’t stink up the kitchen.