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I even bought a stainless steel scrubbie to clean the gunk off after searing/cooking etc...

I suspect that is probably the source of your problem, Tuni. I never, ever use a metal "scrubbie" to clean cast iron. In doing so, you are scraping off/scratching the seasoning, and left with a softer coating.

I like to use Lodge's Cast Iron scraper to loosen stubborn food particles under hot water: http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-SCRAPERPK-Durable-Polycarbonate-... Then I wash the piece with water and salt, and a plastic scrubber. The I wipe it dry with a paper towel, heat it on my stove to dry it, wipe a little Crisco on it, wipe the Crisco off, so that only the faintest amount remains, and then return it to a burner or the oven to finish baking it on.

You will probably still get some black on the paper towel, but you won't be damaging the built-up seasoning, and a small amount of Crisco, wiped off after applying and baked on in your oven or over a burner should serve to adequately reseal the surface.

I don't know how badly you've scratched the seasoning with stainless steel scrubbies. You can just scrub off more of the seasoning with the scrubbies, or strip it with oven cleaner or a 100% pure, food grade, lye and water bath, and start from scratch - If you should uncover any rust after removing the seasoning, soak the piece in a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water, scrub it down with a scrubby and/or green abrasive pad, soak it in the lye and water solution or spray it with oven cleaner to neutralize the acid bath, rinse under running water, wipe dry, heat on a stove burner enough to finish drying and reapply Crisco, atter heating to 125-30 degrees F in your oven, wiping on a thin layer, wiping off, as completely as you can, baking on in your oven at 40 degree increments, pausing at each each increment for 15 minutes, up to your oven's max temperature - usually 500-550 degrees F - Repeat 4-6 times... It's a, fairly, lengthy process, but the end result is a slick, hard natural surface, that you certainly will not wish to scratch off with stainless steel scrubbies or wash or with detergents - Use the Lodge plastic cast iron scraper to remove stubborn food and wash with a water and salt solution, using a nylon scrubber, wipe dry, heat to finish drying and open the pours of the cast iron, apply a little Crisco, wipe off and heat to bake on.

I like watching this guy's videos - He's pretty (very) good, has an extensive and impressive collection of cast iron cookware and goes into shopping for, buying, seasoning and caring for cast iron cookware:
https://plus.google.com/107069755100425769779/posts

Bob
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