Seasoning skillets is an essential skill that any cast iron chef needs to learn how to master. When oils are heated, they react with the surface of a cast iron pan, leaving behind a protective layer that we call seasoning.
Seasoning helps to protect a pan from rusting, while also providing a non-stick surface for cooking. Different oils have different qualities, however, and while some are great for seasoning, others aren't quite so good.
We're often asked if seasoning cast iron with olive oil is a good idea, so in today's article, we'll take a detailed look at the best oils for seasoning!
Olive oil can be a popular choice when it comes to seasoning cast iron cookware, and that's because it's one of the most well known and widely available oils on the market. While it's great for salad dressings, olive oil isn't actually so great for seasoning cast iron, and that's down to the fact that it has a low smoke point.
The best oils for seasoning have a high smoke point. This means that they only start to smoke (or to burn) at higher temperatures. Olive oil, for instance, has a smoke point of 350°F, while canola oil has a higher smoke point of 400°F.
If you're using olive oil for seasoning, the seasoning can actually start to degrade when you're cooking with it in the pan (which defeats the object of having a protective, seasoned layer!). This stops the seasoning from lasting as long as other oils, while also adding a smokier flavor to your cooking.
While you can use olive oil for seasoning, be aware that you'll need to season the pan more often to keep it protected. There are some great (and generally cheaper) alternatives to olive oil, which we'll take a look at now.
Canola oil is often seen as the best oil for seasoning cast iron. It has a relatively high smoke point, ensuring that it won't degrade quite as quickly as olive oil. Canola has a low percentage of saturated fats, which allows it to form better bonds with the cast iron surface when it's heated. Importantly, canola is usually considerably cheaper than olive oil.
Smoke Point: 400°F
Vegetable oil can be the best choice for seasoning cast iron. Vegetable oils have a high smoking point, and they add very little to the overall flavor of the dish you are cooking. Like canola, vegetable oils form strong bonds with the cast iron for a long-lasting seasoning. Vegetable oil is also widely available in supermarkets and shops, and it's often great value.
Smoke point: 400 - 450°F
A surprising inclusion to our favorite seasoning oils is flaxseed oil. We say 'surprising' because flaxseed oil has a lower smoke point than olive oil (which we warned you about earlier in the article!). The difference, however, is that flaxseed oil is what's termed a 'drying oil.' This means that when it's used as a seasoning, it hardens and dries out naturally over the surface of the pan, to create a strong, non-stick layer.
Smoke point: 225°F
Sunflower oil has a smoke point of 440°F, making it one of the strongest candidates for seasoning oil in this respect. Sunflower oil is high in saturated fats, though, having a higher percentage than canola. This means that the bond between sunflower oil and cast iron can be slightly weaker. Sunflower oil can add a nice flavor to the food, however, when those bonds start to disintegrate!
Smoke point: 440°F
Seasoning cast iron is a skill that any chef should learn. It helps to improve the longevity of your cast iron cookware by preventing rust and creating a protective layer for cooking. Most importantly, though, the pan becomes non-stick when it's seasoned.
You need to regularly season your pan to keep in good working order. If food starts to stick to the surface, or if you notice any rust, then it's time to give the pan a good clean, followed by a good re-seasoning.
First of all, wash or scrub off any burnt food, rust, or remnants of the old layer of seasoning under hot water. Next, rub a thin layer of your chosen oil over the surface of your cast iron skillet.
Preheat your oven to the given temperature (the exact temperature depends on the smoke point of the oil, but it's usually between 300 and 400 °F), then bake your pan face down on the top shelf for at least one hour.
So, yes, you can use olive oil to season cast iron, but that there are many other oils that work well, if not even better! Try a few out and find what works best for you!