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How To Season Cast Iron Skillets Or Pans

April 22, 2020 4 min read

How To Season Cast Iron Skillets Or Pans

An important part of caring for any cast iron cookware is regular seasoning. Without taking the time to season your pan or skillet after each use, you run the risk of it developing rust, and losing its natural cooking surface. In this article, we'll outline the best methods you can use to ensure your cookware remains in premium condition for years to come.

What is seasoning?

As it refers to cast iron cookware, seasoning is the process by which the polymers in oils bond to the surface of the iron, creating a naturally non-stick cooking surface. This occurs to a certain extent whenever you use oils to cook with, but for proper and consistent coverage, you should also season your cookware separately to maintain the best quality surface.  Seasoning a cast iron skillet or pan regularly will ensure it lasts a lifetime of cooking. 

What's the importance of cast iron pan seasoning?

Knowing how to season a cast iron skillet or pan is a crucial skill if you want to get the most out of your cookware. Any cast iron skillet, pan or griddle which is not properly seasoned will lose the non-stick properties of the cooking surface, leading to burned on food and making it difficult to clean. 

In addition, seasoning protects the surface of the cookware against rusting, caused by exposure to water and moisture in the air. The resulting rust spots can potentially harbor bacteria, and also rust may flake off into your food. While rust itself isn't poisonous, it's not particularly tasty either!

How to season a cast iron pan?

The recommended method for seasoning cast iron is a simple enough process, with three key stages:

  • Clean - before you can get started on seasoning, you need to ensure that the surface of your pan or skillet is completely clean, removing any food residue, grease or burned on particles. Most of the time a simple rinse under hot water should be sufficient to get rid of most debris, but if not, you can use mild dish soap in small amounts, or alternatively give the surface a good scrub with a stainless steel scrubber or a handful of kosher salt. 
  • Oil - using a paper towel or a clean cloth, rub a small amount of vegetable oil (or another suitable alternative - see below for details) over the cooking surface of the pan or skillet, taking care to cover every square inch. Remove any excess oil with your paper towel or cloth - you want to avoid excess oil dripping within your oven in the next stage. 
  • Bake - once you've oiled your cookware, place it upside down in the oven and bake on high heat for one or two hours. Then turn off the heat and allow the pan or skillet to cool naturally in the oven until it's reached a point where it's cool enough to handle without oven gloves. At this point it's ready to be put away. Avoid storing cast iron in any cupboard which is exposed to high levels of moisture, for example, a cupboard above your stove may be a bad choice due to the regular steam from cooking.

What's the best oil to season cast iron?

For the bonding process we described above to work properly, you'll need to heat the cast iron pan or skillet to the smoke point of the oil you're using. Oils with low smoke points are not ideal for this, as they don't bond as well, and it's easier to overheat them, resulting in a burned taste clinging to the pan. 

While lard or other animal fats may have a relatively high smoke point, we don't recommend using them as over long periods of storage they can turn rancid. 

The best oils to use are vegetable based ones with a high smoke point and neutral flavor, so that rules out coconut or avocado oil (flavor) but includes sunflower, canola or vegetable oils.

To ensure you've heated your oven to the right temperature for the oil you're using to season your cast iron, here's a helpful guide:

  • Flaxseed oil: 225 ºF
  • Vegetable shortening: 360 ºF
  • Canola oil: 400 ºF
  • Vegetable oil:  400 - 450 ºF
  • Sunflower oil: 440 ºF

How to remove rust from cast iron?

OK, nobody's perfect! If you do end up with rust spots on your cast iron skillet or pan, it's possible to get rid of them by scrubbing the affected areas with steel wool. Once you've removed any visible rust, it's important to wash the item carefully and reseason it, following the steps laid out above. 

If your cookware is seriously rusty, with the majority of the surface affected, you may not be able to remove all the rust using this method alone. We'd recommend speaking to a local hardware store about the tools or methods you should use to strip your pan or skillet back to the clean metal, after which you'll be able to wash and reason it as normal.

Remember, you can prevent a harder job later by properly seasoning your cast iron cookware on a regular basis. Bookmark this article so you can check in each time to ensure you're not missing any of the steps in the process.


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