How to Season Cast Iron to Keep Your Skillet in Tip-Top Shape

Arricca Elin Sansone
·3-min read
How to Season Cast Iron to Keep Your Skillet in Tip-Top Shape
How to Season Cast Iron to Keep Your Skillet in Tip-Top Shape

From Country Living

Every home chef needs cast iron: It’s affordable, durable, easy to clean, and cooks up everything from cornbread to pizza to upside down cakes like a dream. Better yet, a well-cared-for pan will last for generations! To ensure your cast iron performs well, you’ll need to season your pans properly. “Seasoning is a layer of carbonized oil which creates a natural, chemical-free nonstick surface on the pan,” says Kris Stubblefield, associate culinary manager of the test kitchen at Lodge Cast Iron, which has been making cast iron pans in Tennessee since 1896. “Every time you use your pan, you’re adding to the protective layer.”

Whether you’ve cooked in cast iron for years or are a complete newbie, here’s everything you need to know about how to season and care for cast iron.

How do I season cast iron?

The bare cast iron pans your grandma used had to be seasoned at home after purchase. Nowadays, U.S. manufacturers typically pre-season their pans so they’re ready to use out of the box. “Cast iron is grey when it’s turned out of the molds,” says Stubblefield. “At Lodge, we spray on a layer of vegetable oil and bake it at high temperatures, which makes it turn black.” The fancy name for this term is “polymerization,” which occurs when oils or fats are heated and become bonded to iron at the molecular level.

But not all black cast iron pans are seasoned. Imported pans may appear black but actually may not be seasoned at all. Instead, a layer of black paint is applied, which probably doesn’t sound too appetizing! Look for the manufacturer’s tag, branding, or foundry mark so you’ll know exactly what you’re buying, says Stubblefield.

Occasionally, your pan may need to be re-seasoned. If bits of the black coating begin to flake off, it looks “dry” or has a matte instead of shiny appearance, or if foods begin to stick, it’s time re-season. First, scrub the pan with warm, soapy water, rinse well, and dry completely. Add about a ½ to one teaspoon of oil to the pan, smearing it all over—inside and out, including the handle—with a paper towel. Don’t overdo it though because too much oil will leave it feeling sticky after seasoning, says Stubblefield. Place it in the oven, upside down with a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch drips. Bake at 450 degrees F for an hour.

What’s the best kind of oil to season a cast iron pan?

Choose anything with a high smoke point, says Stubblefield. Vegetable oil, canola oil, grapeseed, or avocado oils are all fine to use. Olive oil is okay, too, but may impart flavor, while old-school animal fats that Grandma used can go rancid, so skip those!

How do I clean cast iron?

A well-seasoned pan is easy to clean! Never put it in the dishwasher, which will remove the coating and cause it to rust. Simply rinse your dirty pan with warm water, dry it thoroughly, and give it a light coating of oil—just a small drizzle. Wipe it down all over to keep the coating uniform. Wipe the surface until no oil come off on the paper towel. If the pan is really gunky or greasy, you can use a bit of mild dish soap and water and scrub it. Then dry completely and add a light coating of oil, wiping dry until no oil residue remains.

Can I save a rusty cast iron pan?

If you leave your pan to soak (a big no-no!) and it gets rusty or if you score a vintage pan at a flea market, you may be able to revive it. Scour it with warm, soapy water and a metal scouring pad. Once the rust is removed, follow the same seasoning instructions as above: Dry thoroughly, oil lightly, bake for an hour at 450 degrees F. Then enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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