How to season cast iron (like a boss)

glossy skillet

 

People take things for granted. Like, for example, knowing how to season, cook with, clean and store cast iron cookware. If you’re from the South, it seems these things are inherent to your upbringing and understanding of what goes on in a kitchen.

Growing up in Australia, I hadn’t seen a proper cast iron skillet (with beautiful seasoning) until my late twenties. And I had no idea there were so many rules for caring for this cookware. For example, you shouldn’t cook with tomatoes as the acid affects the seasoning. And lord help you if you ever put soap in your skillet to clean it – you’ve pretty much killed it.

A well-cared for cast iron skillet can be handed down through the generations. The natural non-stick surface that builds up is far healthier than teflon, and it’s said they even leach trace amount of iron into your food, which is actually good for you! But most of all, great cast iron is a delight to cook with, providing a fantastic searing surface for meats and easy stovetop to oven transfer.

I originally bought a few pieces of modern cast iron and then drove myself a little crazy with a seasoning mission. I read volumes of online articles, watched endless youtube videos and ended up confused by conflicting methods. Ultimately, I discovered there really was no shortcut or quick way to season, and one coat is going to wear off damn fast. So, here’s my method for seasoning, as developed by someone who had to learn everything from scratch. A Southern grandma would have come in real handy. My method is loosely based on this one, but far less OCD.

It’s worth noting that most recent cast iron has a far rougher surface compared to vintage pieces like Wagner and Griswold. I know people who have taken to milling down their Lodge pans to get the same glass smooth surface. I’m not entirely convinced a modern pan will ever have a smooth or non-stick a surface as the vintage pans, so you may want to bear that in mind. This seasoning method works for any cast iron pieces, modern or old.

Seasoning your cast iron:

1) Most modern cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned these days, but don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean it’s ready to go. Often the “oil” on the surface is industrial grease and those pots need a damn good clear. So, using steel wool and soap (this is the ONLY time you get to use either of those on your pans), scrub the skillet trying to reveal as much of the bare grey metal as you can. Dry the pans with a dishcloth.

2) Pour a small amount of flaxseed oil into the pan. I have tried seasoning with coconut oil, canola, crisco shortening etc. I did get a reasonable result with canola, but have seen the best results using flaxseed.

3) Using a dishcloth, wipe out ALL excess oil, leaving only a thin layer on the pan. For the first seasoning, put it on the outside of the pan too. You may even think you’ve wiped most of it off, but I promise there’s enough there.

4) Place the skillet in a cold oven, upside down. Many people tell you to put down foil to catch any drips, but in my experience if your layer is thin enough there won’t be any drips.

doing several pans at a time – efficiency FTW!

5) Turn the oven on to 250c/480f (pretty much as hot as it can go), and bake for 50 mins.

6) Using proper heat resistant gloves and being extremely careful of the searingly hot iron, take the pan out, pour in a tiny amount of oil and use the dishcloth to quickly distribute it around the cooking surface, again making sure it’s just a thin layer. Return to oven for a further 40 minutes (you’ve just managed to squeeze in two seasonings for the effort of one!)

7) This step is optional, but if you have time, you can repeat step 6 another 1-3 times to bolster your coating and speed up the seasoning process. If you don’t have time, go straight to the next step.

8) Turn the heat off, and allow to cool for at least two hours – do not open the oven during cooling.

And here’s the really sucky part that you probably don’t want to hear, but it makes all the difference. You’re going to have to give your skillet at least six coats of oil and baking to create a hardwearing non stick base.

Basically, new cast iron needs some intense TLC for the first year or so of it’s life. After the initial seasoning, you really just need to use the skillet lots and cook up a lot of greasy food to help reinforce the layer. Or in short – bacon is your skillet’s best friend. Roux is also a great way to build up seasoning, as is popcorn! In fact, I’ve not had to re-season my dutch oven once because I constantly make old fashioned popcorn in it.

During the first year, your skillet will likely need an additional seasoning every 2-3 months until it starts to build up. See, that’s what most people don’t tell you! That amazing black glass finish and non-stick surface doesn’t magically appear after one session in the oven. It takes effort, care and patience. You also need to use the proper cleaning and storing methods to ensure maximum lifespan.

black glossy skillets

 

If you find that the surface is sticky instead of clear and smooth, you either used too much oil, your oven wasn’t hot enough or you didn’t leave the pan in for long enough.

Whatchya waiting for? Get seasoning! And when you’re done you can use your skillet to try out this cornbread recipe!

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Posted on Apr 6, 2012

26 Comments

  1. prolly says:

    and there ya go. Simple. My parents did something similar growing up but it mostly came down to cooking bacon and just scraping out the grease with a paper town and leaving the residue to harden…

    • BurgerMary says:

      Yeah I always get a little worried about that – sometimes it can go rancid, and that’s such a PITA! I want these skillets awesome enough to hand down to all the children I don’t have.

  2. Scott W. says:

    Well done and thanks!

  3. I remember seeing you start all this back when you got the pans – glad it finally worked out! Thanks for sharing, I have one that I’ve only done 2 rounds on – will get back to it… I did notice that mine is so much rougher than my mom’s glass smooth one but I guess that s what 30 or so years of cooking on it will do!

    • BurgerMary says:

      Absolutely! Plus it’s true – the older cast iron was just smoother. Google pics of Griswold skillets – totally different!

  4. I gave up my cooking stove during a raw-food period and now only have a 12 L halogen oven, can seasoning be done on an induction hob?

    • BurgerMary says:

      I honestly have no idea but I highly doubt it. It is unlikely that it will get to a temperature hot enough, plus then only the underside will be exposed to heat. I do not recommend it, but i hear there are people who do it with BBQs.

  5. Thank you for your reply. In that case I will ask a friend with an oven, but I am worried that it will cause an unpleasant odor in her kitchen. Can you please tell me if that is likely to be the case? Thanks

  6. Also what do you think about using organic hemp oil? Thanks

    • BurgerMary says:

      HI Jackie – if it’s the first seasoning on a brand new skillet, it will likely cause smell and smoke. I discovered this method through trial and error, and reading lots of other material. Unfortunately, I can’t really comment about any oils or methods beyond what Ive mentioned in the post. Thanks

  7. Matt says:

    Hi Mary.
    Where did you get your skillets? Great site BTW – cheers.

    • BurgerMary says:

      Hey Matt. I bought all mine in the states. You can get them online in AU from kitchenware direct and red back trading. Cheers, Jess

      • Matt says:

        Thanks Mary. I was looking at eBay, but was unsure how you pick between a good and bad skillet.

        • BurgerMary says:

          There really isnt good or bad. The vintage ones are more sought after and have a smoother surface. If buying second hand, be cautious of rust or cracks. Also, my name isnt Mary. Thanks.

  8. Matt says:

    LOL – sorry Jess!

  9. Great post. So I put them in the oven and I get a smokefest. I could hang some sausages in my kitchen and make smokies after 30 minutes. Is there a problem with my oven or is this normal?

    • BurgerMary says:

      It may smoke if it is your very first layer of seasoning ever. It will not smoke after the first crack at it. If it helps, it means you’re doin it right? You can try a lower temp to reduce the smoke, and it shouldnt keep happening, thats for sure. If the temp is too low though, the seasoning will become tacky and won’t last. The type of oil/grease you use will also have a particular smoking point. Crisco is much lower than canola, for example.

  10. christypea says:

    Thanks! Alton Brown said to do them on a very high temp, but he didn’t say to do it multiple times. And he didn’t say to do them upside down, if I recall correctly. I think I’ll try this.

    Also – I inherited my grandmother’s cast iron skillets. $400!?!

    • BurgerMary says:

      Technically, one time does make the pan seasoned, but its not good enough for a first seasoning. For “maintenance” you can do a single coat now and again.

      Yup – check ebay – theyre worth a ton! the cast iron was way better quality then.

  11. Mattyt says:

    I love my cast iron skillets. Use them for frying, skillet cornbread and Jambalaya.

  12. Gazananda says:

    I tried cleaning my old skillet by leaving it in the slow combustion heater overnight. It cleaned all the caked on gunk but I now have cracks in the handle area! I’ll have to chuck it. What’s the best way of clearing all the accumulated carbon/grease build up please?

    • BurgerMary says:

      Hey Gaz – gee that’s no good at all! I’ve yet to have to strip a skillet back, but i hear there’s also a method that involves using foaming oven cleaner in a plastic bag. But the most gentle method I believe involves vinegar and lots of elbow grease. The best advice would be to look at forums where this has been discussed so you can see different people’s opinions and results before you begin.

  13. Robert says:

    You can clean a cast iron skillet by putting it in the oven on the self-cleaning cycle. You will have to re-season it afterwards.

  14. Kenz says:

    Is the 1 hour bake time from when you place your skillet in a cold oven or once the temp reaches 480f? Thanks in advance!

    • BurgerMary says:

      Hi Kenz – it’s generally an hour from when it goes in, but if you have an older oven that takes a while to come up to temp, maybe give it another 10. It’s not like you’ll burn it ;)

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