I recently learned about a new way to reheat leftover pizza that involves steaming it in a covered cast iron skillet. And since we have pizza about once every other week, my cast iron skillet has been seeing more action than usual over the past couple of months!
But reheating pizza is far from the only useful thing you can do with a good cast iron skillet, pan, or any other type of cookware! In fact, a couple of years back I wrote a whole post about the many benefits of cooking in cast iron (check it out here).
As long as you care for it properly, a well seasoned cast iron pan can last for generations! “Well seasoned” is the operative phrase here, because keeping cast iron properly seasoned is the best way to keep it in good working order. Today, we’ll be exploring exactly what it means to season cast iron and how to do it.
What Is Seasoning?
The “seasoning” of cast iron refers to a layer of baked-on oil and fat that adheres to the cast iron surface through a process called polymerization. The polymerized oil layer gives cast iron its signature black patina, creates a non stick coating that helps food release more easily from the cooking surface, and it helps prevent rust too.
Today, new cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned, which means they are ready to cook with as soon as you take them out of the box. Most people only need to worry about maintaining their cast iron’s seasoning, rather than starting from scratch.
One simple thing you can do to help maintain the seasoning on your cast iron skillet is cooking in it regularly! Every time you use your cast iron to cook with oil or fat, the seasoning on the cooking surface will get reinforced. (There are also certain conditions that can weaken your cast iron’s seasoning, like exposure to extremely high heat, cooking highly acidic foods like tomatoes, and overly aggressive scrubbing.)
In addition to cooking in it regularly, you can also season a cast iron pan with the help of your oven. Using the oven method a few times a year can help build up the seasoning evenly over the entire pan, and help strengthen its bond with the cast iron surface.
Here’s how to do it:
How To Season Cast Iron
- Scrub brush or sponge
- Dish soap
- Paper towels
- Vegetable oil
- Tin foil (optional)
1. Clean The Pan
Start by using warm, soapy water and a scrub brush to give your cast iron pan a good cleaning. (Normally you wouldn’t want to use soap to clean your cast iron because it can weaken the seasoning, but that won’t be an issue here since it’s part of the seasoning process.)
2. Dry It Thoroughly
Once your cast iron has been scrubbed clean, dry it thoroughly using a clean dish towel or a few paper towels. You want it to be completely dry before moving on to the next step, because any lingering moisture can lead to rusting, which you definitely don’t want.
3. Coat With Oil
When the cast iron is dry, pour a bit of vegetable oil onto a paper towel. Use the paper towel to spread a thin layer of oil evenly over the entire surface of the cast iron, inside and out.
The goal here is to create a thin, even layer of oil that covers the cast iron completely. If the oil is too thick, it won’t polymerize correctly and the surface could become sticky.
4. Bake The Cast Iron Pan
Next, place your cast iron pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven, and bake it at 400°F for 1 hour. (The oil shouldn’t drip very much if you’ve applied the oil correctly, but it wouldn’t hurt to place a sheet pan lined with tin foil on the lower rack of your oven just in case!)
5. Let It Cool
After an hour, turn off the heat and leave the pan inside to cool inside the oven. Once it’s cool enough to handle, it’ll be properly seasoned and good to go!
What Is The Best Oil To Use On Cast Iron Pans?
While the method above calls for vegetable oil, it isn’t the only oil or fat you can use to season your cast iron cookware. In fact, technically you can use any cooking or oil fat to maintain the seasoning!
Traditionally, people used lard to keep their cast iron well seasoned, but that may not be the best choice for you. Animal fats like lard can go rancid over time, especially if the pan isn’t used very frequently. That’s why Lodge, the longest-running cast iron manufacturer in the U.S., recommends using vegetable oil, shortening, or canola oil to season cast iron, because they are less likely to spoil.
On the other hand, flaxseed oil is becoming an increasingly popular option for seasoning cast iron due to its low smoke point of 225°F. That means flaxseed oil polymerizes into seasoning faster than other oils, but it can also be expensive, harder to find, and it does have a stronger smell to it.
Whichever oil or fat you choose to use to season your cast iron, make sure you know what its smoke point is. You’ll have to heat the pan up to that temperature in order for it to polymerize correctly and create that strong layer of seasoning you’re looking for.
More questions or queries about cast iron? Lodge’s troubleshooting guide is a very helpful resource for navigating almost any cast iron conundrum!
What do you like to cook with cast iron?