In an age of plenty of cheap products, there is something charming and almost romantic about a pan that could withstand a nuclear holocaust, that only gets better with use, that's handle will never come loose, that isn't coated in god-know-what, and that can go straight from the stove top to the oven.
Besides, cast iron pans make the best. pancakes. ever.
But if you've googled how to season a cast iron pan, you're probably aware that there are almost as many ways to do it as there are grandmas. Apparently, every bodies grandma does it differently.
The cooking oils used range from lard to flax seed, and everything in between. The temperatures and times run anywhere from 200 degrees all stinking day to 500 degrees for half an hour.
And everyone insists that their way is the only way to season a cast iron pan. I bet their grandmas told them that. You don't mess with some one's Mee-Mah.
If you find all the differing opinions daunting, don't. Even if one of these ways is truly superior, all those different ways of doing it assures us that people have been doing it "wrong" for generations...with great results!
Note: Even if your brand-spanking new pan says it is "pre-seasoned," it isn't. You still need to season it. Trust me. They're liars. Dirty liars.
So here is one way to season a cast iron pan:
- Choose a nice day. Open all the windows and send your kids out on the porch to play. This is a smokey, stinky job.
- Scrub the pan with a stiff plastic brush in soapy dish water. You don't need steel wool unless you're removing rust.
- Dry with a cloth, and then dry more thoroughly by putting on the stove over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes.
- Turn off pan and add a blob of shortening. The residual heat from drying the pan will probably melt the shortening. If not, you can turn the pan back on for a few moments. You don't want to cook the shortening, just melt it.
- Spread the melted shortening around the inside of the pan, making sure to get it all the way up the sides. I use my fingers for this, because it isn't that hot. But use common sense, if it's hot your not going to touch it with your fingers....right?
- Remove all the excess shortening with a piece of paper towel. You just want a light, even coating.
- Place upside down in a 325 degree oven, with a cookie sheet or something on the rack below to catch any drips.
- Bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven and leave pan in oven until cool.
One seasoning won't give you that slick black surface that you can fry an egg on. But it will give you a very nice usable pan, ready for cooking all sorts of yummy things. For a better finish, cook bacon in it! Pancakes, if you add butter between cooking each pancake, can be a super way to improve the finish on your cast iron pan!
A note about sticky spots: Some people claim that temperatures lower than 400 or 500 degrees will result in a sticky gooey coating. Personally, I'm hesitant to grease something up and cook it at a temperature far above the smoking point for an extended period of time. That's just me. In my experience, it isn't low temperatures that cause that gumminess, but too much grease. Make sure you have a thin coating, and your good to go.
But if you don't like my method, maybe you could ask your grandma how she does it? Mee-mah always knows best...