May 12, 2011

Demystifying the Seasoning of Cast Iron


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:
  1. Choose a nice day.  Open all the windows and send your kids out on the porch to play.  This is a smokey, stinky job.
  2. Scrub the pan with a stiff plastic brush in soapy dish water.  You don't need steel wool unless you're removing rust.
  3. Dry with a cloth, and then dry more thoroughly by putting on the stove over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes.  
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. Remove all the excess shortening with a piece of paper towel.  You just want a light, even coating.
  7. Place upside down in a 325 degree oven, with a cookie sheet or something on the rack below to catch any drips.  
  8. Bake for 1 hour.  Turn off oven and leave pan in oven until cool. 
And there you have it, a seasoned cast iron pan!  

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...

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! I have a pan desperately in need of seasoning and I have been "afraid" of it.

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  2. Fist time I heard of put it upside down. The cooking beacon part sounds like a step I could tolerate.

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  3. Loved your article & your site! I only cook with antique (yes, the really old ones that were seasoned a hundred years ago) iron pots (including a huge wash kettle)and skillets that are family pieces passed down. My oldest pieces have no markings, but you can make anything from a perfect egg to the best cornbread around in them.

    Oh, and if you really want the perfect egg, you'll cook the bacon, leave the grease in the pan and use the grease to cook the egg perfectly. As you said, cooking bacon is one of the best ways to cure an iron skillet.

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  4. so I too have one of those I won't say antique but definitely vintage iron skillets at least 4 generations old. Although it has been "seasoned" I never "season" it properly - ya know with shortening in the oven method which apparently your suppose to do from time to time especially if you wash it frequently?? Ha! Way to busy for that so my shortcut method - spray it everytime I use it with nonstick cooking spray (ie Pam). Works great and doesn't require the oven or the hour or the shortening or the stinkiness. Oh, and its the only pan I use to cook anything and everything on the stove and even oven.

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  5. I just bought a new cast iron skillet {pre seasoned… HA!} and will use this recipe to season it. I'm super excited about cooking in it. I sorta wish I had a meema to ask… :( so I'll take your advice instead!

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  6. From my own adventures in cast iron I would agree with you about the goo being caused by using too much oil. If you do goo up your pan, the goo will come off with a good scrub with steel wool. Also, if you have completely unseasoned pans, they won't turn black after just one trip in the oven. It'll take time. Love cast iron!

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  7. so is there a special way to wash cast iron skillets? it kind of grosses me out to think of just wiping it out and then putting it in the cabinet. and is there a good way to store them so they don't get grease or whatever on the other pots in the cabinet? is it ok to cook with them on glass-top stoves? i obviously did not grow up a southerner but live in the south now and apparently need to learn how to make cornbread. just thinking of switching to cast iron because I'm not thrilled with teflon. any suggestions?

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    1. I am 64 years old and have been cooking in a cast-iron skillet for many many years. Just rinse it out in the sink with the hottest water you have, using sea salt (larger grains) if anything does happen to stick...then heat it on stove until it is completely dry, then grease it lightly with bacon grease or Pam and it's good to go until the next time...you don't need to re-season a well seasoned pan again and again...an egg will slide right off onto the plate!

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    2. Kindof late to the game on this one, but we use kosher salt as an abrasive (lots of salt), then add a couple drops of vegetable oil & use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe it all up. The advantage of this one is it continues seasoning your pan.

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  8. Randomosity - hot water and a non-soapy dishcloth will take out almost anything you're likely to be cooking in it. if by chance you do get something stuck that needs more abrasiveness than that, put some salt in the pan and scrub with a damp cloth. It'll take off anything stuck without wrecking the finish. We've been thoroughly conditioned to the idea that hot water and soap are required to get everything clean, but you're not going to be leaving raw chicken or pork in it then putting it in the cupboard. Anything cooked in it will be cooked until anything bad is killed, and anything stuck will be removed with hot water. There's really no problem in using cast iron that's well seasoned and not cleaned with scads of soap. =)

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    1. My grandmother used to use sand and a cloth to clean her pots and then rinse them with water. Ahh the memories : )

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  9. What are you thoughts on using coconut oil to season it?
    Also, I fear I've ruined my pan. I've used it for years but it will often still wipe "black" after I've rinsed it. What am I doing wrong?

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  10. I recently bought a new cast iron grill pan at walmart (for only 15 bucks!!! i know right!). This is the first time I've visited your blog, and I can't wait to try this. I've also pinned several of your other tutorials. Very handy stuff, so thank you! By the way, your babies are ADORABLE!!!!!!!! (the picture in the right side bar here, "Hooded Car Seat Blankie", i mean, C'MON! She literally looks like a bright-eyed baby doll!

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  11. I've read from the beginning of your blog to this post in two days- thanks for all the tips! Anyway, just thought I'd throw my two cents in with my Dad's advice on easy seasoning in case it benefits anyone- do all the steps you mention, but instead of the stove, do this after grilling outside. Place the greased cast iron upside down on the grill over the still-hot coals and leave it there. When it is cool (sometimes I leave it until the morning!) bring it back in- really easy and doesn't smoke up the house!

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  12. Hi, great advice about the cast iron. Another option to shortening is to use an oil with a higher smoke point like grape seed oil. It has a really high smoke point so you can up the temp of the oven and it produces a really hard non-stick coating.

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  13. I recently got a new pre-seasoned pan and yes they lied, it ain't pre-seasoned. Thanks so much for the how to:)

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  14. I've inherited some pans, and one of them has an unseasoned spot in the middle. Suggestions?

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  15. I have a flat round pan, that I have neglected and is rusted on the bottom, and has a build up of oil on the sides, would love to use it more, and promise to treat it better if I can find a cure! Help!

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