How To: Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet to Create a Non-Stick Surface

Seasoning Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning a cast iron skillet is a bit of a process to be sure but if done properly it shouldn’t need to be done again, or at least not for quite some time. Proper seasoning will give you a wonderful non-stick surface that even the best teflon-coated pans would kill for and you won’t need worry about what chemicals were used in the process. The steps outlined here are thorough and designed to ensure the best results. There are simpler methods, all of which are essentially shortcuts to this process. Feel free to experiment as you see fit but be sure to do so safely and wisely. Research the products you use and follow all precautions.

What Does It Mean to Season a Cast Iron Skillet?

Seasoning is simply building up thin layers of cooked on oil to create a non-stick surface and protect the cast iron from rust. The best seasoned cast iron will have a glass-like smoothness to its finish.

Does Cast Iron Need To Be Seasoned?

No. Seasoning a cast iron skillet is absolutely not required. Seasoning comes from fat polymerization on the surface of the cast iron and cooking various fatty foods will eventually build up a nice seasoning layer on the cast iron. The seasoning process is really more of a trick to instantly create the wonderful non-stick layer that seasoning gives and it also gives a much better result than the haphazard result from simply cooking with cast iron over time.

How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet or Pan

  1. Assuming you’re starting with a properly cleaned and prepped skillet, heat the pan to 200ºF
  2. Remove from heat and pour in your chosen seasoning oil
  3. Work the oil in with your hands as well as possible to ensure that every bit has been oiled well
  4. Wipe away the oil as thoroughly as possible
  5. The pan should look dry when done however there will be residual oil
  6. Place in your oven upside down and bake at 500ºF for at least 1 hour
  7. Turn your oven off and let it cool for 2 hours
  8. Repeat this process 5 more times as you will need at least 6 coats for properly seasoned cast iron

How To Prepare Cast Iron for Seasoning

Cast iron builds up carbon from baked on food over time. Seasoning prevents this by giving the carbon no where to take hold. Even the best seasoned cast iron can build up carbon with heavy use. Carbon build-up and rust need to be removed from cast iron so the oil can properly adhere to the iron. This is a 2-phase process:

Phase 1: Carbon Removal

  1. Apply oven cleaner to the cast iron being sure to follow all precautions on the oven cleaner label
  2. Place the cast iron in a plastic sealable container overnight
  3. Rinse and scrub
  4. If carbon build-up is still present, repeat this process

Be very careful with the oven cleaner product. It contains lye which is a very strong base that will eat through your skin. Don’t ignore the precautions on the oven cleaning product label.

Phase 2: Rust Removal

  1. Soak in a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar for several hours
  2. Inspect occasionally
  3. Remove when bubbling has subsided
  4. Scrub with a strong base to neutralize the vinegar acid, such as baking soda
  5. Rinse thoroughly
  6. Place in oven at 200ºF for 1 hour to evaporate any residual liquid
  7. Oil with your chosen seasoning oil

Don’t overdo the vinegar/water bath as it can damage your cast iron. The point here is to only remove the rust then neutralize the acid to prevent the wearing away of the iron. Also, don’t expect your cast iron to be 100% free from rust. The rust process begins immediately and there will be a small amount even after the most vigorous rinsing.

How To Season Cast Iron

What Is The Best Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron?

Seasoning a cast iron skillet is a process and if you’re going to go to all the trouble then you might as well select the oil that will give you the best results. There are a multitude of options to choose from. Olive oil, vegetable oil, lard, corn oil, canola oil, coconut oil, palm oil, this list goes on and on for what oil is best. While any of the previous options will do for seasoning you will get the best results from flaxseed oil. Drying oils create the hardest and most even fat polymerization, which is the seasoning layer on cast iron. Since flaxseed oil is the only edible drying oil it’s the go to choice for the best non-stick results. Be prepared to spend a bit more since flaxseed oil isn’t the cheapest option, but if you want the best results it’s the only way to go.

How Often Do You Have To Season a Cast Iron Skillet?

Ideally never. If your cast iron has been properly seasoned and well taken care of after cooking it shouldn’t need to be re-seasoned. Wear can happen despite proper care and you may decide to re-seasoning your cast iron skillet or pan.

How Do You Re-Season a Cast Iron Skillet?

You can either follow the method above on how to prepare cast iron for seasoning or you can skip the majority of the preparation portion and give it a good scrub and begin the standard seasoning process. For the smoothest and most non-stick results when seasoning a cast iron skillet you’ll want to go for the full preparation process.

Conclusion: Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning a cast iron skillet or pan is obviously more involved than simply buying some non-stick teflon-coated cookware that never needs this type of process applied. Even if you aren’t concerned about the various chemicals that may be used in the process of making them non-stick, chances are they aren’t going to stand the test of time that cast iron cookware will. The work itself isn’t terribly difficult but it does take some time.

While seasoning a cast iron skillet will provide great results and rewards, it isn’t necessary. You can cook just fine on non-seasoned cast iron. It will stick a little, or maybe a lot, but it will still cook very evenly. Seasoning is worth the effort if you are willing to put in a little time and effort. Good luck and happy cooking!

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