My favorite cookware is cast iron because it is naturally non-stick. Unlike Teflon-like finishes, cast iron is non-toxic and it lasts forever, making it the healthiest and most economical choice for cookware. I am still using the same cast iron that I bought more than 30 years ago.
Cast iron is also available in a wide variety of pots and pans. I personally have four different sizes of skillets, a dutch oven, and a pizza pan.
It’s sad how many people never know the joys of cast iron cooking because they are scared off by the concept of seasoning. It can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. On its simplest level, seasoning just means oiling the pan. Yes, really. You put oil on the pan, which will bond with the metal, creating a surface that’s virtually non-stick.
If you really want to know the science behind it to impress your dinner party guests, here goes. “Seasoning is a layer of carbonized oil,” according to cast iron manufacturer, Lodge. “When oil is heated in cast iron, it bonds with the metal through a process called polymerization, creating a layer of seasoning.”
Can you buy a pan that is pre-seasoned? Yes, you can! In fact, it is easier to find a new cast iron skillet that is pre-seasoned than one that is not. However, some people want to buy cast iron that has not been pre-seasoned if they have some serious food allergies, such as soy, which is the oil that is often used to pre-season cast iron.
I am also not a fan of the rough surface on some pre-seasoned pans, so I’d prefer to simply season my own so that I can have a smooth surface.
You might also need to season cast iron if you buy it second hand at an auction or yard sale. I bought my cast iron dutch oven at a farm auction.
How do you know if your second-hand cast iron needs to be seasoned? If it is not shiny, it needs to be seasoned. And if you are not sure, go through the process anyway. You can’t hurt it by going through this process. (It just might drip a little more oil, if it didn’t really need it.)
How to Season Your Cast Iron Step-by-Step
- Pour a tablespoon or two of oil in it and use a paper towel to spread the oil over the surface, inside and out.
- Grab another piece of paper towel and wipe across all surfaces to remove any excess oil.
- Place the skillet in the oven directly on the top shelf, upside down, with a piece of aluminum foil on the lower shelf to catch drips. If you don’t put the pan upside down, the excess oil will pool inside the pan and make a sticky mess.
- Set the oven to 400 degrees and heat for one hour.
- Turn off the oven and let the pan cool completely.
- Remove the pan from the oven and see if it’s shiny.
- If it is shiny, you’re done. If not, repeat the process. Typically you will need to repeat two or three times.
What oils work best for seasoning cast iron?
The best oils for seasoning your cast iron are those that are refined and have a high smoke point. Unrefined oils have not been deodorized, which means they still taste and smell like the plant from which they originated, such as peanut or sesame oil. Although these oils are delicious for cooking, you probably don’t want everything in your skillet to taste like peanut or sesame oil. Both of these oils can be purchased as refined or unrefined, and unrefined also has a lower smoke point, so just be sure to use refined when seasoning your skillet. Other refined oils that work well for seasoning include safflower, soybean, corn, rice bran, sunflower, canola, and grape seed oil. What about vegetable oil? That is simply a generic name for an oil blend that usually contains soybean, corn, canola, and other oils.
Once your cast iron is seasoned, check out my secrets for cooking in cast iron.