Cast Iron Cookware part 1:How to Season

Soon after my husband and I were married, his grandmother gave me one of her old cast iron pans.

I hated it.

Seriously. I tried to fry eggs in it and they stuck horribly.  So I ended up taking a steel wool pad to it to get it clean each time.

*Sigh* Those of you who know and love your cast iron are just sitting there shaking your heads, I know. Because for those of you who do not know, you never scrub a cast iron pan! And if you do, you need to reseason it!

Once I finally figured this out a couple years ago I resurrected the pan and came to love it. So much so that I’ve been on the lookout for them at garage sales all summer long trying to build up my stash. I ended up having to wait until our rummage sale at church and found a set of 3 unseasoned pans for just a couple dollars.

Score!

Now the advice here on the web on how to season a cast iron pan is quite diverse. Some cook on a low heat for a long time, some do an extremely high heat for shorter periods. I can’t say that a low temp is wrong, but I’ve only done the high heat variation so take this as you may, but it has worked out well for me.

How I season:

  1. Clean your oven. If it’s dirty, don’t skip this step or you will be dealing with mad amounts of smoke in your house. Please don’t ask how I know this……
  2. If you have a very sensitive smoke alarm near your kitchen, put a chair underneath it to make it easier to turn off.
  3. Whether you are re seasoning or doing and initial season, wash and scrub the pan. You don’t have to go to crazy, but for a re season you’ll want to scrub off any rusty spots, pits in the seasoning, and any burnt on gunk off. For a new season, the reason you scrub is that now a days pan manufacturers are putting a food grade wax on the pan which makes it hard for the oils to carbonize onto the metal. Just a quick scrub will do it!

    My new 'unseasoned' pan and my small pan that needed to be re seasoned.

    My new 'unseasoned' pan and my small pan that needed to be re seasoned.

  4. Slather the pan inside and out in some sort of fat. Unsalted butter, coconut oil (what I use since it turns liquid from the heat of my hands and makes application easier), olive oil, or beef lard all work wonderfully. And from what I’ve heard on a few different sites is that veggie oils take longer to carbonize (plus they are rather icky anyways) so use a natural fat. You want the entire pan covered in a thin layer with no pooling.
  5. Place the pan face down on your top oven rack with an aluminum foil lined baking sheet underneath it on the lowest rack.

    Cast Iron

    Yes, I know I didn't use foil. I didn't own any at the time. And yes, my baking sheet now has carbonized oil on it as well.

  6. Turn up your oven to 500 degrees.
  7. Open windows, turn on the vent fan above your oven, and have fans ready to go if need be! These pans will smoke!
  8. Cook your pan for a few hours or until there is no smoke coming off of it when you check on it.
  9. Let cool.
  10. Repeat cooking your pan until you have a nice black carbon layer on it. This took 4 times for my unseasoned pan, and only once for a my re seasoned one. (also, use butter/oil liberally the first few times you use it after seasoning)
    How my unseasoned pan looked after 2 cooking times

    How my unseasoned pan looked after 2 cooking times

Seasoning it this way is supposed to make it last basically forever, as long as you use and wash the pans correctly. I can’t comment on that to much since I’ve only had my new ones a few months, but the pans I recently seasoned have been cooking and frying food wonderfully!

So do you season yours any differently?

Part two – how to care for

This post is linked to:

Kitchen Tip Tuesday

Works for me Wednesday

About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles (with another babe in heaven) after dealing with being less than fertile. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health.

Comments

  1. The only thing I do differently is after I use the pan, I wash and dry it. (Read the word wash loosely, cause really I just rinse well. Sometimes I use soap if it wont come clean.) Then I always re-oil (use just enough to cover the inside of the pan) my pan and bake it or if I’m in a hurry, I turn the stove top on.
    I’ve had issues with one of my pans and rust spots. I find that if I use the heat to completely dry it out, I don’t get the rust spots.

    donielle Reply:

    @Sidnie, Yea, the oil and the heating help with the whole moisture issue we get with using cast iron! I do the same every now and again.

  2. I do season differently…since I use my cast iron every single day (no joke) and do have to “wash” them out from time to time when sloppy joe or pasta sauce covers the sides…I reseason each time that I rinse. This also helps disinfect them. I place a newly wiped/hot water “washed” (of course, never soaped) pan on my stovetop and heat at medium/medium low heat for at least 10 minutes. I too use coconut oil but DO NOT crank the heat as it will smoke and turn the pan black for many uses to come (do not ask me how I know either).
    Through the process I will wipe the coconut oil around the pan to make sure it is staying evenly coated (instead of running into beads or lines)…I then turn the stovetop off and let it cool in place. I often wipe the pan one more time when semi-cool to work any residual oil into the pan with a dry cloth. Works for me…great post.

    donielle Reply:

    @Bridget, I use mine about everyday as well! Love it! The best thing to use for anything fried. Though mine isn’t large enough to do sauces. I do heat over the stove after I wash it as well. If it needs to actually be washed that is! :-)

  3. I so badly want to use cast iron, but I am afraid. :>) One of these days, I’m just going to JUMP RIGHT IN! Thanks for the tips!

    donielle Reply:

    @Lenetta @ Nettacow, Oh, Lenetta, you must try cast iron! I love mine now. :-) I use it almost everyday. Keep a look out for them at garage sales and thrift stores, as the older ones are better than what they make now a days.

    Lenetta Reply:

    @donielle, can you believe I’m still a little scared? :>) My sister-in-law got me a cast iron griddle for my birthday to use when we go camping. I’m going to have to jump in if I want pancakes! (Katie’s soaked ones, of course…) Just wanted to let you know I was here again poking around. :>)

    Donielle Reply:

    @Lenetta, Ha! Just make sure you re-season it before you go. Sometimes the store purchased pans leave a bit to be desired. You’ll love it I’m sure.

    Also – you should try sourdough pancakes for camping! So easy and all you need to bring is a few cups of starter and the ingredients (egg, oil, and baking soda)
    http://www.naturallyknockedup.com/recipe-sourdough-pancakes/

    And glad to see you around. :-)

  4. I love cast iron. My father once found a large cast iron frying pan that had been in a fire. He brought it home to my mom to see if it could be saved. My mom scrubbed it, seasoned it, and is still using it. It is a wonderful large size that you can’t find that often anymore. horay for cast iron!!

  5. i love my cast iron, too! 😀 when mine needs seasoned, i scrub it well with hot water and mild soap. dry well, then rub it liberally with a saturated fat–coconut oil, lard or bacon grease from the freezer. i never use a regular vegetable oil or shortening as they’re rancid (or will be after the seasoning!). wipe gently with a paper towel so there’s no pools, then turn upside down in the oven like you showed over a cookie sheet. i only turn my oven to 250, and leave it for about 2 hours.

    if after cooking with it i need to wash it with water, i’ll do a mini-reseasoning on the stovetop for a few minutes. :)

    awesome post and series!!!

  6. The way I clean it after most meals (I have 4 different sizes of cast iron, and a griddle, so I’m always using cast iron!) is I heat it on the stove till it gets really hot, then I run it under water and let the water sizzle and smoke and loosen whatever food stuffs are leftover and scrub it really quick with a plastic brush. Works really well! I rarely have to re-season my pans cleaning them this way, and with cooking with lots of oil every time I use them.

  7. Cast iron pans, the bane of existence for many a cook who has grown up with non-stick that gets washed with soap and water! However, for those of us lucky enough to have accidentally come upon a lovely 4-inch pan, perfectly seasoned and the ideal size for frying two flawless eggs when started with some melted butter… Ah, BLISS! I love my cast iron, and have only gotten so frustrated over it when someone (who will remain unnamed to protect the guilty) turned on the wrong burner when heating the tea kettle for morning tea… Too high of heat will also completely destroy the finish! BTW, I never wash my little egg pan with water–I scrape it clean with the spatula, and then wipe it out with a paper towel. If something stuck, then I know I didn’t use enough fat.

    For the record, those pans acquired at flea markets and garage sales can be far better than the ones purchased new–even if they’re all gunked up with years of cooked-on crud, it’s likely that the cooking surface itself will be worn smooth and when seasoned properly, will create a much easier-to-release finish than a newly-cast pan with all those sand-grain-sized pits and grooves. How best to clean off years of someone else’s crud? (um, EWW!) I prefer my oven’s self-cleaning cycle (again, pans upside-down to drop the crud–do NOT line with foil during the self-cleaning cycle, or the foil will go up in flames. Actually, so will the crud, if it’s layered on thick enough, but THAT flame dies down quickly and doesn’t harm the oven. Don’t ask me how I know this?), and then the pan will come out covered in rusty-looking ash. Be sure to remove all of this ash prior to adding the first layer of oil to season (do NOT wash with water at this point! this is naked iron, and adding oil over the top at this point might seal it in, causing later rust spots and pitting)–the pan should be a dull pewter-looking color at this point–keep wiping with paper towels or old rags until the rusty color is gone. Then, follow Donielle’s seasoning tips above (from this naked state of the iron, it may take 6-8 coats), and you, too, may learn to love your cast iron! BTW, when using the self-cleaning cycle to clean a pan, be sure to open all windows, turn on all fans, place a broom next to the chair that temporarily resides under that far-too-easy-to-set-off smoke detector to help wave smoke away, and all that. I guess we live and we learn, huh, Donielle!?!?

  8. Donielle, I have the incredibly heavy Mario Battali press/grill that you mention. The outside is coated with enamel. Do you follow the same procedures with this pan, or do you have any special care that you’ve adapted with it?
    THANKS for the great topic!

    donielle Reply:

    @pk, That pan is a workout trying to use it! I pretty much just rinse and wipe out anything left inside. If something gets stuck on I use a plastic brush I have for my dishes. And then I follow up by heating it until dry and wiping down with a touch of oil.

  9. p.s. Alton Brown uses coarse salt to clean his cast iron pans after use.

    donielle Reply:

    @pk, Interesting! I’m sure that would work great, though I don’t buy cheap salt much anymore and would have a hard time using my celtic sea salt for that……
    I should buy some cheap stuff to keep on hand for cleaning though. :-)

  10. Michelle says:

    I too love my cast iron, now that I know what to do with it and how to care for it. Once I got the old pans from flea markets I have had success. I was told by someone who has every kind of cast iron pot and pan available from years past that the new cast iron pans dont season. They are made of material that isnt as good of quality as the older ones. That is why I had quit using them. She also told me that she seasons hers by heating her oven to 500 before she goes to bed. She greases them and puts them in upside down and then turns off the oven and goes to bed. Then takes them out in the morning nice and seasoned. Works great and we dont have to deal with as much smoke.