How To Season A Cast Iron Skillet – The Scientific Way
You can season your cast iron with the following steps:
- Step 1: Preheat your oven
- Step 2: Clean your cast iron pan thoroughly
- Step 3: Coat the entire pan with oil
- Step 4: Bake it in the oven upside down for 1 hour
- Step 5: Applying more layers of seasoning
If you’re a beginner, you will require more in-depth knowledge on how to season cast iron, so please keep reading this guide.
What is seasoning?
Phrases such as “seasoning the pan” or “seasoning a cast iron skillet” refer to coating your cookware with oil and baking it in an oven, thereby cross-linking and polymerizing the oil and cast iron molecules on the pans surface.
This forms a hard non-stick surface on the cast iron cookware which protects it from food and the rust.
How to season cast iron cookware
Before we begin, check out the best oil for seasoning.
Knowing how to season cast iron can seem complicated, but honestly it’s really simple and we will be keeping it simple.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when seasoning cast iron is they select the wrong oil, and that just leads to mediocre results. Choosing the best oil is the most important step.
So before we begin, we need to select the best oil for seasoning cast iron.
Step 1: Preheat your oven
The first and most important step, is to preheat your oven (If you are using a stovetop we will cover this later when needed)
Now to choose the temperature you need to look at the smoke point of the oil you are using and then heat the oven up higher than the smoke point. So if the smoke point is 400°F you need to preheat your oven to around 420°F.
This will allow the oils to polymerize properly. Don’t select 400°F exactly if your smoke point is 400°F simply because you will be depending on the oils smoke point being accurately measured.
Always go around 20°F higher than the oils smoke point.
After you have set your oven to preheat, let’s move onto cleaning your cast iron pan while the oven is preheating.
Step 2: Clean your cast iron pan thoroughly
The next step is to clean your cast iron cookware.
To do this you’ll need to use some kosher salt. Why? Because cast iron has thousands of miniature pores where dust, dirt and food can get trapped. So even if you have a new cast iron skillet, there may still be dirt trapped in the pores and kosher salt will act as an abrasive whilst washing out easily.
So get some kosher salt, and rub it over the entire pan using a new soft cloth. You need to ensure you rub it everywhere including the handle and the back of the cast iron pan, because we will be seasoning all of it.
Whatever you do, do not use a paper towel for cleaning cast iron prior to seasoning because the fibers on the paper towel will get caught into the pores of the cast iron, which will block the oils from entering the pores.
If for some reason you don’t have any kosher salt, then some suitable alternative include steel wool or a skin scrub brush, basically something that’s durable and won’t break off into the cast iron easily.
After you are satisfied that you’ve give your cast iron cookware a good clean you need to rinse the salt off.
To do this, simply put your cast iron pan into the sink, and run the tap over it. Now take a sponge and use the non abrasive side to wipe the salt off the pan.
After, gently use some paper towels to dry the pan.
Step 3: Coat the entire surface with oil
Now your cast iron cookware is fully dry, we need to start the pan’s seasoning process. So get the oil you have chosen and pour a small amount onto the pans cooking surface.
Now take a clean soft cloth, and rub the oil everywhere ensuring your coating the entire pan. Make sure you only rub a thin layer of oil onto the pan so you avoid using excess oil. If you do use excess oil, you will end up with a sticky layer of seasoning after you have finished.
You are probably wondering how much is too much oil? Well a little trick I use is, if I have to think about whether I’ve used too much oil, then I have used too much. The cast iron pan should look dry once you’ve applied a thin layer of oil.
If you have accidently used too much during the initial seasoning process, then get a second cloth and start wiping the pan down to remove some.
Try not to worry too much about excess oil too much though, because I have another trick up my sleeve on the next step.
Step 4: Baking it in the oven
Now you have coated the entire pan in a thin layer of cooking oil, it’s time to bake it.
Your oven should now be preheated to above the smoke point temperature of the cooking oil applied. So place your cast iron frying pan in the oven upside down.
Remember how I said if you used excess oil not to worry? Well placing the cast iron frying pan upside down in the oven will allow any excess oil to drip off. Just make sure you place some aluminum foil or a tray underneath so your oven doesn’t get coated in oil.
It’s better if you don’t apply excess oil in the first place, but if you do this should prevent any excess oil from remaining.
The oil won’t drip off at first, but as it heats up the viscosity of the oil becomes lower, and it’s then starts to drip off.
Now close the oven door and leave it in for an hour. After an hour take it out of the oven and move to step 5.
Alternative step 4: Using the stove top
If you don’t have an oven for baking your cast iron pot or pan, then there’s no need to worry. You can achieve the exact same result with a stove top.
The only downside to a stove top, is you need to keep an eye on it as you would with cooking in the unlikely event of a fire. So it can be quite time consuming.
All you need to do is coat the cast iron pot in oil, place it on the stove top and heat the pan up until you see smoke coming off.
Keep it at the temperature until all the smoke has disappeared, your pan will now be seasoned and you can move onto the next step or reapplying the seasoning.
Step 5: Applying more layers
At this point, you should now have a successful layer of seasoning on your cast iron. Your cast iron will feel smoother than it did previously due to the protective plastic like barrier.
Now you need to repeat the process again, applying a thin layer of oil and baking the cast iron frying pan upside down for an hour.
This will add more layers of seasoning onto your cast iron cookware, which reinforces the protectiveness of the seasoning.
You will need to repeat this around 6-8 times. I always aim for 8 if time allows, but if not then 6 layers is fine.
After finishing, you should now have a seasoned pan ready to use for cooking with a brilliant nonstick surface.
Can you cook acidic foods in the pan?
You can cook some acidic food in the pan, but you have to be careful because any acidic food will eat away at the seasoning. If you cook acidic food too much in your cast iron pans without reinforcing the seasoning, you’ll eventually end up with no seasoning left.
How often do you season a cast iron skillet?
Once you have done the initial seasoning, you shouldn’t need to season it again. Simply because every time you cook, the fats from the food should add to the layer of seasoning, essentially reinforcing it with every meal you cook.
Can you cook tomato sauce in cast iron?
Yes you can cook tomato sauce in cast iron regardless of what other people say. Tomato sauce may be acidic, but as long as you have a good layer of seasoning on your pan, your cast iron will be protected from the acidic tomato sauce.
Can you ruin a cast iron pan?
You can ruin a cast iron pan very easily. Leaving it in water is one way to destroy it quickly. Always clean your cast iron pan thoroughly and make sure you dry it thoroughly after washing to avoid ruining it.
Can you soak cast iron?
As stated above, you cannot soak cast iron, this will lead to rust and destroy your cast iron cookware. If you need to clean it, use some soapy water with a scrub brush but don’t let it sit in water for a long time.
Can you absorb iron from a cast iron pan?
If it’s not seasoned yes, the iron will be absorbed by the food. This usually gives meat extra flavor, however if you have seasoned your cast iron then no iron will not be absorbed into your food due to the barrier the seasoning creates between the food and the cast iron.
Why is my cast iron seasoning sticky?
Cast iron seasoning can be sticky for multiple reasons, the most common being excess oil when seasoning it. If you use too much oil, some of it won’t have anywhere to bond and will turn into a sticky mess. Use a thin layer of oil when seasoning to avoid sticky seasoning.
How does seasoning protect cast iron?
The oils polymerize and bond with the pores in the cast iron, this creates a barrier on top of the cast iron, protecting it from both acidic products and moisture in the air. Just make sure you season the entire pan including the back and the handle to get full protection from seasoning.
Why you should care about seasoning your cast iron cookware
There are a variety reasons why you should want to season your cast iron cookware
First of all, seasoning a cast iron skillet gives it a nonstick surface. This is the main reason you want to season it. If you don’t have a non stick surface, you will end up with burnt food bonding to the surface making it impossible to clean. The nonstick layer also protects your pans from being scratched and damaged by utensils.
Second of all, the layers of seasoning create a barrier around the pan, this not only prevents rust and corrosion, but also helps decrease the amount of heat that is transferred to the food inside. Now you might be asking yourself how can a layer of seasoning make a difference in the amount of heat that gets transferred into food. That’s because this layer protects the food from being burned by hot pans surface during cooking.
Who should be seasoning cast iron?
Anyone can season their pans. There are no special requirements to seasoning you pan, and If you have just bought your first cast iron skillet and want to start using it right away for cooking, then seasoning it would be the best idea since you will be protecting it from rusting and avoid having food stick on its surface when cooking. Seasoning a pan before using it also prolongs its life.
Where Can You season cast iron?
Seasoning a cast iron skillet can be done anywhere at anytime. You can season your cast iron cookware at home and outdoors as long as you have some form of extreme heat such as an oven, a stove top or an outside grill.
How long does it take to season cast iron?
It depends on how many times your willing to season your pan. Each layer of seasoning should take around 1 hour and 15 minutes in total. 15 minutes to prepare the seasoning, and 1 hour baking time
You will also need to season your cast iron cookware multiple times, we would recommend around 6-8 times all in the same day to achieve the best results. So realistically you want to be free for an entire day to do this.