How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet
Used since the days of yore (or “olden times” or “Pilgrim Period”), cast iron is the most even-heating, durable, and versatile material out there in the land of kitchen crap.
Once seasoned well, a cast iron skillet can be used for cooking anything. I mean ANYTHING. Eggs, bacon, bread, stir-fry, pancakes, steak, chicken feet, horse balls. Literally anything you want to put in your mouth will benefit from being put into a cast iron skillet first. And every time you use it it gets smoother, blacker, and better. Hey-Oh!! You know I’M single! (Not really.)
How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet in 7 Easy Steps
- Take off all the packaging and labels, duh.
- Wash the skillet. Use a plastic scrubbie or brush and clean all the surfaces of the skillet with hot water. Don’t use a wire brush or anything that might scrape the surface.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Put some shortening, cooking oil, coconut butter, or lard in the skillet. (If you’re using a solid, heat it up in the skillet to melt it before spreading.) Then smear a thin layer of your chosen substance all over your skillet, inside and out. Get nasty with it. Wipe off any excess pools or puddles.
- Put the skillet in the oven upside down so that as the skillet heats up, any excess lube will drain away from the cooking surface. If you want to save yourself some trouble, put a cookie sheet on the lower rack so you don’t have to clean your oven after this.
- Cook Your Skillet! Don’t freak out if it starts to smoke. This means the oil or grease is filling up the pores in the cast iron and making it nice and smooth. Let it cook for an hour. Then turn off the oven and leave it in there for an hour.
- Carefully remove the skillet. Use oven mitts because it’s still gonna be hot. Put it on a heat resistant surface. Let it cool more.
That’s about all there is to it. Watch the video below to see this demonstrated. The skillet won’t be non-stick right away. But start using it! Repeat the seasoning process a couple times if you want, or just start cooking bacon and fried chicken for every meal. It will be as smooth as my perfectly porcelain cheeks in no time.
Long-term Care of a Cast Iron Skillet
The most important thing to remember is not to use soap! Soap and detergents will remove that beautiful patina you’ve worked so hard for. Instead, just scrub it lightly with hot water and a plastic scrubby thing. The first few times you use it, before it’s well seasoned, you might get some stickage problems. But they will not be a problem if you use a little salt or baking soda as a gentle cleaner to get off any stubborn bits. To help prevent stubborn bits in the first place, make sure you preheat your skillet before cooking.
Once cleaned, dry the skillet and smear a drop of oil inside it and put it away. You can also dry it by setting it empty and wet on a hot stove eye and letting the water evaporate then rubbing in the oil while it’s still hot. This is a great quick way to maintain the seasoning but I often forget I have the skillet on the stove until the house is getting smoky so I hesitate to recommend this to anyone as pea-brained as myself. I kid. My brain is more like a Brussels sprout.
Some people recommend re-seasoning your cast iron periodically, but I’ve found that as long as you’re using it regularly and washing it right, it’s not really necessary to go through all that again.
Try this at home and let me know how it works out for you.
When you think of a cooking skillet, many of us think of the older cast iron skillets used in outdoor situations. These cast iron frying pans were heavy and food stuck to them so cleaning was a real headache. The current kitchen skillets are made from stainless steel or aluminum and their nonstick surfaces make them great for cooking up omelets or vegetables.Cast iron has a porous surface. The seasoning process serves to fill and smooth the surface of the pan. It's true that the more you use and season a cast-iron skillet, the more non-stick the surface becomes.
What's with posting an ill-conceived ad for nonstick electric skillets on here? This comment barely makes sense.
Nonstick electric can kiss my grits. I will defend cast iron until the day I die.
I love how passionately you fight spammers. You even invoke the power of the Jesus energy drink. That is hardcore!
Interestingly enough, chefs usually do not bother with this very important information!
I can't remember how many failed omelets I've seen because of an unprepared new skillet!
Hilah, the Janis Joplin of cooking?
Take good care of yourself!
Your remembrance of failed omelets brings tears to my eyes. Thanks for the comparison to Janis. I also like to drink a lot. And sing.
My, we are on the same wavelength!LOL
If you like to drink, check this, too:
Janis will probably have a good laugh where she is now when she hears that Texan ladies still venerate her! One of my favourite ladies!
Cheers and all that!
Oh, stop, Robert-Gilles! I mean, go on. I love your stories.
My sister-in-law saw Janis in concert and she drank a whole 5th of whiskey (or whatever is was) on stage… hardcore! But I also get my pan sticky every time I re-season. Some of these pans are very old, inherited from my grandmother. She is probably turning over in her grave… But I love them dearly. I have 4 sizes that are used frequently…
You might be using too much oil when reseasoning. How often are you doing it? If you wash and dry them thoroughly after each use, you really shouldn’t need to reseason more than once a year, or even less.
some thing to point out when seasoning cast iron you need to heat it to a higher temp just above the smoke point so it transforms into a polymer, lard for instance is 370 deg F, canola and vegetable shortening is about 400 deg F. by doing this your cast iron will not be sticky and you will get a better seasoning on it.
Because of this episode, I finally seasoned my skillet the other night. Thanks!! I used pork belly fat I had saved just for this but haven't done it because I didn't exactly how to do it. It smoked and worked but my pan still looks patchy from the other times I've used it. I didn't know what I was doing. so what are the patches from? scratching? previous burnt stuff? Can you ruin a cast iron skillet?
I think it is very hard to ruin a cast iron skillet. Try seasoning it again. As long as the patches aren't sticky or gummy, it will probably still work fine. Pork belly fat, yum!
ahhhh… yes… thanks for the reminder. I have an old skillet that needs seasoning. I will bookmark this article when I have time. Seasoned skillets are the perfect non-stick pans.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liz Rizzo. Liz Rizzo said: Just put my cast iron skillet in the oven to season, Hilah Style! – http://bit.ly/cQDl6K […]
[…] How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet — Hilah Cooking 18 Feb 2010. Once seasoned well, a cast iron skillet can be used for cooking anything.. Nonstick electric can kiss my grits. I will defend cast iron How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet — Hilah Cooking […]
yo! what’s your preferred method of post-usage clean-up? do you use salt? water? stiff brush?
Hi Jeff! I just use a plastic scrubby sponge and water. Then dry it on a hot stove and rub it with a drop of oil while it’s warm about every third use.
Salt is good for real stubborn bits.
Thanks for writing!
Hilah, you inspired me to get rid of my old nonstick pans and upgrade to cast iron! Mine are still in the seasoning process, but I use my little about 3 times a week and its coming along nicely! Thanks for the tips and inspiration, loving what your doing with your unique flare! Love and Blessing!
That is fantastic, Tisha! Pretty soon you won’t be able to cook without it! xo
I didn’t read all of the previous comments. I just want to add my own.. As a purist from a long line of Southern cooks (since 1890 that I know of), I use only bacon fat to
season iron skillets. In line with newer nutrition ideas, I used veg oil on a new one and ruined it for months.. Never again. We don’t eat bacon but maybe 2x year in interest of improved cardiac health, but that gives me enough fat for seasoning my various size skillets.
It’s great to know that bacon grease or lard are BETTER for seasoning than vegetable oils. Somehow, I was thinking the opposite, but I bow to your experience and thank you freeing me from my delusions.
I am saddened, however, with your comments about only eating bacon about 2x/yr, and I am hoping I can return the favor.
For years, I remembered learning in high school biology that what you eat doesn’t usually stay in your body as the same stuff it was before you ate it. This is due to the complex ways in which the body breaks down our food, and then uses it. So fat, for example, is broken down into things like lipase and triglycerols, while sugar is largely stored as fat. But we’ve been sold for years on the idea that fat zooms past your digestive system and sets up house right in your coronary arteries (or something like that). Many nutritionists (like Atkins) have bucked this current conventional wisdom, but to little avail.
Anyway, for a clearer and deeper explanation, here’s a great article from just yesterday (4/8/14) that talks in part about this situation and may free you from the bacon-less shackles of group-think.
I hope you find comfort in this and enjoy more bacon.
Oops. Not lipase. That’s something that disolves the fat. I meant fatty acids.
Thanks so much for this article and the video! I purchased my very 1st cast iron skillet last week in order to aid in a healthier life style as far as nutrition. Nonstick pots and pans contains harmful chemicals I read that with time wear off into your meals thus into your body. In order to avoid that along with adding healthier meal choices I decided to search for healthier cookware and came across cast iron. My 1st fried egg stuck so I set out to learn more and stumbled across your page. I’m actually typing this as my lodge cast iron skillet seasons in the oven, I used canola oil to season, hope that’s ok. 34 mins left, Whoo hoo. 🙂 thanks again. I hope to enjoy for many years to come!
That’s great, Stephen! Eggs are the toughest things to cook in a cast iron, I’ll be honest with you. It takes a very well-seasoned pan for them to not stick. My advice is to “stick” 😉 with it, though. Every time you use your skillet, it will get better and smoother!
Thanks for writing!
Thanks to this video I am now obsessed with seasoning cast iron! (And cooking in it) I even bought my mom a skillet and took my sisters to season it. Lol. Thanks Hilah, I’m cooking my way through your videos and even though I already know how to cook I’m still learning tips and tricks and delicious recipe’s from you!
Great job, Rocio! 🙂 Spread the gospel of cast iron. I’m glad you’re learning some new things and maybe trying some new recipes. There’s always more to learn, I can attest to that. 😉 Thanks for writing!
Hilah, I’ve used cast iron for YEARS and have nearly everything that can be found that’s cast iron. I’ve abused my stuff, though. Washed it with soap, left it standing in water, and even put in the dishwasher. They still look nice and of course completely functional, but what can I do to strip them of GUNK and get them back to their old glory?
If the gunk build up is on the outside or handle of the pan, I myself would leave it alone (because I am kind of lazy) but wherever it is, you can scrub it off with a a medium-grit steel wool until it’s smooth, then reseason in the oven.
You have a ‘Good Eats’ oven! OK, Cast iron rocks! Always my first choice. But lots of mine are encrusted on the outside. Place pieces on OLD oven rack in oven and turn on self-cleaning? Your thoughts?
So, I responded on FB that I thought this would be too harsh a method and would screw up the existing inside (asssumably in good condition?) seasoning, but someone else commented separately on YouTube that it is a good way to clean everything off so you can start from scratch. But if you don’t want to start over, try scrubbing the outside with coarse steel wool first to remove the build-up. If that doesn’t work, try the self-cleaning method.
I use kosher salt, a little hot water, and a paper towel to clean my cast iron. If I have a particularly tough piece of baked on stuff, I’ll use a (no soap) scrubby sponge with the kosher salt and little hot water.
Recently, we found a somewhat grungy cast iron grillpan in a cupboard. I gave it a thorough cleaning, but used the opportunity to clean up our other cast iron.
I used this method just recently on a bunch of pans and pots messed up in various ways and degrees. They all came out great, and I recommend it heartily.
Just remember to put a cookie sheet on the bottom of the oven to catch the ashes.
Hoorah! So happy to hear that, Tim.
Heya just wanted to give you a quick heads
up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly.
I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers
and both show the same outcome.
Thanks for the tips on caring for your cast iron. On a personal note, what is the tat on your arm? Thanks, gil
Hey Gil! Glad you found it useful.
The tattoo is a (crappy) anchor. 🙂
Do you let the pan cool after cooking/before cleaning? Just let it sit on the stove and clean it once it’s touchable again? Then heat it up to coat it per your video?
Just let it cool enough to handle, Kim. It’s okay to clean it while warm and it will be easier to clean than if you let it cool completely.
Thanks for the vid, Hilah. You have a great on-camera personality. I won’t be surprised when I see you in some Hollywood movie.
I used to take good care of my C-I skillets when I was young and eager. But eventually I fell upon sinful ways and took to scrubbing and washing them with detergent. After many years of this, you have helped me get religion again, and I already Oven-clean-cycled my two skillets and big, sort of chili pot thing, and started seasoning them. I started with corn oil but got all excited when you mentioned lard, since I just recently bought half a hog and rendered his leaf-lard, but haven’t used it yet.
I know where it’s going now. (If I could just get my daughter to make some pies . . .but she’s got Finals. Soon)
Problem is, the wife, who is usually an all-natural-everything, ex-hippie type, is now completely aghast at the idea of leaving “all that used, rotting grease” in the pan and wants to keep soaping them. Do you know anything I can show her to move her off her typically self-contradictory position?
Easier question is why shouldn’t I use a metal egg-flipper spatula to scrape the pan if there’s some crusty stuff stuck on the bottom (usually from bacon or sausage, which I eat almost every day to enhance cardiac health).
Also, I found an old, rusty C-I dutch oven and sis all the clean-cycling etc on it, and started seasoning it. But I found the bottom (inside) to be pretty pitted, including one hole about the size of a pencil lead that goes in a m or so. I’m concerened these will trap food and bacteria to ill effect. Any advice?
Thanks again Hilah. You are doing holy work.
Hi Tim! I’m so happy you’ve found the Path of the Cast Iron, again. 🙂
Your wife’s concerns aren’t completely invalid. If you left a bunch of oil on the pan, it would go rancid eventually. But washing between uses with hot water and plastic scrubber will remove excess oil. Oils that are high in alpha-linolenic acid are very stable, in as much as they don’t go rancid as quickly as others. Flaxseed oil is the easiest-to-find oil that is also high in alpha-linolenic acid. Maybe using flax to season it will ease her concern. I’ve never worried about rancidity because I use mine every day. I am going to ask “My Brother the Scientist” more about this, though.
Using metal utensils to cook in CI is fine. I do it all the time with no adverse effects on the seasoning layer. If there’s a bunch of fat left (from cooking bacon, for example) I save that in a jar for cooking later (because I, too, love and respect my cardiac health) then wipe out the excess, and while the pan is still warm, give it a rinse and light scrub with hot water and dry it. It’s smooth and shiny and ready to use again. I don’t use a metal spatula to scrape it, just because with this method I’ve never had to.
For the pitted dutch oven, I don’t have a good answer. Personally I wouldn’t worry about bacteria since any time you cook, you’re probably going to have your food at a boil for at least a couple minutes and that will kill off any bacteria. But it still might be hard to clean and/or just seem kind of gross. A millimeter deep, you might be able to season it a couple of times and fill it in.
Hope that helps!
New user and longtime food enthusiast here. I love the site and you have some great recipes. May I contribute some relevant chemistry?
Flax oil and other sources of polunsaturated fatty acids are NOT stable, they (and alpha-linolenic acid in particular) are highly reactive. So much so that a significant percentage of the flax oil sold for dietary consumption is rancid before it gets to the consumer. On at least three occasions we’ve bought bottles of flax seed oil which was too disgusting to use. Fresh flax oil has a bright, nutty flavor, not like an old piece of furniture. The reason that flax oil and bacon grease go rancid is the same: resonance stabilization of the free-radical intermediates in the polymerization of alpha-linolenic acid (and related compounds) lowers the activation energy for those steps and dramatically accelerates the overall rate of polymerization. This is precisely what makes them ideal for use in seasoning cast iron cookware.
The rancid flax we bought was simply not stored under refrigeration for some unknown amount of time before it got to us. Bacon fat goes rancid at room temperature over some time. The deliberate polymerization of linseed oil (aka flax) usually includes a boiling step; as the initial steps of the overall reaction are taken, leading to rancidity, the average MW of the reaction mixture goes up dramatically and the rate slows due to increased viscosty, loss of resonance stability, and other factors. In linseed oil prepared for use as an adhesive or varnish, the manufacturer may include other compounds which preclude it’s use in contact with food surfaces, for this reason “boiled linseed oil” is arguably the best for wooden knife handles and cast iron cookware. So the reason that we whack it into a hot oven is to drive the overall polymerization reaction to completion! Seasoning involves growing a thermoset polymer into and over the porous iron surface. It is tough because it is highly crosslinked, it is securely physically interlocked with the substrate, and it’s waterproof because it’s covered with pendant hydrocarbon chains. I wish that I had invented it!
Flax seed is fine to use but exceedingly expensive. Rancid flax oil might be a little better and could be cheap or free if someone bought it for consumption. Boiled linseed oil is cheaper and probably the best if you’re going to go buy something. Beef fat is no good, but pork and chicken is much better – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10347702. Also, the composition of the animal’s diet apparently plays a major role in fatty acid profiles, at least in beef – http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/1. So grass-fed beef is superior to grain fed, etc. It seems reasonable to speculate that this would also follow for pork and chicken, and of course is well studied in the production and marketing of ALA-enhanced eggs.
Finally, I would point out that the amounts actually “required” of these “essential” fatty acids, if any, may be vanishingly small and would easily be provided on any reasonable diet, ie. not specifically designed to eliminate them. http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/unsaturatedfats.shtml
Wow. Talk about authoritative.
Lloyd, can you please help fill out a chemistry semi-literate’s understanding of your post?
What is alpha-linolenic acid?
polymerization of alpha-linolenic acid
“activation energy for those steps”
You say: “ the average MW of the reaction mixture goes up” What’s “MW?”
What is a thermoset polymer?
I really hope you can explain. I’d love to understand these things.
Rather than a giving a short, unsatisfactory response, I will send you to Wikipedia, where much more detailed responses can be found than I could provide here. MW is molecular weight, and I’m referring to the average. You may also find assistance in the Chemistry department of any accreditited university.
Whenever seasoning your skillet in the oven, I think it is important to note the type of oil or lard that you using.
The smoke point (temperature at which an oil smokes) is crucial to the temperature that you set your oven in order to properly season your skillet.
Vegetable oils tend to have a higher temperature smoke point than lard (animal based fats). And therefore, require less temperature.
However, as in good BBQ, Low and slow is always the best way to go.
Too high a temperature, the holes and crevices in the iron will not have sufficient time to expand and absorb the oil before it simply solidifies on the surface, thus making a surface patina that turns into scraping a brown mess of solidified oil (I call Slag) that IS NOT a seasoned pan.
I find that 225 – 250 for lard (animal fats) for 2 hours and 250-275 for vegetable oils for 1.5 hours in the oven will open up the pours in the skillet enough for the oil to penetrate and iron without necessarily the burning the oil.
I prefer lard (animal fats) as it rarely causes Slag, and it imparts a better flavor to the meal.
There is nothing better than a well seasoned pan.
Thank you. You just solved a mystery for me. I’ve been seasoning at way too high a temp, and will definitely go with the BBQ method, and pray for warm weather so I can start smoking all the pork shoulder in my freezer.
But I got to ask: do you heat high enough to go OVER the oil’s smoke point, or do you try to stay under it?
Thanks again for the info.
I got my first cast iron about a year ago and needless to say, I LOVE it…. I’ve found that there is something so humbling (not sure if that’s the right word) in taking the time to care for a cast iron skillet. At least for me anyway, I feel like it sort of pays respects to a different time in American kitchens, when things were much simpler. If that makes any sense :p
The first time I seasoned the cast iron, like a dumb-dumb I oiled it, then put in in the oven upside down without a baking sheet or anything underneath and got my oven all gross and had to google baking soda oven cleaning…it was awful…
Anyway, last week at an antique store I found an awesome medium sized cast iron, sort of similar to the one you have with the longer handle. It seems already pretty shiny like it was well taken care of, but obviously I will want to clean it a re-season it. So I guess I have two questions for you…I thought that I heard you can use those stainless steel scrubbers on cast iron, is that true? Also can I place my oiled cast iron directly upside down onto a baking sheet then put it in the oven? I am paranoid of having another horrific oil drip in there haha 🙂
Thanks for your help!
I’m so so happy you have become a cast iron user. 🙂 I know exactly what you mean about how it makes you feel connected to the past.
Congrats on the antique store find! That is fantastic. If it’s shiny and black, I wouldn’t mess with it if I were you. Sounds like it’s seasoned perfectly. I’d just clean it with a plastic scrubber or a copper one (I think stainless is a little harsh), rinse with hot water, then set on the hot stove to dry. Once dry and very warm, rub with a little bit of oil all inside it, removing any excess oil.
If it really needs seasoning (like there is a rust spot or a rough area inside) then scrub it well, oil and reseason in the oven. You can put it right on the baking sheet if that’s easier for you.
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I have used cast iron for longer than you have been alive. My oldest piece is probably 60 years old. I agree with everything that you said, albeit with some small notes. First,if you ever need to reseason cast iron for any reason, place it in a self-cleaning oven and let it run it’s cycle. Then simply season as you would any new cast iron and build up the patina. I’ve come across yard sale or thrift store finds, some have been so rusty they gave them away, and have had to do some extreme cleaning. I used a power drill with wire wheel on it to get down to clean metal, then rinsed well and seasoned.
You also should season only with salt-free oils or greases. Salt can bring on rusting. I stay away from bacon fat for that reason. Lard or shortening work fine. Butter almost always contains salt and can go rancid. I try to stay away from the smoke point on most occasions with one exception: most new cast iron has been coated with a very light light layer of wax to prevent rust while in storage prior to sale. First heating I will place it in a hot (350 degree) oven until it stops smoking. Then, I will season it as it cools.
Sometimes acidic foods will impact the seasoning. Tomato sauces are the biggest I’ve dealt with. Just season again.
People are cautioned about using them on glass-top stoves. The reasons aren’t that they won’t function, but rather they may scratch or break the surface if dropped. I have used mine on a glass-top for years. I prefer gas cooking, but it isn’t an option right now.
What brand or model of skillet are you using? I’ve been looking at various brands online and haven’t found any that look like yours. I like the handle on that one. It looks more comfy than my Lodge and I notice you don’t use a handle cover so it must stay cool longer.
In the video I used a new Lodge 10″ skillet for demo purposes. In my kitchen, I almost always use my old hand-me-down Wagner skillet. They don’t make them anymore but you can find them on eBay. They are lighter weight and have a more ergonomic handle than any Lodge I have.