My cast-iron skillet is the real workhorse in my kitchen. The thick, heavy bottom retains heat and maintains an even temperature, creating a perfectly even cooking surface. Unlike so-called ‘nonstick’ cookware, a cast-iron skillet is virtually indestructible and can last for decades. With proper care, cast iron cookware only get better over time.
What is Cast-Iron Seasoning?
Seasoning is a layer of carbonized fat or oil that has built upon the surface of a cast-iron skillet. As you repeatedly use the skillet, thin layers of oil adhere to the surface, molecule by molecule. This coating creates a hard, smooth layer that allows food to easily release when cooked. With proper care, a cast-iron skillet will replace your over-priced nonstick cookware and can literally last for generations.
When you buy a new cast-iron skillet, it has a jet-black patina to it, this is from the initial factory seasoning and the texture is a little rough. The cast-iron is cast in a sand mold resulting in a slightly sandy texture. The texture not only has bumps but pores as well.
As you use the cast-iron skillet, the seasoning will continuously build up, gradually filling in the pores and eventually smoothing out the texture. The seasoning not only protects the skillet from rust and corrosion but is also the beginning of a naturally smooth, non-stick cooking surface that is unparalleled.
The best way to season cast-iron is to cook with it, often.
Every time you cook with cast iron, you add a microscopic layer of seasoning that over time creates this amazing cooking surface. Occasionally it is necessary to re-season your cast iron cookware. Harsh cleaning, scraping or acidic foods such as tomatoes and BBQ sauce can and will damage the seasoning. Every so often you might notice black flakes coming off of your skillet, this is simply seasoning that has come loose from the skillet and it’s time for re-seasoning.
When seasoning your cast-iron, you want to use an oil that is safe, doesn’t go rancid or creates any unpleasant aftertastes. In the old days’ people would use lard or bacon grease to season the skillets, but animal fats can go rancid if the skillet is unused for an extended period of time. I like canola oil or grapeseed oil to season cast-iron — they’re both fairly inexpensive, readily available, neither has an unpleasant aftertaste and both have a high smoking temperature.
Not unlike any other piece of valuable cookware, a cast-iron skillet requires a few, very simple steps to care for it and maintain the seasoning.
How to Clean Cast-Iron
Cast-iron needs to be washed by hand, never wash a cast iron skillet in a dishwasher.
Wipe excess grease and food particles from the pan with a paper towel. Stuck-on particles can be removed by adding a small amount of water to the pan, bringing it to a boil and ‘deglazing’ the skillet by gently scraping the stuck-on bits off. Once cool, a small amount of soap and water can be used to rinse off the skillet. Immediately dry and rub a small amount of canola oil on all surfaces to protect from rust.
Best Way to Season Cast-Iron
Honestly, the best way to season a cast iron skillet is to cook with it, bacon and fried eggs is a great way to start. There really is no better way to season a skillet than cooking with it. But if you’re like me, your cookware takes a lot of abuse, I don’t have the luxury of babying my cast iron, and they get used. For me, last week was Thanksgiving and between acidic foods, long simmer sauces, and harsh washing conditions, my cast iron needs a little helping hand, and this is my process.
Equipment Need to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
- Canola or Grapeseed Oil
- Lint Free Paper Towels (blue shop towels work great)
Regular paper towels leave tiny bits of lint that you can’t see with the naked eye. However, while in the oven, the lint will absorb the oil surrounding it, giving your pan a spotted uneven finish. It’s not harmful, just not very pretty, that’s why I recommend using blue shop towels specifically designed to be lint-free.
How to Season Cast Iron:
- Wash and rinse: Place the clean skillet on the stovetop over medium heat for at least 5 minutes to ensure the moisture has completely evaporated
- Preheat oven to 400 ºF
- Less is more: Use only a small amount of oil, start with a teaspoon of either canola or grapeseed oil in the skillet, use a lint-free paper towel to evenly spread the oil on all surfaces, top, bottom, and sides. And wipe away the excess, leaving only a film of oil. You want a very, very thin layer, less is more when seasoning a cast-iron skillet
- Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any possible drips and place the skillet upside down on the rack, set the timer for 1-hour
- Once you start the seasoning process, leave it alone, don’t open the oven, no peeking, you want to maintain a nice even temperature throughout the process
- After 1-hour, turn off the heat and let the skillet cure in the oven overnight.
Now cook with it often, low temperature, high fat, low acid recipes for the first couple of dozen times you use the cast iron skillet.
Seasoning is an ongoing process, not a one-day thing. The layers upon layers of carbonized oil will make your skillet bulletproof, giving you perfectly seared steaks and pork chops for years to come.