Sunday, February 1, 2009

Article: Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

Well-seasoned cast iron cookware is shiny and non-stick
The essence of seasoning cast iron cookware is to get some fat on the pan, and then apply heat via a stove burner or oven. It is important to get the pan above the smoke point of the fat you are using. Using the right fat or oil is also important.

Heating the cast iron opens up the pores of the metal so the fat can flow in and fill the holes. The heat applied during cast iron seasoning also changes the chemical makeup of the oil to harden it.

A well-seasoned cast iron pan:
  • performs better during cooking (since it is non-stick),
  • is easier to clean up from (since it is non-stick), and
  • can tolerate a bit more abuse than a new cast iron pan.

Cooking frequently with your cast iron and properly cleaning and drying your cast iron after use will go a long way toward developing a healthy seasoning. If your pan is rusted, see directions for rescuing abused cast iron cookware.

I use organic canola oil for my cast iron seasoning (also called rapeseed oil). Canola oil has a fairly high smoke point, and also a fairly high ability to polymerize, and is a drying oil.

NOTE: there's an interesting discussion about pre-seasoning, polymerization, iodine values, and more brainy stuff that you should read if you've got the time. If you are seasoning a naked bare cast iron skillet for the first time, you might consider using flaxseed oil as Sheryl suggests in the aforementioned article.

A well-used cast iron pan will actually acquire most of its beautiful coat of seasoning while you are using it to cook... as opposed to through repeated oven-seasoning sessions. But sometimes a good oven seasoning is in order.

Here's how you do it:

Oven Seasoning for Cast Iron

Start with clean and dry cast iron. Put a quarter-sized pour (1/2 teaspoon?) of canola oil in the center of the pan. Use a paper towel or clean cloth to liberally spread the oil all over (bottom too). Place the cast iron pan upside down in a 450 degree oven for 1 hour. Put a cookie sheet or aluminum foil underneath the pan to catch drips.

After an hour, the oil will likely appear somewhat mottled on the pan. Turn the oven off, and very lightly re-oil the pan (you can probably just use the same paper towel you used at first, with no additional oil). Stick your pan back in the oven to cool down very slowly. You may wish to re-oil it very lightly a few more times as it cools down to avoid mottling.

You can oven-season cast iron as many times as you like. But regular use is the best way to season your pan.

This process does generate a fair bit of smoke! It will probably stink up your house a bit. Consider oven-seasnoning your cast iron with your windows open and/or your stove hood fan on (assuming it actually vents to the outdoors). All the more reason to roast things (like chicken and vegetables) with your cast iron to develop seasoning.

Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron
Many cast iron skillets and dutch ovens come pre-seasoned these days. Lodge, in particular, has begun selling nearly all of their cast iron using their Pro-Logic seasoning method. While this pre-seasoning is helpful for getting a base coat of protection on the pan, true non-stick cast iron seasoning comes only from repeated use and proper care and maintenance.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info! I recently received as a belated wedding present a 5 piece Lodge set: griddle, dutch oven/combo, and a deep pot/skillet combo. I've spent the last few days seasoning, and I made skillet cornbread along with my chipotle chicken chili this morning for The Big Game tomorrow (all gf of course).
    However, I noticed some sticky areas, especially near the rim of the pots? What's up with that? I'm wiping any excess oil off with a paper towel before and after I throw it in the oven. Help?

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    Replies
    1. Hey Samantha,

      Don't worry too much about the sticky areas. Those are where some oil has built up and hasn't quite had time to cure into seasoning. As you use your pans those spots will harden up. Always be sure to start your cast iron cooking with a light coating of oil on the pan… which should solve any issues of food sticking to the "soft spots."

      Hope that helps!

      -Derek

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  2. Hi Derek, was wondering if I can send a photo of my cast iron and see ur opinion on what should I do about it. I tried seasoning after messing it a bit (I am new to cast iron cooking and care so I didn't take proper care of the initial factory seasoning). I used corn oil and the pan became sticky and kinda had streaks of oil, maybe I was too "liberal" with the oil or maybe corn oil is not ok. The pan turned brown:( (1hr 15 min at 450 in the oven)
    I then tried cooking in it and food got stuck real bad..
    Nothing helped cleaning it so I popped the pan on the BBQ and the burned food kinda turned to ash (most of it) and I scraped off most of it. At this point I understand seasoning is GONE and my pan is in a bad shape. I need ur advice if I need to clean it more (based on photo) and re-season it with canola oil or what to do:( I know the good thing about cast iron is that it can be saved:)
    Please help!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Slivka,

      Sure! Please just submit another comment with your email address in it (which I will NOT make public!). I can then send you an email... and you can reply with a photo.

      Thanks!

      -Derek

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    2. Hey Silvia,

      I created a new post on your issue, in hopes that the conversation may help others.

      -Derek

      Delete
  3. Hi! Thank you for all the great info. Question on different kinds of oil... I've had my cast iron for a few years, and didn't know what oil to use initially. I had used olive oil for a few years and just kept going with that. Is that a crime? I just never use canola and cook almost everything with OO. The cast iron seems ok and non-stick... though it occasionally needs rescuing. Can I keep using OO? Any other oils? Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. Howdy,

      If olive oil is working for you... I'd (non) stick with it. I've found that most of the "real" seasoning that happens to your pans occurs through use. I never oven-season my cast iron anymore... it just stays nicely seasoned from using it for roasting, baking, etc. So whatever oil is used in what I am cooking is what makes up that seasoning.

      I guess the only other question is what goes wrong when your pans need "rescuing"?

      Thanks!

      -Derek

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    2. I discovered what is wrong by reading your other posts! I was overzealous with the steel pads while cleaning the pan. I'll definitely have to get a plastic one.

      One other question... is it ever ok to make simmery recipes in my cast iron? I have been known to do that, but always felt guilty, particularly the time I used wine...

      Thank you!

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    3. You bet! And glad to hear it. Once a pan is well-seasoned, you can definitely make simmery and even high-acid dishes like chili, marinara, etc. You'll definitely need to re-oil after drying the pan once (after cleaning).

      -Derek

      Delete

Howdy! Thanks for visiting, and thanks even more for leaving a comment. I'll respond as soon as the kids are asleep.