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How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

If you search the Internet you’ll find a multitude of ways to season a cast iron pan with a variety of temperatures and materials. All of them involve rubbing the cast iron skillet with some type of oil and heating it in the oven (or even on the stove).

So this week, I tried them all to see which method was the absolute best.  Cause that’s what I do in my spare time.  Well, that and slow dance to The Carpenters in my kitchen.  I have a thing for the classics.

I already have a method that I like,  but I figured I might as well see if there’s anything better out there.

This same reasoning led me to abandon my regular jeans in favour of a pair of jeggings.  The experience was horrifying all around.  I’m back to jeans.

Almost all of the Internet suggestions say to coat the cast iron pan with whatever you’re going to coat it with and then place it in the oven, upside down, over tin foil.  This allows the extra oil to drip off, so in all experiments I used the upside down method.

First I tested Crisco (vegetable oil) using the upside down method at a temperature of 500 °F for 1 hour.

Second I tested Lard (animal fat) using the upside down method at a temperature of 500 °F for 1 hour.

Third time around I tried vegetable oil at 300 °F for an hour.

Fourth I tried lard at 300 °F for an hour.

The winner?  Using Lard (animal fat) at 500°F for 1 hour.  (actually 1 hour and 15 minutes seemed best).  If you’re a vegetarian or vegan you can use solidified vegetable oil, but I found it left a sticky residue  after seasoning.

How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

Make sure skillet is clean and very dry.  If your skillet has come to you from someone else (or the garbage) scrub any rust out with steel wool.

If steel wool isn’t doing the trick you can place your dirty, disgusting, rusty cast iron skillet into your self-cleaning oven for the shortest time period allowed.  Remove and wipe clean.

If you don’t have a self cleaning oven, coat your cast iron skillet with oven cleaner, put it in a plastic bag and leave it overnight.  Clean it in the morning.

Once your skillet is prepared for seasoning, grab yourself some lard or shortening.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

Take a small amount and rub around the bottom and sides of the pan.  You don’t need a ton.

Line the bottom rack of your oven with tin foil.

Place your greased cast iron skillet over the foil upside down (so the drips will be caught by the tin foil)

Bake in a 500 °F oven and for 1 hour, 15 minutes.  You need a high temperature for carbonization to occur.  I think.

Warning!

Your house will fill with smoke and your eyes will water at this point so make sure your windows are open and your exhaust is on.

When your timer goes off, turn your oven off and open your oven door part way.  Cast Iron has to cool down gradually.  If you bring it right out into the much cooler room the skillet might crack.

You may have to repeat this process a few times in a row.

To wash your cast iron pan after using it, don’t run cold water over the hot pan.  It might crack.  Wipe with a J Cloth and dry it really well to help prevent rusting!  That’s it.

500°F for 1 hour is the method I’ve always used, by the way.   Proving yet again, the tried and true classics are usually the best.


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33 Comments | Filed Under: Kitchen |

33 Responses to How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

  1. Jenn A says:

    Dagnabbit, Karen. Now I have to go dig my great-grandmother’s skillets out of the attic, clean my oven, buy lard, season the skillets, find a non-attic place to store them, and then find a way to use the rest of the lard that won’t make my arteries harden. Seriously, though… I should be using them.

  2. Theresa says:

    great – I now feel confident that i can up pick flea market/thirft store cast iron and clean and season it.I see heavy metal in my future.

  3. Emily says:

    What’s a J-Cloth? I was told that to clean after using you were to wipe all the excess whatever out and then wipe it with a layer of crisco or oil. Is this not a good idea?

    • Karen says:

      Emily – A J-Cloth is a dish cloth. Yes, you only need to wipe out the pan. There are 2 schools of thought. One where you use soap, and one where you just use water or a paper towel. People who just use paper towels want to avoid scrubbing off their seasoning. People who use soap and water want to avoid the oil residues from cooking from going rancid. Your choice. :) There’s no need to wipe your pan again with crisco or oil after you wash it. By cooking in your pan (provided you’re using some type of oil or food with fat in it) you will continuously be re-seasoning it. The more you use it the better it will be. But no need for crisco after washing. ~ karen!

  4. Courtney says:

    How often do you have to season a cast iron pan?

    • Karen says:

      Courtney – How often you season a cast iron pan depends on how often you use it and how vigorously you clean it. The more you use the pan the more well seasoned it will become from the oils you use to cook or the fat that’s in the food. If you clean it vigorously you’ll rub off the seasoning that’s on there and you’ll have to reseason your cast iron pan more often. I seasoned my cast iron pans years ago and have never needed to reseason them. They just keep getting better and better. Clean them gently and make sure they’re very dry when you put them away. ~ karen

  5. Tiana says:

    Last night I scrubbed the inside of my sorta rusty skillet with steel wool and left it upside down on a cloth to dry overnight and today the inside was SUPER rusty… Did leaving it updise down keep the water from evaporating upward? I guess so. I guess I just answered my own question.

    Thanks for providing this space for self-exploration.

  6. Now you see, this is why I come here. Sure, I might have been able to find out how to season a cast iron pan elsewhere, but only here can I get it with a smile, and a slow dance to The Carpenters.

    • Anj says:

      Ah the Carpenters, sigh, memories…
      Karen do you remember the Band on the Cruise Ship that sang “Close to You” in a heavy Polish accent. My Brother did his spot on imitation for me just the other day. :)

      • Karen says:

        Anj – !!! I don’t remember that AT ALL! I’m losing my mind. I do remember the Filipino waiters singing “We Wis You a Mawey Kweesmees” ~ karen

  7. lori says:

    I just love my cast iron skillets! and know I know how to get the rust(bumps) off them.
    Also if you find ones with the name “griswold” on the bottom… they are the best!!!!!!!! I live in Tn and one of the farms around here has a cabin with the inside dressed in period time. and in the kitchen part of it she has a lot of cast iron pieces. and I ask the lady about the different names. Griswold was the one she thought was the best. I have been looking ever sense then for one. I have to say they are hard to find, but with some vigilance I(husband and I)found ont one but two!!!!!! I am in cast iron heaven. hehe. and now thanks to Karen I now know how to really clean and season them!
    thanks SO much love your blog.

  8. kate says:

    Here is an additional way to “season-as-you-go” so to speak. I cook with iron pans every day and always have. I use iron pans for all cooking, including tomato sauce and other acidic foods which can reduce the seasoning on the pan – as can soaking them overnight, forgetting about them and leaving them in dishwater, etc. Also. I do(hand)wash the pans with dish detergent and water which will certainly remove any food grease and oil – just can’t bring myself to think it is clean if it is only wiped out.
    When the seasoning layer disappears, begin as Karen does by get rid of any rust or food film – but start with a wash cloth – if it is not old, thick rust it can be usually just be washed out. Carefully and thoroughly dry the pan and place it on a burner on mediumish heat. When the pan is heated, pour in a small(!) amount of oil or saltless grease and wipe the oil/grease all around to where the seasoning has failed – all over the bottom and up the sides. Let the pan cool and rinse it out and dry it. That should do it. If it doesn’t – it’s really bad -you can do this three times – rinsing the pan with plain water between the heating oiling process. This will build up the seasoning again.

    Now in my old age (65) I have my iron pans (some of which were my grandmothers)and the iron pans of my mother and an aunt bless my cupboards. Iron pans probably last forever . – I never bought a brand new one – only bought one at a garage sale or second-hand store As my kids left home they all took iron pans with them and I still have iron pans for my grandkids.

    One more important note on iron pans: – there are some phony iron pans out there. When shopping what you are looking for is a pan on which the cooking surface has been MACHINED flat – you can even see the machined marked spiraling out from the center. DO NOT be temped by a cooking surface that is all bumpy – even if they are very small bumps – just poured by not smoothed. An old rusty or unattractive FLAT surface can be seasoned and used for ever – those bumpy surfaces are no good and I don’t know how you can use them.

    • Karen says:

      Kate – Yup! That’s true! I meant to mention that in the post but forgot about it. The important thing you mention is to use mediumish heat. Anything lower and the pan won’t cure. And if you use high heat you run the risk of any seasoning you already have on the pan flaking off. Thanks! ~ karen

  9. Jeanne says:

    I love it…I recently purchased 2 old iron skillets at a flea market after giving mine away 15 years ago and decided to dump my non stick ones that still stick. Having been introduced to them by a Southern mother-in-law, along with Lima Beans and Sweet Potatoes that I had never heard of. Always, always, she would say with her sweet southern drawl, after cleaning, turn on the stove burner and set the pan on the heat for on minute before storing to prevent any rusting. Another addition
    to your cast iron is a griddle. More fun! Thanks Karen.

  10. monica says:

    my favorite way to season cast iron is to make bacon. :)

  11. Whitney says:

    I think maybe this is just a generational thing… but uh… why do you season a skillet in the first place?

    • Karen says:

      Whitney ~ You make me feel elderly when you say it’s a “generational thing”. I think it’s more of a fascinated with cooking thing. LOL. You season cast iron skillets to help prevent them from rusting and to make the surface non stick. A well seasoned cast iron pan will be as non-stick as a non-stick pan. Look at my first post on Cast Iron pans to get the gist of it. ~ karen!

      • Whitney says:

        Sorry Karen! I certainly didn’t mean to make you feel elderly! Its just that I’m still a fresh faced young pup. I’ve only lived on my own for 6 years and at least 4 of those were spent feeding myself with things that could go straight from a package to my mouth or from a package to a microwave to my mouth. I have since learned to use an oven and I buy more vegetables than easymac. And now, I’ll be hunting for a cast iron pan… as soon as it gets back to garage sale season.

  12. Patti says:

    Am I crazy? Because I feel like, when I was young, my nana and next door neighbour would turn the oven on low and pop them in there to dry them. I think they stored them in the oven, too, actually. That would be annoying to me, because I would certainly turn on the oven for preheating and not notice the skillet in there. Hahahahahahahahahaha.

    Another note – how do you teach a boyfriend how to turn off the stove and oven after using them? He’s going to burn the house down!

    • Karen says:

      Patti – That’s totally possible. Drying the pans out keeps them from rusting between uses. Now, onto the important part. To teach your boyfriend to turn off the stove and oven after use the easiest thing to do would be to chop his fingers off. ~ karen.

  13. Lisa says:

    Also, don’t forget to season the bottom and the sides of the pan too, especially if you cleaned the entire skillet. Unoiled cast iron will rust, although you don’t have to get obsessive about cleaning the underside of the pans.

    After I wash the skillet, I put it back on the stove, burn off all the water droplets and do a quick wipe with a little oil and a paper towel. I use olive oil because I use my skillets almost every day.

    I also agree with the poster who said to look for the smooth machined cast iron. I do have the Chinese-cast/poured skillets with a rougher bottom, which ARE still good for 99% of cast iron cooking. But the old, smooth Griswolds are clearly better.

    • JennyM says:

      I ususally rinse mine out with hot water, then stick it in the oven (off, but cooling) to dry off completely, and before going to bed, take it out and give it a nice oily wipedown before wrapping it in towels and putting it in the cupboard. It sounds kind of tedious when I write it out like that, but it’s really not, when it’s just part of your routine. LOVE me some cast iron.

  14. Tricia Rose says:

    What’s wrong with eating the rust – it’s iron, isn’t it?

  15. Carol says:

    My Grandmother almost divorced my grandfather after 50+ years of marriage when she came home one day to find out that he had “cleaned all the stuff” off her cast iron pans. He was proud of how nicely they gleamed with all the black removed! It took her a long time (and some great cooking) to get the seasoning back the way she liked it. I now have her pans and they are so well seasoned they need little or no grease when frying foods. They’re at least 100 years old and going strong.

  16. Jolie says:

    I have had my own cast iron pan since I moved out at the age of 19, it is the 2nd best thing in my kitchen, first being a coffee peculator from 1968, no drip coffee for this caffeine addict. I call the “non-stick” pans, poison pans, though I am sure they have improved I still don’t trust them o.O

  17. Mark says:

    I bought an old skillet that was not rusty. It was seasoned though. I wanted to re season it myself since it was someone elses. I started scrubbing the old seasoning out, but cant seam to get all the black off of the sides. Does all of this have to come off?

    • Karen says:

      Nooooo. Don’t scrape off the seasoning. If it’s black all over there’s no reason to re-season it. Had you tried cooking with it and things were sticking? If that’s the case you just re-season the pan, without scraping off all of the old seasoning. ~ karen!

  18. Mark says:

    Well i wish I would have seen this first. I just didn’t trust someone elses stuff. I scrubbed most of the pan out, but can’t get the sides clean. Should I leave it and re season or cook it off?

    • Karen says:

      Just leave it. Unless it’s big and bump and craggy, just leave it. It’s just seasoned. Season the pan as I describe. Since you’ve taken all the old seasoning off, you’ll probably have to season the pan a few times. ~ karen!

  19. paul hannan says:

    Cool site. Cast iron is great stuff. The idea of machining the surface intrigues. I have a clean segmented pie pan that I intend to use for cornbread. It’s from china 8 3/4 diameter. I’m going to season it with leaf lard. It is a significant challenge to resist my OCD tendencies and allow the the metal to season

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