How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

Have a grungy cast iron pan you inherited that you’re afraid of? No need to be.  Cast Iron surgery coming your way!  How to clean and season a cast iron skillet.

Stack of cast iron skillets on white counter.

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 a few years ago with a bunch of cast iron pans from a garage sale in hand, 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 already had a method for seasoning cast iron that that I liked but I figured I might as well see if there was 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.

Different sites recommended different oils including Vegetable oil, Lard or Shortening. 

I tested each of them.

  1. First I tested Crisco (solidified vegetable oil) using the upside down method at a temperature of 500 °F for 1 hour.
  2. Second I tested Lard (animal fat) using the upside down method at an oven temperature of 500 °F for 1 hour.
  3. Third time around I tried liquid vegetable oil at 300 °F for an hour.
  4. Fourth I tried lard at 300 °F for an hour.

All of these were recommended methods on the Internet.

The winner?  Using Lard (animal fat) at 500°F for 1 hour.  (actually 1 hour and 15 minutes seemed best).

The only time you should use a vegetable based oil (solidified oil, shortening is best) to season a cast iron pan is if you are vegan or vegetarian.  Using a vegetable based product for seasoning cast iron leaves a sticky residue. It’s pretty awful.

By the way you can also buy a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet and avoid all of this trouble.  I’ve never used one so I’m not sure how well they work.

How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

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

Two big pads of fine steel wool on a white background.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Once your skillet is prepared for seasoning, grab yourself some lard or shortening. Remember, only use shortening if you absolutely have to due to being a vegetarian or vegan.  And honestly, even then … just use lard. I won’t tell anyone other than the Vegan/Vegetarian association of the World.

Yellow cardboard package of lard on the left and blue cardboard package of Crisco on the right. On white background.

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

Cast iron skillet smeared with lard on the bottom and sides of inside of pan.

6. Line the bottom rack of your oven with tin foil.

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

Cast iron pan upside down on oven rack with tin foil underneath.

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

9. 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 might need to season a brand new pan a few times before you’re satisfied with it.

I have a good technique for cleaning a horrifyingly gross wood cutting board in case you have one of those  hidden too.

QUESTIONS/ANSWERS

Does seasoning cast iron produce smoke?  OH YES!  Your house will fill with smoke and your eyes will water so make sure when you season cast iron your windows are open and your exhaust is on.

How often should I season my cast iron pan?  Do your initial seasoning whether it’s a new or a used pan.  If you cook in it regularly you shouldn’t need to season it again! Clean it gently and don’t scrub it or you’ll scrub off the seasoned coating.  If you do scrape it off because you maybe burned something in your pan and scrubbed hard to clean it, you will have to reseason.

Will my pan rust? Cast iron only rusts if it’s left wet or damp.  Dry it thoroughly after washing and you’re fine.

What’s the deal? What’s so great about cast iron? Good question. Cast iron lasts for years.  Like I’m talking 100 years if you take care of it (by cooking in it).  Cast iron is naturally non stick (once you season it) and only gets better with age.

Does Cast iron add iron to your food?   Yes! It really does.  Weird, I know. In fact it adds significant amounts. The longer you cook something in it then the more iron is absorbed. So a quick cook frying an egg won’t transfer lots of iron but slow cooking a batch of spaghetti sauce in cast iron will.

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.

This post was originally published in 2010 and completely updated in February of 2018, that’s why you’ll see some old comments.  Now’s the time to leave new ones!

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Even the CRUDDIEST of cast iron pans can be rehabilitated. How to season it and what to use.

72 Comments

  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. Todd@PhitZone.com says:

    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. 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

    • Kitty McCarty says:

      Jolie. Let’s hear it for the coffee perculator. Nothing else gets coffee hot enough to brew properly and keep it hot longer.

  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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  21. KGB says:

    FYI Folks,
    Crisco will actually damage your arteries more than lard because it has hydrogenated (artificially made solid by adding stuff that isn’t natural and isn’t good for you) fat.

  22. Zoe says:

    Someone asked what J Cloths are. They’re the same thing as Handi-wipes.
    I also saw mentioned you can use vegetable oil to season your cast iron. This is true however the caveat is your cast iron will begin to have a sticky feel to it if you do.
    I first time season all my cast iron with bacon grease. We don’t eat bacon very often so I save the grease in the freezer in small amounts, just enough to season a pan. Once a year I wash my cast iron with soap & water with deeply scrubbing and re-season with the saved bacon grease. Open up every window in your house and set a fan facing a window to blow the smoke out. It WILL smoke like crazy. During the year I use a plastic scraper to get the chunks of food out, lightly scrub my skillets with chunky sea salt (no water) and wipe clean with paper towels. My cast iron has a beautiful think black seasoned finish to it and are wonderfully non-stick.

    • Karen says:

      Yup. I mention in the post that vegetable oil is only a viable option if you’re vegan and don’t want to use an animal product. “If you’re a vegetarian or vegan you can use solidified vegetable oil, but I found it left a sticky residue after seasoning.” 🙂 Love my cast iron. ~ karen!

  23. Barbara H. says:

    When I needed to season my pans, I did some Internet searching and found a site recommending flax seed oil. Their was a full explanation of how to do it and why, which of course I don’t remember now. It worked well for me. Wish I could remember the web site.

  24. Jo says:

    I was of the thought that you never made tomato recipes eg. Pasta sauce in a cast due to the acid in the Toms. Am I incorrect? I do have a cast pot that I use for soups and stews just not anything with Toms in it.

    • Karen says:

      Yup, that’s one of those myths everyone believes because everyone has heard it, lol. Tomatoes are perfectly fine in cast iron as long as it’s well seasoned. And even if you cook them in a pan that isn’t seasoned well all you’ll end up with are tomatoes that may or may not have a metallic taste to them. 🙂 ~ karen!

  25. Lianne says:

    Dang, I was really hoping you had tried the Sheryl Canter method cause I’m too lazy but I want to know if she is legit. Any chance I can talk you into it?

    http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/

    • Kelsey says:

      I have used that method for years but it sucks in my opinion! The seasoning isn’t as hard and durable and doesnt last even with really gentle care. I am going back to the lard method because I’ve ended up with such a cracked and craggy surface that the entire pan needs to be stripped and re seasoned. Super annoying! I’d go with the lard method. Cheap and effective!

  26. Judy says:

    My biggest regret with my newer gas stove is the lack of a pilot light. The little flame kept the oven at the perfect temperature to dry cast iron, raise yeast dough and take the chill off dinner plates.

    • Susan Claire says:

      You are so right-I remember my mother putting bread to rise on the stove right over the pilot light. I blame all my yeast failures on this modern lack!

  27. Thandi says:

    Okay people, I’m still in shock about the lard. YOU BUY LARD IN THE SHOP AND IT’S NOT 1903? Your countries are strange and unsettling…

    • Karen says:

      Ha ha! Yep. Lard in the shops. Or at the butcher shop. Lard has actually had quite a resurrection in the past several years. It’s no longer seen as bad for you. In fact they’re finding animal based fats are indeed good for you. NOTHING makes a better pastry crusty than one made with butter and lard. ~ laura ingalls

  28. Sabina says:

    I use cast iron pans every day! And on my new cast iron pan “shrine” (just completed last night) I have cast iron trivets as “bumpers” to keep the pans from leaving marks on my wall! Great post!

  29. Mike says:

    Thanks for the valuable info, I do love my cast iron cookware. And the first ‘”rock” concert I ever attended was the Carpenters. Now that I think about it, that’s about the same time I got my cast iron skillet. Yeah, I see the connection now.

  30. Susan Claire says:

    Sorry to be the dissenting voice here, but I never saw the attraction of cast iron. Too heavy, a pain to clean, and it beats up the porcelain in my sink. Give me good old stainless steel any day.

    • Karen says:

      It’s not even close to being a pain to clean if it’s a seasoned pan! And nothing will do a better job of searing chicken or potatoes than cast iron. You get a perfect crispy sear plus it doesn’t stick. I won’t convince you to change your mind, I know that, lol. But if you used a properly seasoned, old cast iron pan you’d see the light. 😉 ~ karen!

  31. Beaker says:

    I prefer seasoning my cast iron on the gas grill outside to avoid smoking up the house…

  32. Ronda says:

    Always enjoy your tips, what about coconut oil to season the pan? Did you do this in a gas or electric oven? I am new to gas ovens and not sure the foil on the bottom is a good idea, maybe on a tray on the bottom shelf?

  33. Heather says:

    Perfect solution when one of the kids washes the cast iron pan with dish soap. Aargh! Thanks!

  34. Ev Wilcox says:

    I have a LOT of cast iron! They hang all over the walls in my kitchen, and some even lurk in the cabinets. I cook a lot less these days, and have been giving them away to my children now and then. I know you have a carbon steel pan and I want to try them, mostly because they aren’t so heavy. Since Jamie is unavailable (damn!) and Idris is not around, wrangling iron is hard for me. I do have three “star” pans that are perfect. They will have to go only when I am no longer around to protect and love them! If any one has any suggestions or info on carbon steel I would love to hear from you! Thanks Karen

  35. Rebekah says:

    I love cast iron. And yes, I use it for lots of cooking projects. But I also love carbon-steel – which can also be non-stick without the nasty chemicals. Now, how do I season a large carbon-steel pan? I have a couple deBuyer pans that are awesome – basically, a very well made high quality wok with handles (the country fry pan) and while the small one seasoned no problem, I can’t seem to get the larger one’s seasoning to stick. I used to have a massive cast iron Dutch oven, but found I didn’t use it enough to warrant keeping it distorting my steel cooking shelves, so scrapped it in favor of carbon steel…but now I have a tricky time with keeping a seasoning. Still love it – awesome stir fries – but seasoning would be nice!

  36. Cast Iron Pans are awesome! For anyone who BBQ’s steak STOP!!! Searing it on both sides on a cast iron pan (then let it “rest”) makes for the perfect steak.

    • Karen says:

      That’s the truth. Even in summer I *rarely* BBQ steaks. Cast iron pans are the best for that. Plus then you can make a pan sauce if you want. ~ karen!

  37. Marti_J says:

    So am I not supposed to clean off the (heavy coating of) rust using a vinegar bath? Soaked it right off since I’m too lazy to scrub. LOVELY… but is that a “no, dont do that, Marti!” and if so, why?

  38. Debbe Van Ness says:

    Oh, I remember my mom using cast iron for everything. After we washed, which was basically wiping out, then gently washing, we placed them on the stove over very low heat to dry. I never remember her reseasoning. I, on the other hand, mess mine up all the time, and have to season them again. Think my favorite is the flat tortilla pan that has been around for ages and ages. Thanks! I love being reminded of the tried and true stuff. 🙂

    Question, if I get stuck on stuff, can I put water in skillet, set on stove and boil slowly, then use nonmetal spatula or something to scrape? I’ve done that before (maybe that’s why I need to reseason)?

  39. WEESIEONPI says:

    Karen, Thank you for adding the title of the post to the e-mail subject line (I’m a GMail user, if that makes any difference). All used to be “A New Post from the Art of Doing Stuff!”. Now it’s easier to find a specific post, although some of the suspense of wondering what incredible topic you’ve chosen to write about has gone!

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