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Culinary professionals and at-home enthusiasts swear by their cast iron cookware, and many hold the seasoning process as sacred. Seasoning is achieved through polymerization, a process where, under high heat, oil and fat are broken down into polymers that bond with the metal of cast iron cookware. This creates a protective, nonstick glaze that makes for efficient use, easy cleaning and decades-long performance for cast iron products.
So, if oil + heat = seasoning, then you probably figured out that plain old cooking does much of the work for you. Use your cast iron for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The more you use it, the more the cooking oils and fats will build up that smooth barrier.
While cooking is one of the best ways to add those thin layers, it is crucial to properly season the pan before its initial use. Fresh cast iron is vulnerable to moisture and the elements, making it quick to rust and fail. Knowing how to season cast iron before its first use will help you avoid exhaustive cleaning and reseasoning down the line.
People are opinionated about how to properly season cast iron and many will disagree on the right type of oil to use. In fairness, numerous oils and fats such as canola oil, shortening, grapeseed oil or our preferred method, bacon grease, will work just fine. No matter what you use, the important consideration is the seasoning process.
Here’s what we will cover through this article:
How to Season Cast Iron
- Preheat your oven to 450F.
- Wash your cast iron with soap and hot water. Scrub with a stiff bristled brush.
- Dry thoroughly with paper towels. You can put it in the oven during the preheating for several minutes for additional drying.
- Apply oil, grease or lard all over the cast iron. Buff it down with a paper towel to form a thin layer. Too much oil left on can create hardened spots or make the pan sticky.
- Heat the pan in the oven for 45-60 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and repeat steps 3-5 at least two more times.
Maintaining Seasoned Cast Iron
After the initial seasoning, you just need to use the pan as much as possible to continue adding layers of seasoning. Once the foundation has been set, you can still wash your pan later with mild soap and water. Hard stuck-on food can be scrubbed away with salt and water, as this will not harm the layers of seasoning.
Be sure to never soak your pan or wash it in the dishwasher. Clean and dry cast iron quickly to ensure you do not have to restore and re-season it.
After cleaning, you can apply a small amount of oil and set it over medium-low heat. Wipe it down thoroughly and let it cool before storing it away.
Benefits of Seasoned Cast Iron
The greatest benefits of cast iron are its longevity and durability. It just gets better the more you use it, becoming more nonstick with each cooking session. When properly maintained, it is incredibly difficult to damage and can last for generations.
A major differentiator between cast iron and its alternatives, like Teflon, is its ability to handle and hold heat. It may not heat evenly but because it stays hot for so long, it is ideal for searing meats. Plus, you can transfer it from cooktop to oven for easy, one-pan meals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is bacon grease good for cast iron?
Bacon grease is a great option, and our preferred choice, for seasoning your pan. As a fat, it develops a highly-effective protective barrier against water. After you do your initial seasoning, it’s even recommended to make bacon in one of its first uses to further bolster those layers.
Which oil is best for seasoning cast iron?
There are lots of oils you can use. Some pros swear by flaxseed oil, others prefer grapeseed oil and still others say that canola oil works just fine. In fact, it seems like the shorter conversation is about which oils NOT to use. Avoid oils with high amounts of saturated fat, like coconut or vegetable oil, because they can create a sticky surface.
How many times do you season cast iron?
You should initially season your cast iron 2-3 times before using it. After that, you can reseason as needed, especially after intense cleaning, but you may not need to do it again for several months. However, if you cook acidic foods, they can eat away at the layers, requiring additional seasoning.
Stay vigilant for rust. This needs to be cleaned immediately and the pan should go through another round of seasoning to restore it to working condition.
Cast iron is a delight. It offers a unique and efficient cooking experience and gives foods a perfect sear. By following these seasoning steps, you can enjoy all of the benefits of your cast iron cookware for years to come.