How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
A good seasoned cast iron skillet is the best tool you’ll have in your kitchen. When properly seasoned and cared for, it is virtually nonstick, an excellent conductor of heat for cooking your foods, and also adds a little beneficial iron to your diet. And did I mention it is very economical. With just a little effort you can take an old piece of cast iron, or a nice new one, and have the perfect addition to your kitchen for a lifetime.
I adore my cast iron. I use them everyday. I have 5 skillets. I have one little one for our scrambled eggs, another little one for our breakfast meats, a large one for frying bacon and ground meat, and 2 other large ones for deep frying and large frittatas. I use to have a huge Griswold that I used for paella, but I had propped it on top of other dishes to dry on the counter, and it slid to the tile floor below. A huge chunk of iron broke off the side. My heart broke in a million pieces! Now I am on the lookout for its replacement. I also have a cute miniature frying pan that I thought was a cast iron cigarette tray, but later found out it is a spoon rest. I keep it on my stove as a holder for my pepper grinder. I have another oblong skillet with very short sides, that I do not exactly know what its for, I use it to warm tortillas. I also have the two burner grill pan, but have not yet perfected the season on it. I also own a few of the shaped bakeware pieces, like a corn cod shape, and a fish shape for cornbread. They are so cute. Lastly, I have a saucepan shaped piece of cast iron with a wooden handle that I use as a warmer to simmer potpourri and a cast iron skillet wall hanging with a chicken on it. Can you tell I love chickens, and kitchen tools? My dutch oven is actually all clad, but I love it to death. However, a cast iron dutch oven is on my list too, along with another huge cast iron skillet for paella.
For me, it took several years before I got my skillets just the way I wanted them. My little skillet that I use for breakfast meat still is not nearly as smooth as the one my grandma gave me. A perfectly seasoned old pan is as smooth as glass. My grandma and granny use to tell me the way they seasoned cast iron. They would start by making a campfire, and then let the fire burn down till their was no flame. Then they wiped the cast iron in a small amount of lard and just put it over the fire. They told me they would let the pan set in there till the fire went out, and repeat the process till the pan was perfect.
Unfortunately, I like most of you, do not have the time or space to build a fire and tend to it all day. I seasoned my skillets in either my oven or my grill after I was done grilling. Seasoning and re-seasoning when needed is the key to perfect cast iron. Anytime that the season doesn’t look quite right, it can’t hurt to re-season your pans. You can prevent the need to reason by cleaning your cast iron correctly. Some purists insist that you should just scrap the pan out and rinse after use. This just doesn’t sit well with me. I have to clean all my dishes with soap and water. Even though I have a dishwasher, I always also make a sink of soapy water. I never submerse or soak the cast iron. But I do take a scrub brush, dunk it in the soapy water, and brush the pan well. I then rinse well, dry the pan, and place it back on the stove and turn the heat on high for just 1 minute, just until the rest of the water evaporates. I then wait till it cools and wipe it with a little oil, if it looks dry. Sometimes it will still look a little greasy, because I do not scrub all the oil from the pans when I wash them.
There are several No No’s of cast iron care:
- Never, ever, and I repeat NEVER put them in the dishwasher. That goes for your knives too.
- Never scrub them with steel wool, ever.
- Never cook acidic food in them, such as tomato sauce, unless you have it perfectly seasoned, and you follow by a deep fry or cooking a fatty food
- Never leave them in the sink to wash later, clean as you go
- Never leave them wet to air dry
So, now you know what not to do when you purchase your cast iron, now you are ready to go out and search for your perfect piece. You can buy new Lodge in most retail stores that have kitchen departments. You can also search ebay, yard sales, and estate sales for perfect old used pieces. Lodge even sells pe-seasoned pieces now. I personally do not like these, and don’t recommend them. The one piece that I bought that was pre-seasoned, my grill pan, I have never been able to get quite right.
Make sure the cast iron piece you choose to purchase is in good used condition or new. The inside of the pan should be very smooth. You can also buy cast iron that is in bad condition, as long as it does not have any cracks, or is not broken. Then you can refurbish the cast iron by:
- Running it through the cleaning cycle in your stove and the re-seasoning it, or
- Putting it in your campfire, until the black flaky stuff falls off.
So now you have a new pan, or a clean used pan. Now time for the Season
How to Season Cast Iron
- Make sure it is scrubbed clean
- Put a little fat (crisco, lard, or bacon fat) in the pan and take a paper towel and wipe the oil all around the pan. Some purists like to use bacon fat or lard on their meat pans, and crisco, or shortening on their other pans. Be sure to get the oil on every surface of the pan, the handle, the inside, and the bottom.
- Then wipe away any excess oil. Having any areas of too much oil will create an uneven surface.
- Then bake the pan at 250 degrees for 1 hour
- Repeat this process as much as you want. (For a new pan I usually repeat this process 2 or 3 times.
When not in use, you should store your cast iron in a moisture free environment, and uncovered. If you are going to store them for a while, it would be a good idea to coat them with a thin layer of oil to prevent rust.
For the first few months of use, it is best to only deep fry, or cook high fat foods in your cast iron, until there is a good season that develops. Do not cook acidic food, such as tomatoes, in the cast iron.
Cast iron care is something you learn from both research and experience, don’t give up on your cast iron if problems arise. Here are some simple solutions to cast iron problems:
- Black crusty stuff in the pan. This means you are not cleaning the pan enough, clean the pan in the cleaning cycle of your oven and re-season
- Food sticking, Clean the pan with a scraper. You may need to re-season the pan. You may not have had a good season, used enough oil, or it may mean that you tried to flip the food too soon. The food must caramelize and release from the pan before flipping. Never continually flip meats when pan frying.
If you follow these simple steps, your cast iron cookware should last your lifetime, and someone else’s. The only real way to absolutely ruin cast iron is to crack it or break it. Just do not let it slip on your tile floor like I did to my prized possession. And also, never put a hot skillet in cold water. Sudden temperature changes can make them crack.