How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware is seeing a comeback. While it’s one of the oldest types of cookware still in use today, cast iron fell out of fashion in the mid 20th century when other types of cookware such as aluminum, stainless steel and Teflon-coated non-stick pans gained popularity.
While these newer types of materials were marketed as being better than cast iron due to their lightweight and (in some cases) non-stick nature, it’s come to light in recent years that many of the newer, coated non-stick pans emit harmful chemicals into the air and into our food when heated.
Not to mention, some of the newer aluminum cookware just isn’t very durable, and can end up warped and corroded in no time.
Stainless steel is more durable, however it doesn’t distribute heat as evenly and is prone to having food stick and burn to the bottom.
Cast iron, on the other hand, is incredibly durable, distributes heat evenly and stays hot, and it’s naturally non-stick without needing any sort of harmful coating.
Sure, it’s heavy, but that’s because it’s built to last! In fact, when properly cared for, cast iron can last a lifetime and even longer. Many people use cast iron cookware that they’ve inherited from their parents and grandparents, and even rusted cast iron can be restored in most cases.
You can read about the many benefits of cooking with cast iron right here. In this post we’re going over the step-by-step process for how to season cast iron cookware so that it cooks more efficiently and lasts for generations!
What does it mean to “season” cast iron?
Simply put, seasoning cast iron means you’re creating a carbonized layer of oil on your cast iron cookware which helps to preserve it and keep it from rusting, along with giving it a natural non-stick coating.
Seasoning may sound complicated, but it’s actually really easy.
All you need to do to season cast iron is spread a thin layer of oil or fat on the surface and bake it. This process (called polymerization) creates a molecular bond between the cast iron and the oil/fat source and forms a protective barrier that will help prevent rust and corrosion.
It’s always a good idea to season a new cast iron pan –and even to re-season an older pan that hasn’t been used in a while– before you cook anything in it. But technically you’re also seasoning the pan every time you cook with fats and oils.
I was recently sent a set of Uno Casa cast iron skillets (affiliate link) to test and review, and even though they do technically come pre-seasoned, I always like to season my new cast iron pans myself.
The skillets shown here are the Uno Casa 10” and 12” cast iron skillets. They come in a set, which is awesome because I love having a smaller one and a larger one depending on what I’m cooking (plus I often find myself using more than one at a time).
They also come with two silicone handle covers, two silicone skillet scrapers and a free recipe book. Check out the set right here.
Do I have to season pre-seasoned cast iron cookware?
If you’re in the market for a new cast iron skillet, you’ll probably notice that most of the new cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned. This means that the manufacturer seasoned it in the warehouse before releasing it to the public.
While you could technically go ahead and start cooking in it right away, an extra layer of seasoning never hurts. Plus, you never know what the cast iron has been seasoned with.
In our house, we like to use only natural, unrefined fats and oils like olive oil, lard, avocado oil and coconut oil. Many pre-seasoned cast iron pans are seasoned with Crisco, vegetable oil or even wax. It’s worth it to spend a little time and put in a little elbow grease (literally and figuratively!) and re-season your cast iron cookware before cooking in it, even if it’s brand new and pre-seasoned.
How to season old cast iron cookware
If you’ve got older cast iron cookware, the process for seasoning it is the same. The only difference would be to consider what shape it’s in first.
If it’s old and rusted, you’ll want to restore it first. You can read more about how to restore old cast iron cookware here.
If it’s in good shape and has been used continuously (say, a cast iron skillet that was passed down to you and has a solid coat of seasoning on it), you might not need to re-season it. In this case you could just continue cooking in it with fats and oils to keep the seasoning up.
If it’s in good shape but is looking a little dull and/or hasn’t been used in some time, it’s a good idea to re-season it by following the steps below.
How to season cast iron cookware
Whether you’ve got a brand new cast iron pan or an old hand-me-down, the first thing you’re probably going to want to do is season it. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 450ºF.
Step 2: Wash your cast iron cookware in hot soapy water and scrub it to remove any old seasoning or bits of anything that might be stuck on an old pan. Dry it very well with a lint-free towel.
- This is the only time you should use soap on cast iron as the soap removes the seasoning. We’ll talk more about how to properly wash and care for cast iron below.
Step 3: Apply a thin coating of fat or oil to your skillet or cookware. Start with a couple teaspoons or so and add more as needed. It’s better to add multiple thin layers of seasoning over time rather than one thick layer at the beginning as this can cause the seasoning to be thick and sticky.
My favourite oils for seasoning cast iron include lard, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil. I like to render my own lard at home and use that to grease and season my cast iron; I’m using lard to season my skillets in the photos below. Click here to learn how to render your own lard at home too!
Step 4: Use a paper towel or lint-free towel to rub the fat or oil all over the inside and outside of the cookware. Once it’s all rubbed in it should completely cover the cookware but should not be drippy or runny.
Step 5: Place cast iron cookware upside down in your pre-heated oven and bake at 450ºF for one hour. (Placing it upside down allows any excess oil to run off instead of get baked in and turn goopy, although you shouldn’t have to worry about oil dripping in your oven if you’ve followed instructions and only applied a thin layer).
Step 6: Once time is up, turn your oven off and allow cast iron to cool in the oven completely before removing.
How to use your cast iron after seasoning
Once your cast iron has been properly seasoned, it’s ready to use!
While there are many benefits to cooking with cast iron, one of the biggest benefits is its versatility.
You can cook, fry, grill or bake in cast iron.
You can use in on your stovetop, in your oven, on a BBQ or grill and even use it to cook on your wood stove or over an open flame. (This is why cast iron is so great for camping!)
While you can cook just about anything in cast iron, try to avoid cooking highly acidic foods like tomatoes/tomato sauce or anything with too much vinegar or lemon juice. This is because acidic foods can wear away at the seasoning over time.
That being said, I do cook tomatoes and pasta sauces in my cast iron, I just don’t do it often. And when I do, I always make sure to apply a layer of oil over my skillet before storing.
The best thing you can cook in cast iron is anything with a lot of oil or fat as this will just add to the seasoning. The more you use and season your pan, the smoother and more non-stick it will become!
How to wash and care for cast iron
Every time you use your cast iron cookware you’ll of course need to wash it. But you want to be careful not to strip the seasoning off.
To wash cast iron, simply use water and a cloth or soft scrub brush. DO NOT USE SOAP!!!
While it’s okay (and even advisable) to use soap to clean cast iron before you season it the first time, you want to avoid using soap to clean your cast iron cookware between each use.
Be sure to dry your cast iron very well after washing. Any leftover moisture has the potential to cause rust damage.
Once your cast iron is dry, apply a thin layer of fat or oil on your skillet or cookware to further protect it before storing.
At the end of the day, seasoning cast iron isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. Once you do it once and get used to cooking with cast iron and washing/caring for it properly, it will become second nature. You might just find yourself ditching all of your other cookware and replacing it with cast iron! And honestly, I wouldn’t blame you:)
To learn more about the many benefits of cooking with cast iron, as well as see a list of all the different brands I use and recommend, you can learn more right here.
P.S. Are you striving to become more self-sufficient and looking for a little help, encouragement and inspiration to help guide you along on the journey? Subscribe to Modern Homesteading Magazine and get exclusive, seasonally-inspired modern homesteading information, recipes, expert interviews, advice and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox! Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get your first issue free!
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