How to Season Cast Iron

Right from the get-go, I want to mention that this is not a guide on how to clean up and prepare neglected or rusty cast iron that you may have found at a garage sale or second-hand store. It is a walkthrough for seasoning a cast iron skillet that just needs a little attention. 

Having said that, when I was growing up I watched my grandma and mom cook with cast iron all the time. As I got older I developed an attitude that a lot of people have towards cast iron cookware. A little intimidation sprinkled with, “that’s too much work.” But after learning about it, I realized it is not intimidating in the least.

Cast iron may be a bit heavy but it is fun to cook with, provides a lot of flavor to the meal, and when it is taken care of it can be passed down to the next generation. Part of taking care of cast iron is making sure it stays seasoned.


What is Seasoned Cast Iron?

Before cast iron cookware is seasoned, it has a rather dull, slightly silver-looking appearance. It would be difficult to cook in it at this stage because everything would stick to the pot or pan. 

Simply put, seasoning is the process of giving cast iron a non-stick cooking surface. This is done by applying a layer of cooking oil and heating it which causes the oil to polymerize. Think of it like putting several protective coats on a wood surface.


Getting Started 

Everyone cleans and prepares their cast iron a little differently, but I am going to share with you what works for me. For this article, I will be seasoning a cast iron skillet. 

I haven’t used this particular skillet for a while, so I am going to clean it up a bit first. Now I have read articles and seen videos where people use certain chemicals, like oven cleaner, to clean up their cast iron.

Oven cleaner will certainly clean up your skillet and you can use whatever you want, but I do NOT recommend doing this. Cast iron has tiny pits on its surface and it can absorb what is put on to it.

When it comes to cast iron, a good rule of thumb is to never put anything on it that you wouldn’t put into your own body. 


Cleaning it Up 

Some people have a hard and fast rule of not using soap on cast iron. Nowadays, soap is much milder than it used to be so using a little bit is probably okay. However, I still do not use soap.

Instead, I like to use salt. Salt is obviously food safe and it is abrasive enough to help scrub the surface. I add a little warm water and use a sponge, plastic scrubber, washcloth, or a bristle brush. 

After the skillet is nice and clean I dry it thoroughly with a towel and allow it to air dry for another twenty minutes or so. 


Warm it Up 

I am going to be putting the skillet into my oven to bake the oil on but first I want to warm the skillet up. While I am doing this, I go ahead and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

You never want to temperature shock your cast iron. This means you never want to expose a cold skillet to extremely hot temperatures and vice versa. 

To warm the skillet up I put it on the stove and turn the burner on low to medium heat and give it about fifteen ten to fifteen minutes to get warm

Once it is warm, I apply the oil. There are lots of different types of oil you can use and pretty much any cooking oil is okay. I usually use vegetable or olive oil.

You do not need a lot, about a cap full will do. If you use too much oil you will end up with a gummy residue left on the skillet. Now, spread the oil around the entire cooking surface, including the sides and upper lip using a lint-free cloth. A paper towel will do in a pinch.


Time to Bake  

As I mentioned above, preheat the oven to 450-500 degrees. I like to place the skillet upside down on the top rack with a cookie sheet on the bottom rack below the skillet. This helps to catch any excess oil that may drip off. 

Make sure you have good ventilation in your kitchen because this process can get a little smokey and smelly. 

Once the skillet is in the oven set your timer for one hour. After one hour go ahead and turn the oven off but leave the skillet in the oven to gradually cool. I remove the skillet once it is cool enough to pick up.   

You should be left with a skillet that has a brown to black glossy finish. If you run your finger across the cooking surface it should feel smooth and slick.


Keeping the Skillet Seasoned 

Keeping cast ironed seasoned is key to fast and easy cooking. After each use, clean the skillet off and put it back on a medium heat source. When the skillet is hot to the touch add a little dab of oil and spread it around the entire interior surface. 

After about ten minutes turn the heat off and wipe off any excess oil. 

Here are a few more tips to help keep the seasoning on your skillet. 

  • Do not put cast iron in the dishwasher
  • Baked on food should be removed with a plastic or wooden scraper
  • Hand wash in warm water
  • Immediately and thoroughly dry after rinsing 

FAQs

Sometimes there are little black specks in my food. Are those bad?

The little black specks are a result of the seasoning breaking down and they are not considered to be harmful. Cast iron that is kept well seasoned will not do this.

Can I use a metal utensil when cooking on cast iron. 

Yes you can, as long as you have a light touch. You never want to use a metal utensil to scrape and clean cast iron because this will remove the seasoning. Using plastic or wooden utensils is best. 

I do not want to go through the hassle of seasoning cast iron. Can I just buy pre-seasoned cast iron cookware?

Absolutely, in fact, most brand new cast iron cookware comes already seasoned. However, the seasoning process is part of owning cast iron. If the seasoning process is something you are not interested in I would suggest using more modern cookware that requires less attention. 

How often do I have to season my cast iron?

This really depends on how often you use it. Ideally, you should oil cast iron after every use but you may need to go through the oven baking process a few times a year. 


Wrap Up

Seasoning cast iron is going to take just a little more effort on your part than taking care of more modern cookware. However, the benefits of cooking with cast iron far outweigh the minimal maintenance it requires. 

Cast iron has a rustic beauty that can’t be beaten, it retains flavor, you get iron from it, it is incredibly durable, cooks evenly, and retains heat for a long time. Plus, it lasts for such a long time.

From what I know, the skillet I have is probably around fifty years old and it has plenty of life left in it. A little bit of love and seasoning goes a long way in keeping your cast iron ready for many meals to come. 

Thanks for reading and remember, don’t skimp on the oil!

Do you have any questions about cast iron or what is your experience with seasoning it? Sound off in the comment section below and let us know!



Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide and Paracord Projects For Camping which is scheduled to be released March 2, 2021 Read more of Bryan's articles.