Growing up in the South, I always loved cooking with my grandmother’s cast iron pan. When I bought my first one, I went with a classic Lodge, of course. As soon as I figured out the seasoning process, I started to use it for everything. While most people will use their cast iron for cooking cornbread or frying, I use it for everything from steaks to scrambled eggs. There’s just about nothing you CAN’T do with a cast iron skillet. They distribute heat evenly and last seemingly forever. The best part is that you can season and reseason cast iron as needed.
Why season or reseason cast iron?
Cast iron cookware is nearly indestructible. It’s versatile, retains heat, lasts forever, and—with the right seasoning process—is perfectly non-stick. Since a cast iron skillet is literally a hunk of metal, the seasoning process is important. There is advice all over the internet about how best to season a cast iron skillet, and it’s all a little confusing because none of it agrees 100%. Clearly, the same goes for re seasoning cast iron, which is necessary when a pan has been used a lot or when you’ve bought an old one (like from an antique shop or garage sale). I’ve outlined the seasoning method I ultimately went with, and I’m happy to say, so far so good.
What is Seasoning?
When you buy a new cast iron skillet, it will likely come with some degree of pre-seasoning, but you’ll want to add more layers to make sure it’s in good shape What does this all mean? In a cast iron skillet, when oil is heated to its smoke point, its fatty acids oxidize into a plastic-like layer of molecules that essentially becomes part of the pan and creates the slick coating known as seasoning. Adding layer after layer makes it even more non-stick—this is the seasoning process.
How to Season Cast Iron
Even the best cast iron pan will need to be seasoned. This seasoning method takes a while, but it’s pretty straightforward. Please note that you can use corn, vegetable, or other kinds of oil for the process.
Here are my recommendations for seasoning cast iron cookware:
- Wash and dry your pan—ALWAYS by hand and never in the dishwasher, which will strip all the seasoning
- To open up the surface, warm the pan for 15 minutes in a 200-degree oven
- Remove the pan from the oven. Rub the oil all over the pan—inside and out, including the handle—using paper towels. With fresh paper towels, buff the pan to remove excess oil so it no longer looks shiny.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
- Place the pan upside down on a baking sheet and insert into heated oven. Heat the pan for a half-hour and then let cool
- Rub the pan with oil as before and repeat the process up to four more times to set your initial layer of seasoning. The pan should develop a dark surface that looks vaguely like non-stick coating.
How to Reseason a Cast Iron Skillet
Reconditioning and reseasoning cast iron is just as important as doing the process for the first time, if not more so. Since I bought my first cast iron pan, I’ve totally fallen in love, so I’ve actually started to collect old cast iron pans from garage sales. Even if a piece has caked-on seasoning and grime, as long as it sits flat and doesn’t have cracks, it should still work perfectly. There are some amazing deals to be found if you know what you’re looking for. Luckily, it’s easy to restore them cheaply.
In order to restore a cast iron skillet, you first need to strip and clean it.
You will need:
- Easy-Off or other heavy-duty oven cleaner (available here)
- Rubber gloves for cleaning
- Trash bags
- White vinegar
- Steel wool
A note: Lye is a key ingredient in oven cleaner. While it is a caustic agent, the lye residue is washed off the skillet. The pan is then soaked in acidic vinegar and washed before being seasoned. Very little—if any—lye is absorbed into the metal.
- Put on gloves (this is a must)
- Cover the cast iron pan completely with Easy-Off
- Place the cast iron in a trash bag and seal to prevent the oven cleaner from drying
This part of the process often takes several days because the old grime and seasoning can be stubborn. I usually wipe off the cleaner after two days and apply another coat, checking again after three more days.
- Remove the Easy-Off with paper towels and wash the skillet with hot water
- Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white distilled vinegar up to an hour to neutralize any remaining lye and soften rust
- Use steel wool to remove surface rust
- Wash the cast iron with soap and hot water
- Dry thoroughly
- Season immediately using the process outlined in the first section above
- Get cooking!
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