Growing up, I always loved cooking with my grandmother. I inherited several kitchen items from her, and my first (and favorite) task was to learn how to re-season her cast iron skillet.
The re-seasoning process takes time, but it’s completely worth it. Properly conditioned, you can use the skillet for cooking almost everything. While most people use theirs for cooking cornbread or frying, I use it for everything from steak to scrambled eggs. There’s just about nothing you CAN’T do. They distribute heat evenly and last seemingly forever.
Why Reseason Cast Iron?
Cast iron cookware is nearly indestructible. It’s versatile, retains heat, is durable, and—with the right seasoning process—is perfectly non-stick. Since it 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 stripping and re-seasoning methods 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? 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 and more ideal for cooking.
Since I got my first pan, I’ve totally fallen in love, so I’ve started to collect old pans from garage sales.
Even if a piece has caked-on 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 and recondition them cheaply.
In order to restore the pan, you first need to strip and clean it.
You will need:
Rubber gloves for cleaning
Easy-Off or other heavy-duty oven cleaner (available here)
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. The lye is not absorbed into the metal.
I strongly recommend doing this outside in order to limit breathing chemical fumes.
1. Put on gloves (this is a must).
2. Cover the cast iron pan completely with Easy-Off.
3. Place it 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 1-2 more days.
5. Remove the Easy-Off with paper towels and wash the skillet. I usually rinse the pan with a garden hose outside before washing it more carefully inside with hot water. Immediately dry thoroughly.
6. 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. Important: If you see small air bubbles coming off the pan, that is an indication that the solution is “eating” the iron and you should remove the pan immediately.
7. Use steel wool to remove any surface rust.
8. Wash the skillet with soap and hot water.
9. Dry thoroughly.
10. Season immediately using the process outlined below.
11. Get cooking!
Self-Cleaning Oven Method
As an alternative to the stripping method described, it is possible to use your oven. Most modern ovens have a self-cleaning feature that can be used to strip and clean cast iron.
To use this method, place the skillet upside-down in the oven and activate the self-cleaning feature for 3-5 hours. This should automatically lock the oven door, but double check to make sure it is locked.
Theoretically, the self-cleaning feature should burn away the grime on the pan. Unfortunately, it has not worked for me and I have still needed to aggressively scrub the pan with steel wool afterward.
How to Season Cast Iron
Even the best cast iron pan will need to be seasoned, and it’s particularly important to do after you strip and clean a pan. This method takes some time, but it is pretty straightforward.
For this part of the process, you will need foil and corn, vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil. Avoid using extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil because of their low smoke point.
Here are my recommendations for seasoning cast iron cookware:
1. Wash and dry your pan—ALWAYS by hand and never in the dishwasher.
2. To open up the surface, warm the pan for 15 minutes in a 200-degree oven.
3. Remove the pan from the oven. Rub the oil all over—inside and out, including the handle—using paper towels or a clean rag. (Avoid using anything with lots of lint.) Buff the pan to remove excess oil so it no longer looks shiny.
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
5. Place the pan upside down on a rack in the heated oven. Place foil on the rack beneath it to catch any drips. Heat the pan for an hour and then let cool.
6. 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 gray or amber colored surface that resembles non-stick coating.
Stripping and Cleaning
- Rubber gloves
- Easy-Off or other oven cleaner
- Trash bags
- Steel wool
- White vinegar
- Oil -- corn, vegetable, canola, or grapeseed
- Paper towels or lint-free rag
Stripping and Cleaning
- Put on rubber gloves.
- Cover the pan completely with Easy-Off.
- Place it in a trash bag and seal the bag to prevent the oven cleaner from drying. Wait two days.
- Wipe off the Easy-Off and apply a second coat. Wait 1-2 days.
- Wipe off the Easy-Off with paper towels. Rinse with hot water. Dry thoroughly.
- Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white
distilled vinegar for up to an hour to neutralize any remaining lye and
- Use steel wool to remove any surface rust.
- Wash the skillet with soap and hot water. Dry thoroughly.
- Follow the seasoning process.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Place pan in the oven and warm for 15 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven and increase temperature to 450 degrees.
- Rub oil over all surfaces of the pan, including the handle, using paper towels or a clean rag. Buff the pan to remove excess oil so it no longer looks shiny.
- Place the pan upside down on a rack in the heated oven. Place a sheet of foil on
the rack beneath it to catch any drips.
- Heat the pan in the oven for an 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
gray or amber colored surface that resembles non-stick coating.
1. When removing the Easy-Off residue from the pan, you might want to rinse the pan with a water hose outside before taking it inside to rinse with hot water.
2. While you're soaking the skillet in the vinegar and water solution, if you see small air bubbles coming off the pan, that is an indication that the solution is “eating” the iron and you should remove the pan immediately.
3. When applying oil to the pan, ensure that your paper towels or rag do not have a lot of lint.
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