Cast iron pans are highly versatile cooking tools, but if you want your pans and kitchenware to perform properly, then knowing how to season a cast iron pan is crucial.
So what exactly is ‘seasoning’ and how do you do it? In our step-by-step guide, we show you how seasoning your cast iron works, define what it means to season cast iron and explain why it’s important if you want your skillet to last for generations.
Seasoning a cast iron pan explained
Believe it or not, ‘seasoning’ a pan has nothing to do with herbs and spices: simply put, it’s the process of adding a hard, protective coating of fat that has bonded to the cast iron pan’s surface using heat. Once ‘seasoned’, your pan will be perfectly non-stick with properties similar to Teflon.
How to season a cast iron pan in 7 easy steps
The following steps for seasoning a cast iron pan can be taken if your pan is new or hasn’t been seasoned previously.
Every time you use a newly seasoned pan to cook with oil or fat you’ll be topping up the protective layer and extending the life of your pan.
You will need:
- An old paint brush
- A bowl or cup for oil
- A kitchen sponge
- Washing up liquid
- Oil (unsaturated is best, like vegetable)
- Kitchen roll
Wash and dry your cast iron pan
Give it a thorough scrub with warm soapy water and a sponge, using good quality washing-up liquid. Dry it thoroughly and finish it off by putting it on a stovetop flame or ring for a couple of minutes to get rid of any excess water.
Rub oil over pan surface
Apply oil using an old paintbrush dipped in a cup or bowl of oil, making sure to also include the outside, bottom and handle. You can use any oil, but unsaturated fats like vegetable, canola, flaxseed, grapeseed or corn oil are best for seasoning cast iron due to their ability to bond with molecules.
Buff the surface
Using some kitchen roll, do this until it no longer looks greasy. This will leave a super thin layer of oil but no excess. Any excess oil can pool during the seasoning process, leaving hardened droplets – which can sometimes turn sticky – on your pan’s surface.
Heat pan in the oven
Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F) and leave your pan in there for 30 minutes. Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated as the seasoning process can produce a lot of smoke. This process will polymerize the oil, which is the bonding together of small molecules to form a polymer.
Take the pan out
Take care as it will be hot – you may want to leave it to cool in the oven for a short while first.
Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4
Do this at least three times before you use the pan to cook with. This will ensure you have a good few layers of seasoning to protect your pan.
Allow your pan to cool
Once it has been cooled, it is now ready for you to cook with.
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Tip: You can help maintain the seasoning on your pan by wiping the surface with a paper towel or cloth that has been lightly oiled.
The importance of seasoning cast iron pans
With enough thin layers applied, the process of seasoning creates a hard, blackened skin which protects the cast iron. It also has non-stick properties which makes it great for preserving the lifespan of items such as frying pans and skillets. The more you cook with fat in your pan, the more beneficial layers of season you’ll be adding.
Note: It’s important that you also re-season your cast iron cookware. Occasions you may need to re-season include if your cookware begins to feel sticky, loses its non-stick properties, or starts to look grey.
How to clean a cast iron pan
It’s not just seasoning your cast iron pan that will extend its life – using the right method for cleaning cast iron it is also crucial. Follow these easy steps, and remember to avoid the dishwasher.
1. Remove any excess cooking oil
Check out our guide to disposing of cooking oil to ensure you get rid of any waste responsibly.
2. Wipe the surface
Use a paper towel or cloth to remove any lingering oil residue.
3. Rinse under hot water
Do not soak as this could remove layers of seasoning.
4. Scrub to remove food traces
Use a non-metal brush or non-abrasive cloth or sponge. Don’t use any soap to clean your pan, as this will strip away any seasoning.
5. Dry thoroughly
To prevent rust, make sure there are no traces of water. You may want to heat the pan over a low heat for this. You can help maintain the seasoning on your pan by the surface with a paper towel or cloth that has been lightly oiled.
Of course, pans aren’t the only cast iron items in the home. Check out our guide to cleaning a cast iron fireplace if yours is in need of some attention.
Top tips for caring for cast iron pans
Make sure cast iron cookware is properly seasoned before use.
Never use a dishwasher to clean cast iron as it can remove non-stick coatings and layers of seasoning.
Always clean cast iron immediately after cooking. An old credit card is a great way to remove cooking residue without damaging the seasoning layers.
Never leave cast iron wet as it could get rusty. You should reserve your cast iron pan for searing, frying and other non-water-based cooking.
Re-season cast iron cookware when needed. It’s time to re-season when the sheen has disappeared from the surface, it’s rusty, or if food sticks to the surface.
You can use a metal scouring pad to remove any rust, then wash the pan thoroughly with water, soap and a soft-bristled brush. Make sure you rinse all soap residue away, then re-season the pan.
Cleaning and maintaining your cast iron pan: your questions answered
How many times do you need to season a cast iron skillet?
If you’re seasoning a new cast iron pan, you must season it at least three times in one go to give your pan the best protection. If you have an older pan, you’ll know when it needs re-seasoning if it turns dull, rusty or food begins to stick to it.
Do you have to season a cast iron skillet?
Cast iron has a porous surface that can cause food to stick to it when cooking. But when you season a pan, the heated oil will fill those pores to ensure a smooth and even surface. The seasoning layer can build up over time through cooking with oil, and will bond to the iron to create a non-stick surface like Teflon – perfect for use with all types of cooking.
Should I season a pre-seasoned cast iron pan?
In short, yes. Even though some new cast iron pans come ready-seasoned with a base layer, it’s advised to still season your pan at home to give it a few more layers and some extra protection.
Now that your cast iron pan is sorted, you might also want to check out our tips for how to clean a wok.