Seasoning Cast Iron

Recently I learned a new technique for re-seasoning cast iron.  Well, maybe what I learned was the proper technique.  Either way, it worked really well for me.  I read this post over at GNOWFGLINS and immediately went out to purchase the needed Flax Seed oil.  You can also read about the science behind this method in this article titled: “Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning.  But the basic gist is you are creating a polymerized coating.  A sealant, if you will, to fill in the pours of your cast iron skillet and create a smooth non-stick surface.

What you will need:

  • “High grade, organic flax seed oil ~ should be refrigerated and fresh; check the expiration date”
  • Skillet(s) (obvious, I know)
  • Oven with self-cleaning setting
  • Lint-free cloths (several)

Here’s the Flax Seed oil that I found at our local health food store to used:

And here’s what my worse pan looked like:

Above: outside.  Below: inside.

It was pretty funky!  The others (6 in total) weren’t near this bad., but still needed to be re-done.  What is the process, you ask?  (if you didn’t click the link above to read the original directions)  I started out by just re-seasoning the worst skillet I had (the one pictured above) for a test run.  Since it was already pretty bad I thought “what do I have to lose with this one if it goes wrong?”

Cleaning the old pan:

First of all I didn’t follow the directions exactly.  I have been struggling with this skillet for over a year now to get it cleaned to no avail.  I even tried spraying it down with oven cleaner (YUCK!), sealing it up in a plastic bag and leaving it out in the sun to cook.  That only got it as clean as you see in the pictures above.  This time I put it in the oven and set the oven to self-clean.  I figured if that cleans out the oven completely then surely it would clean off anything that is in the oven as well.   Oh my gosh was I ever right!!  I ended up with a perfectly clean to the bone, gray skillet.

 

It seems that it was so badly gunked up that it’s now stained. That’s the only thing I can think. But it was smooth as can be.

The Re-Seasoning Process

1.)  The next step was to set the oven to 200 degrees (after it cooled completely from the self-cleaning setting) and put the skillet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes to completely dry out.  You don’t want any moisture left on before applying the oil.  Very important!

2.)  Remove from oven and set the oven temp as high as your oven will go.  Anywhere between 400 and 500 degrees is fine.  My oven goes all the way to 500.  While the skillet is still hot squirt a dab (about the size of a quarter) of Flax Seed oil (shake it well first) in the center and spread all over with a clean, lint-free cloth.  Cover the entire surface inside and out.  It should look dark and shiny.  Then once you’ve covered it completely you will wipe it back off.  That’s right ~ ALL OF IT!  Your skillet will look gray again and not so shiny.  That’s ok.  You will be doing several layers of this and over time the coating will build up.  But you have to do it in very thin layers for it to be a good strong seasoning.

3.)  Once your oven is up to temp place your skillet in the oven upside down.  You shouldn’t need to put any foil or cookie sheets in the oven as you should have wiped off all excess oil, therefore there will be no dripping. Set the timer for one (1) hour.  The pan may (or may not) smoke quite a lot this first time in the oven.  Mine didn’t exactly have visible smoke, but I could smell the oil heating up.  It wasn’t exactly an unpleasant smell, but you still want to make sure to open windows so you get some fresh air coming in.

4.)  When the timer goes off DO NOT open the oven door.  Just turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool in the oven for an hour.  It will still be hot in an hour, but you are helping to cure the layers by giving it this rest period.  When you take the skillet out of the oven it will be lighter in color than when you put it in.  Again, that’s ok.  Each layer will darken the skillet even more than the previous.

5.)  Repeat steps 1 – 4 at least five or six more times.  This process could take you a couple of days to complete.  Here is this first skillet after just a couple of layers of polymerization.  You can still see that it’s stained, but I assure you that it’s as smooth as can be.  After all is said and done you will have a beautiful, dark, shiny skillet ready for cooking on.

I was so pleased with the results of this one skillet that the very next day I went ahead and did the rest of my skillets (less the two that I still have packed away in storage: cast iron wok and a Dutch oven w/o a lid).  This first pan still had a couple of layers it needed so after I cleaned the others in the self-cleaning setting of the oven I continued seasoning the first one right along with the others. 

Here they are all in the oven just after the initial cleaning and cooling:

One number 5 skillet I have I didn’t re-season at this time since I’ve been pretty happy with it’s surface.  However, when I am able to re-season the stored pieces I will re-do this one as well.  Just because I’m so happy with the results of all the others.

And the results?

Five (5) beautifully re-seasoned cast iron skillets and one (1) corn bread pan.  The skillet in the front left of the picture is the number 5 one that I did not re-season (which is why I only said “five re-seasoned skillets”). The far back left one is the first skillet I started with.  I’m very pleased with the results.

Ongoing Care

First let me say that the above process is just the beginning of your new seasoning.  You will need to build up from there.  The way you build it up is to start out by cooking high fat foods in your newly seasoned skillets.  You know all those wonderful traditional fats you read about in my previous posts: real butter, ghee, lard, tallow.  They are all great for building up your seasoning layer.  Of course, if you are a fan of cast iron you know that it takes years to build up a great seasoning.  It’s an ongoing and never-ending process.  And your skillets only get better with age.  You also probably already know to never use soap in your cast iron.  Or at least I hope you already know this.  If not, then STOP IT NOW!  You only need to clean them with hot water or you damage the protective seasoning.  I use a plastic scraper from Pampered Chef and a non-metallic scrubbie to clean mine.  And do it as soon as you’re finished cooking with them to make the job a lot easier.  Sometimes all you need to do it wipe it out with a paper towel or a lint-free cloth depending on what you cooked in it.

Basically caring for your cast iron skillet doesn’t have to be that difficult.  Some people recommend coating the inside with a thin layer of oil after each cleaning.  I found that, at least with my newly re-seasoned skillets, they were sticking something awful when I did that.  So I just clean them and make sure they are thoroughly dry by placing them on a low heat burner for a few seconds.  You can see the water evaporating and you will know when it’s thoroughly dry just by looking at it.  Then I make sure to cook in it with plenty of fat/oil. 

Periodically I plan to repeat steps 1-4 again just to continue building up the layers.  But I’m already seeing a huge difference in cooking with them just from this initial re-seasoning.

What is YOUR experience with cast iron?  Are you in love with it or do you hate it?  I’d love to hear your experience.  Also, feel free to comment with any questions you may have.  I’ll answer them the best I can or find an answer for you.

Until next time….

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5 responses to “Seasoning Cast Iron

  1. Pingback: Cast Iron Stove - Best Information Site about Gas Fireplace - Gas Fireplace Parts

  2. I love this tutorial. I love to cook with my cast iron but really didn’t know how to do this. Bookmarking for the fall when I can fire up my oven again.

  3. Wow, the idea to use the self-cleaning feature is pretty neat. I don’t use cast iron now that I have a glass top stove, but I was never successful with it when I had coil burners. Found you on Grain Mill Wagon.

    • I’ve used cast iron on a glass top, you just have to be careful when you set it down. Once you get your pans seasoned they are easy-peasy to use. But I’ve also been using them my whole life ~ I learned how to cook on them. Anytime I’ve had to use something different I’ve hated it. LOL! What sort of problems did you run into when you tried to use them in the past?

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