How to Season a Cast Iron Pan

Cast iron pans are a true workhorse – versatile pieces of kitchen hardware that are great for cooking anything from the perfect pork chop to a deep dish pizza. What also makes them so appealing is their resilience. Able to tolerate high temperatures and sturdy enough to withstand almost anything you can throw at them, a well-looked after cast iron pan can provide years of use. Today we’ll show you how to season your cast iron pan and keep it in prime condition for years, maybe even generations, to come!

Why Seasoning Is Important

Though it’s tough, cast iron is a porous metal. This means that over time it will absorb the flavors and aromas of anything and everything you cook in it. Additionally, water can seep into the pores and cause the metal to rust.

To season a cast iron pan, oil is applied to the surface and heated. This causes a process called polymerization. When polymerized, the oil forms a layer of protective coating that stops food and liquids from seeping into the pan. As an added bonus seasoning also gives the pan nonstick properties, making cooking and cleaning even easier!

Do You Need to Season New Cast Iron Pans?

These days most new cast iron pans come ‘pre-seasoned’, meaning that a layer of oil has been polymerized to the surface during the manufacturing process. This prevents the cookware from rusting whilst it sits in storage and also means that many new cast iron pans are ready-to-use when you buy them. Check the manufacturer’s information – if your new pan is pre-seasoned you’re good to go and don’t need to worry about seasoning it just yet.

Over time, depending on how well you care for it, you’ll notice that food starts sticking more than it used to. You may also start to find that aromas from previous meals start to permeate into other dishes you cook. When this starts to happen, you’ll know that it’s time to season that pan!

Seasoning Your Cast Iron Pan

What You Need

The good news is that you likely already have everything you need to season your cast iron pan at home. You don’t need to worry about buying any specialist equipment.

  • Stiff brush/scouring pad/steel wool
  • Dish soap
  • Canola Oil (though any cooking oil will also work)
  • Paper towels

Step 1: Thoroughly Wash the Pan

The first thing you need to do is make sure that the pan is properly cleaned. Usually it isn’t advisable to use soap on a cast iron pan as soap can get trapped in the porous surface. However, to properly season the pan and create the smoothest possible cooking surface you need to get rid of any rust or residual food particles. To do this you’ll need to use warm soapy water and a brush or cloth.

Washing Cast Iron Pan with Soap

Put some elbow grease into it and really scrub the pan. If needed use steel wool to tackle any stubborn rust or stains. This part of the process is key so you may want to repeat it a couple of times to make sure that your pan is as clean as possible.

Step 2: Dry the pan

Use paper towels or a clean cloth to dry the pan. It’s important that you don’t move on to the next stage of seasoning before the pan is dry as any remaining droplets can prevent the oil from creating a smooth surface. If you want to be sure that the pan is absolutely bone dry, put it on the stove at a low heat.

Step 3: Rub oil into the pan

Pour a small amount of oil onto the pan. The goal is to create a light coating, so one to two tablespoons of oil is all you need. Use a paper towel to coat the whole surface, rubbing it in thoroughly until it is evenly coated and doesn’t look too greasy. Be sure to coat every inch of the surface.

Step 4: Heat the pan in the oven

To create a polymerized surface you next need to expose the pan to an even heat. Preheat your oven to 450°F. Once ready, flip your pan over and place it in the oven upside down. Place another pan underneath to catch any drippings.

After 30 minutes, turn the oven off and allow the pan to cool completely before removing it.

Using oven gloves to protect your hands, repeat step 3 and apply another layer of oil to the pan before placing it back into the oven for another 30 minutes. To create a really solid surface you may need to repeat this step as many as four times. You’ll know your pan is properly seasoned when it is nearly pitch black and has a slick appearance – almost resembling wet paint.

Looking After Your Cast Iron Pan

After seasoning your cast iron pan, it should now be ready to go. To keep your new layer of seasoning effective for as long as possible, be sure to take care of the pan by sticking to the following rules:

Thoroughly clean after each use – but don’t use soap! Now that you’re done seasoning, you’re also done with using soap when you wash your cast iron pan. Instead, rinse your pan with water after use and scrub off any solids with kitchen salt and a soft cloth.

Never leave the pan to soak in water. Though the process of seasoning will make the pan more water resistant, water will still find a way through any imperfections in the surface and cause rust. Be sure to dry your skillet immediately after washing.

Don’t cook acidic foods. Avoid using your cast iron pan to cook foods with a high level of acidity, such as tomatoes. The acid will corrode the seasoning and you’ll need to repeat this process a lot sooner than you’d like! When cooking any acidic foods, use stainless steel cookware instead.

How Often Should You Re-Season Your Pan?

Whilst it takes a little bit of time and effort, the good news is that you shouldn’t need to re-season your pan too often. When you start to notice that food is sticking on a regular basis, or if you see any rust starting to form, it’s time to scrub the pan and re-season.