Carbon steel cookware is lighter than cast iron pans and better at handling high temperatures than stainless steel. It’s one of the best options for durable and high-grade cookware, used by amateurs and professionals alike.
Carbon steel cookware is easy to use but to get the most out of it a bit of upkeep is required. The process of seasoning the pan helps to prolong its useful life and give it a nonstick surface, making cleaning up after cooking much easier.
Believe it or not, the oil you use in the seasoning process can make a big difference.
Read on to learn how to choose the best oil for seasoning a carbon steel pan and our top 3 choices.
What Does Seasoning a Carbon Steel Pan Do?
Before we take a closer look at which oil is the best for seasoning a carbon steel pan, I want to take a moment to focus on why seasoning is so important.
Seasoning a carbon steel pan helps to elevate its performance and ensure that you can use it for many years to come.
First of all, the seasoning process creates a nonstick layer. Not only does this make cleaning up after cooking easier, it also makes your dining experience more enjoyable. That’s because particles from previously cooked meals don’t stick to the pan and seep into whatever you’re making.
Secondly, seasoning helps to prevent rust. The protective layer formed by the oil prevents water droplets from being absorbed directly into the carbon steel surface.
How Do You Season a Carbon Steel Pan?
So, you know that seasoning a carbon steel pan is important. The great news is that it’s also easy!
Here’s how to properly season a carbon steel pan:
An initial seasoning is required, even for brand new pans that claim to be pre-seasoned.
Clean the Pan
The first thing you need to do is get rid of the pan’s coat of wax or grease. With the application of a little elbow grease and warm soapy water, this coat can be removed fairly quickly. Once washed, you should hand dry the pan with a towel.
To apply the seasoning, lightly coat a paper towel (or a kitchen towel you don’t mind throwing out) with oil. Rub the oil all over the pan, being sure to cover the inside, outside and underside.
Remove any excess oil by buffing it away until the pan looks dry. A good rule of thumb – if you think you’ve covered the pan with too much oil, you probably have!
Heat it Up
Next, it’s time to apply the heat. You can use a stovetop burner or an oven to do this, though be sure that the handle material is oven safe if you opt for that route. Use an oven mitt when handling the pan at this point as it will be extremely hot.
During this part of the process, you pan will smoke a lot. Make sure you have good ventilation in your kitchen and open any windows.
You’ll notice that the pan starts to turn brown. That’s the sign that the oil has bonded with the pan, creating the seasoning. If you’re doing this on the stovetop, you may need to move the pan around to ensure that all areas get adequate exposure to heat.
Cooling and Adding the Next Layer
Once the oil has turned brown, take the pan off the stovetop or out of the oven and allow to cool down. After it’s cooled, repeat the process and apply a new thin layer of oil before exposing to heat. Keep doing this until the pan is fully covered with a dark shade of brown.
At this point, you’re ready to begin cooking!
You will know when the pan needs to be re-seasoned because the surface will become bumpy. You may even begin to feel a residue form on the surface of the pan. This is caused by partially polymerized oil or residue from food.
When this happens, you should use an abrasive sponge and scrub the pan with oil and kosher salt. This will remove any built up food particles and also strip away the existing seasoning. Continue to do so, until the pan’s surface is smooth. Then, repeat the seasoning process.
On the other hand, if you notice some gaps in the seasoning starting to form you can add an extra layer or two without scrubbing the pan. Instead, just evenly apply oil as before and expose to heat.
What Is The Best Oil for Seasoning a Carbon Steel Pan?
When selecting an oil for seasoning a carbon steel pan, there’s a few things you need to consider. These considerations allow you to select an oil that will suit your cooking method and your taste preferences.
The Difference Between Refined and Unrefined Oil
There are two different ways to bottle oil. The first is immediately after the oil is pressed and extracted. This is what happens in the case of unrefined oil.
Refined oils are processed before bottling. Typically unrefined oils retain more flavor, minerals, and nutrients. Unrefined oils are also referred to as virgin, natural, or raw. These oils are better tasting and offer more benefits.
However, refined oils offer a higher smoke point. This allows them to be cooked at higher heats.
Because you’ll be seasoning your pan over a medium to high heat, you should go for a refined oil due to the higher smoke point.
Is the Oil Flavorful or Neutral?
Another key consideration is whether the oil is flavorful or neutral. There are many oils that offer incredible aromas and delicious flavors. Walnut oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil are three examples of flavorful oils. These oils offer distinct flavors that enhance specific dishes.
For example, sesame oil pairs well with Asian food. It enhances the flavor and gives the dish it’s distinct flavor. However, these flavorful oils work best with low heat dishes.
Neutral oil is best when a dish offers an incredible flavor of its own. In which case, it is not necessary to add additional flavors. They will only clash with the dish.
Now of course, when seasoning your pan you don’t necessarily want the flavor of the oil to impart on to other dishes. An exception to this might be if you’re planning to use the pan only for specific cuisines. If, for example, you’re seasoning a carbon steel wok that you know you’ll only use for Asian-style stir fry, sesame oil might be a great choice.
On the other hand, if you plan on using your pan for lots of different foods, a neutral oil will be best.
Oils that Contain Fats
In recent years, we have developed an anti-fat approach to cooking. But, not all fat is ‘bad fat’. Omega 9 and omega 3 fats are actually good for you. These fats offer health benefits for the human body. Flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and extra virgin olive oil are three examples of oils high in omega 3 fats.
However, omega 6 fats are bad for you. They cause excessive inflammation. Almond oil is an example of an oil high in omega 6 fats. Oils like this should be used less frequently.
It’s also important to consider whether the oil contains saturated or unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are much better for you than saturated fats. These fats are often found in nuts and certain seeds.
Now, the oil used in seasoning won’t impart huge levels of fat to any dish you prepare. However, it’s still recommended that you stick to an oil with low levels of omega 6 to be on the safe side.
The Importance of Smoke Point
Before we discuss the importance of understanding the smoke point, let’s take a quick moment to explain what the smoke point is.
The smoke point of cooking oil is the temperature at which the oil stops shimmering and begins to smoke. The smoke point is often referred to as the burning point. This point generally ranges from 325 degrees Fahrenheit to 520 degrees Fahrenheit.
So why does the smoke point of oil matter?
When an oil begins to break down there are a few physical signs. One of the biggest determinants of when an oil is breaking down is that it begins to smoke. Once the oil begins to breakdown, it releases chemicals. These chemicals cause the food you are cooking to have a burnt smell and bitter taste.
3 Best Oils for Seasoning a Carbon Steel Pan
Let’s dive into the different types of seasoning oils for carbon steel pans. There are countless oils available for seasoning a carbon steel pan, but there are three cooking oils that we recommend above the rest.
Avocado oil, canola oil, and grapeseed oil are three cooking oils that are believed to be the best. Let’s discuss why.
Canola oil is a neutral-tasting oil that is low in saturated fats. In fact, it contains less than seven percent saturated fats. The oil is also plentiful in unsaturated fats and omega 3 fats. These fats offer many health benefits, especially heart benefits.
Canola oil also offers a high smoke point. This means that canola oil can be used while cooking at very high temperatures. The oil will not degenerate, impact the flavor of the dish, and reduces the risk of burning your food.
Grapeseed oil is very similar to flaxseed oil. Both of these oils contain similar percentages of saturated and unsaturated fats. It contains omega 3 fats that offer health benefits and improve flavor.
This oil offers a higher smoke point which allows it to be used while cooking at higher temperatures. Grapeseed oil is also relatively cheap compared to other oils.
High in healthy fats and containing lots of antioxidants, avocado oil is becoming an increasingly popular cooking oil. It’s also a great option for seasoning your carbon steel pan.
It has a high smoke point of 519°F. This makes it ideal for searing food at high temperatures.