Our Griswold #8 skillet is between 80 and 100 years old, but doesn't she just look beautiful!
This pan is completely seasoned and non-stick. And notice how smooth the cooking
surface is versus the rough surface of today's mediocre cast iron pans.
There are thousands of web sites on the internet with information about seasoning cast iron. Many of them contain good information, many of them don't. While we are not experts in cooking, collecting, or identifying cast iron, we have read much of this information about seasoning and the following method is what we have found to work the best for us.
What Is Seasoning?
Seasoning is done by heating a thin layer of oil on your pan until it polymerizes and adheres to the cast iron. Not only does it make your pan non-stick, it also prevents it from rusting. Initially, you season the pan by building up a layer of this polymerized oil with a few rounds of seasoning in the oven. Subsequently, normal use will add to the seasoning and you won't have to use this process again.
A Few Seasoning Myths
As we said, there are thousands of web sites on the internet with information about seasoning cast iron. And there is a lot of misinformation out there about seasoning cast iron. Let's take a quick look at some of these "myths" before we get to our process. In no particular order:
You must place your cast iron piece in the oven upside down: No, you don't. This is supposedly necessary because if you don't, your seasoning oil will pool in the bottom of the cookware. As you will see, if your seasoning oil will pool in the bottom, you are using way too much oil.
You must place foil in the bottom of your oven to catch drips: Again, no you don't. If there is the slightest possibility of your seasoning oil dripping from your cookware, you are using way too much oil.
The best oil for seasoning is flax seed oil: This myth arises from the fact that it has a low smoke point and polymerizes more quickly. However, the right kind of flaxseed oil is expensive and unless the seasoning is done correctly, it produces a brittle layer of seasoning that can eventually flake off. We would recommend you avoid this fad unless you first learn how to do it correctly. You can learn more in our article How To Season Cast Iron With Flaxseed Oil.
Seasoning cast iron in the kitchen will produce clouds of smoke: Not if you do it correctly. We have never smoked up our kitchen while seasoning our dozens of heirloom cast iron skillets.
What Oil Should You Use?
All cooking oils and fats can be used for seasoning cast iron, but vegetable oil, melted shortening, and canola oil all have relatively high smokepoints and are good choices. Traditionally, lard was used to season cast iron, and while that is still okay, we do not recommend it unless you use your cookware a lot. If the cookware is stored for too long, lard and other animal-based fats can turn rancid. Using flaxseed oil to season cast iron pans is a growing trend, but as we said above it produces a brittle seasoning layer that can flake off.
There are also a number of specialty seasoning products that mix various oils and beeswax together. These are obviously pricier than simple oils, but can be very good at producing a quality seasoning for your cast iron. We have used two, BuzzyWaxx Original Blend (grapeseed oil, canola oil, beeswax) and Field Company Cast Iron Seasoning Oil (organic grapeseed oil, organic sunflower oil, beeswax). We used BuzzyWaxx to season most of our heirloom cast iron skillets, but we had a Griswold #6 skillet that we inherited from our grandfather which was proving to be difficult to season. After many seasonings and much cooking, we switched to The Field Company Seasoning Oil and quickly achieved the seasoning we were after. So, you will probably get good results from the less expensive BuzzyWaxx but you may find you prefer the Field Company Seasoning Oil. Although expensive, you don't use much.
How To Properly Season Cast Iron
So, how do we season our cast iron? Here's our basic procedure for seasoning cast iron:
We say repeat two more times for a total of three applications, but you may find that more layers are required. We normally do 6 applications of seasoning in order to get a glass smooth non-stick surface. It's really worth the effort!
- Preheat your oven to 200°F.
- While the oven is preheating, wash and dry your pan to be seasoned.
- When the oven is up to temperature, place your pan in the oven for 10 minutes. This ensures that the pan is dry. Also the hot pan will help to melt your seasoning oil. (Both BuzzyWaxx and Field Company Cast Iron Seasoning Oil are semi-solid.)
- After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and bump your oven up to 300°F. Use a paper towel to apply a very light coat of your seasoning oil to the pan. Make sure you get the oil onto all surfaces and into any corners. Use a another clean paper towel to wipe as much of the oil off the pan as possible.
- Once the oven is up to 300°F, place your pan in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove your pan from the oven when the 10 minutes is up and bump your oven up to 480-500°F (BuzzyWaxx) or 400°F (Field Company Cast Iron Seasoning Oil).
- While the oven is heating up for the final step, look at your pan. You should see that the nearly invisible thin layer of oil that you started with all of a sudden has turned into a mosaic of little sections of oil. The heat increases the oil's "motor activity" which allows it to draw up into these small patches of oil. Use a clean paper towel to carefully give the pan another wipe in order to remove as much oil as possible and spread it back out into a thin smooth layer. (Failure to do this will result in all those little patches turning into hard little bumps of seasoning, which is not what you want!)
- Once the oven has reached your final temperature, place your pan back in the oven for one hour.
- After one hour, turn off the oven and leave the pan in the oven to cool.
- Repeat this entire process two more times and you are done!
Time To Start Cooking
A good way to test the seasoning of your pan is to fry a couple of eggs. Heat some butter up in the pan. When the butter begins to brown, add your eggs. Let them cook untouched until done. You should then be able to lift the eggs with a spatula with only the slightest of sticking. If you have significant sticking, clean the pan and give it another round of seasoning or two.
You can also help build up the seasoning layer by frying some potato chips in butter. Slice a potato as thinly as you can and fry the slices in butter until they are golden brown. Try to fit as many slices into your pan as possible in a single layer. When done, wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.
Caring For Your Seasoning
Once the pan is seasoned to your liking, you can help preserve and even build up the seasoning by simply cooking in your pan. When cleaning, just a quick soak with hot water to soften any stuck-on food, a good wipe with a paper towel to dry and perhaps just a very light wipe with some seasoning oil will do. (In this case, inexpensive oil is fine.) For stubborn stuck on food you can use a chain mail scrubber. Another alternative is to add a small bit of water and some Morton's Kosher Salt and use the salt to scrub away any food. (Be sure to thoroughly rinse out the salt, thoroughly dry your pan, and then add a very thin application of oil.)
Incidentally, another cast iron myth is that you must never use dishwashing liquid on cast iron lest you destroy your seasoning. While this was once true back in the old days when dish washing products contained lye, lye is no longer used and a quick wash with dishwashing liquid is perfectly fine. Again, be sure to throughly rinse and dry your pan, and follow up with a very light wipe with some seasoning oil.
What About Modern "Factory Seasoned" Pans?
Nowadays, all of the expensive cast iron pans come preseasoned, but we will restrict our discussion here to Lodge cast iron pans. Normally we would never own Lodge cast iron, but for the sake of some experimentation, we bought two Lodge cast iron skillets, a 6.5" Classic skillet and a 7" Blacklock skillet. The Classic skillet comes with one layer of soybean oil seasoning, while the Blacklock skillet comes with 3. How well did their seasoning work out of the box? Well, our acid test of how well our seasoning efforts have gone is to scramble eggs in the pan. The protein in eggs is notorious for bonding to metal surfaces and it will show up any areas of your pan which need more seasoning. The following photos show the two Lodge pans and a vintage well-seasoned Griswold pan after an egg was scrambled in them:
It's pretty obvious that the Lodge seasoning is lacking. But here is how they looked after giving them four applications of seasoning using the method that we provided above and then scrambling an egg in them:
As you can see, giving these "factory-seasoned" pans several applications of proper seasoning improves their performace considerably.
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