How to Season Cast Iron

Seasoned Cast Iron

Cast iron has been the cookware of choice for hundreds of years, and with good reason. The density of iron provides a surface unparalleled for even cooking and well-seasoned cast iron is the original non-stick coating. Sturdy and incredibly durable, a cast iron skillet or pot will last a lifetime and beyond. For those who grew up with cast iron cooking, it is possible the skillet in their pantry belonged to their mother or grandmother (and maybe even her grandmother).

Seasoning is the process of cooking a layer of fat or oil onto the surface of cast iron cookware. This layer of baked-on fat creates a non-stick cooking surface, protects the iron from rust and prevents the iron from reacting with foods affecting flavor.  A seasoned skillet can last years when well-maintained, but improperly storage or maintained cast iron may lose its protective surface. When rust rears its ugly head on a beloved cast iron skillet or pot, unlike “modern” cookware, all is not lost. Even the most abused cast iron can be restored to like-new condition with a good cleaning and re-seasoning.

Follow the steps below to bring the magic back to grandmother’s favorite skillet or to season newly purchased cast iron cookware.

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Step 1

 Open GalleryWeathered Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware that has been abused or neglected can wind up in rough shape, but even the rustiest pot can be restored to look as good as the day it was forged. This “camp” style Dutch oven saw a lot of campfire use from a Boy Scout troop before it was stored improperly and forgotten in the back of a garage. When assessing old cast iron, first wipe it clean to see if it needs to be re-seasoned or simply cleaned. This dutch oven has cooked-on food remains and a lot of rust that make re-seasoning necessary.

Step 2

 Open Gallery

Wipe down cookware and cook in an oven set to “self-clean” for 3 hours.

Step 3

 Open Gallery

Once cool, scrub the pot or skillet clean with soap and water using a scouring pad. Once clean, rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue.

Step 4

 Open GalleryDry thoroughly.

Dry all surfaces completely before proceeding. At this point, the pot looks much like it did when new.

Step 5

 Open GalleryUse canola or flaxseed oil to coat cookware

Pour enough canola, flaxseed or vegetable oil into the pot to cover the bottom. Lard or bacon grease have historically been used to season cast iron, but the oils suggested here are readily available and provide a clean, even coat.

Step 6

 Open GalleryApply thin coat of oil to cookware

Using a dry cloth or paper towel, spread the oil over the surface of the cookware to coat the entire pot in a very thin coat of oil. No dripping should occur when the pot is turned over.

Step 7

 Open Gallery

Line the bottom rack of your oven with foil to catch any possible dripping oil. Place cast iron upside down on the middle rack and set temperature to 400 degrees. Once 400 degrees is reached, allow to cook for 60 minutes. After an hour, turn off the oven and allow the pot to cool in place.

Step 8

 Open Gallery

Repeat steps 5-7 several times until the surface comes out uniformly glossy (3 to 4 passes is generally sufficient). Your cast iron is now ready for use. To maintain cast iron, clean thoroughly using hot water immediately after each use. Mild soap should be used sparingly, as it compromises the seasoned surface. Dry completely and use a paper towel to apply a small amount of oil to the seasoned surface before storing.

About Mick Telkamp 

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A former Midwesterner living in North Carolina, I write about my adventures in backyard chicken-keeping and suburban homesteading over at HGTVGardens, and my exploits in the culture of Southern cooking ...

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2 Responses

  1. Gail says:

    I have been using cast iron my whole life (62 years), my mother used it, and my grandmother used it. It was passed down to me, after using your pot, always scrub clean with dish soap and scrub pad. The pot needs to be dried on a fire (on the stove) and immediately oil the pot before it cools off. I have had to restore pots and skillets I recovered from my daughter in law. I gave these to her and was appalled at the condition they were returned! She insisted she had to have a set, and I thought I was giving her a great gift! Even took the time to teach her how to care for the wonderful utensils!

  2. Patti says:

    What if you don't have a self-cleaning oven? Could you set the temperature as high as possible for a few hours? Thanks!

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