If you have cast iron cookware, you know it requires a little TLC when it comes to cleaning up after cooking, but it’s equally important to season an old-fashioned cast iron skillet before using it. Here’s a step-by-step guide, with some tips gleaned from the Chowhound community.
Seasoning a new cast iron skillet can feel like an initiation ritual—in a good way—but many skillets come pre-seasoned these days, meaning they’re ready to cook with as soon as you get them home. That doesn’t mean you’ll never need to season them, though—the seasoning process is also a great way to bring worse-for-wear cast iron back to its former glory (whether you found some in a thrift store, inherited an old set, or committed a cookware sin and forgot to take proper care of yours).
Lodge Chef Collection Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, $39.95 at Sur La Table
This skillet comes pre-seasoned, but you can always re-season if it starts to lose its patina.
Related Reading: The 9 Best Skillets for 2020
And while it might seem like a hassle, cast iron pans are wonderful: They hold heat well for even cooking, are reliably nonstick when properly seasoned (at which point it’s fine to cook acidic foods in them), are virtually indestructible, and they even impart a little bit of iron into your cooking, according to Chowhound member MamaGoat.
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Cast Iron and Enameled Cast Iron?
How to Season Cast Iron
1. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
2. Meanwhile, wash your skillet with hot soapy water. If you’re dealing with an old, ill-cared for skillet, you can use a heavy-duty scrubber (like steel wool or even sandpaper) to remove any rust or grime.
3. Thoroughly dry the skillet with a clean, lint-free cloth or kitchen towel. You can also set it on a medium burner to make sure all traces of moisture are gone (this is a good thing to do after each cleaning to prevent rusting too).
4. Rub the entire inner surface of the skillet with a scant amount of oil. Chowhound users like lard, shortening, and peanut oil; other sources suggest flaxseed oil, but the important thing is to be sure to choose something with a high smoke point (not butter or olive oil). You only need a very thin layer of oil—the pan should look fairly dry with only a faint sheen. And while paper towels will work for rubbing in the fat, we prefer a clean, lint-free kitchen towel or flour sack cloth.
5. Place the skillet in the hot oven and bake for an hour. Turn your hood fan on and/or open some windows as there will likely be smoke!
6. Turn off the oven and let the skillet chill out until it’s cool enough to remove.
See the process in action on “Rachael Ray.” She prefers a lower oven temperature (250°F) but leaves the skillet in for several hours, and also offers a tip for making sure you don’t have excess oil in the pan before baking it: Invert it on a baking sheet for a few moments.
Whether you use the high heat method or go low and slow, when your pan is properly seasoned, it will gleam and act like nonstick thanks to the layer of polymerized oil—and eventually, the rough texture that’s common to new skillets will get smoother as the pan develops a patina with age and use. Unlike factory-produced nonstick surfaces, you can safely use metal utensils with cast iron (but other types of utensil, including wood and silicone, are also great choices).
Echo Hill Forge Leather Cast Iron Skillet Handle Cover, $18 on Etsy
Slide this onto your pan handle once it comes out of the oven to prevent burns from accidentally touching the bare metal.
Be sure that you clean your cast iron properly so as not to ruin that finish!
Related Reading: How to Clean Cast Iron
If your pan starts to look a little shabby, though, just repeat the seasoning process and it will serve you well for years to come.
Header image by Chowhound