How To Season A Cast Iron Pan
Long before nonstick pans were introduced, home cooks were using the next best thing, cast iron cookware. This kitchen staple had a lot going for it. It was a great heat conductor. It was energy efficient, and it cooked food evenly. It was virtually indestructible and easy to clean, too -- once you got the hang of cleaning it, anyway. Today's cooks are getting reacquainted with the virtues of cast iron in products like frying pans, woks, deep fryers, Dutch ovens, griddles and grills.
Seasoning & Curing Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron is made from a ferrous iron alloy that's heated till it liquefies. It's then poured into a mold and cooled. That's why many cast iron pots and pans are solid cast iron and made as a single, smooth piece. Cast iron is very strong and heat resistant, with a slightly irregular surface containing many minute depressions and peaks. It requires a slick surface treatment to resist sticking. This is usually applied when the cookware is new by heating or "baking" oil onto the cooking surface.
If you buy a cast iron product with an interior that looks shiny and "seasoned" you're probably seeing a thin, protective layer of wax applied by the manufacturer. This isn't "curing" and won't withstand a high heat treatment unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer.
Seasoning creates a smooth, even surface. It isn't quite as slick as a nonstick pan, but if properly cured and maintained, cast iron cookware will require very little oil during food preparation and resist water (and oxidation). It will also last for decades.
Follow these steps to cure cast iron cookware for the first time:
- Wash cookware in warm, soapy water and pat dry. (This is to remove any residue applied by the manufacturer to preserve the pan for warehouse storage and transport.)
- Apply a thin layer of high-temperature oil to the entire pan (inside and out). Treat the lid, too. Some good options are:
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Do not use butter, olive oil or flavored shortening. A high temp oil won't smoke, discolor or break down in the oven.
- Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the center rack of your oven.
- Heat your over to 450 degrees F.
- Remove any wood handles from the piece and place it upside down in the heated oven (on the foil) for 30 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let the piece cool to room temperature on the oven rack.
- Repeat three or four times to complete the process.
For re-curing a cast iron piece:
Sand away any crusty residue or rust using fine (80 grit) sandpaper and season using the steps above. After sanding the pan will change color somewhat. It will darken again with seasoning and regular use.
How To Wash & Maintain Seasoned Pans & Skillets
Follow these tips when you wash cast iron:
- Allow pans to cool completely before washing. Adding cold water to a hot pan can cause it to warp or crack.
- Don't soak cast iron in water.
- Wash pieces briefly in warm, soapy water; rinse them and then wipe them dry. (This is a controversial step as some cooks avoid using soap on cast iron and prefer using high heat to cook off food residues.)
- Never place cast iron cookware in the dishwasher.
- Heat cleaned pieces briefly on the stove or in the oven to make sure they're completely dry.
- While still warm, apply a light layer of oil. (Make a habit of applying oil to your pans regularly.)
Is Sticking Normal?
For modern cooks, using cast iron still has the same advantages as it did a couple of generations ago. Relearning the knack of caring for cast iron cookware may call for a little reeducation, though. Cast iron should be seasoned before its first use. If it isn't seasoned correctly, it will have sticking problems until it is properly seasoned. Sticking isn't normal, but it can be the unhappy result of expecting iron cookware to perform like a nonstick cookware. Cast iron actually needs a little TLC right out of the box. This isn't a big project, but it is an important step. The good news here is that it's never too late. If you have an old cast iron piece that needs work, you can always season or re-season it.
Tips For Cooking With Cast Iron Pots & Pans
- Iron cookware transfers microscopic iron particles to food. If you have an iron deficiency, it's a great supplementary source of iron. If you're trying to eliminate iron from your diet, opt for enamel-coated iron cookware.
- If using iron cookware leaves a metallic taste in your mouth, you need to re-season your pan.
- Watch the heat when using an electric stovetop with iron cookware. Electricity creates uneven heat, which can cause cast iron to warp. Prefer a medium heat setting. Cast iron conducts heat very efficiently, so high heat settings really aren't necessary.
- Use your cookware often. Regular use keeps cast iron well-seasoned and in great shape.
- Take the time to re-season cast iron pieces after exposing them to acidic ingredients like tomato juice, vinegar, beans and lemon juice.
- Don't store food in cast iron, even for short periods. Transfer cooked dishes to other containers after preparation.
- Cast iron does best when stored where there's good air flow but low humidity. (Avoid storing pots and pans with their lids on.)