Cast iron skillets are the most durable and versatile pans in the kitchen. It is recommended to keep them seasoned in order to be non-stick, though this is not necessary. The question is, should you buy a preseasoned cast iron skillet or a nonseasoned skillet? The first step in answering this question is to understand what a seasoned cast iron skillet is.
Cast iron is a porous material with excellent heat retention. A seasoned cast iron skillet is one that has a hardened layer of oil on it that gives it a protective coating that makes the skillet non-stick and easy to clean. On the other hand, a non-seasoned cast iron skillet has a rougher look and feel to it. The seasoning is added by adding a thin layer of cooking oil to the skillet and heating it at high temperatures so that the oil bonds with the cast iron and produces a hard, non-stick surface.
There are numerous options when it comes to purchasing seasoned or unseasoned cast iron skillets. The easiest way to tell the difference is the look of the skillet. A seasoned skillet has a shiny black sheen and a smooth texture. An unseasoned skillet has a matte grey look and a rougher feel.
Purchasing cast iron and cooking with cast iron is a personal preference. The bottom line is, that although you can cook with an unseasoned skillet, a cast iron works best when seasoned. Whether you purchase a seasoned or unseasoned skillet, they both should be cleaned and seasoned before the first use.
Pros and Cons Of Unseasoned Skillets
The primary benefit of purchasing an unseasoned skillet is that you can season the skillet with your preferred cooking oil. Canola oil, corn oil, and vegetable oil are the preferred oils to season a cast iron skillet with because they have high smoke points and will not fill the oven with smoke when you do season it. Cast iron manufacturers often add a thin layer of oil on their skillets which may not be cooking oil.
One of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to season an unseasoned skillet for the first time is by frying food. That way, the entire surface of the skillet will get an even coating with high heat. While the skillet is still warm, add an additional coat of oil and place in a warm oven.
An added benefit to purchasing an unseasoned skillet is that it can be seasoned using your favorite cooking oil. People use different cooking oils based on flavor and the smoke point of the oil. If you season your cast iron the first time, you can be sure of the oil that is used on it every time.
The biggest disadvantage of purchasing unseasoned cast iron is that it can rust after the manufacturing process. While this is easily fixable with a scouring pad, often it is preferred to purchase a preseasoned skillet and clean the initial coating of oil off.
Pros and Cons of Preseasoned Skillets
The main advantage of purchasing a preseasoned skillet is that it comes with a thin layer of oil on it which protects it from rust during shipping and gives it a distinctive sheen. Although this prevents the skillet from rusting after the manufacturing process, the disadvantage is that they are only lightly seasoned and you don’t know what it has been seasoned with. Many preseasoned cast iron skillets are seasoned with food-grade wax or mineral oils. So, these pans should be washed thoroughly before use to remove the coating.
Some manufacturers offer skillets that are preseasoned with vegetable oil, but they are not non-stick and they require more seasoning before use so that food does not stick. If the pan is coated with vegetable oil, it is best to wash it and re-season it with vegetable oil during seasoning. Vegetable oil has a high smoke point and is one of the best oils to use in cast iron.
If you purchase a preseasoned skillet, it is recommended to wash it before the first use. Although manufacturers claim that preseasoned skillets are “ready for use”, the layer of oil is so thin that food will adhere to the skillet unless the heat levels are properly monitored. After the initial cleaning of the skillet, the color changes to a dull sheen, instead of the glossy black patina that cast iron should have when properly seasoned.
Which One Should You Choose?
The best option when purchasing a cast iron skillet is to purchase an unseasoned skillet. That way, the only cooking oil used to season the skillet is the oil that you prefer. Plus, you can see an unseasoned skillet in its original condition, and you can spot any blemishes or potential rusting that need to be addressed before you season it.
It only takes a few minutes to season a cast iron skillet and about 30 minutes of baking the skillet in the oven at 425℉. It is important to allow the pan to cool off in the oven so that it doesn’t get hotspots. After two or three seasonings, the skillet should be good to go.
Many novice cast iron users think that the seasoning process is overly complicated and try to avoid this by purchasing a “ready to use” seasoned skillet. And while there is nothing wrong with this, it is still recommended to clean off the protective coating and season it yourself. Another benefit to purchasing an unseasoned skillet is that some people prefer to not season their pans.
While the majority opinion is in favor of cooking with seasoned cast iron, it is not necessary. However, in order for food to not stick to a cast iron skillet, it takes more time and patience. To cook in an unseasoned cast iron skillet, you need to preheat it for 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat. This ensures even heating and provides a non-stick surface to cook on.
Each cast iron skillet has a distinct personality. You will get to know yours in time and at what temperature it cooks at best without sticking. Preheating the skillet and making sure it fits on the stove’s burner properly are necessary to ensure even heating.
It is best when you purchase an unseasoned skillet to season it 3 or 4 times before use. This can be done in just a couple of hours. In fact, if you’re already baking something in the oven, season the pan and set the skillet in the oven while the oven is on. Baking a cast iron skillet after seasoning is the best way to ensure that the skillet is evenly seasoned.
My name is Jason Phillips and I cooked for many years, primarily aboard Merchant Marine vessels and in fast-paced commercial kitchens. My passion for culinary arts led me to attend a culinary arts academy in 2019 where the instructor piqued my interest in food and beverage writing.