Seasoning a cast iron skillet or dutch oven is critical to ensure a nonstick finish and to add depth and flavor to the food that is cooked in it. Seasoning a cast iron also prevents rusting and flaking. Properly seasoned cast iron will have a black finish with a semigloss sheen and a smooth feel to it. Listed below are some tips on how to season and maintain your cast iron and what the cast iron will look like.
What Is Cast Iron Seasoning?
Cast iron is a hard and porous material. Cooking on a non-seasoned cast iron causes food to stick to the skillet’s surface. Cast iron will also rust if not treated properly. Thankfully, cast iron is easy to season.
The easiest (and funnest) way to season a cast iron is to fry food in it a few times. If the bottom of the skillet is covered with oil and is heated for at least 30 minutes, this will season the cast iron without having to go through the traditional process. After two or three batches, the cast iron will be well seasoned.
Vegetable and canola oil is recommended in the seasoning process because of its low cost, high smoke point, and availability. Simply pour a small amount of oil in the skillet and wipe the excess oil away with a paper towel until the oil coats the entire surface but does not pool. Place the skillet upside down in an oven on 400℉ for vegetable oil or 450℉ for canola oil for one hour.
The difference in baking temperatures is because of the smoke point of the oils. The idea is to heat the skillet up to the smoke point of the cooking oil that is being used for the seasoning. This time allows the oil to polymerize and create a level of the nonstick coating on the skillet. Each time the skillet is used or seasoned, another layer of seasoning is applied.
Polymerization is a hardened layer created by melted fats or oils. Since cast iron is porous, the cast iron absorbs these molecules and produces a nonstick cooking surface. Well-seasoned cast iron also adds flavor depth to the foods being cooked as well.
What Does A Non Seasoned Cast Iron Look Like?
A non-seasoned skillet will be matte black and have a rough texture to it. Foods will stick to the surface unless the skillet has oil in it. It is not recommended to cook sticky foods like eggs in non-seasoned cast iron as they will stick and scraping is required to get the cast iron clean.
If a cast iron is not seasoned properly or water is allowed to set in it for too long, the cast iron will rust. If this happens, scrub the skillet using a mild detergent and scouring pad and reseason it.
Flaking occurs from carbon deposits due to overheating oils and fats. If an oil with a low smoke point is cooked at a higher temperature, it will carbonize and cause the residue from the cast iron pores to flake off into your food. Though flaking is not harmful in any way, it looks unappealing.
If flaking occurs, gently scrub the flaking parts with a green scrubbing pad and reseason the cast iron. The more layers of seasoning the cast iron has, the less flaking will occur. Rusting and flaking are more prevalent in unseasoned cast iron and is easily avoidable by seasoning the cast iron regularly.
What Does A Cast Iron Skillet Look Like After Seasoning?
A properly seasoned cast iron will have a semi-gloss sheen to it and will not be sticky. If the cast iron is sticky, this means that too much oil was applied to the surface during seasoning, or the skillet wasn’t baked at a high enough temperature for an hour. If the cast iron is sticky to the touch., reseason it and bake it again.
Only a thin layer of oil is required for seasoning. Apply one or two small drops of cooking oil to the cast iron and wipe the entire surface of the skillet with a paper towel. It may appear that there is no oil in the pan but keep in mind that cast iron is porous and so the oil is absorbed into the pores of the cast iron. Since the skillet will be baked upside down, you also don’t want to risk hot oil dripping on the heating element of the stove as well.
The oil has to polymerize in order to develop the protective layer on the cast iron. If you remove the cast iron from the heat too soon, and it is sticky, place it back in the oven. If this doesn’t work, just reseason it again. The more a cast iron is seasoned, the smoother the surface becomes.
Removing Stuck On Food
Well-seasoned cast iron is easy to clean. However, if food is burned onto the surface, it needs to be scraped off immediately. If the food is allowed to set, it becomes harder to scrape off. This can damage the seasoning and can affect the food quality.
To remove stuck-on food, scrape the cast iron with a firm rubber spatula while it is still hot. For stubborn food, add water to the skillet and place it back on the stovetop and scrape the skillet with the spatula. The hot water will help loosen the particles. As soon as it is clean, dump the water out and dry the cast iron immediately. Even if you don’t season it, it is best to place the cast iron in a warm oven to dry it completely to prevent rusting.
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.