Are you a new cook uncertain about cast-iron seasoning? Are terms like smoke point, Polymerization, unsaturated fats, etc., alien to you? Do you have an heirloom-type cast-iron skillet lying around, all rusted and discolored?
If you can relate to any of these questions, you’ve already clicked the solution. Read through this guide to find some helpful bits of information about cast-iron seasoning. Sure, most new cast-iron skillets come pre-seasoned, but you have to be proactive to enjoy their performance; stick around to know more.
Why Do We Season Cast-Iron Cookware?
Cast-iron cookware is basically sheets of Iron molded to form different casseroles, i.e., skillets, pans, pots, etc. Although bare Iron is impressively durable, it also has some drawbacks, and we season it to:
- To Make it Non-Reactive
Iron is a reactive metal (nothing dangerous, though). When you cook in a non-coated iron skillet/pan, tiny metal particles can leach into your food, increasing its overall iron ratio. Yes, Iron is good for health, but not beyond a certain limit (8mg per day for adult men and 18mg for adult women). This required percentage is fulfilled from foods, and we don’t need our cookware to contribute to that ratio. Therefore, a protective coating, i.e., the patina layer, is used to stop cast-iron cookware from leaching into our food.
- To Prevent Rusting
You leave non-coated Iron in the open air, and it’ll start oxidizing within minutes. This oxidation process changes cast-iron cookware’s color and makes it rusted (who wishes that for their cookware?). Washing bare cast-iron cookware is another cause of rusting, so you can’t do much with a non-coated skillet/pan.
That’s when the tried-and-tested seasoning technique comes into the picture; you form a solid patina layer inside your cookware, and it becomes anti-rust.
- To Make the Cookware Non-Stick
Food sticks in cast-iron skillets, regardless of the heating source and ingredients. If you’re habitual of using non-stick cookware and want easy food release in cast-iron skillets, a nicely formed coating will help you. Fat Polymerization in the seasoning process forms a plastic-like layer that offers easy food release and quick heating.
Benefits of Seasoning Cast-Iron Cookware
- Seasoning reduces rusting as it doesn’t let the iron surface come in direct contact with air and moisture
- You experience easy food release when tiny iron pores are covered with an oil layer, and there’re no pits or dips
- Keeping cast-iron cookware scratch-free is tricky but once properly seasoned. You can confidently clean it without damaging the metal surface and patina layer
- Once your iron skillet is nicely seasoned, you can experience low-fat cooking because it keeps your food ingredients from sticking to the bottom
What Are the Important Factors to Consider in Seasoning Oil?
Before you proceed to season your cast-iron cookware, there are some pre-requisites you must understand. You cannot expect every oil/fat to form the same level of seasoning because their components are different.
The temperature at which oil starts emitting smoke is its smoke point. When you choose an oil with a higher smoke point, it takes longer to bake during the seasoning process, and the results are better.
For example, olive oil’s smoking point is 325-375°F, fair for cooking but not exceptional for seasoning cast-iron. We use extremely high temperatures to season cast-iron pans, i.e., 420°F and beyond, so you should choose the oil accordingly.
After the smoke point, saturation is the 2nd important factor that impacts your seasoning process. When you use unsaturated fats like vegetable oils, they quickly expand to form larger polymers, eventually speeding the hardening process.
Another perk of using unsaturated fats is their even coating. Shortening, lard, butter, margarine, etc., are saturated fats that are hard to spread. Conversely, flaxseed, corn, vegetable, grapeseed, olive, etc., evenly spread on cast-iron, giving it a smooth finish.
Odor and Taste
You don’t want every food to taste and smell the same. That’s why it’s important to use an odor-less and taste-less oil to season cast-iron. Most vegetable and seed oils are odor-less; you can pick any. But, if you don’t like strong tastes, avoid peanut, avocado, and sesame oil because these have relatively intense flavors.
Some oils dry faster than others when baked/smoked, making them a good option for cast-iron seasoning. If you want a durable and resistant patina layer, use oils that quickly harden when heated. These durable oils strongly bond with Iron and don’t need much upkeep either.
An excellent example of drying oils is flaxseed oil. When heated correctly, flaxseed oil forms a durable film, making your cast-iron cookware usable for a longer duration.
Hardened oil bumps ruin the purpose of seasoning; they instead make food release harder and more time-taking, so be careful about the layer you’re baking. Use fats that evenly spread across your entire cast-iron skillet and don’t chip after mild usage.
Can You Season A Cast-Iron Skillet With Olive Oil?
Since olive oil is easily available in most kitchens, home cooks use it to season cast-iron thinking it’s good enough. However, there are a few things I’d like you to know before you pick your skillet and get seasoning.
Average Smoke Point
Olive oil’s smoke point ranges between 325-380°F, depending upon its pressing methods. Although this is an excellent smoke point for cooking, we’re talking about seasoning here, so the Oil better be extra-ordinary.
Interestingly, I once seasoned a cast-iron skillet with olive oil, and it performed well enough, mainly because that oil was freshly pressed and came with a reasonable smoke point. But if we talk about off-the-shelf olive oil bottles, they aren’t as reliable.
If you season cast-iron with average-quality olive oil, it’ll rather become a nuisance. So, if olive oil is your preferred seasoning solution (some people like its flavor, some are allergic to other oils, fair enough), make sure it’s high-quality.
This is not a concern for people who regularly cook in olive oil because it’ll enhance their food’s taste and aroma. But if you prefer other saturated fats, i.e., butter, go for a neutral oil to season your cookware. Neutral oils, i.e., Canola and Grapeseed, don’t alter the food’s taste and provide a stable patina coating.
Aport from the mediocre smoke point, olive oil isn’t that durable either. If you use freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil, it’ll form a hard and shiny patina layer. But, when you go for old, slightly faded olive oil, the layer won’t be reliable.
Get fresh extra-virgin oil and use the correct seasoning method to reap its benefits. Don’t know how to season cast-iron? Read the following section to understand.
How to Season Cast-Iron Skillet?
Whether you wish to revive an old cast-iron skillet or have bought a new one, the seasoning method will remain the same.
Things You Need
- Seasoning Oil, i.e., Flaxseed, Grapeseed, Canola, Olive oil
- Kitchen Mitt
Let’s start seasoning:
Dirt, grime, and food residue won’t let the seasoning come out perfect; remove them beforehand. If the skillet is new, remove its labels for a thorough rinse.
Use warm water and gentle dish soap to wash your skillet. Once clean, use a kitchen towel to dry it and leave it for a few minutes.
Smear some seasoning oil on your skillet and use a buff to spread it evenly. You can also use your fingers to ensure fine spreading. Smear the oil to the skillet’s exteriors as well.
Wipe excess oil because it’ll leave uneven bumps on the pan. Use another buff or towel to soak extra oil. This oil coating should be even and thin if you want excellent results.
You can either use an oven or stove for baking the oil film, no hard and fast rule here.
If you’re baking the pan in an oven, pre-heat it till 300-350°F for faster results. Once you have smeared the oil in and outside the skillet, toss it in the oven, face down.
Bake it for 50-60 minutes, and this shall do. If your skillet has a heavy-gauge bottom, bake it for 60-80 minutes.
Take the pan out and let it cool at room temperature. Once the metal is touchable, wipe extra oil and Ta-Da, you have seasoned the skillet. Kudos!
Seasoning with a Stove
Seasoning a skillet on an electric/gas stove is no different; you just have to be careful about the temperature. Place your freshly oiled skillet on the stove and set the temperature at low-medium.
Once the oil reaches its smoke point, turn off the stove and let the skillet cool. Wipe excess grease and closely observe if the skillet is evenly coated.
If you don’t like the results, you can re-do the entire process. Seasoned cast-iron is like wine; it gets better with time. If you regularly cook in a cast-iron skillet, its dark patina layer can even outperform non-stick coatings, don’t underestimate the power of seasoning.
Tips to Utilize this Coating for a Longer Time
Even professionally done seasonings can wear off with regular usage, let alone those done at home. If you’re done with the process and don’t want to do the hassle (which is not really a hassle) all over again, here are some pro tips for you:
You can’t put seasoned cast-iron cookware in a dishwasher (sad, I know). Bare cast-iron is dishwasher safe but not when coated in an oil film.
Professional chefs suggest you don’t wash seasoned cookware (wipe it instead), but when we cook flavored and fatty foods, washing the skillet is unavoidable.
Use warm water and your regular dish detergent to wash the skillet, and complete the process with towel drying.
If food sticks to the skillet’s bottom, don’t go scrubbing it inside out. It’ll damage not only the seasoning but also the iron body. Use hot water and a soft dishcloth to remove food gunk; it’ll work fine.
Like other coated cookware, seasoned cast-iron isn’t friends with brittle utensils either. Choose nylon, bakelite, silicone, or wooden utensils, and they’ll never peel the oil film.
Cast-iron seasoning isn’t a one-time affair; it requires regular touch-up to perform well. Once you have followed the seasoning process bit by bit, occasional re-doing will suffice.
Soak a buff/sponge in your preferred seasoning oil and smear it on the skillet’s surface to maintain the patina layer. A weekly or bi-weekly touch-up is good enough.
If food burns or you notice stains on your skillet, don’t soak it for easy clean-up. Prolonged soaking can loosen the oil film and impact the skillet’s performance. Use a good-quality dishcloth/sponge to deal with burnt food and stains.
No Acidic foods
Tomatoes, wine, lime, etc., are some regularly used acidic ingredients, but sadly, seasoned cast-iron cookware doesn’t let you cook these that often.
I recommend you use cast-iron cookware to sear and brown and not to reduce sauces. Acidic foods can leach into the patina layer, eventually rusting the iron body, so it’s better to avoid them.
Can I season Cast-iron with coconut oil?
Umm, not an excellent idea, but doable if it’s the last resort. Unrefined coconut oil’s smoke point is 350°F, nor terrible neither excellent. But if you like coconut oil’s flavor and taste, opt for its refined form. Refined coconut oil’s smoke point is 400°F and above; you can pull off a nice seasoning layer with it.
How many times do I need to season new cast-iron?
Although one seasoning session is enough in most cases, you can repeat the process for even better results. If food is sticking to your freshly seasoned skillet or you notice scratches in the patina layer, season it 3-4 times for a seamless finish. Once the patina layer solidifies, simple oiling will suffice.
How can you tell if a skillet is well-seasoned?
Seasoned cast-iron has a dark, shiny layer of oil, which is consistent throughout the pan/skillet. If this layer’s color isn’t consistent, or you feel hardened bumps in the skillet, re-season it.
But if the patina layer is dark and even, you shouldn’t worry about its performance. Maintain a reasonable cleaning and re-touching schedule, and your cast-iron cookware will always be ready.
Becoming a pro cook isn’t easy; you must know tips and tricks to make the most out of your cookware. Whether you have inherited cast-iron cookware or purchased it yourself, seasoning it will ease your tasks.
Here’s a summary of this guide: use oil with a high smoke point, unsaturated fats, and mild aroma for the perfect patina layer. Don’t forget to touch up this seasoned layer and avoid putting the skillet in a dishwasher to enjoy its excellence.
Practice makes everyone perfect. Season your skillet according to the above-listed tips, and if you don’t get it right in the first go, repeat the process until you’re happy!