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Feb 3, 2021
Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware Made Easy
Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware Made Easy
How do I season my cast iron cookware? And what does it mean to season cast iron cookware, anyway? These are questions that have been asked by home chefs for generations.
Both are good questions and ones that come with, to some people’s surprise, fairly simple answers. Though maintenance of cast iron cookware has been saddled with the unfortunate reputation of being a difficult and time-consuming chore, it really isn’t. Do you have to put some effort in from time to time to ensure your Lodge cast iron skillet gives you years of perfectly fried chicken? Absolutely. But the work is nothing that should seem daunting. Just think of it as a trade-off for having cookware that you don’t have to give regular soapy cleanings.
What exactly is seasoning cast iron cookware, anyway?
Seasoning cast iron cookware simply means giving it a light, baked-on coating of oil, which serves as a protective barrier against moisture from cooking and other wet parts of kitchen life. That means it’s safe from rust and other corrosion. The seasoning also gives cast iron its legendary non-stick properties.
Which cast iron cookware pieces need to be seasoned?
Seasoning must be performed on non-enameled cast iron cookware. Though pieces from Lodge, America’s only cast iron foundry, now come pre-seasoned, the company still recommends a quick rinse with warm water and then application of a thin layer of oil right out of the box.
How often should I season my cast iron cookware?
A good rule of thumb is to re-season your cast iron cookware at least once a year, though the work may need to be done more frequently depending on usage. To start the process, simply give the piece a good wash with warm water and soap. To remove stuck-on food and other debris, use a stiff-bristle brush, like the nylon scrub brush Lodge manufactures specifically for this purpose.
If you waited too long between seasonings or for some other reason rust started to grow on the cast iron, simply scour it to remove the oxidation, then wash. As a pretreatment for this work, most surface rust can be removed using a humble potato. Cut a slice off the end, then rub the exposed portion of the meat of the potato onto the rusty areas. If you notice your effort stops removing rust, simply slice off the end and start again with the newly exposed portion.
Another way to remove rust using items you likely have in your kitchen is to make a paste of salt and a bit of water. Use your fingers to scrub the mixture into the rusty parts of the pan.
Once you have washed the entirety of your cast iron cookware, including the non-cooking surfaces, rinse it well to ensure no soapy residue is left behind. Then, use a clean cloth to dry it completely, otherwise the oil will not settle evenly onto the surface.
How do I season my cast iron cookware?
When your cast iron cookware is clean and dry, put it into the oven at 200 degrees for about 10 minutes to ensure it’s completely dry and to open the pores of the metal. Remove it with a pot holder and place it on a paper towel.
Apply a thin layer of oil to the entire surface – inside, outside, and even on the handle, if it’s cast iron – then rub a clean, dry cloth or paper towel over it to remove any excess oil. If you leave too much oil on your cast iron cookware, it can leave a sticky residue and might create drips of oil that make the surface uneven.
We checked with the folks at Lodge Cast Iron in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and they told us they use soybean oil to preseason cookware at the factory. Though some people swear by animal fats like butter or bacon grease, the Lodge people specifically recommend vegetable oils. That doesn’t mean you can’t use bacon grease, just that you’ll get optimal results from a vegetable-based oil. That’s because (science lesson alert) vegetable oils are a type of drying oil, which form a durable and solid film when they’re dried.
Your oil should be something with a smoke point below the maximum temperature of your oven, at which you will bake your cookware to promote polymerization of the oil. That’s the process in which the fat cells bond together, creating a uniform surface on the cast iron cookware that we call seasoning.
Place a sheet of aluminum foil or an empty sheet pan on the bottom rack of your oven, to catch potential oil drips. Put your oiled cast iron cookware on the rack above that, then heat the oven to a temperature above the smoke point of the oil you used. You can find that mark in the table to the right.
Allow the pan to preheat with the oven. When it reaches the temperature you’ve set it for, allow it to bake for one hour, then shut the oven off. Leave your cast iron cookware in the oven for another two hours to cool. Do not move it or open the door. That prevents it from cooling too quickly and warping or being compromised, and it also keeps you from having to handle the super-heated heavy metal.
When the two hours is up, you can either reapply the oil and bake the pan again to continue building the seasoning or put it back into service. As long as you’ve built up an even coating that has a slightly glossy sheen, not a dull tinge or a shiny finish, it should be ready for many more dinners.
Shipton's Big R offers a full selection of cast iron cookware from Lodge.