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How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

I have long heard the benefits of cast iron – it conducts heat well, cooks evenly, imparts beneficial iron into your food, is relatively inexpensive, lasts forever… But I had gotten so accustomed to my teflon pans that I wondered if cast iron was worth the extra work.  As I pondered this, our family went through a lot of transition.  Marshall and I changed jobs, moved to Virginia and temporarily moved in with my in-laws while we figured out our next step.  Lucky for us, my mother in law has a great collection of old cast iron cookware.  We started using her stuff and quickly became believers. They cooked great and were so well seasoned that they cleaned up as if they were non-stick.  We’ve since moved out, bought our own set and now use cast iron as our go to cookware.  In addition to significant cooking benefits, it also gives me the peace of mind that I’m reducing my families’ chemical exposure (see below for clarification).  When you use cast iron you don’t have to worry about toxic fumes or questionable chemicals leaching and chipping into your food.  And if you understand  a few basic cleaning and seasoning techniques, it’s a breeze to use and to clean.  Here’s an overview of the tips I’ve learned:

How to Season Cast Iron

When you buy a new cast iron pan or skillet, it often comes unseasoned (or at least not seasoned very well).  Or sometimes old cast iron rusts, gets wet for too long or otherwise loses its non-stick surface.   Unseasoned cast iron is usable but food sticks to it and it’s more difficult to clean.  Here’s an easy way to season cast iron and make it easier and more pleasant to work with:

  • Wash and dry your pan(s) thoroughly (dirt or water will impair the seasoning)
  • Rub a thin layer of vegetable oil all over the interior surface of the pan,really rub it in and get all the nooks and crannies.
  • Bake it in a 450 degree oven for 1 hour.  For extra non-stick protection you can apply another thin layer of oil and repeat this process up to 4 more times.  Each time builds a stronger, longer lasting barrier.
  • Turn off oven and let cool to room temperature before using.


  • Type of oil – I usually use vegetable oil because it’s cheap and I typically have some in the cupboard.  If you’re willing to spend a little extra, flax seed oil dries harder than other oils and will create a stronger finish.  You don’t need much, I bought the smallest bottle I could find and it’s lasted me many seasonings.
  • Cooking with fats naturally builds your pans’ seasoning while cooking with water or acidic foods can erode your finish.  The first few times you use your pan, it helps to cook something with a decent fat content such as meat, sausage or something cooked in oil.  This will help establish your seasoning after which you can use it like any other pan.
  • I have one pan that would always stick but it’s the perfect size and I didn’t want to stop using it.  Recently I discovered an easy solution to keep a good finish on my problem pan.  I store this particular pan on the bottom rack of the oven, coated with a very thin layer of oil.  Any time I use the oven, this pan stays in there (assuming there’s space) and it gets an extra dose of seasoning.  This has helped build a non-stick surface without any extra work.

How to Clean Cast Iron

Cast iron is actually quite easy to clean. Just remember to be gentle and to dry it out well.

  • If you use your pan everyday, you don’t actually need to use soap.  Just clean with hot water and a little salt if you need extra scrubbing action.  Avoid steel wool (too abrasive) but a sponge or plastic dish scraper work really well.  If you’re totally grossed out by no soap, you can use a small amount of mild soap.  But rinse thoroughly and be aware that over time it can strip the finish.
  • After cleaning your pan, dry thoroughly and store in a dry place.  Moisture will also erode the finish.  Some people put their pot back on the burner over low heat for a minute.  I usually just use a dish towel.
  • Don’t let water soak in your pans.  If food gets really stuck, try using a plastic dish scraper to scrape it off.  If things start sticking a lot you may want to re-season.

Notes: One of my biggest concerns with non-stick cookware is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  This is a substance linked to cancer, birth defects, immune problems and environmental damage.  Manufacturers tried to get off the hook by saying teflon doesn’t contain PFOA, which is technically true.  What they fail to mention is that when teflon is heated to high temperatures, a chemical reaction releases PFOA as well as over a dozen other controversial gases.  Then they deferred blame further by saying this reaction only occurs at high temperatures (500-700+ depending on which study you read) so teflon is still safe when used correctly.  But testing showed that pans commonly reach this “danger zone” during high heat cooking such as stir-frying and when accidentally overheated, even if only for a few minutes.  PFOA is now being phased out of non-stick cookware, but who knows what other toxins are lurking in there?

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