Growing up in the South, I always loved cooking with my grandmother’s cast iron pan. When I bought my first one, I went with a classic Lodge, of course. As soon as I figured out the seasoning process, I started to use it for everything. While most people will use their cast iron for cooking cornbread or frying, I use it for everything from steaks to scrambled eggs. There’s just about nothing you CAN’T do with a cast iron skillet. They distribute heat evenly and last seemingly forever. The best part is that you can season and reseason cast iron as needed.
See the skillet I chose here
What’s so great about cast iron pans?
Cast iron cookware is virtually indestructible and endlessly versatile — buying one or two basic pans will be one of the best kitchen investments you can make. Cast iron regulates heat better than other materials and doesn’t warp.
The other great thing about cast iron pans is that good, well-made ones are not expensive, and they will last a lifetime (or more).
Used pans can often be found at yard sales or flea markets. Look for the classic signs of a well-seasoned pan: a blackened sheen, smooth cooking surface, and no rust.
Check out the pans in the photo below:
- The topmost pan is my oldest (it’s 30+ years old) and most-used. It has a nice dark black finish and smooth surface.
- The smaller middle pan is about 12 years old and doesn’t get used as much. It has a great sheen, but still has a rougher surface on the outside edge.
- The bottom pan is a new one, that was supposedly “pre-seasoned.” Notice the mottled, uneven color. It needs more seasoning.
How to Season Cast Iron
Even the best cast iron pan will need to be seasoned. This seasoning method takes a while, but it’s pretty straightforward. Please note that you can use corn, vegetable, or other kinds of oil for the process. This is the cast iron seasoning oil I used.
Here are my recommendations for seasoning cast iron cookware:
- Wash and dry your pan—ALWAYS by hand and never in the dishwasher, which will strip all the seasoning
- To open up the surface, warm the pan for 15 minutes in a 200-degree oven
- Remove the pan from the oven. Rub the oil all over the pan—inside and out, including the handle—using paper towels. With fresh paper towels, buff the pan to remove excess oil so it no longer looks shiny.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
- Place the pan upside down on a baking sheet and insert into heated oven. Heat the pan for a half-hour and then let cool
- Rub the pan with oil as before and repeat the process up to four more times to set your initial layer of seasoning. The pan should develop a dark surface that looks vaguely like non-stick coating.
How to Reseason a Cast Iron Skillet
Reconditioning and reseasoning cast iron is just as important as doing the process for the first time, if not more so. Since I bought my first cast iron pan, I’ve totally fallen in love, so I’ve actually started to collect old cast iron pans from garage sales. Even if a piece has caked-on seasoning and grime, as long as it sits flat and doesn’t have cracks, it should still work perfectly. There are some amazing deals to be found if you know what you’re looking for. Luckily, it’s easy to restore them cheaply.
In order to restore a cast iron skillet, you first need to strip and clean it.
You will need:
A note: Lye is a key ingredient in oven cleaner. While it is a caustic agent, the lye residue is washed off the skillet. The pan is then soaked in acidic vinegar and washed before being seasoned. Very little—if any—lye is absorbed into the metal.
- Put on gloves (this is a must)
- Cover the cast iron pan completely with Easy-Off
- Place the cast iron in a trash bag and seal to prevent the oven cleaner from drying
This part of the process often takes several days because the old grime and seasoning can be stubborn. I usually wipe off the cleaner after two days and apply another coat, checking again after three more days.
- Remove the Easy-Off with paper towels and wash the skillet with hot water
- Soak the cleaned skillet in a 2:1 solution of hot water and white distilled vinegar up to an hour to neutralize any remaining lye and soften rust
- Use steel wool to remove surface rust
- Wash the cast iron with soap and hot water
- Dry thoroughly
- Season immediately using the process outlined in the first section above
- Get cooking!
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- Very durable: they are hard to destroy, being a slab of iron, and are passed down from generation to generation.
- Safer to cook on than the questionable non-stick Teflon cookware.
- Heats evenly and retains heat longer, keeping your meal warm.
- Can be tossed from an open flame right into the oven if it’s entirely cast iron.
- Higher maintenance than other cooking metals in cleaning (can rust if left wet) and re-seasoning (takes time).
- Is much heavier than other cookware.
- Takes longer to heat.
Seasoning a cast iron skillet is the processes of covering the pan in oil or lard and baking the pan so as to form a smoother, protective, non-stick coat. Flaxseed oil has been found to be the best option for seasoning as it dries better and leaves a smoother, longer lasting, non-stick coat as a result of its high iodine value. This improves the quality and lifespan of your cast iron skillet so you can pass it down to your son when you teach him to cook a proper steak.
The non-stick coating a few good seasonings provides also comes in handy when you don’t want your eggs over easy stuck to the skillet like a tongue stuck to a flagpole in the winter. Normally, just cooking food with butter and oil will build a good layer of seasoning but sometimes a brand new cast iron skillet won’t come seasoned well enough. Or if you inherited a rusty old pan, or if you let a pan get rusty, you’re going to have to re-season it.
How to Season New Cast Iron
It’s actually really simple, it just takes time.
- Preheat oven to 450 ºF.
- Use a scrub brush and wash off the skillet in warm water.
- Dry completely with a paper towel.
- Coat the entire skillet (top, bottom, sides, handles) with a high iodine value cooking oil, lard, or vegetable shortening (preferably flaxseed oil because of its high iodine value).
- Place aluminum foil on middle rack and place skillet upside down on the aluminum foil
- Wait 1 hour and then let it cool in the oven.
- (Optional) Repeat 2-3 times if you want a thicker, smoother coat of seasoning.
How to Restore and Season Old or Damaged Cast Iron
If your cast iron skillet looks sad and rusty, you’re going to have to take an extra step pump new life into its veins.
- Submerge skillet entirely in a tub filled a 50/50 water/vinegar mixture.
- Let it soak for three hours.
- Take steel wool or a hard scrub brush and scrap off any remaining rust that didn’t dissolve.
- (Optional) Throw some salt on the skillet to help scrub.
- Follow the instructions up top because you now have a brand new skillet (definitely do several coats though).