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Whether at a campsite or at home, our cast iron skillet is the first pan we reach for. In this guide, shed some light on this classic piece of camp cookware and show you how to season, cook with, clean, and maintain your cast iron. If properly cared for, cast iron can last for generations.
What is the best oil to season cast iron with?
Unsaturated oils are best for seasoning because their chemical structure is more reactive than saturated oils. This makes it easier for them to polymerize to the metal. Saturated oils, like bacon grease and lard, were commonly used in the past because they were cheap, readily available, and unsaturated enough to get the job done, but from a molecularly perspective they’re less than ideal.
While any unsaturated oil will do, there is a growing consensus that pure, organic flaxseed oil is the best – especially for a major re-seasoning. Its most desirable quality is that it is technically a drying oil (essentially the food-grade equivalent of Linseed oil). That means Flaxseed oil starts to harden when exposed to air, which can help create a rock hard polymerized layer on your cast iron.
However, flaxseed oil is expensive and can be difficult to find. Because it is sold as a supplement, it’s often located in the refrigerated health/wellness section of the grocery store, rather than on the shelf with other cooking oils. It can also be found on Amazon. Make sure the oil you purchase is organic, and that the only ingredient listed is “organic flaxseed oil”.
If flaxseed oil seems a little too expensive or hard to track down, nearly any unsaturated cooking oil will be fine. Some of the more common ones we use are grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil.
Cast Iron Seasoning, Step-by-Step:
1. Start with a Clean Slate Get your steel wool wet and with a drop of dish soap, scrub down the entire pan: top, bottom, sides, and handle – the whole thing. If the pan has any rusty spots, be sure to scrub them down to the bare metal. When you’re finished there should be zero rust on the pan.
A quick note to the anti-soap fanatics. The whole anti-soap mantra is a holdover from when soap used to be really harsh. Today’s dish soap is far gentler and a little bit will not ruin your cast iron. More on this latter, but for now, a little bit of soap to prep your cast iron for re-seasoning is fine.
2. Rinse & Dry Rinse the pan off and dry it. It’s important to get the pan as dry as possible. If it’s humid out or you’re just having a hard time getting the pan completely dry, place it on a burner over medium heat until all the water evaporates off.
3. Oil Rub Once the pan is dry (and cooled), rub a small drop of your oil into the pan with a paper towel. You’re looking to coat the entire pan with a thin layer of oil: the top, bottom, sides, and handle. Take care to wipe away any excess – extra oil lingering on the pan will end up being sticky after the heating process, which is not the result we’re going for! The pan should look nearly dry once you’re done with this step.
4. Bake Once covered in oil, place your cast iron upside down on the middle rack of a 450 F oven. It can be helpful to put a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any drips. (However, if you only put down a thin layer of oil there shouldn’t be any.) Bake for 1 hour.
5. Cool Turn the oven off and let the cool with the oven door closed. This can take a while, so be patient! Once the pan has cooled, remove.
6. Repeat Repeat steps 3-5 for at least another two times (more if you have time for it!).
At the end of the process, the seasoning on your cast iron should be a glossy, nonstick black.
Where to Get Kitchen Pantry Essentials
I get my other kitchen pantry supplies like sea salt, black pepper, spices, coconut oil, and other essentials either on Amazon or my local health food store usually. But then I got a Thrive membership. If you don’t already have one – it’s awesome! It’s like Whole Foods meets Costco. Bob’s Red Mill baking soda, for instance, is about $3 at my local health food store and $6 on Amazon. But it’s only $2.03 (YES!) on Thrive Market. Great deal right? And the raw honey?! Don’t even get me started how much that costs at the health food store. But on Thrive Market it’s just $5.45 for a 10.5 oz jar of raw honey.
Sign up for a Thrive Market membership and get an extra 20% off your first 3 orders!
p.s. Looking for tips to transition to a real food or healthy gluten-free lifestyle? Check out my free Real Food Guide email course and e-book.
Feature image credit: DepositPhotos.com / [email protected] and Vell
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Oven Baked Seasoning
To accomplish an even re-seasoning on your cast iron pan, you can use your household oven and and a rag in this easy 6 step process to achieving that coveted blackened appearance in a well seasoned pan.
1) Wash your with warm water and a wee bit of soap to start.
2). Dry it thoroughly over a flame or in the oven at 200 degrees to make sure it’s bone dry. This step also helps to open up the pores of the iron in preparation for accepting the oil for a great seasoning.
3) Take out the warm dry pan and drizzle a little flaxseed oil into it. Rub it everywhere around the pan, inside and out, don’t forget the handle too! After it’s been thoroughly oiled, wipe it ALL OFF with a new towel or cotton cloth until it looks dry again. The micro layer of oil is all you need to start. Honest ! The pan should not look wet or have any puddles / streaks of oil running down it anywhere. It will seem dry again, which is perfect.
4) Put your pan upside down into the oven, and turn the oven up to its highest baking temperature ( 450-500° F), allowing the cold pan to preheat with the oven.
5) Once your oven hits the pre-set temperature, start the timer for a 1 hour bake session, and TURN ON YOUR KITCHEN FAN. The seasoning process technically happens when the oil bakes above its smoke point, which polymerizes the first layer of oil on the surface of the pan.
6). After the first hour is up, let the pan cool naturally in the oven for 1 hour, then repeat the process a total of 6 times – yes, 6 TIMES ! This is the most ideal way to insure your pan will have the darkest, most even & hardest seasoning you’ve ever seen in an iron skillet!
- A pair of thick leather welding gloves
- Safety glasses
- Respirator or particulate mask if you’re sensitive to oily smoke. Using a box fan to blow away smoke helps a lot.
- A grill rack for over the wood / charcoal fire, keeping things clean
- A second grill rack, extra pieces of dry wood or a stump to set the hot pan onto while you oil the pan cyclically within this process.
- A long metal hook ( metal coat hangers can work!) to pick up and handle the hot pan
- A spray bottle filled with the seasoning oil ( or HVLP gun if you have an air compressor and like using spray gun equipment. Buy a new gun for this material. Harbor Freight has a nice small option for under $12 ).
- Be very careful to not put the hot onto something wet or cold! The dramatic difference of temperatures could cause a cast iron skillet to crack or warp from thermal shock!Your pan should be a deep black color and ready to use within one hour’s time of this open-fire process.
- If you find that the cookware is still a little sticky after it’s cool, you may need to oven bake it for 30-45 minutes, to finish it off and get it totally dry.If your pan develops of reddish color and you can’t seem to get it black, there’s three possible issues you’re facing:
- You probably don’t have enough heat on it
- You haven’t done the seasoning long enough
- You put the oil on too thick