Take your non-stick coated and throw it out. Learning how to season a cast iron pan isn’t difficult and doesn’t require a master-level prepping degree. Plenty of stories exist about the cancerous nature of that coating, and if you ever talk to someone who has worked in that industry, you know the amount of personal protective gear worn by the workers coating those pots and pans.
If you value a good life, you should cook with something less likely to give you health complications. Rather than gambling with your safety, use something proven that imparts flavor and can be used as an impact weapon if need be. Let’s face it. Non-stick coated pans are like the Prius of the kitchen, and cast-iron is the fully-restored square-body 80s pickup. Before getting in the cast-iron driver’s seat, you must ensure the “ride” is seasoned. Here’s what you need to know.
You will acquire a cast iron pan that has never been used or one with some miles on it. It might be easy to determine if there is still a label on it or if there is a quarter inch of rust everywhere. Make it a point to start with cleaning before you attempt seasoning. While many cast iron pans come “pre-seasoned” from the factory, they aren’t always pre-cleaned from the store, and you never know who had their hands in and on them. For a brand-new pan, wash it with water and scrub it.
Please avoid harsh dishwasher detergents or soaps, which can impart flavor and remove good grease and oil. A used pan could have crusty organic matter from the last meal cooked, or it could be in rougher shape. Unlike non-stick coatings, you can scour cast iron with wooden and metal utensils. Most should break off. You can also bring water to a boil, and that should free up anything stuck to your pots and pans.
If you are dealing with a rusty pot or pan, you must break that rust-free with steel wool or some good old sandpaper and elbow grease. If the pan is heavily pitted, you may need to gauge how much time you want to invest in restoring it. Just like cars, sometimes there is no coming back from neglect.
Many resources will suggest you season your cast iron in your kitchen by turning the oven on 450-500 degrees and placing the pot upside down. There’s nothing wrong with this method, and it’s good advice; just be safe. We like to season outdoors using a camping stove to keep the house smoke-free.
After you work canola oil, vegetable oil, or Crisco into the cast iron, the process can get smoky and stink up the house as you reintroduce the pan back to the oven’s heat. Ensure you don’t slather your pots or pans in oil, as that oil will likely drip from your pan, hit the bottom of the oven, and begin to smoke. When seasoning an older pot or pan that needs more TLC, you must place it in the oven on all sides. Be careful how you handle it. It’s important to remember that cast iron holds heat for a significant amount of time. When you remove your cast iron from the oven, it isn’t going to bleed heat quickly. Plenty of burns happen when “cold” pans are grabbed.
If you have kiddos around, don’t let them near your work in progress. Repeat the process when you notice the oil on the pan starting to soak in or have less of a presence. Talking to several cast iron enthusiasts, some will tell you to let your pot or pan completely cool off before repeating the process; others will say to keep it warm and keep going. We’ve tried both, and we’re not convinced one is better. We’ll also say this, seasoning cast iron doesn’t require precision, and you don’t have to baby it. You’ll start with your stove and materials perfectly set to exact temperatures and times.
The more times you go through this process, the less surgical you’ll be, and you’ll know when your pots/pans are ready.
Proper maintenance of a cast iron pan includes:
This maintenance process further seasons your pan and improves its performance the more you use it. Please don’t leave your cast iron pan soaking in your sink for a weekend, and don’t leave salty residue on it, assuming chemistry won’t occur.
Cast iron pans need more maintenance than new-fangled space-age coated pots and pans, but the added steps are worth it. If you neglect your pan and find some surface rust, you don’t need to strip it entirely and start this process over. You must wipe off the rust, add a thin layer of cooking oil, and warm it up on your stovetop. A little rust will not harm you and keep in mind that drinking water is still deemed safe if some rust is present in the pipes that deliver it.
Of course, if you are ingesting flakes of rust, you should seek medical help. Also, remember that your seasoning can burn off. If you leave a seasoned cast iron pan on the stove, you can remove the seasoning requiring you to start all over. As a general rule of thumb, slowly warm up your cast iron instead of turning your burner too high and hoping for the best. Cast iron doesn’t warm evenly but will eventually “level off” for cooking.
A word of warning. Your cast iron pan will multiply the more you use it. As you realize how non-stick cast iron can become, you will slowly replace most of what you use in your kitchen. You may also find steel pans can be seasoned similarly and will become favored cookware. There’s a reason cast iron pans have stayed in favor since they were introduced. This should give you a reason to season yours.
Now that you know how to season a cast iron pan, here’s another SKILLSET for you to master: Escape Zip Ties