When cast iron is done right… (properly seasoned and re-seasoned at the right times) you've got an amazing, healthy, non-stick surface for your cooking. Such a blessing and a joy to cook in!
When cast iron is done wrong… (seasoned with the wrong oil, not seasoned frequently enough) your food (and the pan) become a sorry mess! More food stuck to the pan than you're serving, and it's a pain to cook or fry in. And the clean-up? Ick.
Emily K. wants to get it right… She asked how to season cast iron and how to know when it's time to re-season:
Emily, this is a great question and we're tackling it today — it's the topic of this week's #AskWardee.
In the video, I'm showing off some of my cast iron pans — one that's seasoned amazing right now and one that needs to be re-seasoned. So you'll actually get examples as I walk you through the basics!
Emily K. asks:
I've started using cast iron more often. How do I know it's time to re-season cast iron and how do I go about it? Thanks.
Emily, it's sooo great that you're using cast iron more often! When the seasoning is right (and kept up), it's true joy to use. I know because we use it every day for frying, reheating, and more.
Uh… seasoning? In case you're not familiar with this word, we use it to describe the added-on surface of the cast iron. It's usually a layer of fat cooked on over time (or purposefully before using it at all) to help one cook without food sticking or burning like crazy.
Seasoning cast iron is essential. Efficient and joyful cooking is nearly impossible without a properly seasoned pan.
To answer your question, Emily, let's first talk about the seasoning process — so we're on the same page. Then we'll talk about caring for cast iron — in order to best maintain the seasoning — and finish up with when/how to re-season. Ok?
The Best Oil to Season Cast Iron
This method originally comes from a dear friend, Jami. She shared it right here in a guest post.
The “seasoning” on your cast iron is actually organic high-lignan flax seed oil that is heated so hot it gets fused into the pores of the pan — creating a non-stick-like (yet healthy) cooking surface.
It's truly life-changing. Ok, kitchen-changing. 😉
Although I'm going to refer you to the original instructions for the full details, here are the basic steps:
1. Preparation — clean the pan. Pans may have manufacturer's soy-based seasoning or lots of burned on gunk from someone using it improperly. Remove it with some elbow grease or use the self-cleaning function of your oven.
2. Preheat the pan. Put your pan in a 200° Fahrenheit oven to warm it up, open its pores, and remove moisture.
3. Seasoning the pan. Rub the inside of the pan all over with fresh (non-rancid) organic high-lignan flax seed oil. Rub as much of it off as you can so only a dull layer reminds. Rub it well so that you remove as much as you can (no, I'm not kidding). Now bake upside down in a 400 to 500 degree Fahrenheit oven for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool. Repeat 5 more times to build up the flax seed oil seasoning to a shiny non-stick-like surface.
Again, refer to the original instructions for the full details on the best cast iron seasoning.
Care & Cleaning Tips for Cast Iron
This is a quote from my friend Jami about how she cares for and cleans her cast iron:
Most of the time I only have to wipe out my pans with paper towels. For best results, always clean your pans while they are warm, just after using!
When sticky sauces and such have been cooked, run hot water over the pan and scrub it with a non-stick pad or brush at the same time. Then place the pan back on the still warm burner and wipe dry with a paper towel. I look for a semi-shiny finish with no dull spots.
At times you may see some dull areas on the bottom of your pan. This is a very small amount of cooked on food/oil. You remove this by scrubbing your pan while it’s warm on the burner with a steel kitchen scrub pad (or one of those Scotch green scrubbers) and some oil — either the left over oil from whatever you were just cooking or a bit of new oil. Scrub until your steel pad slides smooth on the surface and you no longer see or feel any raised areas. Wipe out completely with paper towels and allow to cool. Now look at your pan — the finish should look semi-glossy again, no dull spots, and it should appear smooth. At least as smooth as cast iron can be.
I care for my pans just like Jami does.
I would also add these tips:
1. Keep the heat low. Use lower heat than you do with other pans.
2. Be generous with the fat. This just boosts the non-stick tendencies of well-seasoned cast iron. Purified fats, like ghee, work really well because they don't have any impurities to gunk up the surface of the pan.
3. Choose traditional fats like lard, tallow, duck/goose fat, coconut oil, butter, or ghee. With higher smoke points, these fats are less likely to burn and gunk up your pan.
4. Don't be afraid to use soap when cleaning. This is controversial because some people say NEVER use soap and they really mean it and think it's practically a sin to do so — because they're certain it will destroy the seasoning. I really think it depends on the way the seasoning was created. If it's the typical seasoning that's built up over time by not washing off cooking oils, then yes, soap could take that off. If you season as I do — thin layers of flax seed oil baked into the pan at high temperatures to create a non-stick surface — then soap won't take that off.
5. After washing, dry with a towel and put away. Don't let pans air-dry or they'll rust.
How (& When) to Re-Season Cast Iron
With a lot of use, the finish on the pan is bound to wear off. How fast depends on how much usage your pan gets (and how you care for it after each usage).
If you notice that your finish is worn off and doesn't return to a nice shine upon cleaning or you're having stick issues even though you use plenty of fat to cook and low heat, it is time to re-season.
In which case, you follow the same seasoning steps above (except you might not need to strip it completely; see below). When re-seasoning, you might not have to do 6 layers — perhaps just 1 or 2 is all that's needed.
And keep in mind that if your pan doesn't have built on gunk, you don't have to strip it completely. You can just re-season on top of the (cleaned) old seasoning — because even though it might be worn, it's still in good shape with a smooth surface.
- Free Traditional Cooking Video Series (the included Skillet Dishes video uses this cast iron!)
- How To Season Cast Iron
- Why We Love Cast Iron
- How To Shop For Used Cast Iron (Know Your Food Podcast #042)
- Reheating Foods Without A Microwave
- Organic High-Lignan Flax Seed Oil
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How do you season and care for your cast iron? Do you know when to re-season cast iron? Please share your tips in the comments!
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