Wardee: My good and local friend Jami is guest posting today, sharing about the amazing new technique she found for seasoning cast iron. I use this method for all my cast iron now and it is fantastic! And, I demonstrate it in the March 2012 thank you video and I share three cooking tips in this free YouTube video.
This method for cast iron seasoning creates a hard, non-stick surface. That’s why I call it amazing!
The following information is based on this article, The Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning:
“The seasoning on cast iron is formed by fat polymerization. Fat polymerization is maximized with a drying oil, and flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible.”
The article details all the science behind cast iron seasoning. The gist of it? The use of cold-pressed, unrefine, organic flax seed oil — complete with its low smoke point — is the best for achieving a hard, slick, lasting finish on cast iron.
So that’s what we’re going to use!
“It’s possible to use a suboptimal oil for seasoning, like Crisco or bacon drippings, and still end up with a usable pan. Many (most) people do this. But the seasoning will be relatively soft, not as nonstick, and will tend to wear off. If you want the hardest, slickest seasoning possible, use the right oil: flax seed oil.”
I followed the instructions for my previously always-sticking cast iron pans, and am thrilled with the results! Here’s how I did it.
The science of cooking with oil is the exact opposite of the science of seasoning with oil.
When cooking, we don’t want our oils to smoke because they then release carcinogenic free radicals. This is called the “smoke point”. See the bottom of this post for a chart of smoke points for different oils.
When seasoning, we want to hit the smoke point. We want the oil to get so hot that a chemical reaction — polymerization — occurs, thus changing the oil into a sealant, of sorts. When flax seed oil changes into a sealant, we want it to be in the open pores of our cast iron pans.
- steel kitchen pad, used for scrubbing pans
- good, thick oven mitts
- paper towels, or cotton cloth
- high grade, organic flax seed oil (should be refrigerated and fresh; check the expiration date)
Never use flax seed oil when cooking with heat. It smokes at very low temperatures and releases free radicals into your food. However, this oil is wonderfully beneficial when consumed unheated in salad dressings, etc.
Cleaning Old Cast Iron
Someone once suggested that I use oven cleaner to easily strip my cast iron pans of all their gunk. Unfortunately, oven cleaner contains harsh chemicals, so use this tip at your own discretion and with great caution.
I went a different route that worked just as well for me.
What I Did: Cleaning Old Pans For Re-Seasoning
I set my cast iron pan on a burner and heated it — old oil, bits of burnt food, and all — for a few minutes on medium heat. Then I started scrubbing all that old gunk off with my steel kitchen pad, still over the heat. I scrubbed the bottom and inside walls of my pan, but if there’s food stuck on the handle, bottom, or outside of yours, scrub those areas as well.
Everything loosened and then came off.
Next, I rinsed my warm pan under hot water and scrubbed it some more with a stiff kitchen brush. Then I put it back on the burner (with the heat off), wiped it dry and clean, and left it there to completely dry and cool.
Success! My cast iron was transformed into a dry gray pan with absolutely zero seasoning on the inside.
If your pan is newly purchased, follow the above instructions for cleaning off that factory pre-seasoning. It is soft and won’t last long. Sometimes the manufacturer’s seasoning is questionable — this is especially true of foreign pre-seasoned cast iron pans. It’s best to start fresh from bare iron!
The Best Process For Re-Seasoning Cast Iron
It seems like everything involving cast iron also involves heat. This is no exception.
Preheat your pan to 200 degrees Fahrenheit in your oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or when the pan looks dry and warm. This opens its pores and removes all moisture.
Get flax seed oil out from the fridge and shake really well. Remove the pan from the oven and set on stove-top (FYI, mine is glass. Just be careful!). Squirt about a quarter-sized drop of oil (for a large skillet) in the pan, and rub into the pan using your hand or a utensil. Get every crack. The pan will be cooling off in the meantime, so if you use your fingers lightly, this will become more doable. Stop when the oil is completely, generously distributed and the pan looks shiny.
Now, wipe off ALL the oil. Yes, all of it! The pan will look dull and like the flax seed oil is all gone, but believe me, it isn’t. A very thin layer remains, and that’s exactly what we want.
Turn oven up to its highest temperature, or between 400 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit (mind goes to 450 degrees). When oven is preheated, place pan upside down inside for one hour. You shouldn’t need any foil to catch the drippings — there’d better not be enough oil left to drip! 😉 The pan will smoke a lot during this time, so open windows or use fans as needed. This is caused, not by the oil, but by old gunk still stuck to the bottom of the pan.
At the end of an hour, turn oven off and allow pan to cool inside, with the door closed, for about another hour. When cool, the pan will look a little darker, but still matte in appearance. You’re aiming for a semi-gloss.
It needs more coats.
In fact, it needs at least six coats!
Repeat the above steps five more times. The smoking shouldn’t be as bad for the rest of the coats. It’s caused by some of the old stuff at the bottom of the pan wearing away.
Care and Cleaning Of Newly-Seasoned Cast Iron
For best results, clean cast iron pans while still warm, just after using.
Most of the time I clean my pans by wiping them out with paper towels. When I cook sticky sauces, I run hot water over the pan and scrub it with a non-stick pad or brush simultaneously. Then I place the pan back on the still-warm burner and wipe it dry with a paper towel. I look for a semi-shiny finish without any dull spots.
If there are dull areas on the bottom of your pan, remove by scrubbing pan while still warm, on a burner with a steel kitchen scrub pad and some oil. The dull areas are actually very small amounts of cooked-on food or oil. Scrub until steel pad slides smoothly over the surface. Wipe out with paper towels and allow to cool. The finish should now be semi-glossy and smooth again.
Here is the nice semi-glossy finish on my pan.
This is such a straight-forward, easy method. I hope you give it a try and enjoy the same success!
Smoke Points Of Various Oils
|Canola oil||Expeller Press||464°F||240°C|
|Canola oil||High Oleic||475°F||246°C|
|Flax seed oil||Unrefined||225°F||107°C|
|Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter)||485°F||252°C|
|Olive oil||Extra virgin||375°F||191°C|
|Olive oil||Extra light||468°F||242°C|
|Olive oil, high quality (low acidity)||Extra virgin||405°F||207°C|
|Rice bran oil||490°F||254°C|
|Sunflower oil, high oleic||Unrefined||320°F||160°C|
|Tea seed oil||485°F||252°C|
Give it a try and let us know how you like this method!
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