Seasoning A Cast Iron Pan

 

These steaks cooked perfectly in my cast iron skillet.

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll show you the method for cooking a perfect steak in a cast iron pan. In today’s post, we’ll talk about seasoning a cast iron pan to prepare it for cooking. Why cast iron? Cast iron is an excellent surface for cooking as the heat conducts evenly. Better yet, a cast iron pan can be heated to high temperatures in the oven without concern over burning up the pan or the pan’s handle. That means it’s very versatile. In fact, many chefs prefer cast iron for cooking their favorite dishes.

 

My wife and I know several excellent cooks and it seems most are acquainted with the advantages of cast iron. Naturally, as we’re interested in improving our own cooking skills we decided it was high time to see what we were missing.

 

Iron oxidizes very easily, which is a fancy way to say it rusts. Thus, you want to “season” a new pan to prevent rust from accumulating on the pan’s surface. At its core, seasoning is the process that involves heating oil (or fat) to polymerize it. This changes the composition of the oil and thereby adheres a protective coating to the surface of the pan. The goal is to create a non-stick surface. If you’re interested in the science involved with seasoning, check this article from Wikipedia.

 

Cleaning my new cast iron pan.

The first step is seasoning is to clean your new pan thoroughly.

Though there appear to be a numerous variations, the seasoning process is straight forward. Basically, you take some oil or fat, rub it onto the pan and then heat the pan for a sufficient amount of time in the oven. Here’s how to season your pan along with some additional considerations:

 

The Seasoning Process

 

(1) If you have a new pan, start by washing it well in hot soapy water.

 

Here I'm drying my new cast iron skillet.

Make sure to dry your pan thoroughly. Use paper towels.

(2) Next, dry the pan thoroughly with paper towels.

 

Here I'm coating the back of my cast iron skillet.

Coat both the inside and exterior of the pan with oil.

(3) Once the pan is dry, coat it will vegetable or Canola oil or with Crisco or lard. Use a paper towel to apply it. You’ll want to apply a light layer of oil/fat on both the inside and outside of the pan.

 

Run a coat of oil on the pan to season it.

What's the best oil to use? There seems to be plenty of disagreement.

There is a seemingly endless list of the best oil/fat to use. In other words, people use just about anything and everything. My wife’s aunt who spent years living in a rustic cabin suggested canola oil or Crisco. At the same time our friend who lives in the city suggested lard. Bottom line: You can probably go with whatever you keep on hand in the cupboard.

 

I turned the edges of my foil up.

Prepare the oven before preheating it by placing some foil on the lower rack.

(4) Once the pan has been coated, you’ll want to bake it in the oven. Before doing that spread some foil on the lowest rack to catch any drippings. Then insert the pan upside-down on the rack above the foil. Warning: Do you have a new oven? If so, be sure to check your manual. Some new ovens specifically warn not to put aluminium foil on the bottom of the oven. You can probably still put it on a lower rack, but check your owner’s manual to be certain.

 

Cooking time and temperature are another issue that appears to vary depending on what you read. Some suggest cooking your pan a couple of hours at 250 – 300 degrees F. Others say cook it at a high temperature like 400 – 500 F for a shorter time (about a half hour). Though we went with a higher temp, shorter time, I suspect either method works since they are both so widely cited. When the timer goes off, you’ll want to let your pan cool completely in the oven before removing it.

 

Warning: Cast iron pans conduct heat extremely well so you’ll always want to handle them with a good hot mitt. I recommend something like an “Ove Glove”.

 

Caring For Your Cast Iron Pan

 

Let the pan cool competely before removing from the oven.

Turn your pan upside-down in the oven when you season it.

If you’re a fanatic about germs you may scrub your other pots out with lots of soapy, sudsy water, but don’t do that with your cast iron as it will destroy your seasoning. If you’re worried about germs think of this: Cast iron has been used for hundreds of years. Also, heat kills germs and since you always warm your cast iron up before using it that should take care of any problems.

 

Most everyone we talk to uses nothing more than hot water to rinse their cast iron pans out. When they’re done they all make sure to dry them thoroughly to prevent rust. If your pan ends up with some stubborn goo, try cleaning it with some plain table salt. Just pour a little salt into the pan and rub it over the problem areas with a clean old soft cloth. When you’re done, wipe out any excess. See other care tips below.

 

De-glazing

 

One other thing to consider is to “de-glaze” your pan after removing your steaks. De-glazing is a way to easily remove some of excess drippings that tend to stick to your pan. These drippings contain a lot of good flavor. While the pan is still hot (but with the burner off), pour a little wine or chicken stock into the bottom of it and swish it all around as you gently scrape with a spatula or other cooking utensil. Now, pour the remains off into your sauce or gravy. Not only will it taste better, but your pan ends up cleaner. For more tips on de-glazing, see this post at the ReluctantGourmet.com.

 

 

 

Re-Seasoning

 

If your pan ends up developing rusty spots for some reason, use a non-metallic scrubber to clean it off and then wash the pan with warm soapy water. Once you’ve dried it thoroughly, you can go through the seasoning process as before. You won’t hurt the pan by seasoning it several times.

 

To Prevent Rust And Protect The Seasoning

 

To help keep rust from forming on your cast iron in the first place we suggest one or all of the following: (1) Never leave your pan soaking in water. (2) Don’t put the pan in the dishwasher, or scrub it with harsh metal scouring pads or cleansers. (3) Take a paper towel and wipe on a very light coat of oil over the entire surface before storing your pan. (4) Place a paper plate, paper towel, or coffee filter between your stored pans to help absorb excess moisture. (5) Avoid cooking tomatoes, vinegar, or other high acid foods or ingredients in your pan until you’ve cooked several meals and developed a good protective seasoning. (6) Finally, build on that initial seasoning by cooking bacon, sausage or other fatty meats when you first start using it.

 

Ready for a bite of steak?

My steak turned out perfect. The meat was tender and moist and cooked just the way I like it.

Save On Your Cast Iron Purchase

 

While you can certainly buy a new pan, an old one works just as well. In fact, some of the older pans seem to be better as they are heavier than some of the cheaper and newer models. In addition, they have already been thoroughly seasoned. Look for used pans at garage or estate sales, or check with Mom or Grandma to see if they have an extra one stashed away in the cupboard.

 

 

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