Thursday, August 6, 2009

Foodie Friday: How to Season Cast Iron

Welcome to Foodie Friday. I'm posting an oldie--"How to Season Cast Iron," as my mom is having surgery today. If you are participating in FF this week, simply add your info to Mr. Linky:

How To Season Cast Iron Cookware (the Gollum Way):
All of my relatives had at least one cast iron skillet. The skillet was the color of unlit charcoal, with a slick, hard finish. It was either left on top of the stove or stored in the oven.

I never questioned my relatives about their cookware. I knew that the pans, like our food and our men, were "well seasoned"; as for the patina that Mama treasured so much I assumed the pans had been bought that way.

There are many ways to season cast iron, but the main formula seems to be vegetable oil plus heat plus time equals patina. It's basic kitchen chemistry. The multiple oilings, when combined with heat, fill in the microscopic "pits" in the cast iron. Over time, these pits harden, producing a smooth, black surface.

The oil creates a barrier, preventing oxygen from reaching the iron and causing rust. It also forms a virtually non stick surface. The more you use your pan, the more it will blacken. And cooking in cast iron is healthy--it's a sneaky source of dietary iron.
Cast iron has man virtues, but seasoning isn't one of them. It requires time, oil, and a hot oven. Store-bought pans come with instructions, but they skip over the important parts, like, it's not going to happen in a day. Be prepared to spend time with your new pan.

The seasoning is acquired slowly. You will have to "oil and bake" for many hours, when your time and schedule allow you to cook an empty pan. :-) You are serving up nothing; not only that, you will wonder how many centuries it will take before your pan acquires a rich, black patina.

How To Season A Cast-Iron Pan
Step 1: wash the pan in soapy water.
Be sure to use a scouring pad. This will remove the protective coating that inhibits rust. The is the one and ONLY time your skillet will touch soap.
Step 2: dry the pan. (I love easy steps.)
Step 3. Grease your pan.
This is not the time to be sloppy or fainthearted. Finicky souls use a pastry brush; earthy people prefer to grease with their fingers. Me, I use a scrunched up paper towel that's been doused in oil. I have also just poured oil directly into the pan, about 2 teaspoons, then swished it around with a paper napkin.

I take the paper towel and rub it all around the inside of the skillet. Cast iron is somewhat porous, and it will absorb the oil. Get into every crevice. The motto of seasoning cast iron is less is more--thin coats are best.
I don't oil the outside of the pan, but some people do.
Now is a good time to discuss oil. The type is debatable--some cooks use safflower, others prefer Crisco, or even lard. I have talked to people who won't use oil, claiming it leaves a residue. My mother has used olive oil. I've had the best results with peanut oil (it has no flavor and it's stable at high temperatures).

Don't use butter.
Remember to use small amounts or your skillet might develop sticky splotches. Some cooks believe that this gummy stage is the beginning of the curing process, but there's a difference in coats. A slightly tacky, amber sheen means you're making progress, but a sticky sediment means that you've used too much oil.
Step 4: Bake
Put the pan in a 275-degree oven for about five hours, periodically checking to see if you need another coat of oil. Think of it as a slow layering, the way an artist layers colors on a canvas.

Cooks also disagree about temperatures and baking times. I have tried everything. A small amount of smoking occurred at temperatures over 400 degrees however, in about three hours my pans were noticeably darker. Paul Prudhomme cures his new pans with low heat, about 225 degrees, leaving them to bake for hours.

The best pans, of course, come from relatives or garage sales, although you can still find them in antique malls.
After a couple of five-hour sessions, you'll begin to notice a metamorphosis. You'll know when you are making progress: Your pan will acquire a thin hard layer; it resembles shellac--shiny and transparent, the color of caramel flavoring, and faintly tacky.
I hate to tell you, but one or two hours of "curing" won't create a black, non-stick pan. Six hours won't do it, either. It takes about 10 sessions.
During the curing process, the oil hardens to a varnish-like finish. The pan loses its steel-gray color and turns progressively browner until it finally attains the famous black "crust."
I like the way an empty, slow-cooking pan smells--old fashioned and metallic,, the way water smells when it trickles from an iron pump. The aroma reminds me of meals past and present, a whole heritage of women who conjure food for their loved ones. If you don't like the aroma of baked iron, you can close off your kitchen, open a window, or burn a vanilla-bean candle.
Achieving patina takes the patience of a saint and the finesse of a landscape painter. Try to think of it as an adventure.
Step 5:
After the pan cools, wipe it down with the barest coat of oil. Do this every time you use the pan for the first year. A paper towel patted down over the skillet seems to inhibit rust in humid areas.
Of course, you can cheat and buy a new fangled cast iron pan--and you can buy them in adorable shapes

and in designer colors--plus, they don't require seasoning.


This is what happens to a pan after washing it in soapy water.
** Never soak, never scour! A full sink of soapy water will undo years of care.
** Never wash in the dishwasher--it will rust the pan and remove the seasoning.
** Until your pan is well seasoned try not to cook sticky things--sometimes this causes setbacks.

**the acidity in tomatoes can have ghastly consequences in cast iron, unless you are using other ingredients, like in a stew or spaghetti sauce.

Large, coarse salt acts as a gentle abrasive, and helps keep your cast iron "bump" free.
**Clean with a little hot water and a nylon pad, sanding the surface gently.
**After cleaning, dry the pan thoroughly. For the first year, keep it lightly oiled. Store in a dry place. (I keep mine in the oven.) It will tend to collect dust and cat hairs.
**If scrubbing is needed, sprinkle sea or kosher salt into the skillet. Use a Tuffy pad to gently scour.
**For heinous messes, heat the pan, adding a bit of water. Use a Tuffy scrubber, and salt, if necessary. Dry, then set in a warm oven.

Remember that cast-iron cookery is part art, part science. New pans may come and go, but your skillet has a colorful history: iron was an ancient culinary tool. Pat yourself on the back because you've been patient; you've fretted and coddled and oiled and baked. Remember that you aren't just cooking supper in your cast iron--you are continuing to season it. You are also creating an heirloom, a piece of culinary history to pass down through the generations.


  1. Terrific tutorial on seasoning cast iron, Michael!

    Of all the "prettier" cast iron French enameled cookware, I tend to reach for my vintage plain black pieces most often. (The new Lodge pre-seasoned pieces are wonderful too, they sure do save time on the intitial seasoning process.) :)

    (I don't have that Carribean Blue Le Creuset, but I sure do LIKE IT!) :) I've recently put myself on a cookware-buying hiatus and I'm trying not to cave. *grin*

    Nice Foodie Friday post!!


  2. Hope your mom is recovering well. Everyone should have a well seasoned black iron skillet in their repertoire. Thanks for this great lesson in seasoning!


  3. Just a note...Mom came through the surgery just fine!

  4. Thank you for the update, it's great to know that your Mother's surgery went well ~ sending prayers and good wishes your way.

  5. Great tutorial, and I'm so glad your mom is doing well.

  6. Michael, what kind of surgery?? I am so glad she came through fine, but I will keep her in my prayers. Thanks SO much for the lesson, it is exactly what I needed!!!!! Hugs, Pinky

  7. Well, now I know why my cheap Walmart cast iron pan got rusty! But really, how many people want to go through this much trouble for a damn pan? EEKS!

    I hope your mom is doing well and recovering from her surgery!

    Justine :o )

  8. The way we season them is to fill them with shortening and put it out on a fire pit and let the fire burn out all the oil. It usually takes about 30 minutes total. Gotta stay close though : )

  9. Good wishes for your mom. I love my pan and use it offen:)

  10. hey friend. I hope your mom bounces back quick! have a great weekend in spite of it all!

  11. What a great tutorial. I hope all goes well with your moms surgery...

  12. Great News about Your Mother!! Loved the tutorial..I'm going to email my friend with the link to this post. She received a brand spanking new one at her wedding shower.. I couldn't remember all the steps I had taken with mine to finally get it right.. except to mention .. DO NOT use soap.
    Again.. great news about your Mom.. hoping she recovers quickly.

  13. glad your mom did well, i hope she recovers quickly, wishing the best to all of you~

  14. Great tutorial! Such valuable step-by-step info. One of the first homeaker skills I learned from my grandmother was not to wash THAT skillet in the sink with the other dishes. She stored her cast iron in the oven, also. Sally

  15. What a great tip! A good seasoned cast iron skillet is a valuable thing indeed!

  16. Great tutorial. I've had my cast iron skillet for about 35 years or so. It cooks a mean pan of cornbread and is great for skillet cobbler.

  17. I love my cast iron pan but can barely lift that sucker.

  18. A well seasoned cast iron pan is worth whatever it takes. It will outlast all of us if properly taken care of. Nothing else will give you the beautiful crispy crust. I wouldn't cook schnitzel in anything else.

  19. You are more than gracious to even bother with this today. I am glad to hear your mom is out of surgery safely and wish her a speedy recovery.

  20. I have family skillets and I do as my mother did -- after washing, I light the stove and put the pan back on to dry. She only and always did this with her cast iron ones. (And I have her little skillet that's perfect for a fried egg for one -- and it's got great patina!)

    Great post BTW.

  21. Hi Gollum, I had several sizes of cast iron pans when I was first married. A long time ago. I wish I had been able to know what you know about those pans, but I gave them all away. They came from my MIL who was deceased. I bet they were already seasoned. Sigh.

    I am glad to hear your mom has improved. And thank you for some great info about iron pans.


  22. I remember seasoning a cast iron frying pan years ago, I haven't really used it in awhile! It probably needs to be redone, thanks for the reminder, and tutorial! Have a great weekend and thanks for hosting!

  23. I thought I knew how to season cast iron but apparently not, as I've had problems w/ sticky spots & now I know why. Thanks for the detailed instructions Michael.

    Also thank you so much for hosting...hope your Mom is doing well.

  24. What a great and information-packed post today! I treasure my grandmother's iron skillet and use it often.

    Wishing your mother the speediest of recoveries ... please tell her we are all thinking of her.
    And you too!

  25. Great lessons on cast iron... Loved it!


  26. Healing blessings to your mother. Don't you know that some of those out of the south wonder about seasoning the skillet!
    Happy Twirls

  27. Hi Gollum, I don't know why but when I thought I was linking in to my post today, #34, under ~CC picked up an old Outdoor Wednesday post instead of the one I did the copy shortcut for today. So, if you could remove #34, I have went ahead and added the correct one later down the line. Your article on the black ironstone skillets is spot on. My daughter was educating me on this recently. My mother used this all of my childhood, yes, they are wonderful frying pans! Hope you are having a blessed summer! :) ~CC Catherine

  28. wonderful tutorial! I love my cast iron pans and wouldn't trade them for anything. I have a little blog giveaway going on, please join the fun!

  29. Gave up my cast iron skillet, when I stopped cooking so much, and sometimes wished I had kept it.
    Very glad to hear your Mother is doing well.;

  30. Nothing like good ole cast iron to cook in. I bought one at a garage sale in pretty bad shape a couple of years ago. It was so satisfying bringing it back! Salt does to wonders amazingly. Thanks for the great pictorial!

  31. I'm behind on my blog reading. Didn't know your mom was having surgery. I'm glad to read that she came through fine. I pray that she recuperates well, and if you are going to be her care-taker, prayers for you too!!! I have this seasoning cast iron post saved to my recipe file from the first time you posted it. laurie

  32. I gave you some linky love. And this was very informative. We are in the market for a new skillet and this was helpful. I hope you have time this weekend to post over at Momtrends. Here is the link for Friday Feasts:

  33. Gollum, I have been computerless the last several days and on a trip before that. I just read about your sweet mother's surgery and am praying for her.

    On a different note but still related to mothers... once upon a time, I decided to help my mother by "cleaning" her iron skillet. I thought our cook hadn't done a good job making it sparkle. To that end, I got out a Brillo pad and went to town on it, virtually ruining a very fine skillet. Needless to say, I was banished from the kitchen for life, though my mother didn't punish me because she knew I thought I was doing something to please her. And people wonder why I don't cook much! ;-)

    Happy Foodie Friday and please know we're thinking of you and your mother.


    Sheila (who had to steal Mr. Magpie's computer to check in tonight)

  34. Glad all went well, ML..
    Speedy recovery..
    Such lovely cookware..mine are not things of beauty..but they are well used..

  35. Glad your mama did well and hoping that she has a speedy recovery. I've been thinking about both of you a lot lately. Take good care of her Michael and take care of you too!

  36. Michael, Glad your mom did ok with surgery and praying for a speedy recovery.

    Being an old Canjun girl, I have numerous black iron skillets and pots, but not any of the colored ones. Mine are old as the hills and I need to redo one of them right now.
    I can't cook with most other kinds of pots and pans and if you don't use one to make gumbo, well it just isn't gumbo.

    Great turtoial.

  37. Great info. I have a couple of my Grandmothers old big black iron skillets.

    Sorry-I've been out of commission -- terribly sick for over a week-- but do you want to know how I cut my grocery bill in half? go to Cut your grocery bills now plus I have a give a way and a new Mr Linky party starting tomorrow but Mr Linky will be up by 8 p.m. tonight

    Its So Very Cheri

  38. Gollum, I hope your mom is doing better each day. Thinking of you, her, and your family.


    Sheila :-)

  39. I have been gone all summer working on redecorating rooms, camping and reading my way through all your wonderful books but I thought it was time to jump back into the bloggy pool. What a great subject as I have several well seasoned pans but one that is hateful. I will work on it using your method.

    I hope you had a wonderful summer and like me are looking forward to fall . . .
    The Raggedy Girl

  40. Hope things are better, Gollum. Love to you, your mother, and your family...


    Sheila :-)

  41. So that is how it is done. I guess I am fortunate that I have one that has been well broken in as it dates back to my Great Grandmother.

    Speaking of which; please extend my best wishes to your Mom for a speedy recovery. -Brenda-

  42. Thanks for the lesson on caring for the cast iron frying pan. There's nothing better than fried chicken or home made corn bread made in a cast iron frying pan! Hoping your Mom is recovering from her surgery nicely.

  43. it's great to know that your Mother's surgery went well, please take extra care of her, may god bless her................


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  44. This was great! I've heard of even leaving them in a hot fire for hours. I never tried it. I have my grandparents, Mothers iron skillets and some new ones for my girls stole a few. lol As a child we go on vacation, once I remember being at Norris Dam, Daddy would pull over at picnic area and cook breakfast with Mothers help. Only time she did not cook. Afterwards he would take the pan and put in dirt from the ground in the iron skillet and clean with newspaper. Since my surgeries Hubby has been learning to cook, he bought an expensive nonstick skillet. Loved it, then it started to peel, he read somewhere it was really bad for you and to not use it. All nonstick pans were kicked out the house and now he cooks every morning in MY iron skillets, he said he would never use! lol