Alton Brown Marietta, Georgia Cast Iron Skillet Display Wall

Warnings

  • Washing pans with detergent after they have been seasoned will break down the seasoning. Either wash without soap (if you’re cooking similar foods with the pan, this is fine) or repeatedly oven-season your cookware.

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  • Do not cook tomatoes and other acidic foods in your cast iron cookware unless it has been well seasoned. Some chefs aren’t that fussed though; the iron leached from the tomato acid is good nutrition for most people and provided you’re seasoning the cookware properly, it should be fine.

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Step 8: Voila! a Perfect Pan Season

That’s it. Your pan is good to go.

In my next tutorial I will show you how to clean your pretty pan and not ruin your hard earned surface.

Buying Flax Oil.

Flax oil isn’t terribly easy to find like peanut oils and olive oils. It will need to be refrigerated so look for it in the health food section of your grocery store or health market. I just buy mine from Amazon here. It’s way easier.

What’s the importance of cast iron pan seasoning?

Knowing how to cure a cast iron skillet or pan through regular seasoning is a crucial skill if you want to extend the lifespan of your skillet and get the most cast iron cooking in the kitchen.

Seasoning is important because it provides our cast iron cookware with a layer of protection against the elements. Without treating cast iron pans, we run the risk of the iron reacting with the air and water to form rust. The resulting rust spots can potentially harbor bacteria, and rust may flake off into your food.

Because this protective layer of seasoning is naturally non-stick, any cast iron skillet, pan, or griddle that is not properly seasoned will lose this non-stick property, leading to burned on food. Burned on food is not only difficult to clean off the pan, but it also affects the cooking process and the taste of your food (nobody likes a burnt-flavored steak!).

Speaking of burning, you’ll need to be careful handling your cast iron. Unlike frying pans with attached handles, cast iron skillets are all in one piece. The entire skillet gets piping hot, including the handle. We use our Uno Casa skillets with the silicone handles that come with them, but you can also buy them separately or invest in a strong, heat-resistant oven glove – just remember to keep it on as you cook!

Cast iron pans are quite heavy compared to those stainless steel or non-stick coated pans you may be used to, at 4-12 lbs on average. Our skillets have an ergonomic handle that makes lifting and maneuvering easy – an accidental drop at the wrong time can be an absolute dinner disaster and could seriously hurt your toes or floor.

How do you know if your cast iron is seasoned?

A well-seasoned skillet will have a dark, semiglossy finish and won’t be sticky or greasy to the touch. It won’t have any rust or any dull or dry patches. An easy way to test a skillet’s seasoning is to fry an egg (heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes, then add egg).

How to cure a cast iron skillet with salt

Requirements

  • Cast iron skillet
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 raw potato cut into two
  • Paper towels
  • Spatula

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven up to 400 degrees. Use a spatula to remove any stuck food from the surface. In case there is no food residue on the surface, you can just wipe it using a damp cloth.
  • Sprinkle the salt on the skillet and use a flat side of the cut potato into the surface of your skillet. Moisture from the potato plus the salt helps to remove tough debris and rust from the surface.
  • Using a damp paper towel, wipe all the salt from the skillet.
  • After you have removed all the salt, you can now add oil to the skillet. Use a paper towel to wipe the surface of your skillet including the edges, handles, and inner sides. The surface should have a light coating of oil which means that you should wipe any excess oil from the skillet. When seasoning, you should avoid applying too much oil on the surface. 
  • Once you have removed all the excess oils, you can now place the skillet in the oven and then adjust the heat settings up to 400 degrees. After one hour, remove the skillet and wipe any excess oil from the surface. Your skillet is now ready for use. 

How to Season a New Cast Iron Pan

You read through our cast iron skillet review, and decided it was time to buy yourself a new pan. Excellent call. Your new cast iron skillet will almost always comes from the factory with some degree of pre-seasoning on it, but you’ll generally want to lay down a few more on top of that to make sure it’s good. (If you get a vintage skillet that’s not in great shape, you’ll want to consult our guide to restoring cast iron, which includes instructions on how to strip off old seasoning and rust.) Once you’ve added your own layers of seasoning, just use the pan, and you’ll be good to go for years upon years.

Lodge 10.25-Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Buy on Amazon

Step 1: Wash and Dry Your Pan

It's hard to say exactly what happened to that skillet between the time it came off the factory line and when it arrived in your kitchen, so you'll want to wash it before starting to season. Give the pan a good scrub with warm, soapy water, then dry it thoroughly. Even after towel-drying, some surface moisture may remain, so your best bet is to put the pan on a stovetop flame for a minute or two to drive off any lingering water.

Step 2: Rub It All Over With Oil and Buff Well

Now that your pan is clean and dry, rub it all over, inside and out—including the handle—with cooking oil. Here at Serious Eats, we're fans of unsaturated cooking fats, like vegetable, canola, and corn oil, for seasoning our pans. Not only do we always have them on hand, but they work well and are easier to spread than saturated fats, like shortening or lard. There's no need to go out and buy any special oils just for seasoning!*

*For the record, we've found that the often-suggested flaxseed oil produces a fast layer of seasoning, but it has a tendency to flake off with use. We don't recommend it.

The key here is to rub the oil all over, but then buff it so thoroughly that the pan no longer looks even the slightest bit greasy. Even a small amount of excess oil on the pan can pool during seasoning, forming little hardened droplets on your cooking surface, or turn sticky if left unused for a few days.

Step 3: Heat It in the Oven

Put the oiled pan in a preheated 450°F oven, and leave it there for 30 minutes. It may get a little smoky, so keep your kitchen well ventilated. It's during this time that the oil will polymerize and form the first of several hard, plastic-like coatings you'll be laying down.

The reason we're using the oven here is because it provides an even heat that will more effectively set the oil all over the pan. Even the best stovetop burners will produce hot and cool spots, which can lead to uneven initial seasoning.

While it's not essential, especially if you've buffed away all the excess oil, I like to turn the pan upside down and put a baking sheet or piece of foil underneath. It's just added insurance against any excess oil that decides to run and pool, since gravity will pull it out of the pan.

Step 4: Repeat 3 to 4 Times

When the half hour is up, take the pan out. (Remember: It's hot!) Now rub it once more all over with the oil, buffing it out as before. Then put it back in the oven for another 30-minute spell. All in all, you'll want to do this oiling-and-heating process three to four times, to set down a good initial layer of your own seasoning.

Once you're done, just let the pan cool down. It's now ready for cooking.

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Step 5: Wipe the Oil Into the Pan

Wipe the oil into the pan. Make sure you get into the angles and the corners really good.

Flip the pan over and wipe that down too. Having a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan includes the outside. A rusty pan is still a rusty pan no matter the location.

What cookware does Alton Brown use?

On his Instagram this week, Alton held up a pan and declared it the most beautiful one he’d ever seen. The pan in question is a nine-inch carbon steel skillet from Blanc Creatives, a company out of Charlottesville, Virginia (where, in fact, all their pans are made).

Harold McGee on Cast Iron

The inimitable McGee has relatively little to say on the subject, so I’ll quote it briefly below:

IRON AND STEEL

Iron was a relatively late discovery because it exists in the earth’s crust primarily in the form of oxides, and had to be encountered in it’s pure form by accident, perhaps when a fire was built on an outcropping of ore. Iron artifacts have been found that date from 3000 BCE, though the Iron Age, when the metal came into regular use without replacing copper and bronze (a copper-tin alloy) in preeminence, is said to begin around 1200 BCE. Cast iron is alloyed with about 3% carbon to harden the metal, and also contains some silicon; carbon steel contains less carbon, and is heat-treated to obtain a less brittle, tougher alloy that can be formed into thinner pans.  The chief attractions of cast iron and carbon steel in kitchen work are their cheapness and safety.  Excess iron is readily eliminated from the body, and most people can actually benefit from additional dietary iron.  Their greatest disadvantage is a tendency to corrode, though this can be avoided by regular seasoning (below) and gentle cleaning. Like aluminum, iron and carbon steel can discolor foods. And iron turns out to be a poorer conductor of heat than copper or aluminum. But exactly for this reason, and because it’s denser than aluminum, a cast iron pan will absorb more heat and hold it longer than a similar aluminum pan. Thick cast iron pans provide steady, even heat.

“Seasoning” Cast Iron and Carbon Steel Cooks who appreciate cast iron and carbon steel pans improve their easily corroded surface by building up an artificial protective layer.  They “season” them by coating them with cooking oil and heating them for several hours. The oil penetrates into the pores and fissures of the metal, sealing it from the attack of air and water. And the combination of heat, metal, and air oxidizes the fatty acid chains and enourages them to bond to each other (“polymerize”) to form a dense, hard, dry layer (just as linseed and other “drying oils” do on wood and on painintgs).  Highly unsaturated oils — soy oil, corn oil — are expecially prone to oxidation and polymerizing. To avoid removing the protective oil layer, cooks carefully clean seasoned cast iron pans with mild soaps and dissolving abrassive like salt, rather than with detergents and scouring pads.

Harold McGee (1951- ), food science writer in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Scribner, revised edition 2004)

It’s almost immediately apparent that Canter was inspired to use flaxseed oil by the standard go-to reference which mentions “linseed and other ‘drying oils’”.  Since it’s somewhat illustrative of cast iron pans in general, though it doesn’t reference seasoning, I’ll also direct the reader to McGee’s article What’s Hot, What’s Not, in Pots and Pans (New York Times, October 7, 2008) as well as Dave Arnold’s article Heavy Metal: the Science of Cast Iron Cooking.

I’ll note that the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef (Wiley, 7th edition, 2001) only mentions cast iron in passing on page 91 and doesn’t even use the word seasoning. (There is a more recent 9th edition, which I don’t own, but I doubt it has additional information given the scant nature found in the 7th edition.) Similarly “Iron Chef” Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011) has some generally fine directions for the beginning chef interested in science, but it doesn’t go past either McGee or the bulk of the online blogs with the common wisdom for cast iron.

A well-seasoned (manteca) cast iron pan cooking ha
A well-seasoned (manteca) cast iron pan cooking hashbrowns

In the coming research, I’ll delve into some of the journal literature to see what else I come up with, though I expect that it will be scant at best and not much more than the often cited July 1986 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association which discusses iron leaching out of pans into food substances.

Anyone with serious thoughts and ideas in this area is encouraged to share them in the comments.

Do acidic foods damage cast iron cookware?

You have to be picky about the foods you cook with your cast iron cookware, particularly when learning how to season a new cast iron skillet for long-term use. Acidic foods damage the seasoning, especially if it’s a fresh layer or a new pan.

Older cast iron pans have a tougher layer of seasoning and can withstand acidic foods better than newer pans. Acidic foods that damage pans include tomato-based dishes, such as bolognese or ragu. Remember, you can’t cook everything in cast iron, so be selective. Don’t leave your leftovers in cast iron pans, as the prolonged exposure to acidity can also start to affect the seasoning.

Common Cast Iron Myths

As with most topics related to cooking, there are plenty of myths and old wive’s tales that stubbornly cling on to countless people. Anything that has a long tradition (such as cast iron) is bound to collect a few myths over time.

Here are some cast iron myths that people continue to regurgitate today.

Myth 1: Never cook tomatoes or any other acidic food in cast iron

When my Auntie heard I had just bought myself a cast iron pan, the first words that came out of her mouth were “make sure you never cook tomato sauce in it”.

Acidic foods such as tomato can eat away at the seasoning in your cast iron. So this myth does has some truth in it (like many myths). But that doesn’t mean all acidic food should be avoided at all costs.

The reality is that if you have a well-seasoned pan, it is perfectly capable of handling acidic foods on occasion.

On the other hand, if you cook tomato sauce for an hour non-stop or every week you use your cast iron to only cook acidic foods, then you’re going to quickly run into a problem.

If you want to cook tomato sauce or anything else acidic on your cast iron, make sure you have a well-established seasoning and limit the time you spend cooking with it. Plan for your next use of your cast iron to use something non-acidic to restore some of the seasoning lost.

Myth 2: Only use non-stick utensils when cooking with cast iron

The seasoning on cast iron can be surprisingly resilient. While it’s a good practice to use plastic spatulas when scraping your cast iron clean, you don’t need to be too careful.

I regularly make smashed burgers on my cast iron (link to guide and step-by-step recipe) and scrape them off to flip using a metal spatula. I’ve only noticed minor marks in the seasoning and nothing has ever reached the actual surface of the metal. I’m pretty rough with my cast iron and it’s surprisingly durable.

As with most of these myths, if you have a well-seasoned pan, you’re unlikely to experience any issues with any utensils.

Myth 3: Soap will ruin cast iron

Soap can ruin a cast iron’s coating, but that doesn’t mean it will ruin it. If you soak your cast iron in hot soapy water, then yes, it will ruin your cast iron’s seasoning. You’ll have to completely re-season it and it will be annoying.

But some mild use of soap to quickly clean your cast iron is perfectly fine if you know what you’re doing. 

Myth 4: Bacon fat or lard is the best choice for seasoning cast iron

As explained earlier on the section looking at different oils, bacon fat or lard was the most common options back when cast iron was king. There is a long tradition of using bacon fat or lard to season cast iron.

While they were perfectly fine choices back then, today they’re less than ideal.

The best types of oil for seasoning cast iron are high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat.

Oils such as flaxseed, grapeseed, corn, olive, or vegetable oil are all high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. When you compare these oils to bacon fat or lard, it’s pretty clear that they’re far better options.

But flaxseed, grapeseed, or corn oil weren’t available back then, so it’s no surprise that there isn’t a long tradition of using them to season cast iron.

But this myth remains because “it’s what my grandmother used and she never had any problems in 60 years of using it!”

This is a good example of how many people are stuck in the past when it comes to cooking and won’t even consider that there are better options or methods available today.

Myth 5: Cast iron is difficult to maintain

Cast iron only becomes difficult to maintain if you don’t use it properly. If you don’t develop a good seasoning on your cast iron, it will be difficult to use. Food will stick to the surface, you’ll spend a lot of time scrubbing the pan, and you might get metallic tastes in your food.

But if you properly season your pan and clean it properly after use, cast iron is simple to maintain.

Myth 6: Cast iron heats evenly

This myth is due to a misunderstanding of heat. Cast iron retains a lot of heat, which people mistakenly identify as providing even heat. After all, if the entire surface of the pan seems to cook everything with ease, that means the pan has heated evenly, right?

A simple laser thermometer is all you need to debunk this myth. I found that my cast iron heats incredibly uneven compared to a stainless-steel pan.

If you want a pan with evenly distributed heat, try preheating your cast iron in the oven before cooking. It might be overkill, but the oven will definitely heat the entire surface of the pan up evenly, then you can use your stove to maintain the heat while cooking.

Conclusion

Cast iron skillets are very effective when cooking. However, they are prone to rusting which means that you need to know how to cure a cast iron skillet. In order to enhance their nonstick properties, you need to season them using the procedures we have outlined in this article. You also need to ensure that you are using effective oils like those we have mentioned in this article when seasoning.

Additionally, If you are interested in knowing the differences between the skillets and frying pans, you may take a look at our in-depth content on the Difference Between Skillet and Frying Pan 

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