Cast iron skillets are known for their durability in the kitchen, making them a favorite among home cooks and professional chefs alike. However, in order to maintain their non-stick surface and prevent rust, seasoning is a crucial step. This leads us to this often-asked question, how often do you season a cast iron skillet?
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the recommended frequency for seasoning. We will provide tips on how to properly care for your cast iron skillet to ensure its longevity in the kitchen. Following this information will allow you to have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet for years to come.
Before we jump too far into the details, let’s first answer the question about how often do you season a cast iron skillet. The short answer to this question is every time you use it. Now, don’t let this scare you off from using cast iron cookware, because it is really a simple process.
The simple answer is after you cook and clean your pan, you simply wipe on a little oil to protect it while it is in storage.
In order to truly answer this, we need to dive deeper into the ins and outs of this question. We need to explain some details about why we use cast iron, what seasoning truly means versus a protection or maintenance layer, and how often to do each one.
Why use cast iron
You may be wondering, what is so great about cast ironware. You may think, why do I want something that I have to season each time I use it? There are many reasons to love cast ironware but we will go over a few here.
One of the main reasons people love cast ironware is its durability of it. Simply put, it can last forever if proper care has been used. I will go as far as to state that even if you do not take care of it, it can be rehabbed most of the time. With a little care, you can bring most cast iron back to its original life.
Speaking of durability, it makes cast iron an heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation. Kids see mom or dad cooking in their favorite cast iron skillet growing up and it makes them want it when they pass.
Each time they cook, it brings back memories of their mom or dad cooking in that pan. No modern Teflon non-stick pan has the ability to do that.
Another reason cast ironware is loved by home cooks and chefs alike is that cast iron heats evenly and retains heat well, making it ideal for cooking a wide variety of dishes. This can include meats, vegetables, and baked goods. Cast-iron cookware can also take high heat.
If cast iron cookware is seasoned properly, it can also have a nonstick surface. When layers of oil are baked onto the surface of the pan through a seasoning process, it makes for a well-seasoned skillet that is nonstick for years. The process by which you season a cast iron skillet really matters.
In my opinion, the most important reason to love cast iron cookware is because of how versatile it is. You can go straight from the cooktop to the oven. You can even cook directly in coals while camping. This makes cast iron one of the most versatile cookware on the planet.
Cast iron is so versatile you can fry, sauté, and bake in it. One of my favorite things to bake in my cast iron skillet is this Old Fashioned Buttermilk Cornbread. Without the cast iron skillet, it just wouldn’t have that delectable crust that I love.
The same pan you cook fried chicken in on Sunday can be the same pan you pack to take camping with you on Friday and Saturday.
What does seasoning a cast iron skillet mean
In order to fully understand how often you need to season a cast iron skillet, we need to know the true meaning of seasoning a cast iron skillet because, in my mind, there are two different ways and times we do this.
According to the Lodge Cast Iron website, “Seasoning is a layer of carbonized oil that’s been baked onto your cast iron pan, forming a protective layer on top of your cookware.” The two times we season a pan is the initial seasoning or anytime the seasoning or pan has gotten messed up, dull, or sticky. Then the second time is the ongoing seasoning, what I like to call the protective layer or maintenance seasoning.
Why Season a new pan
Typically when you buy a new cast iron skillet, it was seasoned by the manufacturer. This is not enough to form a slick, non-stick surface. There are two reasons for this: When the pan was cast, it left a rough textured surface and the layer is just too thin to work long term.
This means that you will have to season it. The good news is this is a fairly easy process and anyone can do it. Once you season it a few times, then cook in it, the rough texture surface will turn into a smooth glasslike surface that is slick and almost non-stick.
When I say season it, by this I mean you will have to bake on a thin layer of oil in multiple applications to form that carbonized layer. The manufacturer simply got the process started, but the surface is rough and the layers are just not thick enough.
So by baking our own layers on when first get a new pan, we ensure that it has enough layers and will eventually make the rough surface smooth. This is one way that the term “seasoning” is meant when talking about a cast-iron pan.
Seasoning is also a protective layer for storage
When you see the term seasoning, what most people mean by this is putting a protective layer on your cookware after you have cooked and cleaned your pan. You do this when you store it to protect it from rust while you are not using it. You could call this method a maintenance seasoning.
What type of oil should you use?
Any neutral oils will do. My personal favorites are grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, and olive oil. Vegetable oil or canola oil can also be used if that is what you have on hand.
Many people like to use animal fat such as bacon grease, lard, or tallow. If a pan is not used often, animal fats can turn rancid so you have to be careful when using them. If you use your pan often, this is not a concern.
Many people will argue the point of what is the best oil, but you will just have to find what works best for you and go with it. There truly is no reason to complicate this simple process.
The main thing is to use oil with a high smoke point. Meaning the oil can handle high heat before it starts smoking. Simply wipe on a little oil over the entire pan and remove the excess oil, and you are done.
Cooking fatty foods adds to the layers
Another thing to note is when you do your normal cooking, this also adds to the layer of seasoning as well. When you cook items such as bacon, the grease that is released during that process will add to the layers on the surface of the cast iron pan in order to season the cast iron.
How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware
Cleaning cast iron is very simple. If you take your pan to the sink when it is still warm (but not hot), and run some hot water into the pan, most of the food that is left behind will release.
If this doesn’t work, you can add a little bit of coarse salt to act as a scrubbing agent. Normally these two will get the job done.
Another trick to use is to get some aluminum foil and ball it up to scrub the pan. A stiff brush made of plastic bristles is also a good way to scrub cast iron cookware.
A favorite tool of mine that Lodge Cast Iron makes is a plastic scrapper that is approximately 3 inches by 3 inches. It works great for getting stuck bits off of your cast iron cookware and not messing up the seasoning. I really love the one I have and use it on other pots and pans as well.
Should I use soap?
There is a lot of information that is against using soapy water. I have read arguments against it and for it. Most mainstream people say not to do this and most old-timers agree with this as well.
You will find some information that says it doesn’t hurt it. I have personally used a little soap before on my pans and I have not noticed any effect on them. I am not telling you to do it, but there may be times when you feel it is needed.
One thing to remember is If you ruin the seasoning, you can always bake a few layers back on. It is simple and doesn’t take but a few hours.
Now that you have washed your pan, follow these steps
In order to maintain your seasoning, if you follow these steps to season your pan after each wash, it will last you a very long time and serve you well.
- After you have cleaned your cast iron cookware, the first thing you need to dry it off with a lint-free towel or paper towel.
- Then, put the pan back on the stove on medium heat to burn off the moisture. Moisture gets trapped in the pores of metal so heating it up will cause trapped water to evaporate. Leave it on there just long enough to burn off the moisture, about 3 minutes or so.
- Next, pour a little bit of your favorite oil (that we discussed up above) and wipe it all around the pan. Make sure to wipe the inside, the handle, and all of the outside. Make sure to wipe any excess oil off.
- Lay the seasoned cast iron pan back on the stove to cool before putting it back up.
What not to do
Proper maintenance is key to the success of maintaining your cast iron cookware. In order to give longevity to your iron pans and cookware, you need to know a few basic things.
First off, avoid acidic foods such as chilis, spaghetti, or anything that is tomato-based or has tomato sauce in it. Acidic foods are said to be bad for your cast iron cookware. These foods can damage and strip the seasoning on cast ironware.
Also, never use steel wool to clean the pan. The steel wool is too abrasive and will take the pan back down to the bare metal.
In conclusion, seasoning a cast iron skillet is an important step in maintaining its quality and longevity. While there is no 100% set frequency for seasoning, it is recommended to do it periodically, especially after every use and when the skillet appears dull or sticky.
With proper seasoning and care, your cast iron skillet can become a treasured kitchen tool that lasts for generations to come.
Friday 28th of April 2023
Junkie, I have a gas stove and my cast iron pans seem to accumulate a buildup on the bottom of the pan with extended use. It is difficult to clean if I let it go too long. Any advice?