How to Season Cast Iron Pans

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

Nothing conjures up memories of weekend breakfasts with my family and camping trips like our large, seasoned cast iron pan. As a hand me down that had come from pervious generations and was “seasoned” in more than one way.

Like many of the good things in life, seasoning a cast iron pan and getting the perfect coating takes patience, a little work and a lot of love.

Why Cast Iron?

I now use an assortment of healthy cookware, but will always have a special place in my heart for cast iron. We’ve found a few more pieces at yard sales and thrift stores over the years and added to the collection.

Cast iron pans are wonderful because they can be used on the stove, in the oven, on the grill or even over a campfire. They are simple to clean (once well seasoned) and less expensive than other non-toxic cookware options. It is so tough that it can literally last forever and if you drop it, it is more likely to harm your floor than it is to harm the pan.

Properly seasoned cast iron is easy to clean and relatively non-stick. It won’t cook like teflon, but it also doesn’t create fumes with the potential to kill small house pets.

Cast Iron is also the only cookware that besides being non-toxic may actually have health benefits! Small amounts of Iron from the pans can be passed into food, which is especially helpful for pregnant women or those who are anemic.

How to Season Cast Iron

Many of the problems with cast iron stem from improper seasoning. Seasoning is the process of using an oil or fat to create a patina, or coating on the surface of the cast iron. This both protects the pan and makes cooking easier.

Once a pan is seasoned, the coating can be easily maintained by proper washing and occasional wiping down with oil.

Best Oil to Use to Season Cast Iron

There is much debate about the best type of oil to use for seasoning. Many sources recommend vegetable oil or corn oil (which I would highly discourage).

Other sources recommend coconut oil, though some people seem to have problems with this, especially if using unrefined coconut oil. I’ve also seen some sources that recommend oils that do easily oxidize, like flax seed, since this process is supposed to help create a tougher coating, though i’ve never had a problem with more stable oils and have never found the need to try flax.

I prefer to use traditional fats like lard and tallow, but refined coconut oil or ghee also work well.

Instructions for Seasoning Cast Iron

  1. Thoroughly wash the cast iron pan with soap and water. Normally, it is not advisable to use soap on cast iron, but since it is going to be seasoned, it is fine. If there are any rust spots, use some salt and a little water to make a paste and scrub the rust off.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325. Some sources recommend using a much higher temperature, but I’ve always found that it is more difficult to get a good finish at high temperatures. The onc exception to this rule is old, weathered cast iron that has not been well take care of. If I find cast iron at a thrift store or yard sale, I usually scrub with the salt mixture and place in a campfire for a few hours before seasoning. Heating to this high temperature helps remove any old seasoning and prepare the metal for a new coat.
  3. Place the pan in the preheating oven for 5-10 minutes to get warm. This added step helps make the oil more effective when it is rubbed on the cast iron.
  4. Using an old towel or piece of a t-shirt, rub oil or fat of choice around the entire pan, making sure it is entirely coated, inside and out.
  5. Using another towel or rag, wipe all of the oil out until only a thin sheen remains.
  6. Place upside down in the oven for 1-2 hours.
  7. Turn oven off and leave pan until completely cooled.
  8. Depending on the age and texture of the iron, the pan may need 3-5 of these seasoning treatments before it is optimal for cooking. When I get a new cast iron pan, I use it for high fat cooking for the first few weeks after seasoning so that it develops a stronger finish (deep frying and stir frys are optimal for this).
  9. After every use, the pan should be washed immediately and towel tried to prevent rusting. I also wipe my pans down with another layer of tallow or lard after each use to keep them ready-to-use.

Cast Iron Care

The most important part of maintaining seasoning on cast iron pans is using proper care techniques to protect the patina. Some important things to remember when caring for your cookware:

  • In general, soap and water should not be used. The best practice is to wash immediately with hot water and a brush or a chainmail scrubber.
  • A gentle scraper is also very helpful for removing stuck-on food without hurting the finish.
  • Oven gloves are also a life saver with cast iron, since the handle gets very hot.
  • I order pastured and ethically sourced tallow and lard (at a discount from here) for use on cast iron.
  • Most sources recommend avoiding highly acidic things like tomato in cast iron, since it can leach more iron and create an off flavor.
  • Much cast iron comes pre-seasoned these days. There are some great sets of cast iron available at good prices, but my favorite by far are old pans that have been passed down by relatives or found at yard sales.
  • Take your cast iron camping and use on the fire. Re-season when you get home. I’ve found that doing this once a year or so helps keep the finish strong.

Do you have any cast iron? How do you use it?

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Reader Comments

  1. What oil do you use?

  2. Hi Katie,

    I recently purchased some Lodge cast iron and it is preseasoned. Do you know what they season it with? Do you recommend scrubbing and reseasoning it again before using it?

    Also, on my other cast iron pan, I use organic palm oil and I’ve had good results as far as the pan goes. What do you think of this health wise?

    Thanks for all you do! I can honestly say my family is healthier because of you!

    • Palm oil is great too… I’ve read that they use vegetable oil, but I don’t know for sure. I’d probably re-season.

    • Pre seasoning is done in a factory now because not everyone knows how to do it.
      Most likely, the factory is in China. If you trust them, then no problems.

      I took my new frying pan and washed it thoroughly with soap, water, and a brush.
      After I dried it, I put it upside down in my oven and ran it through it’s self cleaning cycle.

      Then I heated the pan on my gas burner and rubbed Crisco into the heated metal, both inside and out. (Remember the handle [top and bottom] as well).
      I then took another piece of paper towel and wiped it down to the point I could barely see any oil.
      Back into preheated oven (350 til done works for everything). I left it about an hour or two. Let it cool.
      I took it out of the oven, heated it up on my stove top and crisco’d it again. Every time I thought of it, I did the heating, oiling, wiping for couple of times, or so.

      Now, when I finish cooking, I immediately wash it in “WATER ONLY” with a dedicated scrub brush and dry it. I rub it down and leave it on my stove top until the next time.

      I bought a couple of plastic Lodge scrapers at Whole Foods that work great.

      I do not know anyone or have anything to do with Crisco. I am 73 and I learned it from my Mother and grandmother. It sure worked for them, and it sure is working for me.

      *My wife read this and advised me we are now using coconut oil, so I am going to stop using Crisco.
      My Bad.

  3. I love to use cast iron, but since going gluten free 3 years ago and discovering multiple food issues for my son, I was worried about the pan retaining gluten or other food particles that would present food sensitivities. Is this a concern or me just being paranoid? I haven’t parted ways with my cast iron, I have just let them sit in the cupboard.

    • If you are a celiac, it may be worth tossing it. Even on celiac threads though, most people said they did fine with running it through the oven on a self clean cycle or putting it in the fire for a long time, then stripping and reseasoning.

  4. thank you so much for this article! Love your step by step approach!

  5. In step 6, do you place in the oven for 1-2 hours, with the oven on 325F? So, baking the fat/oil onto the pan?

    • Growing up in the hills of Tennessee, cast iron was a normal part of our everyday life. But I didn’t grow to appreciate it until I had a family of my own.

      Cast iron is porous so you don’t just put oil ‘on’ it, it’s also going in it. Sort of like having large pores!

      That is also why you should always preheat any cast iron prior to cooking.

      I have a dedicated cornbread skillet. I put a little Canola oil in it. Yea, I know, Im workin on that part. Anyway, put the skillet on the stove top, get it good and hot before adding bread batter. The batter should sizzle. Bake in preheated oven. Dump the bread onto a plate, wipe skillet out with paper towel and store in oven. That’s it.

      Also, you can cook tomato soup and the like in cast iron. The problem comes from storing foods such as this in the iron pot. Never, never store your leftovers in cast iron.

      When purchasing used cast iron at flea markets, yard sales, wherever, please pay close attention to the details. Many people have gotten ‘good deals’ on what they thought was antique cast iron. Sure, it might be old, but, if it was misused or abused, it may have been cracked or broken. They are patched up and painted black so you are unaware. You DO NOT want to cook in one of these!

      The first thing to check is to place it on a flat surface to check for warping. I also hold them up in the light to look for smoothed out “fixes”. When in doubt, don’t buy it.

      Teresa

  6. I will try and these suggestions as I had so e issues seasoning my cast iron cookware properly. I also didn’t want to use vegetable oil so I was wondering if coconut oil would work. So far I used bacon fat I had left over from cooking bacon. What are your thoughts on using bacon fat?

    • I like to use lard, so I think bacon fat would be fine! It’s basically lard…

  7. Hi I intend to buy a cast iron pan on Amazon and I’m documenting can I use olive oil and you saw that is new the cleanse only with salt and brush. Thank you if you answer me.

  8. Could olive oil be used?

  9. I’ve got a couple of pans and I’m not sure if they need seasoning, are seasoned properly, etc. Also, one of them is cast iron but is “coated” I think it’s called, with ceramic. My parents, who I got it from, say it doesn’t need to be treated the same way, and can be washed with soap (it’s this one: https://www.lecreuset.co.uk/shop-by-material/cast-iron)

    Any advice on how to tell if you need seasoning?

    • Don’t season Le creuset pans! It will ruin the ceramic coating. You have to be gentle with them, add a bit 9th fat when cooking etc. Follow the manufacturer suggestions for using/maintaining/cleaning it.

      • Oh yes good point….manufacturer’s instructions…just checked and they say to wash with soap and water, which we had been doing. But I DID season it about a year ago, and then, about 2 months ago, for no reason, it started really sticking. Any ideas? Pan has got to be 40+ years old.

  10. We have a cast iron pan and use it regularly. Sometimes we’ll use lard that we’ve rendered ourselves, but must often we just use coconut oil to season the pan and we just do it on the stove. When we’re finished cooking we simply put water in the pan and put it back on the stove, let the water get really hot (almost to a boil), then pour the water out. We use a natural loofah (that we grow ourselves) to scrub the pan and rinse. No dish soap ever touches the pan. We then place the pan back on the stove until all of the water has evaporated (the pan looks dry), take a good dollop of coconut oil (we use tropical traditions gold label) and use a paper towel to rub the inside of the pan completely. Turn off the stove and leave the pan on the burner to cool or just place it in the oven where we store the pan when not using it. Very simple, and it works.

  11. Are you sure cast iron is NON TOXIC? I shared your post on FB and I’m getting friends comments that cast iron IS toxic???!!!

  12. My cast iron pan has a wooden handle. Would it damage it to put it in the oven to season it? I’m wondering if I should do a stove-top method instead?

  13. Using grass-fed animal fats becomes much more economical if you are willing to render the lard or tallow yourself. I was able to get local grass-fed tallow and lard for under $2 per pound.

  14. I loooove my cast iron pan! I always used to season it with unrefined coconut oil but ever since I tried flax oil, I can never go back. When I use flax oil I find it equivalent to a Teflon non-stick pan.

  15. I am not sure what I have done wrong with my cast iron pans, but every time I try and season them, it doesn’t work. Everything sticks and I end up having to scrape everything out. My mom is the queen of cast iron and has told me numerous times what to do, I do it and same troubles…. and she lives 2400 miles away from me. 🙁 Her method is almost the same as Wellness Mama and I’ve also watched tutorials on YouTube. I bought the pans new in the mid 90’s and used them when we used to go camping every weekend with friends. Then we moved away and the pans sat in our camping storage bins in the garage for over 10 years. My husband pulled them out of the garage about 3 or 4 years ago and I used them almost daily now, even with all of the hassle. Any advice?

    • I have had the same trouble once or twice, following directions and ending with a sticky pan. I learned the problem was too much oil. I’d re-season with less oil. Worked on my pans! 🙂

  16. do you happen to know if the pre-seasoned lodge cast iron is done with gf oil or not? i just called and left a message to find out, but won’t likely get a call till tomorrow.
    thank you!

  17. I have been to,d that they come from China.
    They are going to use whatever is the cheapest.
    I Clean mine in my self cleaning oven, then cleans thoroughly, followed by several coatings of lard.
    Heat the pan first, then use paper towel to liberty wipe on lard, inside and out.
    Let cool and do it again. The more the better.

    • Original Lodge Cast Iron is made and seasoned in America. The enameled cast iron is enameled in China. I have both. They work great! Not sure about what type of oil they use. I reseasoned my cast iron after purchase based on other customer recommendations.

  18. I have read that you cannot use cast iron on a glass top stove. what are your thoughts on this?

    • I’ve never heard that before and I use mine on a glass top stove…

      • You do? without any problems? I think I recall it stating that the cast iron got too hot and could crack the glass.

  19. Hello!
    I was going to buy a Lodge cast iron dutch oven off of Amazon ( I am new to cast iron and recently cook with a skillet from them). I read their details about their products being pre seasoned. It states they use soy based vegetable oil. I’m wondering your thoughts about that. After reading your blog about soy (and vegetable oil ), I’ve been more consciousness of not buying products and food with soy in them. Basically, I’m thinking soy is being leached in my food every time I use my skillet? And do you think that stripping it of seasoning, then re-seasoning it will work or is the seasoning stuck in the pores forever? Thank you so much for all your hard work and helpful info!
    Jamie

    • Good question. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t use soy to season it, but most brands do (or other vegetable oils like canola). Even the really awesome older cast iron I’ve found at estate sales and antique sales may have been seasoned with it at some point. Whenever I’ve gotten a cast iron piece that was seasoned with a questionable oil (or that I didn’t know what had been previously used on it), I’ve just stripped and re-seasoned. I haven’t been able to find any evidence that the original oil would remain enough to be continuously leaching into food…

      • Great, thank you! I’ll re-season it and plan to add to my cast iron cookware :).

  20. When Lodge preseasonsthier cast iron it is with a soy blend to very very hot iron in a fine spray. The spray oxidizes to the metal and forms a carbon bound. This is the same as you do in your home seasoning but at a much higher temp and shorter time. All oils/fats used to season cast iron are changed at the molecular level by heat and oxygen. Chemically called oxidation. To use common folk were burning the oil/fat onto the iron. It binds to the iron and if you let it sit to long in the heat without apply more of the oil/fat it would completely oxidize and burn off. That is why the higher the temp you set the oven the shorter the time you leave it in at the temp by for letting it cool slowly or add another coat of your seasoning. As for what to use just ask yourself if you would cook with it and eat it. If so you can use it. Try to use stable oil that don’t go rancid easily. Flaxseed is not a good seasoning oil in about 6to 9 months heavy use it will flake off into your foods. Flaxseed is a food grade of linseed oil. I have used Crisco, bacon grease, lard, grape seed, PAM, vegetable oil (soy), coconut oil and had good luck with all on seasoning my cast iron collection, as a collector.