There’s a lot of debate about which fats/oils are best for seasoning cast iron. Some say flaxseed and soy are best, while others prefer to stick to the fats our grandmothers likely used: traditionally rendered lard and tallow.
Personally, I prefer the second approach, but I’ve also added an additional healthy fat – coconut oil – to the list because it is more readily available than in our grandparents time. My beloved Ghi (pronounced “ghee”) would approve, I’m sure.
So, without further ado, I present the much-promised post on seasoning and caring for your cast iron pieces!
How To Season Cast Iron Cookware
Optional Preparation Step #1: If your cookware came pre-seasoned, take a look at the kind of oil that was used. In many cases it will be GMO soybean oil. If you’d like to remove this oil you can scrub the pan using the rust remover instructions below and re-season.
Optional Preparation Step #2: if your pan is brownish you may want to bake it at 400-450F for an hour prior to seasoning. Some people believe this helps develop a layer of magnetite, an iron oxide which is thought to be protective against corrosion. (source) Over time, cooking on high heat will also transition the pan from brown to black.
1. Using a paper towel, rub coconut oil, lard or tallow all over the inside and outside of the pan. Rub, rub, rub into every nook and cranny! Then take another paper towel and wipe the pan until it looks completely dry.
2. Place pan upside down in a cold oven and place a baking sheet or piece of foil underneath to catch drips. There shouldn’t be any if the pan has been wiped down enough, but just in case! Turn the oven on to 400 – 450F. When it reaches the desired temperature set a timer for 1 hour and allow it to bake. When the hour is complete, turn off the oven but don’t open the door. Allow the pan to cool for a couple of hours before removing.
3. Congratulations, you’ve just seasoned your cast iron pan! If after these steps you find that it is still sticking, repeat the process several more times. (Sometimes 5-6 cycles are needed). Also make sure to use a lot of healthy fats when cooking – that helps, too!
How To Clean Cast Iron Cookware
As you probably know, placing cast iron cookware in the dishwasher or washing with soap/detergent of any kind is a big no-no because it strips the surface. To clean your pan, simply scrub it with a stiff brush and some hot water – easy peasy!
Removing Rust From Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron is vulnerable to oxidation if not properly seasoned. Other activities, like cooking acidic foods such as tomato and boiling water can also accelerate oxidation. Here’s how to remove rust and restore the protective finish.
- Russet potato
- Baking soda or salt
- Coconut oil
The Method: Cut the potato in half. Dip the cut in in baking soda or salt and rub over rusted surface. If the end of the potato becomes slippery, cut off the tip and re-dip in baking/soda salt. Repeat until rust is completely removed, then immediately re-season the pan to prevent oxidation.
Looking For A Good Cast Iron Pan?
I like this one from Lodge for several reasons. It’s very affordable, made in America, and can go from stovetop to oven to table . . . not to mention the occasional campfire! Oh, and unlike easily chipped Teflon surfaces, cast iron can last several generations.
When your pan is ready, try these cast iron skillet recipes.
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I don’t know why anyone would want to use flaxseed oil as flaxseed (along with wheat germ oil) should never be heated.
Here’s a great site on the science behind seasoning cast iron. While I didn’t read every word as the science isn’t real interesting to me, my husband loved the science part. I used organic Flax seed oil and it worked perfectly. It took a few days to do all 6 seasonings but they’re now non stick pans. Some of my pans are new and some are old.
I was going to post a link to this very website! I love that she discusses WHY to use a certain oil and such. I like the science! I have yet to actually TRY her method because I haven’t ever had to officially season my pan. It’s just awesome already (thrift store find!). But if it ever develops problems or I pick up another one I’m gonna follow her recommendations to a T and test it out!
I too had read the science behind using flaxseed oil, then forgot the why and started questioning my use of it based on what I knew about it – that it’s not an oil you want to heat. But I had new 12″ skillet from Lodge that I had seasoned with another oil, possibly coconut, but that particular skillet had a bad habit of shedding tiny black specks ever time I rinsed it after using. I bought flaxseed oil and used that the next time I used and cleaned the skillet – and I’ve had no flecks of black since. I’m happy to find the link here – thanks!
There is a very good reason that some people use flaxseed oil for seasoning. Keep in mind that seasoning is NOT cooking. You’re right to think that you would never want to heat an oil that you’re going to EAT above its smoke point. The basic scientific principle at work in seasoning is the polymerization of fat onto the surface of the pan. Think of all the junk crusted onto the insides of your oven, the stuff that’s not going to come off without the aid of extremely caustic chemicals or extremely high heat.
Heating an oil above its smoke point for the purpose of seasoning triggers the release of free radicals and the polymerization of the fat into that hard, glassy surface that is so desirable for cooking. And just like the crusted-on grease spatters inside your oven, that hard polymer isn’t coming off without a good deal of effort (REALLY tough scrubbing, extremely high heat, or caustic chemicals). So, there’s no worry about it getting into your food.
This is why you want to use an oil with a lower smoke point for seasoning – it forms a harder polymer on the surface of the iron.
Now, as for cooking, you definitely want to use healthy cooking fats like coconut oil, lard, tallow, butter, etc.
I do actually use flaxseed to season/reseason my new pieces. The surface is so smooth is hard to go back to more traditional methods. That being said I probably use bacon fat in between because its easy and on hand. EVOO is also quick to swab down after cleaning. Not sure about coconut oil, but probably in the future it will be added to the list of easy oils to use.
We clean the rust off by using the self-clean feature in our oven. Its often hotter than the top temperature on the knob and easy to set and let go. In the summer-with windows and doors open. Also steel wool and green scrubby pads to get it back down to the silver base.
Cleaning is hot water and a dish brush or salt and a paper towel (if the husband has cooked). Its done while the meat is resting or right after dinnner is cooked, before the pan cools down all the way. Rarely do you need to scrub if it hasn’t gotten cold.
This has happily kept our original set of cheap China made cast iron working well enough to be replaced with better pieces of Lodge and Wagner in the past couple years. I’ve only to replace the griddle to complete the kitchen set.
The self clean method on your oven is really dangerous. You are supposed to evacuate your children and pets when you run it, which should say enough about it.
That depends on what oven cleaner you use. Conventional ones are toxic. Natural ones are not.
I don’t think it is ever recommended to use cleaning products when using a self clean cycle on an oven.
All instructions I’ve seen have been to not use any. Just make sure nothing is in the oven that you don’t want destroyed (sometimes it is even recommended to take the racks out, but not necessarily), and set the self clean setting.
Yes fumes caused by the grease, etc in the oven and the extremely high heat can definitely occur, and can cause irriatation. But I don’t think there should be any cleaners in the oven when using the feature.
Plus never soak your pan in water.Always wash it up and dry it right away.It will help keep the rust away also.
I was just going to ask that!
I have a Le Cruset cast iron griddle that needs to be re seasoned. Will this method harm the ceramic outside?
I recently got my grandmother-in-law’s cast iron skillet. She just moved from her home into an assisted living apartment. I found the skillet when cleaning out her old kitchen, which was disgusting! I have no idea what kind of creepy crawlies were in her house, so I need to clean this thing really well! How do I go about deep cleaning the skillet without ruining it? After cleaning it, do I do as described in the post or something additional?
Also, I thought coconut oil was for medium heat only? I’m new to all this stuff and I feel like I can’t keep all the info straight!
I just tried using coconut oil to season it, and it smoked up my whole kitchen… ? I had this same thought veggie, but decided to push through to follow the directions here… And now I’m clearing out my house from all the smoke.
I’m having the same smoking issue at 415 with coconut oil. What alternatives did anyone else use? I don’t have any flaxseed oil on hand.
I am new but I just enjoyed the real food on a budget post.. off to read some more…
Can you only use a stiff brush and hot water or can you use a stainless steel pot scrubber?
I’ve used a stainless steel scrubber with no problem 🙂
Sorry for another comment, but I read somewhere that you should oil them after each wash, is this correct?
Hi Nichole, it really depends on whether the surface is sticking or not. I cook using a lot of oil which constantly re-coats the surface, so I don’t find this step to be necessary.
Thanks so much for your replies!!
I don’t oil mine after washing because I have had too many experiences with pans being disgustingly tacky and tasting of somewhat rancid oil when using other peoples cast iron. So if you DO choose to oil your pan I would say use a VERY small amount and wipe the pan out until it looks dry just as you would in the directions above. I’ve also not had any problems with rust so it hasn’t needed it. I just wash it out (usually hot water and a scrubby but I use soap when the pan is particularly greasy like after bacon if I didn’t cook eggs afterwards. Eggs are GREAT grease removers! And yum!) and then turn it upside down over the hot burner (thats just where the pan lives because I use it for almost everything I cook.)
I have two Lodge cast iron pans that I have had about a year and a half and have yet to use them! I guess I’m a little intimidated by them because I have never cooked with cast iron before and I didn’t grow up around a mom or grandmother who used it either. I always use my stainless steel pans for everything. I really need to break out the cast iron though!
Coconut oil CAN withstand high heat and is perfect for treating cast iron, and grapeseed oil can, too. Other oils (including olive oil) become denatured (rancid) at high heat. That bad fat causes cellular inflammation which causes disease.
I use rendered lard from our pork. Not very fancy but kitchen smells like bacon!
What oil was used to season the Lidge cast iron that you recommend? On Amazon it says pre seasoned but doesn’t say with what.
I was going to buy a Lodge cast iron skillet and they use GMO soybean to season it with. I am not sure what year they started doing that.
i believe in her article she is saying that you can use the same method to remove the bad seasoning, as you would to remove rust. “Optional Preparation Step #1: If your cookware came pre-seasoned, take a look at the kind of oil that was used. In many cases it will be GMO soybean oil. If you’d like to remove this oil you can scrub the pan using the rust remover instructions below and re-season.”
Here, check this site out. It’ll tell you the different ways to clean your iron.
Just bought a set of cast iron cookware and no instructions were included!
Hi, I am just bougth a lodge set, and seasoned them. But today I used one of them and everything is sticking, I put a lot of coconut oil and I make an egg to prove. I dont know if maybe I have to wait for them to be cool to wash. Please can you tell me what I’ve done wrong and what can I do for the next time.
Hi Fran! Sounds like you probably need to season it a few more times. It can take several coats 🙂
I have just started cooking with cast iron. I have noticed some black residue on my eggs from the pan. Should I be concerned about this? What can I do to keep this from happening? Thanks for all the information 🙂
Hi Melanie! If you bought your cast iron new you might contact the manufacturer to see if they can tell you why it’s happening. I personally have never had that happen so I don’t know. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.
I love cast iron cookware, but didn’t know how to season it or remove rust, this is awesome. I pinned it!:
I’m restoring two old pieces of cast iron, old Wagners. I scrubbed them clean and have been seasoning them repeatedly with lard following these directions, but the surface looks uneven, almost like the fat is pooling in little dots. I’m wiping them down and seasoning them upside down, not sure why it looks like that! Anyone have any ideas or advice?
Great read! My husband and I are looking into getting some cast iron cookware. Pinned this for my entry also!
Amber Rose Hoiska
Karen Lukens! 🙂
Thank you! Mine just rusted and didn’t know how to fix it
Beth DiFebo Durham
Good to know!
I love the million ways and advice people have for keeping CI seasoned. I use Lodge’s advise but …truth be told only one thing can ruin CI RUST and even that can be fixed. These things are indestructible 🙂 http://www.lodgemfg.com/useandcare/seasoned-cast-iron
Miriam Huggard Phillips
I like this way to remove the rust!
I’m in the process of this now except I’m using flax seed oil which was suggested in another tutorial. I’ve got one more cycle and I can’t wait! My pans look fantastic!!!!
Brian N Casey Haggard might be good knowledge for Gabe, one of the best things we ever bought, a cast iron wok!
Brian N Casey Haggard
We have several cast iron things. He knows how to do it all 😉
I have le creuset pans that stick like nobody’s business. Can I do this to them?
Jennifer Schening-Walikonis – Are you referring to their enameled cookware? If so, this method will not work, sorry!
Thanks for posting!
Stupid question can I use bacon fat, it’s basically tallowish
Coryann Pittman – Not a stupid question at all. Our grandmothers used it often for this purpose 🙂
Thanks mommypotamus !
Jennifer Berndt Huff
So, do you have to re-season it after each wash?
Jennifer Berndt Huff – No, it can usually go a long time between seasonings.
And do you think I can use butter (or ghee)? I am worried that if I use coconut oil, then my eggs will taste like coconut oil too. Not a fan of that (unfortunately for me!!!!)
Amanda @ Mommypotamus Support
Ghee might be a possibility, but I wouldn’t use butter due to the fragility of milk proteins. I use expeller-pressed coconut oil rather than virgin coconut oil. It doesn’t taste like coconut in my opinion. Hope that helps!
Butter should not be used as it’ll go rancid. You also can’t heat it to 500 degrees, which is the temp at which I cure my pans. You can get coconut oil that doesn’t have any taste to it. Nutiva, find at Costco, among other places, has no taste to it.
If your frying pan looks uneven, it is probably old and has rust hidden under the surface. I have found the absolute BEST way to clean the pan is to put it in the oven and turn on the self-cleaning function. Open the windows. Leave the house if you feel the necessity. Your grand and great grand parents used to throw their pan in the fireplace. I have done that also. It will remove the old detrious from the pan. I have actually seen sparks coming out from under an old, nasty pan. This could be a fire hazard. After the pan has been cleaned then refinish it with flaxseed or bacon fat or…..
Coconut oil will not leave flavor on the pan. Coconut oil is the NUMBER 1 oil to use in cooking. It is even better for you than olive oil and that is saying something. Look it up!
I have cooked with cast iron all of my life. I dry my cast iron on the stove until the water evaporates after cleaning (just turn the burner on to high for a minute, then turn off and let the skillet sit) and then lightly oil while still warm. I love my cast iron and they will last longer than I will!
Thank you so much for this info! I followed your directions exactly and my cast iron pan came out wonderfully! I had previously tried to season it but it never worked as well. I had almost retired my pan, but thanks to this post, it’s now my go-to pan!
Yay! So happy to hear that!
Thank you for this post! …I need your thoughts however! I got a new, preseason end skillet, used it once (after washing), washed it and was drying it with a white cloth and the cloth was getting black all over it! Why would this be and what should I do?? Re-season?
I recently bought a Lodge cast iron 5 piece set I must have miss understood what I read so what I did before using I rubbed oil in the pans than put the oven on of course the house smoked up and the pans now have burned spots in the bottom I hope that I have not ruined them. Can I now take a steel wool pad and scrub it and start oven. Did I not need to do anything to them.
HI Heather, i tried your method but when i used coconut oil, it smokes up my whole house. I have a 15 month old and i don’t want to risk it. She started coughing when the smoke is in the air.
I wonder if coconut oil may not be the best to use?
I’m having the exact same problem, hopefully we get a response soon!
Scroll back to earlier comments and read about the science behind using flaxseed oil. It rescued a 12″ skillet of mine that was shedding black flecks after seasoning with another oil.
Thanks for the info about how to season cast iron cookware and the best fats/oil to season it. Its been really interesting your article and i’ve to say i loved it. Thanks again for the info you added.