A cast iron pan is, probably, the best purchase you can make for your kitchen.
It is suitable for baking, searing, frying, and pretty much everything you want to prepare (well, almost). It’s like a magic pan.
Also it’s one of the healthiest cookware materials that exist.
But what makes it so great? I bet you know: the seasoning.
Seasoning is an essential process to keep your cast iron cookware in good condition. It’s what makes it a versatile and durable kitchen gear. It’s the secret behind the magic.
For years, people have used lard for seasoning cast iron. But, today, you can find many different oils in the market that provide even better results.
However, everyone has their opinions on which is the best oil for seasoning, making it hard to look for the right choice.
So, if you are new to cast iron and have no idea where to start, this post is everything you need.
Here you will find a complete guide on how to season a cast iron pan, what are the best cast iron seasoning oils, and how to take care of your cookware so it lasts forever.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
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What is cast iron seasoning?
Usually, when we hear the word seasoning, we instantly think about spices or anything for adding more flavor to our food. But in this case, it is different.
When it comes to cast iron cookware, seasoning (or curing) refers to the process of creating a protective coating with heated oil or fat.
And how does that happen exactly?
Well, we will explain the whole process in more detail later, but here’s what you should know:
For seasoning cast iron, all you have to do is cover the entire pan with oil and put it in the oven at a high temperature.
Then, the heated oil or fat will fuse to the metal by a process called polymerization. As a result, you get a dark non-stick layer that prevents the pan from rusting and creates a smooth surface for easy cooking and cleaning.
Nowadays, many brands like Lodge offer pre-seasoned pans and skillets, which are incredibly useful because you don’t have to do any of this process. They are ready to cook right out the box— and they feel amazing!
However, the protective layer of those pans will wear off over time. Especially if you don’t take proper care of them. That’s why you should be prepared to re-season and recover your cast iron pans.
All of this leads us to the next point:
Why you should season your cast iron cookware?
You probably see cast iron as a solid and durable material that is a joy for cooking. But, if it’s not seasoned, it’s a whole different story.
Raw cast iron has a rough grey-colored surface that rusts easily and is a complete nightmare to deal with. Everything sticks, everything burns, and the pan will quickly become a heavy, rusty piece of metal.
So, yeah, seasoning is necessary. And it is always recommended to do it yourself, even with pre-seasoned pans.
Fortunately, seasoning is a simple process that will make your cast iron cookware last for ages. The oil coating creates a smooth, uniform surface with non-stick and rust-resistant properties.
That black patina is like a non-toxic plastic that acts as a protective barrier to ensure that the pan stays in good shape for years to come.
The best part is that every time you cook with oil on a cast iron pan, you’re adding more layers to the seasoning, and so, enhancing its non-stick performance. That is the reason why so many people love cast iron cookware: the more you use it, the better it gets!
And what about old rusted pans? Is it possible to recover them?
Short answer: YES! You only need to scrub the surface in depth until you have cleaned up all the rust before washing and seasoning it. Lodge has a quick guide on how to do it.
Now, let’s move on to the fun part: seasoning.
The first thing you have to do is choosing the best oil. If you are not sure where to start, here are the most recommended options:
9 best cast iron seasoning oils
Honestly, you can season your cast iron cookware with any oil. As they all have pros and cons, the “right choice” will depend mostly on your personal preferences (and your budget, of course).
Nevertheless, there is a key factor you should consider before making any decision: the smoke point.
The smoke point of the oil is just the temperature at which it starts smoking. When seasoning cast iron, it is crucial to reach that temperature for polymerization to occur. Otherwise, the oil won’t break to adhere to the metal— and you won’t get the proper finishing.
Other factors might affect the seasoning, such as the amount of saturated and unsaturated fats, or even the flavor.
You might want to look for oils high in unsaturated fats because they stick easily to the molecules of cast iron. In theory, they create a better coating.
And what about animal fats?
Traditionally, people used animal fats for seasoning cast iron. For example, lard has been widely used over the years, even today.
However, animal fats are not the best option because they can go rancid if you don’t cook with the pan very often.
Besides that, they are usually high in saturated fats that don’t bond very well with cast iron. Therefore, although they work, they won’t give you outstanding results.
That said, vegetable oils are the preferred choice by many cast iron lovers. But, as you know, there’s a wide variety of oils in the market, and choosing the one that suits you might be difficult.
To save you some time, here’s a list of the best oils for seasoning cast iron:
Canola oil is one of the most popular oils for seasoning cast iron because it is affordable and readily available anywhere.
It has a high smoke point of 425° F (around 218° C) and it’s low in saturated fats.
That means it is great for seasoning as it bonds with the metal very well, creating a nice smooth surface.
Additionally, it’s suitable for sautéing, searing, roasting, frying, and baking.
Thanks to its effectiveness and high smoke point, it is one of the most recommended oils for seasoning cast iron.
Vegetable shortening is widely used for baking, but it’s great for seasoning cast iron as well because it creates a glossy, durable coating.
It has a smoke point of 360° F (around 182° C), which is a little low compared to other vegetable oils, but it is still a pretty decent number.
Of course, as you know, shortening is solid at room temperature, so you have to melt it to create a thin, even layer of fat.
To do that, heat the pan on the stove or in the oven at a low temperature. Once the pan is warm enough, the shortening will melt quickly, and it will be easy to spread all over the surface. You can use a lint-free cloth to do so.
Melted shortening is a wonderful alternative because it is functional, inexpensive, flavorless, and easy to find in the market.
Grapeseed oil is another popular and affordable option that provides very good results. Some people might even say that this is the best oil for seasoning cast iron.
It has a smoke point of 420° F (around 216° C) and is high in unsaturated fats. Additionally, it’s flavor neutral, so you don’t have to worry about any off-flavors in your food.
Due to its properties and high smoke point, grapeseed oil is not only useful for seasoning but also for frying, searing, roasting, baking, and sautéing. It’s versatile and readily available.
Virgin avocado oil has a super high smoke point of 520° F (around 271° C or so). That means it’s ideal for frying and cooking at high temperatures without any risk of damaging the seasoning.
Nevertheless, it can be pretty dangerous to heat a pan that much, so that’s something to think about.
One of the main pros of avocado oil is that it doesn’t have much flavor and it creates a resistant coating that will last for ages. Besides that, it’s full of nutrients and healthy fats that are good for your body.
On the downside, avocado oil is a very expensive choice compared to other options on this list. But, if you have the budget, it can be a great addition to your kitchen because it’s a healthy, versatile oil for cooking that you can even use as a salad dressing.
Sunflower oil is another excellent choice for seasoning cast iron because it has a high smoke point and is low in saturated fats.
Because of that, this oil is commonly used for frying but is suitable for many different purposes.
Note that, depending on the level of refinement, the smoke point varies. In this case, you should look for refined sunflower oil, which has a smoke point of 450° F (230° C).
On the contrary, unrefined oil has a low smoke point of 225° F (107° C). Make sure you choose the right one for your seasoning.
Peanut oil is mostly used in Asian cooking. It’s great for stir-frying, searing, and roasting. It might not be as common as other oils on the list, but it is just as effective.
Refined peanut oil has a smoke point of 450° F (230° C). Unrefined oils have a much lower smoke point of 320° F (160° C).
This is a good, mid-range choice because it’s not difficult to find and is not very expensive.
This is one of the most recommended oils for cast iron seasoning. In fact, many people say it’s the best because it gives a perfect finishing.
Flaxseed oil has a significant percentage of unsaturated fat, which is why it sticks so good to cast iron. With that in mind, it’s no surprise why it became so popular.
However, it has a low smoke point of 225° F (107° C), meaning that although it’s easy to heat for polymerization, it shouldn’t be used for cooking. On top of that, it’s not flavor neutral and is a very costly choice.
Given its incredible bonding power, some cast iron lovers recommend using flaxseed oil for seasoning your pans for the first time; and a cheaper oil for further coats.
Tip: for better results, you can go through 5 or 6 rounds of seasoning to ensure you end up with a slick, durable coating.
Palm oil is another good choice for cast iron seasoning because it is one of the most popular vegetable oils in the world. It has a smoke point of 455° F (235° C).
It’s semi-solid at room temperature and is tremendously versatile because of its high smoke point and odorless properties.
Soybean oil is, perhaps, the most consumed oil all over the world, so it’s easy to find. You probably already have it at home.
It is low in saturated fats and has a smoke point of 450° F (230° C). Soybean oil is perfect for cast iron seasoning and many other purposes like frying, baking, searing, and roasting.
How to season a cast iron pan
Once you have decided the kind of oil you’re going to use, you’re ready for the seasoning.
As you know, this is where the magic happens, and it’s the first thing you should do whenever you buy cast iron cookware.
Seasoning a pan is not complicated, but there are a few things you should consider.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
1. Wash the pan
No matter if it’s new or if it’s an old pan that has been passed on to you, the first thing you’re going to do is wash it by hand. For that, you can use steel wool, mild soap, and warm water.
Scrub the whole pan before pouring any oil on it. And don’t forget to wash the outside too!
Make sure you remove any soap residue before moving on to the next step.
2. Dry the pan thoroughly
Dry the pan exhaustively and put it onto the stove at low heat so the rest of the water and moisture boils off.
Remember that cast iron tends to rust, so you don’t want to leave any wet spots.
3. Cover the entire surface with a small amount of oil
After you’ve cleaned up the pan and it is completely dry, pour about a tablespoon of oil on the surface and spread it out. Use a lint-free cloth or paper towel (or just your fingers), and make sure to cover every single part of the pan, even the handles. You have to season both the inside and the outside to prevent rusting.
Note that you should create a very thin layer of oil. This is super important! Otherwise, you might get a gluey coating instead of a beautiful non-stick patina.
Remove excess oil with a paper towel to ensure a light, even coat.
4. Heat the pan in the oven past your oil’s smoke point
Now it’s time to heat the pan in the oven. You could use the stove too, but it’s not very reliable because it doesn’t heat the pan evenly.
Set a high temperature above the smoke point of your oil and place the pan upside down in the oven. This way you avoid the pooling of any excess oil that may be left behind.
Heat the pan for about an hour. Be ready to see (and smell) a lot of smoke, so keep the windows open to ensure good ventilation.
After that time, let it cool in the oven for another hour. Don’t try to handle the pan while it’s hot because you might get injured.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4
Most people recommend seasoning your pan multiple times to enhance the non-stick coating. Repeat steps 3 and 4 at least two times more or until you’re satisfied with the result.
Always remember to make thin layers. A thick layer of oil won’t give you a proper finishing, so you have to be careful and take all the hours you need to repeat this process several times.
Et voilà! Now you have a beautiful, dark-colored, non-stick pan that will last forever.
General recommendations after you season your cast iron for the first time:
- The first few times you use your newly seasoned cast iron pan, cook fatty meats such as bacon or beef. You can also roast some veggies or fry chicken to strengthen the seasoning.
- Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce if you have a brand-new cast iron pan. You have to build a solid seasoning before trying to cook acidic foods that can damage the metal.
- Clean the pan with warm water while it’s still hot. Avoid using soap the first time so you don’t affect the protective coating.
- A well-seasoned pan should never be sticky to the touch. If that happens to you, just put it in the oven for a longer time.
How to clean and maintain a cast iron pan
You’ve probably heard that you should never use any soap for cleaning cast iron cookware because you will mess with the seasoning. If that’s true, how do you clean it then?
Well, despite what many purists might think, using soap in small amounts won’t damage anything. You just need to know how to use it.
This is what you should do:
- Wash by hand with warm water
While the pan is still warm, use a paper towel to remove food and oil residues. Use a pan scrapper if needed and rinse with hot water.
If none of that works to get rid of stuck food, simmer a little bit of water to loosen the residues. After a minute, use the scrapper again.
Scrub the pan with a non-abrasive scrub pad or sponge. You can use a small amount of soap if you want. As long as you don’t use anything too corrosive, it won’t damage your seasoning.
- Dry instantly
Dry the pan thoroughly right after cleaning and heat it on the stove until all traces of moisture are gone.
Rub a minimum amount of oil on the pan (about ½ teaspoon) to create a light coating on the surface. Wipe the pan until it seems glossy and no oil residue remains.
Let it dry well and cool before storing.
Tips to keep your cast iron cookware like new:
- Use oil for cooking with it. Use it for frying, searing, and roasting. The more you use a cast iron pan or skillet, the better.
- Avoid cooking acidic foods frequently and for long periods. Especially if you don’t have an established seasoning. Nevertheless, you can cook some delicious tomato sauces or any other acidic food from time to time. Just make sure you don’t do it every week and for long hours.
- If you notice food starts sticking on the surface, it’s a sign you should re-season your cast iron cookware.
- Don’t soak the pan and always wash it by hand. Use mild soap if you want.
- While some people recommend seasoning your cast iron pan after every use, it’s not necessary. The frequency of your re-seasoning will depend on how much you use your cookware.
When treated with care, cast iron lasts forever. Plus, it only gets better and better in time.
Cast iron works with any heat source for a wide variety of purposes, and it’s also one of the healthiest materials to cook with. I love it!
However, although it is a versatile and durable material, it tends to rust easily if you don’t take the time to do a proper seasoning. Luckily, you can still recover a mistreated rusty pan and make it as good as new. But there’s no need to go there if you know how to maintain your gear.
Taking proper care of your cast iron cookware is not as hard as many people might think. The best advice to keep it in good condition is merely to use it. The more you cook with it, the stronger the seasoning becomes.
And yes, I know seasoning can sound intimidating at first, but now you know it is a simple process that you can do with any oil you like and is worth every second of your time.
In case you are planning to buy your first cast iron pan, I can recommend you Uno Casa cast iron pan or the finex skillet.
Spoiler alert: once you start cooking with a well-seasoned pan, you will fall deeply in love with cast iron!
Owner and Food blogger on The Cookware Geek. She loves cooking, baking, traveling, playing with the cats, and knitting. She believes that eating delicious meals doesn’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef in your kitchen.