A Pro Chef Explains How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet, so It Lasts for as Long as Possible
Cast iron pans are unusual. They are a staple in the kitchen, but they are also frequently misused. Unlike any other kitchen appliance (most of which can go straight into the dishwasher or sink), cast iron requires TLC and attention to survive. But with the right preparation, you can do wonders with one pan, from curry to chicken to cornbread.
Cast iron cookware must be seasoned or baked with oil before you can use it. No, you don't add any seasoning - this seasoning is more like a polish that will keep your pan from rusting or sticking to food.
To find out the best way to flavor a pan, we reached out to Tonya Thomas, a food industry veteran and co-owner of the H3irloom Food Group, to guide us through the process.
First, why does cast iron cookware need seasoning?
"If you don't have a season, the problem is that it's going to rust," explains Thomas. "Any kind of moisture will damage the pan." Unlike other pans that can be used all the time, your pan must be monitored for signs of wear and tear. With proper care, your pan will basically last forever.
No, other cooking utensils do not need to be treated like this. But that's the beauty of cast iron - if you treat it well, you can make fantastic meals out of it. "When you season the pan, it's almost like having a coated pan," explains Thomas. "It just handles everything you prepare in that pan better."
What do you need to season cast iron?
You will need the following items that should be easy to find around the house:
Tissues or paper towels
Oil with a high oil content (such as thistle or rapeseed) or shortening
A sheet pan or aluminum foil
How to properly season cast iron
Image Credit: Hearst Owned
Follow these instructions with more detailed explanations below:
Preheat your oven to 350 ° F.
Wash your pan with soap and water.
Dry it completely.
Brush with oil or shortening.
Place the pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven.
Let it cool down before removing it.
Repeat the process up to three times.
Most importantly, preheat your oven to 350 to 375 degrees F. First, wash your cast iron pan with warm soapy water and scrub with a sponge if necessary. "Make sure you dry the pan [after] thoroughly," says Thomas. "It must be completely dry." Otherwise, the pan could be rusty.
"Then you want to coat it with the oil or shortening you want to use," explains Thomas. High oil content (a.k.a. oil that works well at high temperatures) or shortening is best to avoid smoking, but any oil can work if a pinch. Make sure to coat the entire pan, not just the inside, with a thin layer of oil.
Once your oven has warmed up, place the pan upside down on the middle rack. "The oil or shortening is dripping," warns Thomas, "so put a pan or foil under the pan to catch something." Let the pan bake for about an hour, then turn off the heat and let it cool before removing it.
When you have a new or well-seasoned pan, you should be ready. For a pan that is used frequently, repeat the process after a few meals. "To thoroughly season a pan, you have to work on it several times," says Thomas, who seasoned her cookware up to three times to achieve the desired finish. She recommends seasoning, then pan-frying a meal, wiping it off and baking again.
When should cast iron be seasoned?
If your pan looks dull, you notice rust, or wash it excessively, it's a good idea to season the pan again, says Thomas. The same is true the first time you buy your pan, although some may already be seasoned.
With proper cleaning and care, you can potentially spend a long time between spices. "Clean it with a towel, a little soapy water and a sponge that is not too abrasive, and then dry it off immediately," explains Thomas. "Make sure it is thoroughly dry."
And most importantly, don't dip your pan in water or leave it in the sink - this is a surefire way to ruin the condiment. (Dishwashers are also strictly prohibited.)
What is the best type of cast iron pan?
The right cast iron pan varies from cook to cook, but Thomas has a few favorites. For beginners and home cooks, she likes Lodge, a traditional brand that is basically synonymous with cast iron. For a high-end pan, Thomas prefers Butter Pat Industries, a Maryland-based brand that makes heritage-quality pans that can even be used on glass hobs.
If in doubt, vintage pans cast a century ago can still be used. "I love looking for old pans," says Thomas, who looks for them in yard sales and vintage stores. "I know the ones who created them back then were phenomenal and they remind me of my grandmother."
There isn't one pan that is perfect for you, but that's another element of cast iron's charm: with care and time, any pan could become the most important tool in your kitchen.
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