The cast iron pan or skillet is considered by experts to be the best pan ever, because it can hold heat for a long time. A cast iron pan with grooves as a grill pan stores the heat for about four times longer than a grill pan made of stainless steel. Pure cast iron pans have no coating, so the roasted aromas can develop freely. With the frequency of use, a cast iron pan develops a patina that acts as a natural non-stick coating. We outline step by step how to season cast iron skillets, reseason them if needed and how to treat problems with them.
How to season cast iron skillets: Background
A cast iron pan gives off iron. This is not harmful to the body. In contrast, stainless steel gives off nickel, which some people are allergic to. If you take good care of a cast iron pan, you can buy it for a lifetime. When buying a cast iron pan, you have the choice between coated and uncoated models. An uncoated cast iron pan rusts a little, but is scratch and cut resistant and is suitable for all types of stoves: gas, ceramic, electric, induction cooking and for grilling, so most chefs would advise you to get an uncoated one and follow our steps for how to season cast iron skillets.
Great-grandmothers used to prepare their meat in the cast iron pan, roast in the cast iron pan and cook fried potatoes in the cast iron pan. With the introduction of the lightweight Teflon pans, the cast iron pan fell out of fashion. Recently, however, top chefs swear by the relic of old times especially for how to cook the perfect steak.
Cast iron consists of an iron alloy with a large proportion of carbon. To make a cast iron pan, the iron is melted at 1400 degrees. The liquid iron is then poured into the desired shape. When the mold has cooled down, the pan is removed, the burrs sanded off and the cast iron pan polished. This is followed by baking or enamelling or the pan is only given a protective layer so that it does not rust during its storage time. In addition to the classic cast iron pan, there are also enamelled cast iron pans. Such pans do not have to be seasoned. They are ready to use straight away. No patina forms and they are lighter than a pure cast iron pan.
Cast iron pan or wrought iron pan?
A cast iron pan, as the name cast iron suggests, is not a hand-forged cast iron pan, it is cast. A hand-forged cast iron pan is excluded. An iron pan is hand-forged in a forge. Wrought iron pans are shaped with a hammer. The material is thinner and therefore lighter than cast iron and, above all, cheaper. Wrought iron or cast iron pan? Iron pans take a long time to heat up. They can cope with high frying temperatures, develop a patina and are considered robust and durable. However, a wrought iron pan can warp if there is a large difference in temperature.
What is seasoning cast iron and how do you do it?
As one of the most durable, dependable cooking methods ever, there is no reason anyone should be intimidated with cast iron. After all, it has been tried and tested by pioneers to professional chefs over the centuries. But before you jump into a lifelong relationship with a cast iron pan, you need to season it first, especially if you plan to use it for grilling fish correctly
Yes, a cast iron pan has to be ‘seasoned’ … But what does that actually mean? Seasoning is a simple process that gives the pan a tough protective layer of oils and fats. This layer protects the pan from rust and at the same time develops non-stick properties.
Seasoning happens when fats are heated to a certain point, causing them to reorganize into something that resembles a plastic coating and bond with the metal. This coating is smooth and smooth so that food can easily peel off the pan. Cast iron is the original non-stick cookware.
Often, the fats come from oils, although anything from bacon fat to shortening can add flavor depending on the intended use. We like this explanation by cookbook author Anne Byrn from her recent “Skillet Love”: “Oil is the pan’s best friend. It protects it and is insensitive to moisture, which can cause rust. Think of oil on a pan like moisturizer on your skin. … Heat plus oil builds up the patina and naturally prevents your pan from sticking.” This is why in the question of ‘cast iron pan how to season?’ you should follow these steps easily.
The cast iron pan from many brands these days is delivered ready to use and you can use it directly to prepare delicious dishes. Nevertheless, you should season them regularly. Even a brand new pan needs a little TLC before deep-frying its first egg, and that doubles up when you hang a vintage cast iron pan on a tag sale or inherit a used pan. So it stays with you for a long time and retains its non-stick properties. In addition, your pan gets its very special character through the seasoning.
To see if your pan is seasoned properly, our kitchen expert chef Kelly Yorke recommends this test: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat for 3 minutes, then fry an egg. If there isn’t any major buildup, your seasoning is good.
It improves with age. If you’re scared of cooking in cast iron because you don’t want to mess up the seasoning, this is exactly the wrong approach. The more you cook in cast iron, the more condiments will build up. However, it takes time. “It’s a natural process,” says Kelly. “You have to be patient.”
If you’re wondering whether vintage cast iron or newly made cast iron is better in terms of seasoning, it comes down to personal choice. Older pieces that have been widely used and well cared for have a superbly established flavor. However, these heirloom frying pans (and some newer boutique brands as well) tend to be smoother than some current cast iron with the more pebbly surface.
According to Kelly, “If the surface isn’t as smooth as glass, the seasoning on the pan has a better chance of getting into the crevices and forming its own barrier to water.” So a smoother pan can be considered desirable, but you should be aware of the possible differences as it takes longer to achieve and also applies to
using the pan for barbecue grilling.
How to season cast iron skillets: step-by-step for 2 methods
How to season cast iron skillets: Method 1
- Gently scrub the cast iron pan with detergent and water, then rinse and allow to dry completely.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place it on the lower rack of the oven.
- Using a paper towel, wipe the pan evenly on all sides (inside and outside) with a very light layer of vegetable oil, rapeseed oil or melted vegetable fat. These are all fats with high smoke points, which means they will bake off cleanly instead of becoming sticky. Don’t use olive oil or butter to season your cast iron pan – they are great for cooking, not for seasoning it for the first time.
- Place the pan on the top rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the pan cool in the oven while the oven cools. This process of baking on top of a layer of oil builds up the pan’s naturally protective patina, smooths out the rough texture of the cast iron and creates a non-stick surface with no chemicals sprayed on.
- Repeat as desired; A single seasoning mix is enough to get you started, and the pan will continue to build up its flavor while you cook with it. For a spicy bonus, cook bacon, thick pork chops, or a steak in the pan for the first round. The natural fats in this meat will work wonders on its finish.
How to season cast iron skillets: Method 2
Make sure the pan is clean and dry.
Use a paper towel to very lightly coat the pan with canola cooking oil.
Place upside down in the preheated oven for 2 hours.
Remove — with an oven mitt.
Let it cool down.
Preheat when baking
For the best results when baking in your cast iron pan, almost always – though there are a few exceptions – you need to preheat it. While you might be tempted, don’t put your unbaked batter in a chilled pan and then put it in the oven. It will likely lead to sticking. I learned that the hard way when I tried to bake a Tibetan flatbread on my stove in my unheated cast iron pan. My bread was almost immobile. The cleanup was misery; my cast iron endured, but not without a rather annoying effort to get it back in proper condition … which meant reseasoning it.
How to reseason cast iron skillet or pan
Reseasoning cast iron skillets is necessary if the pan has already been used or you need to reseason it because it has lost its seasoning.
- First, remove the rust or burnt-in residue before seasoning. This works best with a mixture of salt and oil which, after careful rubbing in, is rinsed and scrubbed under running hot water.
- Now you can apply a very thin layer of oil to all surfaces of the pan.
- Wipe off the excess and bake the pan in the oven over medium heat for a few hours.
- Then let it cool down.
- Repeat the process a few times so that the oil can set in the material.
- Regular cooking with fats and oils maintains the important protective layer.
How to season cast iron skillets: Extra tips
Use your pan regularly to keep the oil from going rancid
Please only clean without detergent – after all, the oil layer should be preserved. Cleaning a seasoned cast iron pan is as easy as washing it up – wipe it with a clean washcloth or soft sponge under very hot water, then dry it off thoroughly. To add some extra love to the pan, rub the clean pan with a very thin layer of vegetable oil or canola oil and place on medium heat for a few minutes.
Fixing a damaged cast iron pan
It happens to even the hardest of chefs – you just turn away from your eggs for a moment and burn them to the bottom of your cast iron pan. Or a few stray water stains have covered your pan with a layer of rust. No panic! While a cast iron pan can break irreparably if you put a hot pan in cold water to clean it, most other problems have an easy solution.
Cast iron pan cleaning
If burnt food remains stuck to the pan:
For a gentle but effective exfoliation, tip the spa and use salt! Add plenty of kosher salt or coarse sea salt to the pan and scrub with a clean, damp washcloth or paper towel. For particularly stubborn stains, use a plastic pan scraper to remove the burnt food from the pan. Stay away from steel wool, scouring pads, or detergent scrubs, which can remove the seasoning.
How to clean cast iron skillet rust
If your pan has rusted or if acidic food like tomato sauce or vinegar has removed the seasoning, follow these steps.
- Use a gentle detergent scrub like Bon Ami to remove rust or acidic stains.
- Rinse well and dry thoroughly.
- Rub the unseasoned, scrubbed parts of the pan with vegetable oil, canola oil, or melted vegetable shortening. Depending on the number of unwanted spots on the pan and their position, you can bake the pan on the stove or in the oven.
- For small spots inside the pan, place on a stove burner over medium heat and heat for 10-15 minutes until the oil is browned.
- Turn off the burner and leave the pan on the burner until it cools completely.
- For larger stains or if the stains are on the bottom or the outside of the pan, bake in a 350-degree oven as described here, place the pan on the top rack of the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes.
If you want to start over with an old cast iron pan
- This is the one case when you want to go to town with steel wool.
- Scrub the pan inside and out to remove any remaining seasoning (and anything that has burned onto the pan over the years) until you see the natural unfinished grayish-blue iron.
- Wash the pan with a little washing up liquid and water, then dry it completely.
- Follow these seasoning instructions, repeat 2-3 times until the pan is blackened to a familiar cast iron sheen.