The Best Way To Season Cast Iron Pans Is Surprisingly Easy

woman's hand putting empty cast iron skillet into oven

With Proper Care, Your Cast Iron Pan Will Last Forever

I recently learned about a new way to reheat leftover pizza that involves steaming it in a covered cast iron skillet. And since we have pizza about once every other week, my cast iron skillet has been seeing more action than usual over the past couple of months!

But reheating pizza is far from the only useful thing you can do with a good cast iron skillet, pan, or any other type of cookware! In fact, a couple of years back I wrote a whole post about the many benefits of cooking in cast iron (check it out here).

As long as you care for it properly, a well seasoned cast iron pan can last for generations! “Well seasoned” is the operative phrase here, because keeping cast iron properly seasoned is the best way to keep it in good working order. Today, we’ll be exploring exactly what it means to season cast iron and how to do it.

hand in an oven mitt putting a cast iron skillet onto a glass surface stovetop

The Basics Of Cast Iron Care

What Is Seasoning?

The “seasoning” of cast iron refers to a layer of baked-on oil and fat that adheres to the cast iron surface through a process called polymerization. The polymerized oil layer gives cast iron its signature black patina, creates a non stick coating that helps food release more easily from the cooking surface, and it helps prevent rust too.

Today, new cast iron skillets come pre-seasoned, which means they are ready to cook with as soon as you take them out of the box. Most people only need to worry about maintaining their cast iron’s seasoning, rather than starting from scratch.

Maintaining And Treating Cast Iron

The best way to season cast iron or maintain it over time is to cook with it regularly! Every time you cook with oil or fat in cast iron cookware, you reinforce that seasoned layer. (Keep in mind that certain behaviors and conditions can weaken cast iron seasoning, including extremely high heat, highly acidic foods like tomatoes, and overly aggressive scrubbing.)

Related: How To Clean Cast Iron Cookware The Right Way

In addition to cooking in it regularly, you can also season a cast iron pan using your oven, and I’ll show you how to do that below. Using this oven method a few times a year can help you build and maintain a strong, even layer of seasoning and keep your cast iron in good condition.

woman's hand rubbing the inside of a cast iron skillet with a paper towel

How To Season Cast Iron In Your Oven

You’ll need:

  • Scrub brush or sponge
  • Dish soap
  • Paper towels
  • Vegetable oil
  • Tin foil (optional)

Directions:

1. Clean The Pan

Start by washing the pan with warm, soapy water and a scrub brush, if necessary. (Normally you wouldn’t want to clean your cast iron quite so thoroughly in order to keep the seasoning intact, but that’s not a concern here as you’ll be reinforcing it shortly.)

2. Dry It Thoroughly

Once your cast iron pan or skillet is clean, dry it thoroughly using a clean dish towel or a few paper towels. It’s important to make sure it’s completely dry before moving on to the next step, because lingering moisture can lead to rusting, and that’s not what you want.

3. Coat With Oil

When the cast iron is dry, pour a bit of vegetable oil onto a paper towel and use it to spread a thin, even layer of oil over the surface of the pan. Be sure to cover the outside of the pan too, and not just the inside.

Be thorough without using too much oil. If the layer of oil is too thick, it may not polymerize correctly.

4. Bake The Cast Iron Pan

Next, place your cast iron pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven, and bake it at 400°F for about an hour. (The oil shouldn’t drip, but it wouldn’t hurt to place a sheet pan on the lower rack of your oven, just to be safe.)

5. Let It Cool

After baking the pan, turn off the oven and leave the pan inside to cool. Once it’s cool enough to handle, it’ll be properly seasoned and ready to use.

small pitcher of cooking oil being poured into a cast iron skillet full of salt

BONUS: What’s The Best Oil To Season Cast Iron Skillets?

While the method above uses vegetable oil, that isn’t the only oil or fat you can use to season cast iron cookware. In fact, technically, you can use any cooking or oil fat to maintain the seasoning.

For many years, people used lard for seasoning cast iron, but that may not be the best choice for you if you don’t cook with your cast iron pan(s) very often. (Animal fats like lard are prone to spoiling if they’re allowed to sit around for too long.) Lodge, the longest-running cast iron manufacturer in the U.S., recommends using vegetable oil, shortening, or canola oil, because they’re less likely to spoil than animal fats.

Flaxseed oil is another popular option for seasoning cast iron, due to its low smoke point of 225°F. That means flaxseed oil polymerizes more readily than other oils, but it’s also more expensive, less widely available, and has a more distinctive smell.

Regardless of which oil or fat you choose to use, make sure you know what its smoke point is. You’ll have to heat the pan to that temperature in order for it to polymerize correctly and create that strong layer of seasoning you’re looking for.

More questions or queries about cast iron? Lodge’s troubleshooting guide is a very helpful resource for navigating almost any cast iron conundrum!

What do you like to cook with cast iron?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • I usually wash, dry, bake (to make sure it’s completely dry) then apply olive oil all over. Do you see any problem with this method? Also, I have never oiled my pan’s bottom. Am I supposed to do that side too? Never even considered it before typing this comment.

  • I have found that the best oil to use is flaxseed oil. It’s low smoke and it hardens harder and does a better job. Place foil on rack and after applying the thin even coat of oil place pan upside down and bake 1 hour at 400 degrees F.

    • Flaxseed oil is my choice as well! After using the pan, I give it a good scrub/rinse (with a few drops soap only if necessary) with water then put it back on the stove top to heat and become thoroughly dry, takes only minutes. I let the pan cool a little, keeping it as hot as I can safely handle, and with a paper towel spread an even thin later of flaxseed all over. If I apply too much I just wipe the excess away with a fresh paper towel. I leave it to cool completely and then put it away. I cook almost exclusively with cast iron and this hasn’t let me down.

  • I can attest to the fact that if you care for your cast iron it will outlive you. I’m 62 years old and inherited my mom’s, my grandmother’s, and my great grandmother’s skillets. They’re all different sizes, so they get used quite regularly. Great article – I’ll be sure to point people here for directions.

  • How do I get rid of the huge buildup of oil on the outside of the pan? It’s so thick I’m tempted to take a knife to it but it’s also very hard after years of my partner having it on so high the fat spatters everywhere.

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