One might hear the phrase “seasoning cast iron” and think, “what do I salt it or something?”
Seasoning is the application of oil to bare cast iron, then going beyond the smoke point of said oil to create a polymerized layer; a protective coating commonly referred to as seasoning.
And old friend of mine might say, “Is this seasoning process really necessary?” I say wholeheartedly yes. A good seasoning creates a non-stick layer to your cookware, makes it easier to cook and clean your cookware, and protects the cast iron from rusting.
So what do we use for seasoning? Really, anything you want. Most professionals I see use Crisco , and I personally prefer it for seasoning. You can use Crisbee Pucks, Canola, Safflower, Avocado oil, lard, beef tallow, and the list goes on. I suggest you Google “oil smoke points” to obtain a chart of smoke points for different oils.
So how to we begin the seasoning process? First, you need a clean piece of bare iron, meaning any previous gunk, or seasoning layers will be removed. First the piece is cleaned in lye, and possibly also through an electrolysis tank to remove rust. Then, clean the piece with Dawn Soap and cold water (hot is okay as long as the piece is not flash rusting), Scotch Brite Stainless, and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, Extra Durable version. Additionally, you can use stainless steel brushes for tough pieces, or crevices such as waffle irons. I personally do not recommend using any power tools or wire wheeling. Never clean cast iron in a fire. I do not recommend using the self-clean oven method because this method can do damage to both your oven, and the iron by cracking it or causing heat warping, and/or rendering the iron unable to hold a seasoning layer. Once you start cleaning the iron, you’ll need to at least get to the point of putting the oil on the iron, or you’ll need to put the piece back in the tank to prevent rust.
Once the initial dirt comes off, use the magic eraser and some Dawn to go over the piece until no more visible dirt is coming off, and you see greenish tint on your sponge. Then quickly dry the piece with paper towels or shop towels. If you have a gas stovetop, quickly heat the piece just enough to get a layer of Crisco or oil on the piece. I really like the blue shop towels for glass. I recommend oiling the piece before heating if you have an electric stovetop, because you’ll need to heat your pan initially in the oven, and that may be just enough time to start flash rust.
Seasoning in a Gas Oven Vs. Electric
Here’s where it gets tricky. Gas ovens put off moisture, and this can be a problem at lower temperatures, as it can cause the piece to have spotting and rusting in the oven. I recommend starting a gas oven off at around 275F. Once it’s heated, take a heavy towel and wipe any visible moisture off the glass, be careful and use a pot holder. Also, pop the door open periodically to let any excess moisture out. Gas ovens tend to climb in temperature quickly, therefore, a graduated temperature approach is recommended, commonly referred to as the 200/300/400 method, but we’re going to go higher and do 275/375/475-500 at the end.
Also, you’ll heat your piece on the stove-top and apply a liberal layer of Crisco with a pastry brush or paper towel. Let it sit until it cools completely, preheat the oven to 275F in the meantime. Once the piece cools down, you are going to wipe, wipe, wipe all the Crisco off with the blue shop towels until the piece looks dry. Then wipe it a few more times… Place in the 275F oven for 15-20 minutes. Then gradually raise the temperature by putting the dial on 375. Heat for another 20 minutes. Then put the dial to 475 and that’s where you’ll do the pan for about 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I’ll finish off at 500. Let the piece cool down in the oven. Do the process over again for additional coats. I usually do 2-3 coats.
You’ll need to oil your piece cold, then heat it in the oven at about 250 for 15 minutes, this will be an additional step. Once you take it out of the oven, you’ll let it cool down. Once it cools down, you are going to wipe, wipe, wipe all the Crisco off with the blue shop towels until the piece looks dry. Then wipe it a few more times…
Start off around 250. Nothing additional needs to be done, as electric ovens heat more slowly and do not produce moisture. Once the pan has heated for about 15 minutes, increase the dial to 450-475 and monitor. Graduated temperature method is optional. Once the oven is up to 475, season the pan for 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I’ll finish off at 500. Let the piece cool down in the oven. Do the process over again for additional coats. I usually do 2-3 coats.
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