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How to Season Cast Iron Skillets, Pans, and Dutch Ovens

I enjoy cooking with cast-iron pans and Dutch ovens. When used properly, cast iron can last for generations.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet

Cast Iron Benefits

Cooking with cast iron has many benefits. Due to its nature, the heat is dispersed evenly, helping cook food more evenly. Cast iron also releases iron into the food in small amounts, which is very healthy for a balanced diet.

There are other benefits too. When seasoned properly, cast iron has a natural non-stick property so that your food will not stick to the pan.

Another great feature is that it is very easy to clean and does not require the use of soap or detergent. The pans can be easily cleaned by running hot water and using a soft brush lightly to scrape off any remaining food material.

Occasionally some food will stick, but this can be removed by boiling water for a few minutes and then scrubbing lightly with a scrub brush.

NOTE: Never use dish soap or scrub with abrasives such as steel wool or copper scouring pads on a seasoned cast iron pan. This will surely ruin the finish!

Cast iron comes in many shapes and sizes. (Look at the chart further down this article to see a variety of different pans, sizes and styles, and average price.) It will last over a hundred years if it is properly taken care of. I personally buy from Lodge Cast Iron Cookware, an American manufacturing company.

The Two Basic Needs of Cast Iron Are:

  • Proper seasoning and occasional re-seasoning
  • Proper cleaning and storage

If you keep your cast iron pans clean, well-seasoned and stored in low humidity, you will be able to pass these down as an heirloom to your great-grandchildren!

NOTE: Do not use acidic foods in your cast iron pans as they may eat the finish you worked so hard to create! Avoid foods like tomatoes, tomato sauce, certain beans, and any other food that has a high level of acid!

Different Types of Cast Iron Cookware

*Sizes and Prices vary by manufacturer

Type of PanAverage Price (USD)

Skillet

$11 to $35

Grill Pan (A skillet with ridges on the cooking surface to wick away fat and grease)

$30 to $40

Pan Covers

$10

Griddles (Round or Square)

$23 to $72

Fryers

$56

Dutch Ovens

$40 to $100

Bakeware

$10 to $40

Outdoor Camp Dutch Ovens

$44 to $100

A cast iron Dutch oven

A cast iron Dutch oven

Proper Seasoning (Curing) Techniques

If you want your cast iron to live forever, then the first step is to season the pan properly. Proper seasoning creates a seal in the metal which will keep out rust and eventually lead to a "patina" finish which prevents food from sticking.

The seasoning process occurs when oil is baked into the pores of the pan, sealing the pan from rust and creating a non-stick surface. Seasoning should be done when you first purchase the pan and it is recommended that you re-season a pan every six months unless you use the pan on a regular basis and the pan is working fine.

These days, cast iron can be purchased directly from the manufacturer pre-seasoned. This is great if you don't want to deal with the seasoning process.

If you purchase a "raw (unseasoned) pan, it will be grayish in color and will need to be washed to remove the wax seal applied by the manufacturer to prevent rusting during warehouse storage and shipping. Let's look at how to properly season before using.

Things You Will Need:

  • Dish soap and warm water
  • Soft scrub brush (do not use copper or steel wool scouring pads!)
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Paper towels to spread shortening
  • A drip tray in your oven to catch grease
  • A well-ventilated area—As the fat burns off the pan, smoke can be emitted. This is normal, just open the window.

Bonus Tip for "Natural Food Folks"!

It was brought to the author's attention that some people who enjoy using natural foods do not use vegetable shortening.

In a comment below, SidKemp suggested that using any high-temperature flavorless oil such as coconut oil will work great instead.

Thanks for the tip!

Start the Seasoning Process

  • Do not preheat the oven! The process requires the cast iron to expand with the heat, absorb the shortening, and create the seal as the pan cools down and goes back to its original size.
  • Put aluminum foil or a drip pan on the bottom shelf of your oven to catch drippings.
  • Put a bit of shortening in the pan and heat it for less than a minute on the stovetop to melt the shortening.
  • Once the shortening is melted, spread it all over all surfaces of the pan including the handle and backside. You may want to use a paper towel to aid with spreading.
  • Once the pan is 100% covered in a decent (not too thin but not too thick) shiny coat, put the pan on the top rack of the oven, upside down.
  • Close the oven door and set the oven to 350°F.
  • Set a timer for at least an hour and let it be!
  • Do not open the oven door during the seasoning process! (You can lose valuable amounts of heat and cause the pan to warp or crack, and the coating may not hold to the pan.)
  • Once the timer goes off after an hour, turn off the oven but don't open the door!
  • Allow the pan to cool down for a few hours before removing it. Taking the pan out too early may cause the pan to become seasoned improperly.

That's it! Now you are ready to start enjoying a lifetime of use with these wonderful kitchen tools that will provide for your family for many years to come!

Storage and Rust Prevention

The very nature of cast iron makes the metal susceptible to rust. If a pan is left unseasoned, it will rust within a matter of hours or days. Storing it properly is very important.

A dry environment is the best place. You will want to oil your pans before you store them, which will add an extra level of protection against rust.

If you are storing it for extended amounts of time, it is recommended to add a layer of either cooking oil or cooking spray to the entire surface. This will create an additional level of protection against water and rust.

Never store a pan with a cover tightly on it. You should take a few paper towels and put them inside to absorb any moisture. Proper storage will lead to a long life for your collection!

Don't throw out your old rusty pans! Restore them.

Don't throw out your old rusty pans! Restore them.

What to Do if a Pan Is Rusted

OK, maybe you found an old set of rusty cookware while you were cleaning out your grandmother's basement.

Or maybe you found some really cheap at a yard sale. What can you do to bring these pans back to life? Not to worry! The pans can be restored to a brand-new condition!

What to Do:

  • If there is mild rust, you can just use a piece of steel wool and scrub under hot water until all the rust is gone.
  • If there is extreme rust all over the pan, you will need to sand down the rusty surfaces using sandpaper. Start with a heavy grit and work your way down to a fine grit once most of the rust is sanded off.
  • Once all the rust is removed, wash the pan thoroughly with warm water and soap to remove any metal rust and dust particles.
  • Immediately dry the pan thoroughly! The best way to do this is to put the pan in the oven for a few minutes at 100°F until it is dry.
  • Season as you would a brand new pan as described above.

After you are finished seasoning, your pan should be just like new!

Ways You Can Use It

This kind of cookware is very versatile as it can be used on a stovetop, in the oven, or over an open fire. It has been used for centuries and many people still have cast iron pans that were passed down from generation to generation.

If you enjoy using it and all the benefits that come along with it, make sure that you take proper care as noted in this article.

It has no real "expiration date" and if you take proper care of it, you will enjoy it for many years to come and you can leave your heirs a priceless commodity!

© 2012 JS Matthew