Today’s post is a guest post written by my friend (and former football coach) @sawdustjack he knows his cast-iron cookware and since I wrote about some cast-iron goods yesterday I figured it would be good to know how to properly season one. Follow his instructions and you’ll be sure to have a top notch pan ready for all your cooking needs.
If you pay attention to cooking trends at all then you have surely heard a lot about people going old school and trying their hand at using cast iron pots and pans. Well, as a longtime cast cooking believer, I can tell you that this could be one of the best cooking moves you ever make, not to mention how much easier it is on your wallet! There are some tricks to using cast and if not handled correctly, could lead you to a very frustrating cooking experience. One of the more important aspects to assure success would be to properly season your pan or pot.
If you’ve not tried cooking with cast before, I suggest you start with a smallish pan, or maybe even the tried and true skillet. Your choice should be something you will want to use and use often as cooking with the same cast iron piece only improves that pan every time you use it. This is truly a labor of love that will pay off for you and your cooking experience in the long run!
Once you have your pan or pans its time to bring them home and get them ready to use. Getting them ready is essential before we consider cooking on them. The seasoning process is a long process, but so worth it when you are done! So lets look at what you will need to complete this process.
-Mild dish detergent
-A good sponge or scouring pad
-Olive oil, or your choice of favorite cooking oil
-Paper towel or cloth towel
The first thing you want to do is pre-heat your oven to 225ish…low heat. While the oven is heating take your pan/s and wash them thoroughly! This is very important. Cast iron will rust if it sits and most manufactures will coat the pan with either a food safe wax(if made in the USA) or a water soluble shellac(if imported) to keep this from happening. Its very important to get this all off your pan before you begin your seasoning process. Once clean, towel dry your pan and then place it in the oven for about 10 or 15 minutes to make sure all the water is out of the porous parts of the pan. Cast iron is a porous material and that is what we are looking to seal up and make a nice and smooth cooking surface by seasoning it.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. Turn the oven up to 450 degree. While the oven is heating up take the towels, either the paper or cloth and the veggie oil. Use the towel to spread a very thin layer of oil completely covering the pan. Thin is key here. The oil will smoke and we don’t want to be smoking out your kitchen while doing this. Once your oven is up to temp and you have completely covered the pan, place it upside down in the center of the oven. You may want to put a drip pan under it or some foil to catch any dripping oil. This will help cut down on smoking. Heat the pan for about 30 minutes. Try not to open the oven during the cooing phase. You want to keep the heat high and consistent. After the 30 minutes is complete, turn the oven off and keep the pan in the oven and allow both the oven and the pan to cool to room temperature. Remove the pan, pre-heat the oven again to 450, then re-coat the pan with a thin layer of fresh oil completely once again. Once the oven is up to 450, back in the pan goes for another 30 minutes. You will repeat this process for a total of 3 times in the oven. Some suggest 4 times, and if you have time, go for it, but I have always found 3 is plenty.
I tend to cook on the stove top with the pan right away and this helps set the seasoning. My suggestion for your first stove top cook would be to saute some coarsely chopped onion at a high temperature in the oil of your choice. I tend to cook with olive oil and that is generally my choice. This sacrificial onion will be cooked in more oil than you would typically want to use when eating. For the sake of “setting” the seasoning, this first cook will result in disposing of the cooked onion. Depending on the size of the pan, double the amount of oil one would typically want to use. Put the oil in the pan and pre-heat the pan. Get it good and hot, obviously, not to the point where you risk fire, but hot. Carefully add the onion and turn the heat down slightly. Over cook the onion, again for the sake of “setting” the seasoning. Turn off the pan remove the onion but don’t wipe the oil out until the pan has returned to room temperature. At this point, you want to lightly wash the pan with soap and water, towel dry and then put a slight layer of oil on the cooking surface of the pan for storage. This will help keep the pan rust free and also keep moisture for getting to it.
There are a few things we did not discuss that we really need to state. Oily cloths and oily paper towels should be disposed of properly to avoid the risk of spontaneous combustion. Also, if your pan has a wooden handle or some other treatment to the handle, you will need to protect them from the heat of the oven. You can do this a few ways. Many suggest a very wet paper towel wrapped around the wood handle and wrap that with aluminum foil tightly. Others suggest just wrapping it in foil alone. I try to avoid buying products with wood handles as they rarely hold up over time and that just makes it not worth the trouble in this person’s opinion. That being said, I do have 2 pots with wooden handles(unavoidable) and used the first method with the wet paper towel and foil and it worked well. Just make sure you replace the wet towel for each phase of the oven seasoning.
As I stated in the beginning, use the pan often! You will grow to love cooking on it and using it. The seasoning will darken with time to a black surface and that is how you want it to look. You will have to adjust you cooking temps as you get used to using the pan as it will heat differently than other cooking material, so plan on a slight learning curve. Enjoy!
Have Fun and Cook ON!!