- Don’t be afraid to season cast iron. It’s a simple process, even if your cast iron is looking a little beat up.
- Seasoning cast iron just takes heat, oil, time, and a bit of pre-cleaning.
- Coat cast iron with a thin layer of oil and throw it in a hot oven to seal the seasoning.
- Visit Insider’s Home & Kitchen Reference library for more stories.
Seasoning cast iron is not as tricky as it’s been made out to be. Even if you’re working with an old, rusted, beat up cast iron from the back of your cupboard, the process is quite simple.
“It’s not difficult,” says Silas Pollitt, chef and co-owner of Stone’s Throw Pizza in Fairfax, Vermont. “It takes some time and it will smell up your house like burnt oil. But, the process itself is pretty straightforward.”
And, even the scary-looking cast irons, covered in layers of rust, can season back up like a dream. “There’s always some really good hardware underneath that rust or ugliness,” he says.
Pollitt compares the seasoning process to creating a tiny coat of armor. “What that does is a process called polymerization, where it essentially makes a carbon matrix surrounding the cast iron like a coat of iron,” says Pollitt. This is what we refer to as a seasoning, which both acts as a non-stick surface and protects your pan from rust.
When should you season your skillet?
Some pans will come labeled as pre-seasoned. If you’re nervous to season your own cast iron, it’s fine to take the manufacturer at their word and start cooking immediately. That said, Pollitt will take the time to season any cast iron he buys, even if it’s labeled as pre-seasoned.
“I normally season them myself when they come in. You don’t know exactly what it was seasoned with and how it was handled,” he says.
But, there’s more to it than that. “I also like the process, and you’re getting to know the piece of metal that you bought,” says Pollitt. “You’re taking the time and building the relationship with it.”
You may also need to season it again down the line if there’s food or grease buildup, scratch marks, or rust. This will be clear based on visual cues – your cast iron won’t have that same dark glossiness to it, and it may start to look dull or discolored. In that case, you’ll want to go through the seasoning process again.
“If you’re taking good care of it, you may never have to reseason it,” says Pollitt. “Every time you cook on it, it creates another layer of polymerized fat. When you hear someone say they’ve been cooking on it for 20 years, so it’s a really good pan, they’re not lying.”
How to care for a seasoned cast iron skillet
Generally, your cast iron should be cleaned with water and never with an abrasive like a brillo pad or harsh cleaners. If there’s a bit of buildup, throw in some oil and kosher salt, and scrub it with a paper towel until the sediment is removed.
“Just make sure no one ever fills it with water or soapy water and leaves it overnight. Don’t put it through the dishwasher,” warns Pollitt.
Don’t think of seasoning cast iron as something to be intimidated by. Think of it as creating a tiny coat of armor for your trusty skillet. With a little oil, high heat, and some time, your cast iron will be good as new. If you take good care of it, according to Pollitt, you may never need to go through the process again.