When you get your first cast iron pan, you’ll need to season it – but what does that even mean, and how do you do it? Why are you supposed to use avocado oil to season a cast iron pan, and what happens if you don’t? And what’s with all that grease?
Cast iron skillets and pans have been around forever, but I’m just now jumping on board.
My husband recently convinced me to switch from (toxic!) non-stick pans to cast iron. I didn’t think I’d enjoy cooking with my cast iron frying pan. I mean, it weighs a ton!
Still, I promised I’d give it a go, so I got to work and learned how to clean and season my cast iron pan with avocado oil.
To season a cast iron pan with avocado oil, you’ll need oil, cast iron cookware, and heat. Heating the right oil in a clean cast iron pan will make it non-stick and waterproof. Every time you cook with it, it will become even less sticky, allowing you to maintain the pan just by using it.
So, let’s get into the details and discuss how to clean and season a cast iron pan with avocado oil and some other oils. I’ll teach you what to look for in oils for seasoning cast iron and walk you through the steps. Then, I’ll tell you what not to do with cast iron so that you can keep your cookware clean, non-stick, and shiny.
- Seasoning My Cast Iron Pan With Avocado Oil
- How to Season Cast Iron Pans and Cookware
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Seasoning Cast Iron
- Final Thoughts
Seasoning My Cast Iron Pan With Avocado Oil
Once I finally agreed to switch to cast iron from non-stick, my husband presented me with this old cast iron skillet he found down the back. It was ugly, rusty, and had a broken wooden handle.
So, I told him there was no way I could cook with that. “But it’s free!” he said. Yep, he loves a bargain.
It turns out I was much too hasty. After a couple of hours, he returned with this ugly old pan and talk about transformation! It looked brand new. Well, you know, much newer than it did before, anyway.
Pretty neat, huh? Nothing sticks to it, either. Not eggs, not bacon, not even pancakes.
It turns out I love cooking with a cast iron skillet! I can’t lift it, but it also doesn’t wobble on the stove. It’s hot everywhere in the pan, not just in the middle. It doesn’t stick. It tastes awesome.
There’s nothing I don’t love about it – well, maybe only that it doesn’t go in the dishwasher and you don’t use soap. It feels a bit strange to wash without soapy water!
It also always looks a bit “dirty,” but I’ll get used to that, especially when you consider that toxic non-stick layers are much dirtier in reality!
So, now that you know what your pan’s transformation could look like with just a tablespoon of avocado oil and some elbow grease, let’s talk about seasoning and why cast iron needs it.
What Is Seasoning For Cast Iron Pans and Cookware?
Seasoning for cast iron pans and cookware is a layer of oil that has polymerized and carbonized, meaning that it has chemically bonded to itself. These chemical bonds make a semi-permanent layer of oil on iron surfaces. Since these layers consist of oil, they are also water and stick-proof.
Seasoning always starts with cast iron and some oil (more on oils later).
When you massage oils into the porous surface of a cast iron pan, the fat particles sink, filling all the gaps in the rough, bumpy metal surface.
Add heat, and the oil will chemically react by polymerizing and carbonizing, a process that makes the chains of fat in the oil solidify and stretch over the iron.
So, essentially, the oil sticks in the microscopic gaps in a cast iron pan, “gluing” itself in place.
In addition, Kris Stubblefield, the associate culinary manager of the test kitchen at Lodge, explains that “every time you use your pan, you’re adding to the protective layer.” Your seasoning will re-polymerize as you continually cook with oil, making a thicker non-stick layer.
Thus, cast iron becomes more non-stick the more you use it.
However, this polymerized chemical bond can dissolve if you wash the pan with soap.
For an easy-to-understand scientific explanation of what seasoning is, check out this brief YouTube video from MinuteFood. I think it’s the best accurate description of why seasoning works for cast iron:
What Is the Best Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron?
When seasoning a cast iron pan or cookware, the oil you use matters. While any oil can get the job done, some oils may introduce unwanted flavors to your food, smoke or burn over time, or include less-than-healthy additives.
The best oil for seasoning cast iron pans and cookware is avocado oil. Avocado oil is high in unsaturated fats with a high smoke point of 520° F. However, it may add some flavor to anything you cook in the pan.
If you want a flavor-free oil, I recommend choosing safflower oil or rice bran oil, which have high smoke points and plenty of unsaturated fats.
So, let’s look at how all of the best oils for seasoning cast iron pans and cookware stack up:
|Oil||Smoke Point||Flavor Neutral For |
Seasoning Cast Iron?
|Avocado Oil||520° F||No|
|Safflower Oil||500° F||Yes|
|Rice Bran Oil||450° F||Yes|
|Soybean Oil||450° F||Yes|
|Corn Oil and Canola Oil||450° F||Yes|
|Clarified Butter or Ghee||450° F||No|
These oils are the most common types with high smoke points. They’re also very common in seasoning cast iron, so they’re tried and true.
Tips for Choosing A Seasoning Oil
When selecting your oil, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid using unclarified butter. Delish recommends avoiding butter or unrefined coconut oil because “the trace amounts of dairy solids and pulp will burn and scorch. Traditional lard will turn rancid faster without frequent use.” However, clarified butter and ghee don’t have this issue.
- Choose oils that don’t include added chemicals. Be mindful that many commercial oils like canola, vegetable, grapeseed, and sunflower are super-processed using chemicals. These oils start oxidizing the moment you heat them up or even before you heat them!). Grapeseed oil oxidizes the quickest. I recommend you season your cast iron pans with avocado oil. It has a mild flavor and is more stable.
- Choose oils with a higher smoke point to avoid a smoky kitchen and flavor. Many cooks love flaxseed oil because it gives you great results. The problem with flaxseed oil is that it has a low smoke point (around 225° F), so it smokes up your kitchen quickly!
How to Season Cast Iron Pans and Cookware
So, now that you know how seasoning works and which oils are best for the job, let’s put that knowledge into practice.
Here’s Russell Graves from Hackberry Farm in Texas, explaining how to season a cast iron pan. I love the pans he uses for seasoning because some of his are in a similar state as mine.
The awesome thing about cast iron pans is that they get more non-stick and more seasoned over time. They’re also energy efficient because they hold their heat much better than pans made of other metals.
How To Season a Cast Iron Pan With Avocado Oil: Step-by-Step
Let’s season your cast iron together!
What You’ll Need
While seasoning a cast iron pan doesn’t necessarily require any unique materials, you’ll need to get a few things out before you start:
- A scrubber. Never use soap on a pan that is already seasoned! For this old pan, we scrubbed it with a brillo pad and soap to remove the rust. You can also use a chainmail scrubber, a pretty nifty little scrubbing pad, especially for cast iron cookware.
- A cloth or paper towel. Any old cloth or paper towel will do. You need something to wipe the oil on and off with. Just be sure it’s lint-free, as stuck-on dust can get stuck in the seasoning and create smoke.
- Oil. As I mentioned, almost any oil will do, but choosing one with a high smoke point and plenty of unsaturated fats will give you the best results. I use avocado oil to season my cast iron, and the results are always fantastic.
Cast Iron Seasoning Instructions
After you get your materials together, it’s time to season your cast iron pan! Here’s how to do it:
- Clean the cast iron to remove dirt, grime, rancid oil, and rust. Rinse your pan under hot water and scrub, scrub, scrub with a brillo pad or chainmail scrubber until you get all the grime off. You should not use soap on a seasoned pan, but if your pan is unseasoned or in a dismal state like mine was, you can use a gentle soap like Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.
- Dry the cast iron pan. Set it on your stove on medium heat to evaporate all the water. Once the pan cools, use a paper towel to ensure you’ve got all the water off.
- Add oil. Rub in your chosen oil or shortening with a paper towel. If you wish to use avocado, safflower, canola, soybean, or rice bran oil to season your cast iron, add a tablespoon to a 12-inch skillet.
- Rub the oil into the iron. Rub the oil or shortening into all the cracks and press it down into crevices. Don’t be stingy with it. Really make sure you cover it inside and out. Try using a kind of wax-on-wax-off motion.
- Time to put it in the oven. Place the pan inside the oven, upside down. Use the same temperature as you use for baking a cake. Set the self-timer on your over for an hour or two, then leave it in the oven to cool overnight.
- Repeat the seasoning process. In the morning, you’ll have your first layer of proper seasoning. To build the layer and maintain the seasoning, repeat this process but do it gently. Give it a light scrub, then put it on the stove to dry. Water is your cast iron pan’s worst enemy. Once dry, rub in a bit of oil, heat it over the stove, and you’re done.
What NOT to Do With a Cast Iron Pan
Cast iron pans and skillets require specific care to stay in great shape.
While maintaining them might seem counterintuitive to people who haven’t used them much, once you get used to them, you’ll find that cast iron needs less cleaning and maintenance than a non-stick pan.
1. Don’t Cook Acidic Foods In Your Cast Iron Pan
Unfortunately, foods high in acid can break down the seasoning on your cast iron skillet.
According to Kris Stubblefield at Lodge, “cooking with lots of highly acidic foods such as vinegar or tomato juice can take off the seasoning.”
So, avoid cooking with vinegar, tomatoes, pineapple, and citrus in a cast iron pan. Still, you may get away with cooking small quantities of these foods in your cast iron if your seasoning layers are very thick and have aged well.
If you lose your seasoning, though, don’t worry – you can re-season any time. Cast iron pans last forever.
2. Not Maintaining Your Cast Iron Pan
You don’t just season your cast iron skillet once. You have to keep it up.
Cast iron pans are still made of iron. When you let the oil wash away and don’t re-season it, it will develop rust.
“Moisturizing” and protecting the pan with oil can ward off this oxidation, so keep frying up bacon and pouring on the oil.
3. Using the Wrong Utensils In Your Cast Iron Cookware
There’s not really a “wrong” utensil when cooking with cast iron, but some may be better than others.
Some experts reckon that a metal spatula is the best tool. Others believe that metal may be too harsh on your seasoning and even rub it off.
Some cooks swear their cast iron cookware gets better by using metal spatulas. These people believe that a relatively sharp metal spatula can wear down and scrape away the uneven spots on their cast iron pans and cookware, smoothing it out for a slick, non-stick surface.
Still, most people agree that you need to give your seasoning a chance to “settle in” before you start scraping too hard. Use metal utensils very carefully, or choose silicone or wood instead.
4. Using Soap In Your Cast Iron Pan
No soap should ever go near your cast iron pan. You can rinse it under hot water, scrub it, or wipe it, but never get soap near it.
Some experts swear that salt is the best cleanser for cast iron. Yes, simple, cheap ol’ salt.
Just sprinkle some salt into the cast iron pan to use it, then scrub as normal. Rinse well, and your pan will be spotless and retain its seasoning.
There are other funky ideas too! Maybe you’d like to use a cut potato with salt to scrub your pan or Alton Brown’s salt + fat solution? Check it out:
“HuffPost suggests using both salt and a cut potato to scrub your pan. And WideOpenEats uses both salt and a nifty chainmail scrubber to remove stuck-on food. In one Reddit thread, Alton Brown is quoted as saying he uses salt plus a little bit of fat to scrub his pan down.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Seasoning Cast Iron
As I was learning to season my cast iron pan, I had many questions. So, if you’re still not sure about how, why, and when to season your cast iron, these answers may help:
You can season cast iron with Avocado oil. Avocado oil is the best oil for seasoning cast iron and carbon steel as it has a very high smoke point. It’s also very high in unsaturated fats, which makes for a durable, waterproof seasoning layer.
You should season your cast iron pan or cookware about twice a year, but you may need to do it more frequently. If the iron begins to look dull or shows signs of rust, you should re-season it as soon as possible. You should also re-season any time you use soap on the surface.
You should season cast iron in an oven, on a stove, or over a fire for about an hour. Allowing the oils to get very hot results in a more durable seasoning. In addition, heating the oil for an extended time will kill bacteria, burn off food and dust, and dehydrate the metal for a longer-lasting pan.
You can tell if a cast iron is seasoned by cooking an egg in around a tablespoon of oil. If the egg sticks to the pan, you should re-season it. Well-seasoned pans should be shiny, dark black, and have no rust.
You can ruin a cast iron skillet by cracking it. Cast iron pans can last you more than a lifetime if you care for them, but you cannot repair a crack in the surface. Cracks will only expand as you use the skillet and break the entire pan. You may need a new cast iron if there’s a crack in yours.
Learning all about seasoning cast iron pans and the best oils to use has been quite an adventure, and it’s only made me appreciate them more.
Now that I know I love cooking with cast iron, I have my eye on a Victoria pan or a Lodge. If you have experience with these, let me know. I’d love your insights!