A little over 10 years ago I inherited the small cast iron skillet featured in today’s photos. I have about 8 cast iron skillets, of various sizes, but this one is the most important to me. This particular one has been in my family for three generations now (I’m #3). It came to me after my aunt passed away from a brain tumor and it’s something I deeply cherish. For the first few years I didn’t dare use it. Instead, I hung it on the wall in my kitchen as something to be admired but never used. I eventually got over that. As the years passed I realized that its been cooking up food for my family for decades and if they could, they’d tell me to use it too. I cook almost everything in a cast iron skillet and I recommend that you do too. Although, fair warning, you’ll probably fall in love with them and start neglecting those expensive stainless steel pans you have in your kitchen. #castironisthebestiron
So, why cast iron skillets? They’re durable, efficient, maintain an even temperature when cooking, and can safely go from the stove top to the oven. Maybe it’s just me but I hate the moment of doubt after putting a pan in the oven when, for just a second, I think, “Wait…is that oven safe?” Then, I just mumble a quick prayer and hope for the best. I don’t have that problem with cast iron. Cast iron is always oven-safe.
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One of the most common things people ask when they start cooking with these tools is how to properly season a cast iron skillet. A quick Google search brings up literally thousands of results with people arguing over the best oil and the best temperature. It’s enough to overwhelm a newcomer and make them want to shove the cast iron into the dark recesses of their cabinets, never to be seen again. Really though, it’s not that hard. First let’s talk about why to season it. Then, I’ll tell you how to properly season it.
Why you should season a cast iron skillet
I’ll admit that it isn’t exactly mandatory that you season a cast iron skillet before using it. It’s more like a very essential part of christening a new pan that you can skip if you only cook very high fat foods that produce a lot of grease for the first few weeks. If you want to cook things like chicken, vegetables, and fried eggs in it then you better season it first. If you don’t, the food sticks to the pan and creates a huge mess. Then, you’ll have a hard time removing that huge mess because you shouldn’t use soap or water (other than your first cleaning) to clean your skillet.
Secondly, cast iron skillets can rust and rust in your food is just disgusting.
How to season a cast iron skillet
Now, to clear up a misconception. When we talk about “seasoning” as it relates to a cast iron skillet we aren’t talking about herbs and spices. We’re talking about applying layer after layer of fat to the skillet so it creates a kind of natural “non-stick” surface in the pan. As the fat bonds to the cast iron it creates a hard non-stick skin over the metal so you cook with ease. It’s not the greasy mess you’re probably thinking of when you imagine layers of fat in a pan, I promise.
Here’s how to do it:
1 – Wash and dry the cast iron skillet
Wash it lightly with a very (very) minimal amount of soap and warm water. Rinse thoroughly, then towel dry even more thoroughly. Before moving on to step 2 you need to be sure that there are no traces of soap or water remaining on your skillet. When you’re sure it’s rinsed and dried, move on.
2 – Coat it with lard or oil
Cover the entire pan, including the handle, with lard or shortening. I almost always use shortening for mine because it provides a strong solid coating that lasts forever. If you don’t have lard or shortening around you can also use vegetable or canola oil. You want to use an oil with a high fat content when you season a cast iron skillet so even though avocado oil, sesame oil, and flaxseed oil are popular right now I don’t recommend using them for this.
Once you’ve covered the entire pan and handle, rub it in continuously until the fat or oil has been absorbed by the pan. It shouldn’t look even the littlest bit oily or greasy before moving on to step 3. If it still looks greasy, keep rubbing it in.
3 – Put it in the oven
Preheat your oven to about 450-degrees because now that your cast iron skillet is clean and saturated with fat or oil, it’s about to get baked. When the oven is ready, pop the oiled pan in the oven and leave it there for about 30 – 40 minutes. I recommend opening up your windows and turning on your fan because it may get a little bit smoky as all that fat settles and coats your pan.
After 30 – 40 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. The entire pan is scalding hot metal at this point so use gloves and make sure you have a safe and secure surface to put it on. Repeat steps 2 – 3 about four more times. Yes, I’m serious.
After the pan cools, it’s ready to use. It can cook anything although I recommend not using your cast iron to cook scrambled eggs or fish because even with the best seasoning those items can stick to the pan or get into the little grooves. Your cast iron skillet is the absolute best for cooking vegetables, chicken, or red meat though. THE. BEST.