How to Season Cast Iron Skillets (So They Last Forever)

Unlike most kinds of cookware that are not necessarily made to last, cast iron cookware has the capability of becoming a family heirloom that can be passed down from generation to generation. To be able to do that, however, cast iron must be cared for properly.

Part of that care includes seasoning when necessary to maintain that beautiful black finish that is the result of carbon deposits left by oil after exposing it to high heat through a process called polymerization.

The seasoning process involves following these steps:

  1. Cleaning the pan to remove any grease buildup, residue, or visible rust.
  2. Washing, rinsing, & drying the pan.
  3. Applying an oil coating.
  4. Baking the pan.
  5. Allow time to cool.

As with anything, the devil is in the details. Please read carefully, as maintaining cast iron can be somewhat of an art.

As seasoned cast iron pan on a wooden table

Step #1. Clean The Pan

The first order of business is to clean the pan and remove any food or grease residue, grease buildup, or any rust that is on the pan by using a scouring pad, steel wool, or a tool like this rust remover from the Lodge company that was designed specifically for that purpose.

This step, while removing the grease buildup and/or rust, will damage or remove some of the finish from the pan, but because we are re-seasoning the pan, that really doesn’t matter in this situation. Normally, however, we would not use such harsh cleaning tools on cast iron.

Step #2. Wash, Rinse, & Dry The Pan

After removing any food or grease residue and rust, wash the pan in warm, soapy water, rinse well, and dry thoroughly. You can make sure the pan is completely dry by placing it in a warm oven or on the stovetop on the warm setting for just a few minutes.

It is extremely important that the pan is no longer damp before moving on to the next step.

Related Cast Iron Skillet Care | 8 Things You Must Know.

Step #3. Apply Oil

When the pan is completely dry, cover every surface on the entire pan, bottom, top, sides, and handle, with a thin coating of oil. Use a paper towel to spread an even coating of the oil and to make sure there is not too much oil on any part of the pan.

For the best oil to use, this video provides a list of the top 5 oils to use for seasoning cast iron, but any oil that fits the following criteria will work:

  1. A high smoke point.
  2. A mild taste.
  3. A neutral odor.
  4. Easy to find.
  5. Not extremely expensive.

My preference for seasoning cast iron happens to be the oil that I use on a daily basis, which is Canola oil, and The Lodge Cast Iron Company recommends vegetable oil, shortening, and Canola oil, as well.

Here is a video I did talking about which oils can be used:

Related 5 Best Cast Iron Seasoning Oils (Advice From a 50-Year Chef).

Step #4. Bake For 1 Hour

The next step is to place the oiled pan inverted on the top rack in your oven with a drip pan underneath and bake it for 1 hour in an oven that has been preheated to the temperature which is the smoke point for the oil that you used to coat the pan. I normally bake the pan that I am re-seasoning at 500℉.

Inverting the pan during the baking process will ensure that there isn’t an excessive amount of oil pooling in the bottom of the pan so that the result will be an even coating over the entire pan.

The important thing to remember here is that the pan must be baked at a temperature that is equal to the oil’s smoke point for 1 hour in order for the oil to form a chemical bond with the surface of the pan through a process known as polymerization to create the layer of seasoning that will give the pan a smooth non-stick surface.

Step #5. Allow Pan To Cool

When the pan has baked for 1 hour, just turn off the heat and leave the pan in the oven so that it can cool down as the oven cools. Do not remove the pan from the oven until it has cooled completely. I usually just leave the pan inside the oven overnight.

Related The Best Cast Iron Skillet Size (Based on Your Needs).

What Seasoning Means on Cast Iron

If you are wondering what seasoning on cast iron is all about, seasoning refers to the black coating or patina on a cast iron pan. That coating is created when the oil that is sprayed or rubbed on the surface of the cast iron is subjected to high heat for a certain period of time. This process, called polymerization, bonds this coating to the surface of the cast iron. 

New cast iron doesn’t have that patina when it is first made and is a grayish-green color with a rough, pitted surface, but before the pan is used for the first time, it must be seasoned. In fact, because the seasoning process is so important, most cast iron cookware manufacturers now season their cookware before it is sold.

The seasoning process is necessary because it serves a dual purpose. 

  1. It protects the cast iron cookware and prevents damage to the pan itself. Without the coating created by seasoning, the pan would rust and corrode from contact with oxygen and moisture in the air and would soon become damaged beyond repair and unusable. 
  2. It creates a smooth non-stick surface that cooks well over any kind of heat: on a stovetop, in an oven, over a campfire, or even in a fireplace.
Anne James' Favorite Cast Iron Skillet
My favorite cast iron skillet.

What Causes A Cast Iron Pan To Need Re-Seasoning?

There are a number of things that can cause a cast iron pan to need re-seasoning. Those things include:

  • Improper cleaning practices, such as using steel wool for scrubbing (except just before re-seasoning).
  • Letting the pan soak in water.
  • Washing cast iron in the dishwasher.
  • Using harsh chemicals for washing.
  • Stacking skillets without drying them completely.
  • Cooking a lot of acidic foods like tomato-based sauces.
  • Not using a cast iron pan often.

How Can I Tell When A Cast Iron Pan Needs Re-Seasoning?

Here are a few indicators that a cast iron pan needs to be re-seasoned:

  • The cast iron pan is no longer non-stick, and food begins to stick in it.
  • There is visible rust on the surface of the pan.
  • The surface of the pan has lost its shine and becomes dull.

In this video, I give 10 tips on cast iron care:

How To Prevent Having To Re-Season Cast Iron?

With proper care and use, cast iron will not have to be re-seasoned. Here are some things you can do to protect the layer of seasoning on your cast iron:

Clean Properly

Cast iron should be cleaned immediately after cooking. In most cases, simply wiping the pan out with a paper towel or clean cloth is all that is needed, especially after baking cornbread or biscuits. When more cleaning is required, just washing in warm, soapy water, rinsing, and drying immediately should only take a short time.

Related Why You Have to Cook Cornbread in a Cast Iron Skillet.

Don’t Use Steel Wool

Using harsh scrubbers such as steel wool can damage the surface of cast iron. Only use steel wool if you’re in the process of re-seasoning.

Don’t Soak Cast Iron

Soaking cast iron in water can damage the surface and cause it to rust, so it shouldn’t be put into the dishwater to soak.

Hand Wash Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware should be hand washed and never washed in the dishwasher. Washing in the dishwasher can cause cast iron to rust.

Anne James' Grandmother's Cast Iron Griddle on a Wall
This cast iron griddle on the wall belonged to my grandmother.

Wash With Mild Detergent

Cast iron cookware should be hand washed in warm water with a mild dish detergent. Harsh detergents and chemicals can damage the layer of seasoning on cast iron.

Dry Completely Before Storing

Cast iron must be dried completely before storing, especially when stacking. If any moisture is left on the pan, it can cause the pan to rust. If you store your cast iron skillets by stacking them and one of them wasn’t dried well enough, that skillet plus the one on top of it and the one underneath it would all rust.

Related How to Remove Rust and Restore Cast Iron Skillets.

Avoid Cooking Acidic Foods Often & In Large Quantities

Acidic foods such as tomato sauce can break down the seasoning on cast iron. Just heating a small amount of sauce is probably not going to affect the surface of your cast iron, but if you are making a large amount of sauce that has to simmer for an extended period of time, it can damage the seasoning on your cast iron pan.

Use Cast Iron Often

The more you use your cast iron, the better it will perform. Each time you fry something or cook foods that require you to use oil or to grease the pan, like making cornbread, biscuits, and pancakes, while the food is cooking, that oil is actually adding another layer of seasoning onto your pan. So don’t save your cast iron for special occasions. Use them often.

In this video, I show how to clean and season cast iron skillets correctly:

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss The 9 Best Types of Steak for a Cast Iron Skillet.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page.

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