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Season a Cast Iron Pan in 4 Easy Steps (Video)

Find a rusty old gem of a cast iron skillet? Here’s how to season a cast iron pan so you can put it into glorious use on your stovetop!

How to season a cast iron pan in 4 easy steps

Image by Ernest_Roy from Pixabay

Season a Cast Iron Pan in 4 Easy Steps

I first jumped on the cast iron train more than a decade ago—and a big part of that was learning about how to season a cast iron pan properly.

Back when I was a kid, I remember we had some old cast iron pans we didn’t use. They were rusty things and were eventually consigned to lying alongside the carport. Now, I wish I could go back in time and save them. All but two of the cast iron pans I now own were originally discovered in antique shops and thrift stores … then reclaimed through cleaning and seasoning.

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When I was younger, I never thought all that much about cookware, other than to quit using aluminum and Teflon in favor of stainless steel. I used to have some really nice stainless pans. No more. Now I’m a hard-core cast iron pan user—especially for frying.

Once you’ve cooked on a well-seasoned cast iron pan, you’ll never want to go back to weird, nonstick surfaces and stainless scorch-fests.

To show you how I season a cast iron pan, I created a video on how I clean up and season cast iron quickly and easily with just some steel wool, oil, and my oven. Check it out…

Seasoning cast iron well can convert an old pan from being a pain to cook on, to being a delightful surface.

How to Clean and Season a Cast Iron Pan

A well-seasoned cast iron pan is an excellent addition to your kitchen

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

Here’s a quick overview of the steps I follow to prepare the pan in the video:

Step #1—Clean Up the Cast Iron

A metal brush can work for this step, but I like good old steel wool. I’ve also sanded cast iron smooth with some light sandpaper. The idea is just to get the rust and junk off your pan so you can start fresh.

Step #2—Wash the Pan

Wash any gunk and metal filings from the pans with simple dish soap and water, then towel dry your pan thoroughly.

Step #3—Oil the Pan

My favorite oils for seasoning cast iron are lard and tallow. I think the saturated fat does a nicer job than just vegetable oil. Coconut oil works, too, but if you don’t have any of those three, just use whatever cooking oil you have lying around in your pantry.

Step #4—Bake the Pan at 500°F

Some directions will tell you to cure cast iron at 350°F. This has never, ever worked well for me. When you season the cast iron pan at 500°F, it really bakes that oil coating into the iron and gives the cast iron a glossy, solid black surface.

Follow these 4 steps when you season a cast iron pan, and you’ll be transported into a new realm of sauté bliss. (And, for more on everyday cleaning and maintenance of your cast iron, check out the tips in the comments below!)

What Do You Think?

What’s your favorite way to season a cast iron pan? Let us know in the comments below!

 



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This article was originally published on October 9, 2015. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

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This post was written by David The Good

COMMENTS(45)

  • Milt says:

    It appeared that your stove was pretty scratched up in a ring around the large burner. Is that from using cast iron pans on the stove top?

    1. No – it’s actually from boiling sugarcane. The overflow caramelized my stove. Heh.

      1. Meg says:

        Hi David,
        for your stove top try a thick paste of Sodium bicarbonate / bicarbonate of soda (just add some water) smeared over the sugar leave over night, then rub off in the morning with a damp soft cloth. If that doesn’t work do the same again but in the morning pour some cheap vinegar over the bicarb which will cause the bicarb to foam and start rubbing.

      2. Leila says:

        How do you feel about enamel coated cast iron?

  • Phyllis Hess says:

    I had a fire start in my big iron pan months ago. I put the iron lid on and carried it out to the yard and cooled it in the snow. Now I can’t seem to get the soot and char out of it. Any ideas?

    1. Try soaking the inside of the pan with vinegar for an hour or so. We’ve had great luck removing char that way in a stainless pan and I bet it will also loosen it up in cast iron.

    2. cre8tiv369 says:

      Disc Sander until smooth, Wash, Dry, then re-season.

  • emily says:

    HI~
    LIke the cast iron video, but some of the ones I find to fix also for others, are so PITTED…any remedy? sandblast?
    thanks
    em

    1. Deep pits may not be fixable, but if you’re willing to spend some time sanding them down you can minimize the smaller indentations.

  • Randy Camper says:

    Maybe I’m a purist, but I never use any kind of soap. As David mentions, the heat of cooking takes care of any contaminants…and when you season the cast iron, 500 degrees is more than sufficient!
    Using a cordless drill with a wire attachment speeds up the cleaning process prior to seasoning. ((If you are going to do any of this by hand, have a good pair of black neoprene gloves!))
    I do like to use hot water after cooking when the cast iron is still hot. The temps bubble off most any residue and the rest can be wiped out with a paper towel. A quick shot of oil, if needed, keeps your cast iron properly seasoned.

    1. Bets says:

      I grew up doing pretty much the same as you – learned from mom –
      hot water after cooking & usually turned the fire back on to get the water boiling. Then wiped down, dried & while still warm, add some oil & spread it around (but not too much)

      1. Bets says:

        AND never never never use that spray-on oil in a can.

    2. Absolutely, Randy – good comment.

    3. Tracy says:

      If the pans are really in bad shape with the build up, we put the pan into our wood burning stove and let it burn off. This eliminates the scrubbing entirely, its only a simple cleaning and onto the seasoning part.

      1. Ingrid says:

        My ex-father-in-law taught me to put my cast iron in the coals of a wood fire to get them nice and clean. And only use lard to season them! Love my cast iron as does my daughter. It’s nice to see some folks are back to some of the good old basics that really work!

    4. PamelaDemarest says:

      Agree Randy. In particular, I was shocked to hear that “Palmolive” soap was utilized.

  • JJM says:

    Couple years ago I revived a couple rusty Cast Iron. I used my cheap sand blaster, compressor and a sack of sifted sand to remove the rust. Then used orbiter sander to remove ‘rough’ spots. Followed by lots of hand sanding. Then proceeded at STEP 2. Took a couple attempts at ‘curing’ to get it right.
    Shouldn’t Step 5 and 6 go on to describe proper use and cleaning? ie not TOO much heat and don’t soak.

  • Linda Haygood says:

    Do you use your cast iron on smooth top ranges. I heard you were not suppose to because the oil will leach from the pan onto the smooth surface of the range and then will burn onto it. If this is what happens, how do you get the burned on oil off of your smooth top stove?

    1. I’ve never had that be an issue – a well-seasoned pan won’t leave any residue, at least that I’ve ever seen. The marks on my stove are from my sugar-making experiments.

  • Kathleen Kesinger says:

    Good advice on renewing cast iron cookware. I love mine!

  • Stacy says:

    Great video, thank you. Wish you had actually fried an egg using one of the pans and shown how to clean it post cooking. Do you just wipe it out?

    1. Sounds like a good future video – thanks for the idea.

  • bert says:

    The foundries of yesteryear produced significantly better cast iron pots. They took the time (and expense) of milling, or sandblasting or just sanding the cooking surface until it was nice and smooth. Pots from modern foundaries save money, and leave all kinds of little “nubs” on the cooking surfaces.

    Don’t be afraid to get out the electric drill and grind down all your CI pots until they are smooth. The bare metal will be bright, but that can be quickly cured.

    It makes a huge difference to use real lard, or just waste pig fat from your butcher. (There is no such thing but never mind.) Lard produces a jet black surface, like no other oil does. I compared several. Also, I don’t bake mine. I coat them with lard and then burn the lard down to a carbon residue by burning the pot, right side up, on an OUTDOORS high power propane burner. Don’t do it indoors, the lard in the pot may catch fire. Let the pot cool down before applying second and additional coats of lard, with a wooden spoon and cotton rag. The pan will melt a brush.

    The lard, and the direct propane firing, will take the bare metal of the smooth pot and bond a deep jet black surface of carbon to the shining steel. Reseason it every spring or fall, or both and the carbon surface will grow deeper. The pan will never rust, unless left in acid water.

    Great article …

    1. I like the way you think. I’ve seasoned over a camp fire with bacon grease and had it work. If I had a propane grill, I’d definitely try your method.

      We render our own lard and find a million uses for it… pan seasoning being one of my favorites.

    2. PamelaDemarest says:

      I’ve used my gas grill (it’s hard -plumbed to gas line) but did not try the right-side- up approach nor lard. Thanks for the two additional steps; critical to the primary goal.

  • Harold says:

    Quite informative of how simple the process is and am ready for my set of cast iron cookware.

  • Pauline says:

    How long should the iron pan be baked at 500 degrees? How thick should the coating of oil be? The last time I tried, I ended up with hard-as-rock blobs on the surface of the pan. Your help would help me tremendously. Thanks so very much!!

  • Bonnie says:

    People should be made aware that there is a lot of smoke from the oil when done at 500, not as bad when done at 350 for a longer period of time. Thanks for the video.

  • pat says:

    make sure the pans you get are not made outside of usa, because other countries don’t take the lead out of the metal when they make the pans.

  • Phebe says:

    While I read over and over again never use soap on a cast iron. I find it happens every once in a while… It is not the end of the world! Before you use it the next time put a good amount of oil (about an eighth inch) in the pan and let it get good and hot, almost smoking before you start frying this will do the trick.
    I have used cast iron my whole life. I was given one of the new pitted pans for a wedding gift. I gladly used a metal sponge to scrub that pan every time possible and it is almost smooth seven years later. It is not the only pan I use though.
    Even when frying I find using animal fat, lard, bacon grease, or tallow the best. But I use vegetable oil, coconut oil, and even olive oil when that is what I have or want in the dish I am preparing.
    I am glad others like cast iron too.

  • Jolyan says:

    I got my husband to use the electric smoker to season a cast iron Dutch oven, so I didn’t have to smoke up the house. It worked great outside.

  • Scott Sexton says:

    Great video. Great article. We have a ton (maybe literally) of cast iron past down through our family. Pots, pans, and all manner of specialty pieces. I pretty much only cook with cast iron. Wish I could convince my wife to stop cooking on teflon. Yikes! I’d love to throw all that stuff out.

  • Always says:

    Hi, there are a few companies making smooth surface cast iron pans – Stargazer and Field Company. Also, there are a few companies making great carbon steel pans – check them out at this post: https://impressionsofaholobiont.com/2017/10/30/cast-iron-vintage-vs-new/

  • Carroll Nigg says:

    Soaking the pans is the method that I have use on dozens of pans. Using wire brushes and mechanical means can leave a pan or skillet with marks. Soaking is less work and leaves the pans/skillets clean. Many times the items found will have lots cooking buildup like char. Several solutions work. 12 ounces of molasses in 4 gals of water or a hardware store can of draining (small granular container) in 5 gals of water. I use both although the molasses is one that you don’t have to wear skin or eye protection. Let the pan soak a day or so, check on it and remove all the char or rust with a non scratching pad or soft brass brush. . If needed re soak until you have it all. Wash off and pat dry. Heat up your outdoor grill to 200 or so to dry out the metal. Rub down the metal with crisco or lard and place back in the grill. Warm the grill up to 250 for 10-15 minutes and then remove with a dry paper towel any excess crisco or lard. Put back and cook for 15-20 minutes.
    I use this method as I sell cast iron to users and collectors. Occasionally I have had to apply a second coat of crisco and go through the firing to get a perfect pan. It should be noted in using a pan or skillet they provide excellent uniform cooking, but you can warp a skillet if you use on two high heat source and particularly if the source is centered and isn’t applied to the total area of the bottom.

  • Geezer says:

    You are not supposed to use cast iron on a glass top stove because the nubs from the manufacture may scratch. Either don’t wiggle the pan or buy a diffuser pad.
    I have caused my self much grief by leaving my old and best pan on high heat (on a glass top) with a few sausages in it. Because it over heated under one of the sausages it split the pan. Now I am looking for an experienced welder to repair ‘black beauty’

  • Debbie says:

    My first piece of cast iron cookware was a frying pan I inherited from my grandfather over thirty years ago. I fell in love with the even heat and non-stick surface. Since then, I have been adding cast iron pans to my collection whenever I can find them at an affordable price. I think the vintage ones are of a better quality, and have actually had a couple of newer pieces crack while using them on my stovetop. I assume that may be to a manufacturing defect, since I bought them from an overstock outlet, and am wondering if there is a way to repair them. I prefer cooking with cast iron whenever possible, with stainless steel as a second choice, for foods with a high water or acid content.

  • Brodo says:

    We are a cast iron family and wouldn’t think of using anything else (with the exception of a 10qt stainless dutch oven for soups). From stove-top to campfire cooking, it’s simply the best. There are few things we own that we know will not only outlast us, but also the next couple of generations of our descendants (possibly more!). Thanks for the article and video.

  • Wendy says:

    I love my cast iron pan! I use coarse salt and a scrub brush to clean my pan. Works great!

  • Jennifer Sterling says:

    Go to You Tube & watch Cowboy Kent Rollins. He has a new video on this & he cooks with cast iron all the time.

  • Sarah Pelletier-Jaggy says:

    Hi, I can give you a better tip to get more iron in blood is to juice red beets, greens and lemon evrey day. I can certify the result!!!

  • S says:

    If anyone is in northern NJ and wants to render their own lard for seasoning cast iron contact our farm. We are cleaning out our freezers and have a lot of pig skin/fat that could be rendered we just don’t have time. It’s free and was organically fed. Just don’t want to throw it out. Email info at hiddenwoodsfarm dot com. Thanks for the great article and comments!

  • Alvin Davis says:

    I have great success by soaking a good size wash cloth or any size rag in ammonia and putting it and a cast iron pan in a plastic bag and tie the bag tightly and let it set about 24 hrs.! The rags will have to be trashed after use .

  • Heide says:

    I use a sprinkle of salt and chain mail(you can buy on Amazon) to clean my pan. Works perfectly! And the chain mail square rinses out easily and ready for the next time. It will last forever too.

  • harpiano says:

    Living in Hawaii after years in Alaska, my fry pans don’t like it here! They don’t like being seasoned anymore either. I’m not sure why, but I actually have to wash them with soap almost every time I use them now, and seasoning isn’t in the mix with the many ants we have here. I’m not sure what to do, but they still work, except one that was of questionable origin.

  • cre8tiv369 says:

    Wish I had a nickel for every bit of mis-information/bad info/urban legend I read about cast iron. It seriously needs to stop. Using an oven to season cast iron is like boiling an egg for 2 hours… Sure it will hard boil the egg, but it is a serious waste of time and gives bad results. The only reason some like to season in an oven below 400 degrees, is because it never reaches the smoke point of the oil and doesn’t fill the kitchen with smoke. The problem with this lack of thinking is that it is exactly contrary to what you are trying to do, pyrolyze the fat/oil. The seasoning is just a residual shellac (left over from pyrolyzing fat/oil), which protects from rust and has non-stick qualities. You want that smoke when you are seasoning, it’s a sign you are doing it right and that your oil/fat is binding to the metal. It is much better to do it over a hot stove top burner (and an outdoor propane burner can save your kitchen from oil/fat smoke).

    You will need to touch up your seasoning depending on use and cleaning (often), touch ups don’t cause as much smoke because you only need a single burn instead of multiple burns (for an initial seasoning).

    The floor of your cast iron pan should be glass smooth to begin with. If you just bought or were gifted a brand new “Lodge brand” pan that is rougher than 40 grit sand paper, you need to break out the power tools. Hit it with a disc sander until the floor of the pan is smooth like glass, then wash, dry, and season. The reason many prefer finding antique cast iron is because manufacturers from days of old didn’t sell rough cast iron, they sanded and finished them because buyers knew better and wouldn’t buy a rough pan. Now days almost no one sells a smooth cast iron pan, you got to sand them smooth yourself.

    You want as thin a layer of fat as possible when seasoning. Wipe on your fat/oil of choice, then wipe off as much as you can with paper towels until you can’t wipe off any more, heat until super hot and the smoke stops, take off the heat and let it cool gently. (once the smoke stops you are done, your fat has been pyrolyzed). I like to do 4 of these for an initial seasoning, for touch ups, one is all you need, and always sand off any manufacturers “pre-seasoning” because its guaranteed to be crap)

    If you have a bad seasoning layer, it will not be rock hard and non stick, (usually a sign it was initially seasoned (incorrectly) with too thick a layer of fat), it will be semi soft and gummy and is not good. Take the power tools to it, and then season it.

    Never be afraid to use a mild dish soap on your cast iron, mild soap or boiling water will clean anything out of your cast iron without harming a proper seasoning (just lightly oil it once it’s dry). I use a stainless steel scouring pad on my cast iron all the time and have yet to ever scratch through or even dent a proper seasoning layer. A proper seasoning layer will not soak up anything (including mild dish soap).

    Never, ever, ever, use vinegar or drain cleaner or ammonia or anything else on your cast iron. You will only ruin your seasoning layer. If you need to get the seasoning layer off, use a sander as it will not leave poison stuck to crevices in your pan. Burning off a pan (on a camp fire or in the fireplace) can work, but it can also pyrolyze additional unwanted stuff to your seasoning layer. If you stuck something so unclean-able to your cast iron (that soapy water and a stainless scouring pad will not dislodge), then save yourself some frustration and just break out your disc sander.

    If you season right, in very thin layers, you will be rewarded with a super hard, even, non flaking seasoning layer that will be bullet proof and make you happy. If you putz around with bad seasoning layers, rough cast iron pans, and do dumb things to your cast iron, you will be disappointed. And the solution is not modern non stick which leaches tons of forever chemicals into everything those pans, waffle irons, instant pots, rice cooker, etc touch (even the new ones that claim to be PFOA and PFOS free are only able to make that claim because they are made with a sister fluoropolymers with a different suffix, but they are just as deadly toxic.

    My eggs don’t stick in my cast iron pans, over easy is as easy as scrambled. My pancakes come out perfect, light, fluffy, perfectly tanned, and delicious. But what do I know? I’m just an organic farm boy that grew up cooking with nothing but cast iron and a wood stove in the kitchen, and later became a chef in 1986. I have never used non stick nor aluminum for my cooking as they are toxic/poisonous and I’ve never been dumb enough to assume they were safe.

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