My journey with cast iron began many years ago, very soon after I realized that Teflon coated cookware never did any favors for anyone’s health. So I decided it was time to learn how to use cast iron in the kitchen.
The road to success was a bumpy one. It didn’t matter what kind of oil I used; everything seemed to stick. I even ruined a cast iron frying pan by attempting to cure it with a hearty coat of olive oil. Such a goopy, sticky mess I never did see!
Truth is, I almost gave up on the black beasts. They just weren’t working for me. However, when I finally did my research, I realized I was approaching cast iron just like I would a “normal” frying pan.
Years ago, I had to learn to prepare food in Teflon-coated cookware. And now? I needed to take the time to learn how to cook in cast iron!
Here’s the first thing I learned that made a difference in how I approached the black beasts.
How the Non-Stick Surface Works on Cast Iron
Because I was accustomed to “pre-finished” pans, I never stopped to think that my pan might need help or maintenance. However, nothing could be more true of cast iron!
Cast iron’s non-stick finish is created by baked on oils. Yes, you create a non-stick surface by applying fats or oils, then baking the cookware in a 400F oven.
Once you’ve created this finish, it doesn’t mean it’s good for the next 10 years! Over time, these oils wear down and eventually, the pan begins to lose it’s non-stick qualities. As a home cook, your job is to re-season and cure your cast iron cookware every 6-12 months to maintain that finish.
Without it, cast iron cooking is a frustration indeed.
Once I understood this, things began changing and I learned how to cure cast iron for that non-stick finish we all want.
How to Season Cast Iron Cookware
The process is incredibly simple and bit smoky. I recommend that you keep your hood range vent on throughout the entire curing process. And open a window, if needed!
Step 1: Preheat the oven
There are varying opinions on just how hot your oven should be for the seasoning process. Some cast iron uses claim that lower temperatures are better, while some people (like myself) insist that 400F has been the sweet spot for them.
Regardless of the temperature you choose, preheat the oven while you are oiling up your pan.
Step 2: Apply a light layer of oil
When seasoning cast iron, be sure to use oils that have a hard finish! I prefer lard, tallow or coconut oil. If you want to learn how to render animal fats, you can get my tutorial here.
Generously apply your fats/oils to the cookware with your hand, being sure to cover the entire surface and rim. While you want your pan looking moist and wet, you actually don’t want too much oil. Excess oil results a bumpy, uneven finish.
After you’ve saturated your pan, take a paper towel and run it around the pan, removing unwanted oil. You want a very thin layer that will bake on in 45-60 minutes.
Step 3: Bake Cookware Upside Down
Once your cookware has been oiled, it’s time to pop it into the oven. Here’s where things get odd. Instead of curing it right side up, turn your cookware upside down. I don’t know why, but upside down pans always result in a smoother, more even finish!
Because your pan may drip, you can put a cookie sheet below to catch any oils. Otherwise, they will bake onto the bottom of your oven.
Step 4: Set a Timer
If you leave your cast iron in the oven for too long, you may end up burning the finish off. For this reason, I recommend setting a timer for 45-60 minutes. Be sure to check it after this time passes by.
Step 5: Reapply Oil and Return to Oven
After an hour has passed by, check your cookware. Does it look dry and black? Or does it still have wet-looking spots that resemble raindrops?
If it’s “dry” you’re ready for another coat. However, if it looks speckled, put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
Step 6: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
If your cast iron has been properly cared for, you shouldn’t need more than 2, maybe 3 coats. However, when working with very old, worn down pans, I like to season my cast iron until it has a glossy, black finish.
At first, the gloss will come slowly and in patches. These shiny black spots will eventually grow until the entire pan has a sleek, black look that reflects the light. And then? It’s ready for use! And from there on, your cast iron should only need to be seasoned 1-2x per year, with 1-2 coats!