How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Not sure how to season your cast iron skillet? Kitchen Expert Paul Z. walks you through the process step by step to ensure you season your pan correctly.

A tortilla sits in a cast-iron skillet that is dusted in flour.

Photo by Anshu A

My family has always been fans of cast iron cookware. My grandmother used a cast iron skillet to make tortillas, and my mom broke out the classic 10" cast iron skillet to fry bacon. I use my skillet for various tasks, such as searing steak and chicken. Cast iron skillets are durable, boast tremendous heat retention and radiation, and become the best nonstick skillet in your kitchen when correctly seasoned.

Seasoning cast iron may look intimidating or even labor-intensive to the uninitiated, but the truth is that seasoning cast iron is a cinch. The seasoning process requires regular maintenance, but the more you cook with cast iron, the easier it is to clean and season.

The Basics

Some of my favorite things to cook in my cast iron are steak, chops, bacon, cornbread, and buttermilk biscuits. The recurring theme with these foods is that they have high-fat content, which aids in seasoning. Seasoning on a cast iron skillet is layers of fat built up over time, so cook these foods often, or make them some of the first dishes you cook with your cast iron, as they will set a tremendous base for seasoning. The method of seasoning cast iron is known as polymerization. Polymerization occurs when fat and oils stick to the cooking surface, building seasoning and an easy-release or non-stick surface.

What to Avoid

Avoid cooking acidic foods in your cast iron skillet. Acidic foods such as tomatoes and tomato sauce will leave a slightly metallic taste in your food if cooked for an extended time.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron: Step by Step

1. Clean Your Pan

The author washes his cast-iron pan in the sink with a sponge.

Photo by Paul Z.

Start by cleaning the cast iron skillet. It'll take some elbow work, depending on your skillet’s condition (you can wear rubber gloves if your skillet requires extra deep cleaning). If you have just cooked with it, let it cool. Add mild dish soap and hot water and scrape with a wooden spatula to remove any caked-on food. I have a Lodge Chain Mail scrubber if my cast iron has any leftover residue that requires extra deep cleaning. If you don't have one, then add some coarse kosher salt and use the non-abrasive side of a Scotch-Brite sponge to wash your cast iron skillet. If your skillet has rust, use a stiff brush or steel wool. Add some mild dish soap and hot water, then scrub vigorously, removing all the rust.

2. Rise and Dry

Rinse and dry your cast iron pan completely with a kitchen towel. It is important to wipe away as much of the moisture as possible. I live in the tropics, where it's a little humid, so I like to throw mine on the stove over a burner set to medium-low heat until the moisture has evaporated.

3. Oil It Up

Applying oil to the pan

Photo by Paul Z.

Now it's time to rub in oil. Use mild oil such as vegetable oil or canola oil. You can also use olive oil or grapeseed oil if you prefer. Gentle cooking spray will work as a substitute if you do not have oil on hand. Apply a thin layer of oil to the entire cast iron skillet with a paper towel. You will need enough to cover the pan inside and out and top to bottom, covering the handle and pour spouts. Be careful not to apply excess oil. Too much oil will make the cast iron pan sticky and will not season properly. The cast iron skillet should look dry once all the oil is applied.

4. Put It in the Heat

Cast iron skillet in the oven

Photo by Paul Z.

Preheat your oven to 450. Line the bottom rack of your oven with a sheet of aluminum foil, which prevents oil from dripping in the range while seasoning your cast iron skillet. Place your pan upside down on the middle rack of your oven and bake for one hour.

Turn off your oven but leave the cast iron skillet in the oven to cool completely. Once cooled, remove from the oven and place on the stovetop. If you wish to develop more layers of seasoning, add another layer of vegetable oil and repeat the baking process several more times.

Pro Tip: you want a dark black sheen. When cooled, the cast iron should be smooth.

Wapping It Up

If your cast iron is like mine and already well-seasoned, wash, rinse, dry, then apply a thin layer of oil with a paper towel to the skillet. Adding extra layers of film will enhance and strengthen the seasoning. Leave your cast iron on the stovetop, this will encourage you to cook with it often. A well-used cast iron skillet is also a well-seasoned skillet.

For a new cast iron skillet, many are pre-seasoned so I suggest initially cooking foods with higher fat contents to build seasoning. Pan-searing, steak, frying, bacon, and baking cornbread are all great starters that build seasoning in you cast iron.

Are you looking for the right cast iron cookware to compliment your kitchen? Reach out to a Curated Expert and let us know what your kitchen needs to take your cooking to the next level. We’ll help you find it!

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Written By
Paul Z.
Paul Z.
Kitchen Expert
I love to cook. I love to eat and I love to eat the delicious meals I cook for my family. I caught the cooking bug early as a child. My whole family cooked growing up. I spent the weekdays in the 'burbs watching my mom cook anything from scallop potatoes and pork chops to chile verde and enchiladas....
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