We all dream about cooking using a cast-iron pan or cast-iron skillet. Before we dive deep into the topic let us first understand some basic things about cast-iron.
Cast-Iron Cookware — An Overview
Heavy-duty pans are made using cast-iron. It is famous for its durability, heat retention, multiple uses, ability to withstand high temperatures. It is also used as a non-stick pan when the cookware is properly seasoned using seasoning oils.
Why is it necessary to Season Cast-Iron Cookware?
As we all have some level of cooking skills, we all understand the term seasoning when it comes to cooking. When we say seasoning while talking about cooking the image that comes to mind is that of different spices and herbs being sprinkled on food before cooking it.
But here we are not talking about seasoning the food, rather we are talking about seasoning the pan in which we will be cooking the food. Do not be confused and do not worry. It is nothing difficult nor hard to achieve.
Before we discuss how to season cast-iron, we will look at cast-iron in more detail. Cast-iron pans or skillets have a rough surface. The surface of the cast-iron pan is dull and unsmooth. Cooking something in an unseasoned cast-iron pan would mean disaster.
Why? Because the surface of the pan is dull and rough with the surface resembling the surface of the moon. If observed closely you can see small craters and tiny holes in the surface of the pan. If the food is cooked in the pan without seasoning, then the food would seep into these holes and stick to it. The food will bond with the pan and will require strong muscles to scrub it off.
Some five to six decades back the cast-iron pans were polished before being put in the store for sale. Nowadays that is not the case. Now when you buy a cast-iron skillet or pan it comes with a dull surface and has to be seasoned before being used.
Best Oils to Use for Seasoning of Cast-Iron Pans
1. Healthy Harvest Canola Oil
Canola Oil presented to the consumers by Healthy Harvest comes in a gallon size bottle. This oil is a product of Longmont, Colorado USA. Below we will mention some features of this product.
Free from GMOs
This canola oil non-GMO meaning that it is free from genetically modified organisms.
Best for Frying Turkey
This Oil is one of the best NON-GMO certified oil well suited for turkey fryers.
Vegan and Organic
This canola oil is extracted from purely vegetarian and organically grown canola seeds.
Smoke Point and Fat Content
The smoke point of this canola oil is 350°F and contains 61% monounsaturated fats, 26% polyunsaturated fats, saturated fat 8%.
2. Cast-Iron Seasoning Oil (12 ounces) by CLARK'S
This oil presented to the public on amazon by Clark’s has many features and qualities which we will discuss below.
Premium Oil for Cast-Iron
This oil is formulated especially for the seasoning of cast-iron pots, pans, woks, and skillets. It is highly refined coconut oil which is also food grade.
No Fear of Going Rancid
This oil does not get spoiled even if stored for a long period. It does not require refrigeration.
This oil gives a superior non-stick coating when used for seasoning cast-iron pans.
Easy to use
This oil saves your money when you apply a coat after washing and drying the cast-iron pan after every use. Saves your time and money by removing the oven heating process.
3. Caron & Doucet - Ultimate Cast-Iron Set
This set has three items in it. These three items are cast-iron oil, cast-iron scrub, and cast-iron soap.
The cast-iron oil is highly refined coconut oil that would not get spoiled even if stored for a long time.
Then there is a salt scrub which is very useful to scrub the surface clean and remove any kind of odors or smells.
The third item is a cast-iron soap that gently cleans the cast-iron pans and pots.
4. Organic Cast-Iron Oil & Cast-Iron Conditioner
This cast-iron oil and conditioner by Küche Chef has many features which we will mention below.
Organic Flaxseed Oil
This oil is made from 100% organic flaxseed oil and best suited for seasoning cast-iron pots and pans.
Smooth and Slippery Surface
Flaxseed oil is high in unsaturated fats which makes it suitable for cast-iron seasoning.
5. KitCast Natural Cast-Iron Flax Oil with Free eBook
This cast-iron oil made of flaxseed oil by KitCast is made from a food-grade equivalent of flaxseed oil. This oil has a drying quality which is why it was used by woodworkers and painters.
Flaxseed oil does give a good shiny non-stick surface when applied to cast-iron pans. It is the only drying oil that is edible. It effectively bonds to the metal surface and develops a shiny non-stick coating.
What is the seasoning of a cast-iron pan?
Seasoning of a cast-iron pan or skillet means we sprinkle spices and herbs on the pan and leave it to marinate. That was a joke! On a serious note, seasoning a cast-iron pan means that many thin layers of fat are applied on the surface of the pan to make its surface non-stick.
The cast-iron pan is coated with a thin layer of oil. The pan is then heated up to a required temperature. The oil gets heated while remaining in contact with oxygen and metal. A process takes place which is called polymerization.
The thin layer of seasoning oil is heated past the smoke point for about an hour. This heating process will vaporize the lighter hydrocarbons, the heavier hydrocarbons molecules will form a polymer and stick to the iron metal.
By repeating this process a few times, the surface of the cast-iron is evenly coated with this polymerized oil. This coating acts as a non-stick coating and the process is called seasoning. Now the cast-iron skillet or pan is ready for use.
Why do we need to season a cast-iron pan or skillet?
Now that we know how seasoning is done and what it means, we would now discuss why we need to season a cast-iron pan. As discussed above to start using a cast-iron pan we need to season it. This is the main reason for seasoning a cast-iron pan.
Apart from this reason, we have a few more reasons as to why it is necessary to season a cast-iron skillet. As mentioned earlier in this article, if we use a cast-iron pan without applying any seasoning the food would get glued with the pan and burn. The burnt food would be extremely hard to clean and would require a good amount of time and effort.
Secondly, we know that when a cast-iron pan or skillet is seasoned multiple times before being put to use for actual cooking it gets coated with a polymerized film of oil. This film acts not only as a non-stick coating, but it also serves the purpose of a pan preserver and protector.
Thirdly, this coating also acts as an anti-rusting agent. Since cast-iron is prone to attracting rust if subjected to harsh detergents and prolonged soaking in water. This coating will make sure that the water does not seep into the metal and cause rust.
Fourthly, when acidic foods are cooked in the cast-iron skillet the chances of corrosion of the pan surface increase. This coating again comes in handy and protects the pan from corrosive elements. A word of caution here, when the pan is used to cook acidic foods like tomatoes or vinegar, etc. it is best to season the cast-iron pan again after washing to prolong the pan’s life.
Which oil to use for seasoning the cast-iron pan?
If we surf the internet and read different blogs and articles about cast-iron pan seasoning, we will come to know that there are many types of oils available in the market. Some of these oils are more suitable than others. We need to see what makes an oil or seasoning substance more suitable.
Before we go deep into the list of oils and the comparison of these oils, we need to understand what type of oil is more suitable for seasoning. There is a lot of talk about the best oil for seasoning the cast-iron skillet. If you go back in time and ask the elders about seasoning the cast-iron pan, they will give you a lot of options.
Even in history books, we can find different oils being used for the seasoning. Some of the traditional methods and techniques will also be deciphered and many myths will be debunked in the text to follow.
To choose the correct oil for the seasoning of the pan we must understand the qualities it should have to create the perfect non-stick coating. When we discuss oils, we find that the oils contain two types of fats. The fats contained in the oil are saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats do not form strong bonds with other molecules. This feature does not allow them to qualify as good seasoners. Since the fat will not bond strongly with other molecules it would allow elements to interact with the metal directly.
There would be two outcomes either the food would leech onto the surface of the pan or the food would interact with the metal and cause corrosion.
Unsaturated fats are capable of forming a bond with other molecules quickly. This means that the unsaturated fat molecules form a strong bond with the cast-iron metal and form a superior coating on the surface.
Smoke Point is also a key factor that has to be considered when choosing an oil for seasoning. What do we mean by smoke point? Smoke point means the temperature at which the oil will breakdown and the fat molecules in the oil start to polymerize.
It is important to note that the cast-iron pan should be heated well beyond the smoke point otherwise the oil will not break down and will not polymerize. Without polymerization, there would be no formation of non-stick coating. The seasoning of the pan would not take place.
Now we would look at some of the oils used in the past and the present to season the cast-iron pan.
In the past and even now people consider animal fats to be a good option for a season the cast-iron. The main reason for animal fat to be chosen as a seasoning oil is its immediate availability and it’s being very cheap.
After studying the contents of animal fats, we have come to know that they contain 39% saturated fats. As discussed above we know that the unsaturated fat quantity needs to be higher in oil to make it suitable for seasoning use.
Animal fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 47% – 50%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 6% – 10%
- Saturated fats: 38% – 43%
From the above percentages, we can identify that animal fat is not the right choice for seasoning a cast-iron pan. Although animal fat is very well known from traditions as a seasoning oil. It also has a low smoke point. The smoke point for animal fat is 370°F which is quite low.
Butter and Ghee
Another famous oil used for cast-iron pan seasoning is butter and ghee. Both have different smoke points and fat contents. Butter contains a lot of saturated fats and has less unsaturated fats. Here we should keep in mind that the butter should be free from salt.
Butter fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 26%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 4%
- Saturated fats: 63%
From the above figures, we can see that butter is high in saturated fat contents and very low in unsaturated fat contents. The smoke point for butter is also 350°F which is also very low. Ghee has a higher smoke point which is 485°F which is better than butter, but ghee also would not give an overall seasoning.
Ghee fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 28%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 15%
- Saturated fats: 57%
Both butter and ghee have low smoke points therefore they are not suitable for immediate seasoning, but they provide a good coating when used regularly over some time.
Every household has olive oil available since it is very popular and is also multipurpose. Olive oil is also widely used as a seasoning oil. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, but our focus should remain on saturated fats. It is the saturated fats that bond with other molecules and give an even coating.
Olive oil’s smoke point is better than that of animal fat, butter, or ghee. The smoke point of olive oil ranges from 320°F to 420°F depending upon its type.
Olive Oil fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 73%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 11%
- Saturated fats: 14%
Vegetable oils which are easily available in the market can also be used to season cast-iron pans. Vegetable oils are also low in saturated fats and are high in unsaturated fat contents. One thing that could jeopardize the use of vegetable oil is the level of impurities. Since impurities will affect the polymerization process.
Vegetable oil used must be of high quality because the fat content in such oil will be 100%. Low-quality vegetable oil will not have 100% fat content rather it would have something like 88% or lesser fat content. The remaining amount would be the impurities.
Vegetable Oil fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 54%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 28%
- Saturated fats: 6%
Many people claim that coconut is also good for seasoning cast-iron pans. Coconut is good for health and has many benefits when consumed. This does not mean that it will also be good for seasoning cast-iron pans. As we have discussed above that saturated fats are good at bonding.
The saturated fat content found in coconut oil is very high and for the same reason, we find it not suitable to be used for seasoning cast-iron pans. If we do a little research on the internet, we will find people commenting on different websites and blogs that they were not able to season their cast-iron pans properly using coconut oil.
Coconut Oil fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fats: 6%
- Polyunsaturated fats: 1.8%
- Saturated fats: 87%
Grapeseed oil has the characteristics to be used as cast-iron seasoning oil. The fact that grape seed oil is high in unsaturated fats makes it ideal for its use for seasoning cast-iron pans. The smoke point of grapeseed oil is also high at 420°F. These two characteristics make it ideal for use for seasoning the cast-iron pans.
Another reason to use grapeseed oil is its price. In comparison to other oils, grapeseed oil is lesser in price. It is also lesser in price than flaxseed oil, yet the results are almost identical.
Grapeseed Oil fat contents:
- Monounsaturated fat: 16%
- Polyunsaturated fat: 70%
- Saturated fat: 10%
One of the most widely available and that too at a very affordable rate is corn oil. This oil has a high smoke point which is beneficial if you want to cook at high temperatures. The smoke point of corn oil is 449°F. The fat content in corn oil is also high. Since we are looking for unsaturated fat content in high quantity corn oil is another suitable option.
It is also a popular choice among people for cast-iron seasoning. It also gives a good result much similar to flaxseed oil and grapeseed oil.
Corn Oil fat content:
- Monounsaturated fat: 28%
- Polyunsaturated fat: 55%
- Saturated fat: 13%
One of the most popular oils for cast-iron seasoning is flaxseed oil. It has been observed that flaxseed oil delivers the best results when applied for seasoning of cast-iron pans and skillets. The unsaturated fat contents in flaxseed oil are 86% and the content of flaxseed saturated fat content is only 9%.
This makes flaxseed oil most suitable for seasoning cast-iron skillets and pans. The smoke point of flaxseed oil is low, this makes flaxseed oil more suitable for seasoning since it would be quickly polymerized.
Flaxseed Oil content:
- Monounsaturated fat: 18%
- Polyunsaturated fat: 68%
- Saturated fat: 9%
Best Way to Season Cast-Iron Pan or Skillet
Although we have discussed in brief the process of seasoning a cast-iron pan. Now we will describe this process in more detail. When a consumer purchases a cast-iron pan and wants to use it for the first time for cooking the consumer should process the cast-iron pan and make it ready before actually using it to cook food.
The first thing which we would recommend before seasoning the cast-iron pan is to clean the pan. It is advisable to have a perfectly clean pan before putting it through the seasoning method.
Cleaning the Pan Before Seasoning
Through research and questioning some of the experts of the field, we have come to know that the best way to clean a cast-iron pan is to scrub it with iodine-free granular salt. Take a suitable amount of salt and press it against the surface of the cast-iron pan.
Scrubbing the surface of the cast-iron pan will remove all the undesired traces and elements. After scrubbing the surface, wash the pan with soapy water. The residue salt will dissolve in water and no trace will be left behind. Once the pan has been washed it should be dried out by heating it on the stove.
Moving Forward Toward Seasoning
- The next step to seasoning the pan is to oil it and then heat the pan to a high temperature so that polymerization takes place. A word of caution when oiling the pan. The pan should be lightly oiled. The best way to do it is to take a small amount of oil and spread it all over the pot using your fingers.
- A very thin film of oil should be applied to the pan and it should be evenly spread all over. By oiling the outer area of the pan would ensure that the pan becomes rust proof. Inner oiling will make it non-stick.
- After applying a thin film of oil all over the pan, place the pan in the oven and heat it beyond the smoke point of the oil. To be on the safe side set the temperature of the oven to 470°F. This will ensure that you heat the pan beyond the highest smoke point. The smoke point of flaxseed oil is 450°F so setting the temperature at 470°F will ensure it is surpassed.
- Heat the cast-iron pan for a minimum of 45 minutes this will ensure that oil is well heated, and the surface is blackened. This process will emit smoke so ensure ample ventilation before heating the pan. Once the pan is heated remove it from the oven and cool it down to room temperature.
- Once the pan has cooled down apply another thin layer of oil on it and heats it again in the oven. Repeat this process 5 – 6 more times to build up layers of seasoning on the cast-iron pan. Once you have completed the seasoning of the pan meaning that the oiling and heating process is repeated 5 – 6 times the surface of the pan will become dark black. Now your pan is ready for cooking.
The Bottom Line
From the above-detailed discussion, the readers would now feel confident about cast-iron seasoning. Ways to achieve cast-iron seasoning. Oils, fat content in the oils, and smoke point of oils. From the above options, we feel that the readers would easily find the product which best suits them.