The Best Way to Season Your Cast Iron? Don’t!

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There are only two reasons why you would need to season your cast iron: you have low-quality cast iron or you are cooking with industrial seed oils (also known as “vegetable” oils) like corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and canola (rapeseed) oil. Most of the lower priced cast iron today is much more porous than the cast iron of yesteryear; back in the day the cast iron was denser and milled smooth and slick.

If you run your finger across the cooking surface of your pan, is there a pebbly feel? If so you have a low quality pan. I highly suggest going to rummage sales, estate sales, flea markets, and the like and find some old cast iron. When you look at the cooking surface of the pan, you should see faint concentric rings in the bottom and it will feel slick to the touch.

Even if you have the porous, pebbly cheap stuff, if you cook with saturated fat like animal fat or coconut oil, your food will stick much less than if you used the highly processed vegetable oils. Saturated fat is less susceptible to oxidation than vegetable oils, so it is less likely to allow your cast iron to rust. You know that crusty black stuff that is so revered in the cast iron world as “seasoning”? It is gross and unnecessary; it is a buildup of old food and old, oxidized industrial seed oil that has turned into a hard plastic coating. Example (ewwww):
gross residue

A good pan, properly used with saturated fat remains slick and smooth with no buildup of residue. It will turn a pleasing dark brown with use. When you use saturated fats with your pan, you clean your pan either by wiping it out with a paper towel if it is very clean oil (frying eggs in coconut oil), or by using very hot water and a stainless steel scouring pad (after removing all fat – you don’t want to put that down your drain), and for the really tough jobs you can even *GASP!* use dishwashing soap. I know, blasphemy!

After cleaning and drying your pan, simply rub a little coconut oil or bacon fat into the pan and it is good to go. I have gone from using the new cheap cookware with vegetable oil and accumulating that gross stuck on crusty surface in an attempt to make my pans nonstick, to using the old quality pans with saturated fat and no “seasoning” and the way I cook now is so much better. The only times I have to wash the pans beyond a simple scrubbing with steel is when I cook something thick and sticky like chili.

There are a lot of makers of the good old pans, including Griswold (who also made Victor, ERIE and Iron Mountain), Wagner, Lodge (old Lodge is unmarked – look for 3 notches in the heat ring on the underside of the pan), Wapak, Favorite Piqua, and Birmingham. There are also a lot of really good unmarked pans, so just look for the slick cooking surface with milling marks.

Examples:
slick3

My favorite cast iron pan came with our house when we bought it abandoned. I have looked at hundreds of pictures of old cast iron and haven’t seen a handle configuration like mine yet. I have no clue what brand it is but it is very light-weight, slick, and the handle doesn’t get hot. I have another unmarked pan that was my grandmother’s and its handle doesn’t get hot either. It is warm to the touch, but you can cook in it for an hour and still pick it up without using a hot pad. That’s a well designed pan!

Edited to add that here is a vintage Lodge pan for $10.50!

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12 thoughts on “The Best Way to Season Your Cast Iron? Don’t!

  1. Pingback: The Best Way to Season Your Cast Iron? Don’t! | Manosphere.com

  2. Mikky

    Japanese cast iron is superb, the best I’ve ever seen. If you can order it online, don’t hesitate.

  3. BDaddy

    Another benefit of your method is that under high heat those vegetable oils decompose into nasty chemicals that damage your liver. See the WSJ article on this subject. Thanks for the great tip.

  4. littleredrpw

    Yay! We are just now finishing moving into our new place (whew!) and I bought my first cast iron pan the other day and was relieved when I read that you listed Lodge. I need to run out and get coconut oil! I totally forgot about that and wanted to get back into the WordPress world to pick up some little secrets from you ladies once I finally get settled and cozy again – its been quite the hectic month.

  5. LostSailor

    This is going to be a shameless plug, but if anyone is looking for really good quality, restored vintage cast iron, I have two friends (here in NYC) who have quite a lot of it available. I even got a really nice “chicken fryer” like the one in the photo at the top of the post (free because, well, I’m friends with them). I use it all the time. A good modern alternative is enameled cast iron, which you don’t have to worry about seasoning either and can use regular cleaning supplies on.

    https://www.facebook.com/castironguys

    Or their blog/store: http://castironguys.com/

    (if the links are inappropriate, feel free to remove).

    And saw your tweet. Any woman that can jump like a Willys in four-wheel drive is okay by me…

  6. Maeve

    I clean mine by covering the interior with regular table salt, heating it (either on the stove top or in the oven) and then using the salt as an absorbent abrasive – I use a spatula to move it around the pan. Just dump out the hot salt, wipe the pan, and all done – plus the salt does a great job of removing any lingering tastes or smells.

  7. TempestTcup Post author

    LostSailor

    LOL, links are perfectly fine 🙂

    I was mainly referring to “pays my tickets when I speed” but I do tend to jump curbs a lot when needed!

  8. TempestTcup Post author

    LOL, keep the pan and always use saturated fat 🙂

    My favorite griddle pan is the worst: porous and bumpy, but with enough coconut oil or bacon fat, any pan is non-stick!

    Yum! Now looking at Paella recipes.

    Hey, wait, Paella pans aren’t even cast iron (if you get the real ones) and this says to not use cast iron. http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/paella.aspx
    hmmmm…

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