I'm going to show you how to season your cast iron cookware so that it will have a non-stick surface. The more you cook with cast iron the more non-stick it becomes. It's a process. You would also use this method if you found some old cast iron at a yard sale and it needed to be stripped and re-seasoned. (For detailed instructions on stripping cast iron, see “How to Restore Cast Iron Cookware – Cleaning and Restoring Cast Iron“.) For this post will assume you've cleaned and stripped your cast iron if needed, and now you have “naked” cast iron and you want to season your piece.
Cast iron is my favorite cookware; I talk all about the reasons why here. Cast iron needs a little more care than most cookware, but the trade off is that it will last forever (well, at least your lifetime and probably your child's lifetime). There is a lot of cast iron of varying quality on the market today. Some of it comes pre-seasoned and some of it ships unseasoned. Believe it or not there are times when you will want to strip the pre-seasoning off a new piece of cast iron, but I'll get to that in a moment. If you purchase new cast iron and it arrives unseasoned can you start cooking with it? You could, but you would probably have a hard time with food sticking to your cookware. The seasoning is the black covering (or patina) that makes cast iron non-stick.
How To Season Cast Iron
Here are all the pieces I'm going to season for this post. The waffle iron came unseasoned, and the tortilla griddle came seasoned, but I stripped the seasoning so I'm going to re-season it. The large griddle is an old piece that I seasoned many years ago, but did such a bad job that it really needed to be seasoned again. So I stripped the old seasoning off and here it is ready to be seasoned with the other pieces of cast iron cookware.
Now, you're probably asking why I would strip a perfectly good pre-seasoned tortilla griddle. Well, you see, I'm cheap (ahem, I mean frugal) and I did not pay a lot for my cast iron tortilla griddle. Many times the cheaper cast iron cookware is not smooth and as a result food will stick to it even if you season it perfectly. So I had my husband run a wire brush that attaches to his drill over the surface. Now, I'm ready to re-season my smooth griddle. (I talk more about stripping and wire-brushes in the cast iron restoration post.)
The first step is to wash your cookware. It's been at the factory so you just want to give it the once-over to get any residue off. It's perfectly fine to use soap at this point. There is no seasoning to protect, so the soap will not cause any damage. I placed an old wash cloth in my sink so the cast iron would not scratch the surface of my sink. You can see some of the yucky stuff that has come off the griddle.
#2. Rinse your Cast Iron with Cold Water to Help Prevent Rust
Now, here is a little trick to help reduce the flash rust that might occur when you wash a non-seasoned cast iron piece. Do your final rinse with chilled water. If the water in your tap is cold using it would be fine. However, it's warm where I live so the cold water from the tap is not all that cold. So I took water from the tap that I had chilled in the fridge and rinsed my griddle.
Wash all your pieces.
Rinse them all with that chilled water to prevent flash rust. It really does work.
Dry all your pieces. I mean rub them dry. Don't set them down after they stop dripping, rub them with a cloth until they are bone dry, as we are guarding against rust.
#3 – Preheat the Cast Iron Before Applying Seasoning
Place all the pieces in a pre-heated oven. The pre-heating is really only important if you have a gas stove (which I do) because there is moisture (water vapor) present when a gas stove is turned on. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °F. Place the cookware in the oven and let the pieces heat up for about 15 minutes.
#4 – Apply a Generous Amount of High Heat Oil to the Entire Surface of the Cast Iron Cookware
To season the cast iron cookware you will need, oil, a rag to wipe the oil on with and a lint-free cloth to take the oil off with. I prefer to use these lint-free paper towels from the hardware store. I use coconut oil to season with because coconut oil is a high heat, natural oil. You can use any high heat oil you like, such as lard or palm shortening.
Take the cookware out of the oven and apply the oil. The cookware will really soak up the oil since it has no seasoning.
Do both sides.
#5 – Wipe Off Surface Oil
Then as crazy as it sounds wipe it all off. You're not really wiping it all off. You're just wiping the surface oil off. The oil that has soaked into the cast iron is still there. Turn the oven up to 300°F then place your cookware into the oven – upside down if it's a pot or a skillet. Set the timer for 15 minutes and don't go far.
#6 – Heat Your Cast Iron Gently and Wipe Off Excess Oil
After 15 minutes take out your cast iron and wipe the oil off again. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy but the thing is that if you don't get all the oil off it will pool and become a sticky spot on your cookware.
You can see I got off more oil with my second wiping. Place the cookware back in the oven upside down at 400°F for two hours. After two hours let all your cast iron pieces cool to room temperature.
#7 – Repeat Oiling and Removal of Excess oil Three Times
Then take all your pieces out of the oven and start over. You'll do this process for a total of 3 times. You can do it more if you like but your seasoning might flake. After seasoning a total of 3 times it's time to start cooking in your cast iron.
It's hard to see in this picture but this piece was giving me some problems. If you look closely you can see it's splotchy in places. I may have to start over with this one, but have my husband hit it with his drill brush before I re-season it.
If you have a problem piece like this it's not really a big deal; you can go ahead and season it and start cooking in it. It might not work perfectly at first, but over time as the patina thickens it should even out, unless you're dealing with a rough surface. If you have a rough surface on your cast iron, then you need a wire brush or you could always use it for meats and vegetables as it would probably never be non-stick enough for eggs or pancakes.
I wanted to show you that I wound up using cotton swabs to get into the little groves on the waffle maker. I used them to apply the oil and to wipe it off.
Here is a close -up of an unseasoned piece.
Here is a close-up of a seasoned piece. You can see the color is darker because it has patina or outer coating.
As you can see it's pretty simple to season cast iron cookware. I think the trick to taking care of your cast iron is to not treat it like china and never use it, but to treat it like an heirloom that you will hand down to your children just the same. It's even better when your children help you take care of it and form those memories of working side-by-side with you. Yeah, I know that's sappy, but a mother of boys can have hope, can't she?
Other posts in the series:
- Cooking with Cast Iron – How and Why to Get Started
- How to Restore Cast Iron Cookware
- Getting Started with Dutch Oven Cooking
Other Related Posts:
This is a guest post by Jennifer Osuch. Jennifer has been prepping, homesteading (suburban style) and pursuing a self-reliant lifestyle for over 12 years. She is the mother of three very active and wonderful boys, but insists that as many of her possessions as possible be the color pink to remind her house full of boys there is a lady a living among them. Jennifer enjoys writing, gardening, and the outdoors. She blogs with her husband at the Self Reliant School about urban homesteading and becoming self-reliant. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Originally published in 2014, updated in 2018.