The struggle to keep a cast iron pan seasoned is real, so many people simply choose not to deal with it. That’s unfortunate because caring for cookware doesn’t need to be complicated. The simplest and fastest way to season your cast iron cookware is on the stovetop.
New cast iron usually comes pre-seasoned, but that isn’t the same as a good mature seasoning.
The truth is, seasoning isn’t a one-time deal. A good skillet with years of use will be coated in hundreds of layers of polymerized oil that protect it from moisture and not allow food to stick. Each time you cook with it, you are either building the seasoning up or breaking it down. When you cook most foods with your cast iron, you’re cementing a coat of oil to the skillet and building the seasoning. However, acidic ingredients, like wine or tomatoes, will strip down those layers, sometimes exposing bare metal.
If the integrity of your cast iron is compromised, the remedy is easier than you think. Just re-season it on the stovetop.
The traditional method involves heating an oven to 450 degrees and baking oil onto the surface for an hour. This may be necessary to create a base seasoning on a new pan or to restore an old one, but you don’t need to do this every time just for maintenance. I prefer to just season on the stovetop after each time I cook with the skillet to build up the coating. Here’s the simple process:
- Blot a cloth or paper towel with a little oil and wipe it across the entire cast iron skillet. Use a polyunsaturated fat like flaxseed, grapeseed, or other vegetable oils. Then, take a clean cloth and wipe it off. You might think there is nothing left on the surface, but there is actually a very thin layer that will harden faster and won’t leave a sticky residue.
- Make sure your kitchen is well ventilated and the fan is running. Set the skillet over a burner at the highest heat setting until it begins to smoke. It will take a few minutes to reach that temperature and polymerize. When the pan starts smoking, turn the heat off and let it cool.
- You can repeat this process several times to build the seasoning or use this method for maintenance after cooking and cleaning.
This procedure only takes 10 minutes, and makes it easy to care for your cookware. Every time you season a skillet, you’re bonding another layer to the surface, which will enhance the quality of the cookware.
Eventually your cast iron will be shiny black with a hard coating and will likely become the workhorse in your kitchen or camp. You don’t need to season it after every time you cook. Some of the best qualities of cast iron is that it gets better with time and can last forever.