Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron – Simpler Than You Might Think!

Published Categorized as Journal, Kitchen Accessories

It’s easy to be intimidated by kitchenware – especially on the topic of seasoning cast iron. But in reality, cast iron is easier to maintain than you might think!

In this article, I’ll be going over why seasoning matters, the science behind the process, how to season cast iron and maintain it, and finding the best oil for seasoning cast iron.

Let’s get started with some of the basics!

Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron – Simpler Than You Might Think!

Table of Contents

Cast Iron: The Basics

Cast iron is, fittingly enough, iron that has been cast into a mold and allowed to solidify. Unlike other kinds of iron, such as wrought iron, cast iron does not need to be worked with tools. It’s easy to manufacture due to its relatively low melting point – all you need to do is pour it into a mold.

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Before Teflon became all the rage, cast iron had a chokehold on Europe since the 16th century for all these reasons.

What Kitchenware Is Made With Cast Iron?

Some cookware commonly made with cast iron include frying pans and skillets, Dutch ovens, griddles, waffle irons, panini presses, crepe makers, deep fryers, tetsubin, woks, potjies, and karahi.

Skillets and frying pans are by far some of the most popular (don’t understand the difference between frying pans and skillets? That’s okay, it’s thrown me through a loop before too!) but you’re likely to have spotted a few of those others before too.

What Cast Iron is Used For And Why

Cast iron’s popularity in the kitchen is not without reason.

This material has proven to make phenomenal kitchen tools – it’s naturally non-stick, notoriously durable, and even able to last generations! Provided it’s properly maintained, of course. Some even argue that cast iron equipment gets better with age – something that certainly cannot be said of Teflon.

Even with those points aside, cast iron cookware still has a whole cache full of benefits! It can withstand and maintain incredibly high temperatures where other kitchenware would burn, it’s excellent for slow-cooking stews and making dishes that require braising, and is a go-to for searing!

In addition to all this, most cast-iron equipment can be used both on the stove and in the oven.

The Cons Of Cast Iron Cookware

Despite its historical prevalence and survival to the present day, cast iron does have a few disadvantages.

For starters, cast iron tends to be much heavier than other kitchenware, and takes a little extra TLC to maintain. Equipment made with it needs to be seasoned every so often, and doing so requires a little elbow grease. If left unseasoned, cast iron is incredibly prone to rust.

It’s also not suitable for cooking acidic foods – a few roasted tomatoes are fine, but making tomato sauce in a cast iron pan is not recommended.

Lastly, cast iron cookware generally takes a good while longer to heat up.

Ultimately, while there are a few downsides, many find that the pros of using this tool make up for it. If you take good care of your cast iron equipment and keep it dry, it’s sure to last the rest of your life – and maybe even your kids’ lives too!

Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron – Simpler Than You Might Think!

What Does Seasoning Cast Iron Mean?

Seasoning refers to the process of treating cast iron pans and skillets to create a natural, slick coating that’s perfect for cooking. Rather than using synthetic non-stick coatings that can degrade over time, seasoning allows you to leverage the natural properties of cast iron to make it easy to cook with.

The seasoning process works by causing a chemical reaction that bonds oils (usually vegetable or flaxseed oil) to the surface of the pan. As the oil polymerizes, it creates a smooth, hardened layer that fills in the pores of the iron. This not only prevents rusting but also keeps food from sticking.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet has an almost glass-like quality – it’s slick, black, and shiny rather than dry and gray. Seasoning also gives the pan an incredible non-stick quality rivaling any artificial coating out there.

So in a nutshell, seasoning cast iron refers to artificially creating that sweet-spot cooking surface through a simple process of scrubbing, oiling, and heating the pan. It protects the iron, prevents sticking and rancid oil flavors in your food, and allows the pan to achieve that coveted natural non-stick quality.

Is Seasoning Cast Iron Necessary?

In short… Yes, it is absolutely necessary to season your cast iron.

This is because iron is naturally porous (meaning it has tiny little holes). If you don’t season your cast iron but continue to cook with it, it will inevitably get rusty, sticky, and dirty – and that won’t make your food appetizing at ALL.

Seasoning keeps your pan clean, fresh, protected, and non-stick. A well-seasoned pan should be able to bake a cake, fry eggs, or sear a steak without any problems! If you find yourself scraping to remove food afterward, it might be time for some re-seasoning.

However, in my opinion, the best part of cast iron and seasoning is the money you can save. Forget buying a new Teflon pan every few months, grandma’s cast iron skillet will be with you for LIFE! Scraped Teflon is unfixable, but a sticky cast iron pan? Just give it a little deep clean and re-season to get back on the stove.

Why is Seasoning Cast Iron Important?

Seasoning is critical for cast iron cookware longevity and performance. Without proper seasoning, your cast iron is essentially a hunk of porous metal prone to rust, sticking, and imparting metallic flavors.

Proper seasoning transforms cast iron into a slick, non-stick cooking surface. This is achieved by filling the microscopic pores with hardened oil, creating a protective barrier. A well-seasoned pan has an almost glass-like quality—smooth, black, and shiny.

Enhanced Non-Stick Properties

A seasoned cast iron pan can rival expensive non-stick cookware in its easy food release capabilities. Eggs, pancakes, fish, and more slide right off the dark patina of a well-cared-for pan. This allows for healthier cooking with less oil or butter needed.

Rust Prevention

Seasoning seals the cast iron, preventing moisture from reaching and oxidizing the raw iron. This protects it from unsightly rust that can degrade the pan and leach into food.

No Metallic Tastes

The seasoned coating prevents you from tasting the iron as you cook. Unseasoned cast iron can impart a metallic flavor to acidic foods especially.

By properly seasoning, you transform inexpensive cast iron into a high-performing pan that will last for decades. It’s essential for both cooking performance and cast iron longevity.

The Science Of Seasoning Cast Iron

The process of ‘seasoning’ cast iron has a scientific name; polymerization.

In the context of seasoning, polymerization occurs when an oil with suitable amounts of certain fats is heated at a temperature over its smoke point. This causes the oil on your pan to bond with the cast iron itself, forming a seal and filling in all of the metal’s pores.

If done correctly, your pan should be smooth and shiny with an almost glass-like quality to it. The oil should have hardened and become one with the pan. If you scroll down to the ‘How To Season With Cast Iron’ section below, the linked video will show you what seasoned cast iron should look like.

Best Way To Season Cast Iron: Oils

Seasoning And Smoke Points

Smoke points‘ or ‘smoking points’ simply refer to the temperature at which fats or oils start to burn and smoke rather than shimmer.

Some oils have a higher smoke point, meaning they only begin to smoke at a higher temperature – these sorts of oils are ideal for high-heat cooking, deep frying, and… seasoning your cast iron.

Cast iron needs to reach very high temperatures for the seasoning to actually take hold – temperatures that oils with low smoke points cannot withstand.

Best Oil For Seasoning A Cast Iron Pan, Grill Or Skillet – What’s Important?

When seasoning cast iron, there are three things to look for in your oil.

  1. The first (and most important) is a high smoke point.
  2. Secondly, a good balance of fats is necessary.
  3. A neutral flavor is best.

Now let me explain – certain fats work better in polymerization. Saturated fat in particular is the worst – this is why it’s important to use an oil that has the right balance of fats.

The neutral flavor aspect is just so that your food won’t take on any unwanted flavors from the seasoning.

What Is The Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron?

So, what oil is best for seasoning cast iron?

Flaxseed

The best seasoning oil for cast iron is hands down flaxseed oil. It’s excellent for seasoning cast iron because it hits all the targets in what you want from a seasoning oil.

However, flaxseed can be a little pricey, so there are plenty of alternatives out there that will do!

Grapeseed

The closest contender to flaxseed is grapeseed – it has a near-identical split between unsaturated fat and saturated fat and lines up with all of the other targets.

Aside from these two, you can really use any oil that fits the targets. They may not last as long, but they’ll certainly do the job.

Correct Amount of Oil for Seasoning

Aim to apply the thinnest layer possible – you want barely enough to fully coat the inside cooking surface. Oil quantity depends somewhat on pan size, but 1-2 teaspoons does the trick for most skillets or pans. Use a paper towel or clean lint-free cloth to rub off any visible excess pooled oil, wiping thoroughly to reveal a satiny sheen across the entire cooking surface.

The goal is to create a microscopic layer that fully interacts with the iron beneath. Applying too much oil can leave your pan sticky; conversely, skimping on oil defeats the purpose of filling in pores and polymerizing to the surface.

Can I Use a Different Oil?

When it comes time to re-season your cast iron pan, you may be wondering if you can or should switch up the oil you use. The good news is, you absolutely can experiment with different seasoning oils when re-applying layers of seasoning.

Using a variety of plant-based oils can potentially enhance the non-stick properties and protective qualities of your pan’s patina over time. Each oil contains a unique fatty acid profile that polymerizes slightly differently. Building up layers of diverse seasons allows you to capitalize on the unique strengths of each oil.

However, while you can freely alternate oils when re-seasoning, most experts recommend sticking to one oil for the initial seasoning. This allows you to set a solid foundation before branching out. Flaxseed and grapeseed oils are perfect choices to start on the right foot.

Once you’ve cooked on your pan regularly for a few months, feel free to get creative! Avocado, coconut, and walnut oils offer their unique seasoning benefits. Just be sure any new oil has a high smoke point and neutral flavor. Avoid strong flavors like olive or sesame oil which can overpower dishes. The key is applying extremely thin layers so flavors don’t dominate.

How To Season Cast Iron

As I’ve found that most people prefer to learn visually, I’ve linked a video below explaining in detail how to season cast iron. The second half of the video also shows you how to cook with it!

However, keep in mind that this video is fairly in-depth and shows you how to get the best results possible. If you find the process in the video to be too time-consuming, the YouTube channel Binging With Babish also has a video on kitchenware maintenance that has a simplified explanation for seasoning cast iron. It’s the first thing he covers, so there’s no need to skip ahead!

For your convenience, I’ve also left a transcription of the video below with all the steps and details outlined.

What You Will Need

  • Steel wool
  • Mild dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Non-abrasive pad or kitchen sponge
  • Tea towel
  • Warm stove or oven
  • Your seasoning oil of choice
  • Napkin or clean cloth for oiling

Clean

Gently but thoroughly scrub with some steel wool and mild dish soap to remove the previous seasoning and rust/debris. Do this until you get the cast iron down to its ‘base layer’. Make sure to scrub every part of the cast iron, even the handles, and base.
Rinse under warm/hot water to remove the soap and gently scrub with the rough side of a kitchen sponge or a nonabrasive cleaning pad.

Dry

After rinsing, dry off your cast iron with a clean tea towel. It doesn’t have to be bone dry at this stage.
Place the cast iron on your stove or in a warm oven and let the water boil away until the cast iron is COMPLETELY DRY. It’s important that there is no moisture for the next steps, otherwise, your pan will rust and the seasoning won’t have served its purpose.

Season

Begin to season your cast iron by applying a generous amount of oil to the pan. If you’re unsure of which oil to use, check the section on oils, or the FAQs.
With a clean cloth or napkin, spread the oil all over your cookware until it is completely covered in a thin layer. Then, take the cleaner side of your napkin (or cloth!) and try to rub off as much of the oil you just put on as you can. Doing this properly will ensure that there is no excess oil left on the pan, so it won’t be sticky after heating.

Cook your… pan???

After you’re happy with the seasoning, place your cookware upside down in the oven and set it to the highest temperature it can go. Leave it for about an hour, and check in on it from time to time to make sure it’s okay.
Turn off your oven and let it cool in there until completely cooled – you might want to open a window or two as this step can get smokey. Never put cast iron in cold water to try and cool it down faster.
If after completely cooled, you find that your cast iron cookware is still a little brown and sticky, that means you either left too much oil on it or didn’t leave it to heat up for long enough. If this is the case, simply repeat this step.

All Done!

Now that you’ve finished seasoning your pan, it should be dry to the touch with a hard, glassy-looking surface. If so, you’re all set to go!

Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron – Simpler Than You Might Think!

Other Factors Impacting Seasoning

Beyond just oil choice, several other elements play a role in obtaining optimal seasoning results. From cookware usage habits to storage conditions, numerous variables can affect that slick, non-stick patina.

Proper Seasoning Temperatures

Achieving the oil smoke point matters when building up seasoning layers. If your oil doesn’t polymerize from heat, it won’t bond correctly. Make sure your oven or stove-top can reach at least 450°F. Additionally, letting cookware slowly cool down prevents thermal shock which can crack the seasoning finish.

Cooking Habits

How you cook with your cast iron daily also impacts seasoning over time. Consistently allowing food debris to sit in the pan leads to rancid oil flavors. Make sure to clean after each use. On the flip side, overly aggressive scouring wears down the seasoning. Find the right scrubbing balance.

Storage Considerations

Like most things, cast iron is sensitive to moisture. Leaving cookware wet or in very humid conditions enables rust formation beneath the seasoning. Ensure pans are fully dried after washing. Additionally, steer clear of storage spaces like basements or garages where humidity runs high. Maintaining a dry, climate-controlled storage space optimizes seasoning durability.

Old vs. New Cast Iron Kitchenware

Cast iron cookware has been around for centuries, but there are some key differences between vintage and modern variants when it comes to seasoning. Vintage cast iron tends to be lighter weight with a smoother cooking surface, while modern cast iron is heavier and rougher.

Heirloom Cast Iron Seasoning

Vintage cast iron made before the 1960s was produced in smaller batches and hand-finished, creating an almost glass-like cooking surface. This means vintage cast iron actually needs less seasoning since it started smoother. Focus seasoning on the cooking surface only using very thin layers of oil to maintain its non-stick quality. Avoid abrasives that could ruin the smooth finish.

Modern Cast Iron Seasoning

Modern cast iron has a pebbly, textured surface which helps food release but requires more rigorous seasoning. Use a chainmail scrubber or coarse salt with oil to massage the oil deep into the pores before heating. Aim for a thick seasoning layer to fill in the cooking surface. Repeat the seasoning process 2-3 times when you first get a modern pan.

The key difference lies in the attention paid during the original manufacturing process. While vintage pans needed more tender loving care to reach peak non-stick ability, modern cast iron must be coaxed into it through heavy-duty seasoning. Either way, with the proper technique matched to the era of your cookware, cast iron of any age can become an indispensable kitchen workhorse.

Best Oil For Seasoning Cast Iron – Simpler Than You Might Think!

What’s The Best Oil To Cook With On Cast Iron?

As cast iron requires high temperatures to heat up, cooking with low-smoke point oils and fats can be a tricky business. However, there are some workarounds!

I’ve detailed them in the FAQ section, so be sure to check it out. I’ve also created a table with some commonly used oils so you can figure out which oil to use.

Oil Comparison Tables

All the oils marked as ‘suitable’ may need a little help in the cooking process – for example, butter is easy to burn so you might have to take some extra care or mix it with something else. You’ll notice that vegetable oil and canola oil are nowhere to be found – and this is intentional!

GrapeseedVegetableCanolaSunflowerOlive
SeasoningExcellentGoodGoodGoodBAD
CookingGoodSuitable
FlaxseedCoconutAvocadoPAMButter
SeasoningBESTGoodExcellentBADBAD
CookingGoodAvoidSuitable

FAQs Cast Iron Cooking And Maintenance

Ever wondered how often to season your cast iron? Or what the best oil is for cast iron cooking? So have most people, it turns out!

Take a look at these FAQs to find all the answers you’ve been looking for!

Do you put oil in a cast iron skillet when cooking?

You use a cast iron pan like you would any other – if you’re sautéing or frying, definitely drizzle some oil in there before cooking. Just keep in mind it might take longer to heat up (oil will be runny when ready).

What is the best cooking oil for a cast iron skillet?

Any oil with a high smoke point is suitable for cast iron cooking. Lower smoke point oils tend not to fare well, purely because cooking with cast iron requires such a high temperature. Grapeseed oil in particular is a favorite, but plenty of others work well too.

Is it ok to cook with olive oil in a cast iron skillet?

Firstly, it depends on what type of olive oil you’re planning to use. As stated, cast iron requires oils with high smoke points – the only eligible olive oils to use in this case are pure, refined, and pomace.

Can you put butter in a cast iron skillet?

While butter is not suitable to season cast iron, it’s totally fine to cook with in a skillet – provided you take a little extra care. Some precautions you can take include putting down a thin layer of oil before your butter, using ghee (clarified butter) or cooking at a lower temperature, though this is difficult with cast iron.

Can I cook with PAM in my cast iron skillet?

You should avoid using PAM where possible – it may contain canola oil, but the rest of the ingredients included can damage cast iron over time. NEVER season cast iron with PAM.

Can I season and cook with sesame oil?

Unrefined sesame oil is not the best to season with because of its strong taste. You can cook with it, just be sure to wash it off well.

Do you have to clean cast iron before seasoning?

Usually, yes. If your pan is in relatively good shape (no rust, no food, freshly cleaned, etc.) you might be able to skip this step, but most people will have to clean it again. Even if your pan is clean, putting in that extra work might make your seasoning taste better.

How often should you season cast iron?

Most people only need to season their cast iron 2-3 times a year. A good rule of thumb is to reseason when you start seeing dull spots, or when food starts sticking to the pan.

Can I use butter for seasoning cast iron?

Yes, you can use butter to season cast iron cookware. Make sure to coat the entire surface with a very thin layer of butter and bake the pan upside down at 350-400°F for about an hour. The milk solids in the butter will polymerize onto the surface.

Why is my cast iron not seasoning evenly?

If parts of your cast iron pan have patchy or uneven seasoning, it’s likely because the oil was not distributed evenly prior to baking. Make sure to wipe a micro-thin layer of oil over the entire surface and edges before seasoning. Consider if part of the pan gets more heat flow.

How do you know if cast iron has lost seasoning?

You can tell if cast iron cookware has lost some of its protective seasoning layer if foods start noticeably sticking when cooked, the surface looks dull/dry, appears lighter in spots, feels rough, needs more oil to prevent sticking, or shows signs of rust. Periodically re-season as needed.

Seasoning Oils For Cast Iron – Will Any Do?

You might not have to be incredibly particular about seasoning oils, but you should certainly pay attention to them. Only oils with high smoke points are suitable for seasoning cast iron, and oils with low saturated fats and neutral flavors are best. Flaxseed is probably the best you can find, but avocado and grapeseed are also excellent.

As for cooking… most oils will do! They don’t need to have an outrageously high smoke point, but it’s still best to err on the side of caution as cast iron cooking requires high temperatures. Still, if you’d like to use butter or pure olive oil, there are some ways to get around that!

Overall, I hope that this article has helped you choose the right oil for your cast iron cookware. Now that there’s no need to ask yourself ‘what should I season my cast iron pan with‘, get out there and prep!

By Anna

Anna Brooks, the voice behind CooksDream.com, is a seasoned writer and editor with an insatiable love for food. While not a professional chef, her culinary adventures and unique insights have captivated readers for years. Anna believes in the transformative power of food, stating it "feeds the soul." Dive into her writings for a mix of inspiration, entertainment, and culinary wisdom. Author Pinterest Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Tumblr Reddit Quora

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