Seasoned vs Unseasoned Cast Iron Skillets – Why Seasoning Is Important

Published Categorized as Kitchen Accessories

Cast iron pans have been a versatile mainstay in cooking for centuries and is one of the most versatile kitchen tools on the market. This makes the cast iron skillet the perfect pan for creating countless of delicious meals.

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Whether you purchase a cast iron skillet that is pre-seasoned or an unseasoned one, it is very easy to just season it yourself.

This is a quick guide explaining the difference between a seasoned and unseasoned cast iron pan. It will hopefully help you decide which one you should go for when cooking.

Table of Contents

cooked food on black ceramic plate

Firstly, what makes cast iron cookware so great?

Cast iron cookware is such a superior kitchen tool thanks to its heavy-duty material, which makes it fundamentally indestructible. It has excellent heat retention, and distributes heat very evenly.

Cast iron pans are great for use on virtually all cooking surfaces, like electric, induction, and gas hobs. They can even be used for outdoor cooking!

If you are cooking foods with a high acidity level – like vinegar, tomato-based dishes or lemon, these ingredients will draw out some dietary iron from the cookware. The pan is actually adding nutritional value to your food!

This is great for those with low iron levels or who are anemic as you’re passively adding iron to your food.

It is excellent for frying, braising, broiling, sautéing, and even baking! This makes cast iron kitchenware a very popular choice in both domestic and professional kitchens.

What is cast iron seasoning?

Seasoning your cast iron skillet is the process that it must undergo to make sure the pan is non-stick. If you cook in an unseasoned cast iron skillet, the food will get stuck to the surface.

The oil needs to be applied to the pan and then baked onto the skillet’s surface, at a temperature above the oils smoking point.

This allows the oil to polymerize and bond to the surface of the pan. This then creates a barrier on the surface of the pan similar to that of plastic (but of course is just the oil).

While cast iron is fundamentally indestructible, it is still susceptible to corrosion and moisture. The type of oil you use is important. For details on the best oil to use for cast iron seasoning, click the link to our post!

How do you season a cast iron skillet?

There are two ways to seasoning your cast iron skillet.

You should season your cast iron in the oven. But if you don’t want to do this, then you can always just regularly cook dishes that needs lots of oil in the skillet.

If you choose foods that produce lots of fat like bacon, then unintentionally you will be seasoning your skillet! This will add a bit of flavor to your cooking too, depending on what food you choose to season with.

Otherwise, if you’re wanting to properly season your cast iron, there are a few easy steps to follow.

Steps on how you season your cast iron skillet

  1. Preheat your oven

    You’ll want to really bake the oil onto your cast iron skillet so preheat your oven to a high temperature of 375-450 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Wash

    If you’ve been told not to use soap on a cast iron skillet, you’ve most heard right. The soap will break down the seasoning, so in this case, it is okay to use soap as you want to give it a good clean before you do season it.
    Just a small amount is enough and you want to make sure you’ve gotten rid of any small food particles.
    Use a steel wool pad to really scrub the surface and this will help to remove any small particles of rust too. This will also help to smooth the surface of your cast iron skillet.

  3. Dry

    Make sure your skillet is completely dried for the next step. You may want to use paper towels as the skillet may stain your tea towel.
    You could always put your skillet on a stovetop at a low heat too, making sure any water droplets have been evaporated.

  4. Rub some oil on your skillet

    Now you’ll need to coat the surface of your skillet in your chosen cooking oil. Flaxseed or grapeseed oil would be my chosen oils for this step.
    Using a paper towel or lint-free cloth, smear a thin layer of oil on the surface of your skillet. You can cover both the interior and exterior or the pan, just not the underneath.

  5. Heat your skillet in the oven

    Pop your cast iron skillet in your preheated oven. You may want to put down some aluminum foil underneath the skillet to prevent any oil from dripping off. I would put the skillet upside down on the center rack.
    Leave your skillet in the oven for about 30 minutes. Once it is finished, turn off your oven and leave it to cool inside, allowing the seasoning to develop and stick to the cast iron.

  6. Repeat as necessary

    The first time you season a skillet that hasn’t been seasoned before, you will need to apply a few layers of your chosen oil. This will then form a layer thick enough to be effective.
    If you are repeating, once the first step has been done instead of turning off the oven, get some thick oven gloves on (I don’t want you burning your hands!) and remove your cast iron from the oven.
    Apply another layer of the oil to the surface and put your skillet back into the oven for another 30 minutes.
    If this is your first time seasoning this skillet, repeat until your skillet has a smooth black patina layer, which is the natural non stick surface.

Once this initial coating has been developed, that’s it! Once you follow good practice when using your cast iron, you will not need to maintain this anymore.

What do I do if foodstuff starts sticking again?

If you notice your food to start sticking to the surface again, just repeat the previous steps. Reapply some oil the next time you cook and this will polymerize during cooking. Then, you’ll be ready to go again!

butter in a cast iron skillet used to cook herb-infused steak

Seasoned vs unseasoned cast iron skillets

Pre-seasoned cast iron skillets are great for people who don’t want to season their cast iron skillet themselves, but don’t want to leave their cast iron unseasoned.

There isn’t any difference between seasoning yourself and a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. Saying that, the oils used and the thickness of oil layers may vary.

The layer of oil on pre-seasoned cast iron is usually much thinner. So just be aware that you may need to cook with more oil at the beginning and this will add to the seasoning.

Lodge L8SK3 10-1/4-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet
Buy on Amazon

FAQs

Can you use a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet immediately?

Yes, you can! Pre-seasoned cast iron skillets are produced to be used immediately. A good rule of thumb to follow is to always wash new cookware before using it.
It’ll never assume a box or plastic is sterile and give it a quick wash, just for peace of mind! You never know where any of the materials have been!
While the cast iron skillet will be ready to use, often you’ll find the layer the manufacturer had put on the pan is only a light seasoning.

How can I tell if cast iron is seasoned?

You will see that the surface of the pan has a black shiny patina on the surface of the interior. This is the seasoning that builds up from cooking and seasoning your cast iron skillet. It is a natural non stick surface.

What is the best oil to use for seasoning?

Oils with a very high smoke point are important to use when seasoning a cast iron skillet, because the cookware requires a very high temperature to heat up.
The best oils I would recommend would be Grapeseed or flaxseed oil, as both of these oils have a very high smoking point.
if you choose an oil with a lower smoking point like butter, you will end up producing lots of smoke every time you use it, so trust me when I say you’ll want to choose one of these oils!

Pompeian 100% Grapeseed Oil, Light and Subtle Flavor, Perfect for High-Heat Cooking, Deep Frying and Baking, 68 FL. OZ.
Buy on Amazon

Seasoning Cast Iron – Easier Than You Might Think!

While pre-seasoned cast iron skillets are great because it gets rid of the need to season, its hard to know how thick that layer is.

If you are able to season your skillet I would always recommend doing it at least once. This will help the longevity of your skillet and if you do it when you first use it, will mean you wont need to do it again very soon after!

Pre-seasoned skillets are great if you don’t have the time to do this though and good for getting used to using a cast iron skillet for the first time!

Learn more about cast iron:

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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