If your pan is especially rusty or crusty, give your pan a quick soak in mildly soapy, hot water, then use an abrasive scrubby pad or brush to remove any and all unwanted particles until the surface is smooth and free of unevenness or sticky gunk. (Steel wool should only be used if you’re prepared to strip the pan completely.) Rinse thoroughly.
2. Dry (completely!).
Do a quick 2-step drying process: wipe your pan down with a paper towel or a dish linen, then set it on the stove over a medium heat until all moisture has evaporated. It should get hot enough until you can smell the heat coming off of the pan. This step is crucial! Cast iron is porous, meaning it traps moisture below the surface: the only way to completely drive off all lingering moisture is to heat up the pan and evaporate off all the water. Proceed on to the next step with caution to avoid burning yourself!
3. Oil and buff.
Drop 1 teaspoon of oil into the pan and use a paper towel to rub it in evenly across the entire pan. Flip the pan over, add 1 more teaspoon oil if needed, and repeat the rubbing process until the entire pan (handle included!) is coated evenly with the thinnest layer of oil. Keep rubbing and buffing the oil into pan until it no longer looks greasy. Avoid using too much oil to the point where the pan is slick and wet with it: too much oil will result in a sticky, grimy finish. If you slide your finger across the pan and it looks like you just ate delicious fried chicken and french fries, that’s too much oil! Keep buffing!
What kind of oil you use is totally up to you, as long as it’s 100% oil. Avoid using butter or unrefined coconut oil because the trace amounts of dairy solids and pulp will burn and scorch; traditional lard will turn rancid faster without frequent use. We recommend unsaturated oils that are neutral in flavor with a smoke point hovering around 400°: canola, vegetable, grapeseed, sunflower, and safflower are all great. Some cooks swear by using flaxseed oil, and it does yield good results, but due to its very low smoke point at 225°, note that the baking process will turn your kitchen into a very hazy, smoky atmosphere.
4. Preheat and bake.
Preheat your oven to at least 450°, then slide your pan into the oven. The goal here is to hit your chosen oil’s smoke point to trigger a chemical reaction called polymerization that bonds the oil to the pan to create that layer of seasoning. If you’ve chosen another oil, look up the smoke point of that particular oil and be sure your oven is preheated to at least 25° above that specific temperature.
Many tutorials call for placing the pan upside down in the oven and covering the floor of your oven with aluminum foil to catch drips, but if you oiled minimally and buffed adequately, this precaution shouldn’t be necessary. Place your pan in the oven, bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, then turn off the oven and let the pan remain in the oven for another 15 minutes without opening the door. Carefully remove with thick oven mitts, admire your handiwork, and let it cool completely.
To secure your seasoning, you can opt to repeat steps 3 and 4 again to create a more solid layer of protection. (Some cooks like to repeat this process up to 6 times after completely stripping their cast iron pans!) However, note that each time you use your cast iron pan, you will probably be cooking with some sort of oil or fat, which in turn becomes a mini-seasoning process. Over time, through proper use and maintenance, the seasoning on your pan will become stronger organically with repeated cooking sessions.
Proper use and maintenance.
Use a sufficient amount of oil or other fats when cooking to ensure proper browning and clean releases. Most cast iron pans, even when well-seasoned, won’t perform like a true Teflon-coated non-stick pan, but they can get pretty close to it when you use a good amount of fat.
After cooking, avoid using soap or abrasive scrubbies during routine cleanings to preserve the coating of seasoning. Opt instead for a soft sponge, a handful of kosher salt if you need to buff away any residue, and hot water. Wipe dry with a paper towel, then set your rinsed pan on the stove over medium heat to drive off all remaining moisture to prevent rusting. If the pan is looking a little dull afterwards, drop 1/2 teaspoon of oil in and rub it in thoroughly and evenly across the pan with a paper towel while the pan is still hot.
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