There are many reasons to reach for a cast iron pan when preparing dinner.
However, some may find it challenging to work with and even harder to maintain.
Although most people season their cast iron in the oven, it can still be done with the stovetop method if you do not have one.
Stovetop Method to Season Cast Iron Pan
Although most of the time, seasoning a cast iron pan involves putting it in the oven for an hour, it is very possible to do it on the stovetop instead.
If you are using the stovetop method, be aware that there is a far higher risk of filling your kitchen with smoke than there would be using an oven.
Also, take note that if you are using an oil with a noticeable flavor or scent, your kitchen is highly likely to pick up the scent of the oil you chose.
However, if you don’t have access to an oven or just don’t want to use it, you can season just fine with a stovetop.
Unlike the oven method, you will be standing over your stove the entire time to reduce the risk of fire and smoke. Even if you do everything right, it’s recommended that you open a window for ventilation.
Once you have coated your cast iron pan with oil with which you want to season it, you are ready to start the polymerization process.
Heat the burner/cooktop you intend to use as much as possible for the oil you have chosen and put the cast iron on top of it.
You will want to watch it the entire time for the sake of not setting off your fire alarm.
You’ll want to keep your pan on the stovetop for at least ten minutes, although most oils will require more than one round of seasoning over several hours, to be sure the oil either burns off or polymerizes completely.
Once again, you will want to make sure your pan is completely dry by the time you have finished.
If you’re easily bored and distracted like me, it would be better to season your cast iron on the stove while you’re already working in the kitchen. You can continue to work while your cast iron pan can slowly season (as it may take multiple rounds of seasoning)
Maintaining the Seasoning on Cast Iron Cookware
Once you’ve seasoned your pan, you will want to take care when cleaning it. Avoid using soap where possible.
To get sticky foods off of your pan, scouring with salt is effective and won’t compromise your seasoning.
As long as you don’t use soap, you can use a brillo pad or iron wool to scrub with for more difficult washes (although I would recommend using a soft sponge or towel).
Wash your pan as soon as you finish using it and completely dry it with a paper towel.
If you aren’t certain you have managed to dry it completely, you can always put it back on a clean burner to evaporate any remaining moisture.
A properly seasoned cast iron pan can last for well over a lifetime if treated well. Take good care of your pans, and they will take care of you.
A cast-iron pan is one of those things that can get finicky on a one-to-one basis.
Not every pan will get hottest in the same places, and some will need to be re-seasoned more often than others.
It is worth taking the time to get to know your pan.
Once you do, you’ll be using it all the time. Who knows, you may even end up with an heirloom of your own to hand down to your grandchildren.
How Does Cast Iron Pan Seasoning Work?
Seasoning is a protective coating of carbonized oil baked onto your cast iron through a process called polymerization.
You may be looking at that word and thinking, ‘Doesn’t that mean plastic?’, and you would be half right.
The word ‘polymer’ refers to any chain of small molecules that forms a tight-knit bonded network. Imagine all of the molecules in your oil linking arms and saying ‘no thank you, rust’ to protect your pan.
Although, as the name implies, seasoning happens on its own through repeated use of your cast iron pan, it can be, and many insist should be, done intentionally.
Because cast iron is naturally porous, seasoning fills those holes and creates a smooth finish, which is beneficial for several reasons.
It makes your cast iron easier to clean, helps prevent rust, and can even stop your food from sticking to the pan.
A cast-iron seasoning can add the flavor of the oil you used to season it with to your food.
Keep this in mind if there is a flavor profile you desire for the foods you will be cooking in the pan. Not only that, but your kitchen is sure to smell delightful after each use!
There is an obvious visual difference between a seasoned and unseasoned pan.
Once seasoned, the metal will darken and be smoother to the touch, creating that blackened look most people imagine in their minds when thinking about cast iron.
Choosing an Right Oil for Cast Iron Pan Seasoning
For seasoning, an oil high in unsaturated fat is best. Similar to the way iron oxidizes by rusting, unsaturated fats oxidize to bond with your pan when exposed to a certain level of heat.
That level of heat is not the same for every oil.
You do not want your pan to smoke while the oil bakes in, and for this reason, it is crucial to pay attention to how high you have heated your stovetop.
The temperature can be anywhere from 350˚ to 500˚ F, as even working with an oil with a low smoke point requires extreme heat to polymerize.
Oils like Grapeseed Oil and Avocado Oil have high smoke points and can be seasoned at higher temperatures, meaning you can season with them much faster than oils with a lower smoke point.
Choosing an oil with a flavor or scent to it will bleed onto whatever you try to cook with your pan in the future, so that is something to consider in your choice.
For instance, if you use coconut oil, be prepared for each of the dinners you cook with this pan to taste like coconut!
The first step to preparing any dish for use is thorough washing.
After all, this pan will be touching your food, so it makes sense to want it to be clean for use. That is not the only reason to clean your cast iron.
Some cast iron is sold pre-seasoned, but some are sold with a layer of wax over the cast iron. It is vital to get the wax off the iron before it touches your food to prevent contamination.
Not only that, but a layer of wax will prevent the oil you have chosen from bonding to your cast iron pan. Remember, this is cooking, but it is also chemistry!
Extra substances may throw off the process.
Removing any dirt and particulates from the surface of the iron means there is a more direct connection between the oil and the metal, which will create a more successful seasoning.
Wash the pan with hot water and scour it with salt to get a deep clean into the porous holes.
Once you have finished washing your pan, make sure you dry it meticulously, as water on iron is prone to causing rust, especially when the pan is not coated yet.
If you aren’t sure you’ve dried it completely, you can put it on the stove and heat it to burn off any remaining water.
Next, you will coat your pan with your oil of choice.
The entire thing should be covered in it, even the handle. Sometimes, when re-seasoning, you can get away with just refreshing the cooking surface that the food is going to touch, but for the first time, you will want to be thorough.
Rub the oil in as thoroughly as you dried the pan; by the time you’re finished, the pan should have soaked up all of the oil and should not be glistening with it.
Although many cast iron pans are advertised as coming pre-seasoned, the amount of oil used is often not enough for a proper coat, and it is impossible to tell how long it has been since the company applied what layer they did.
Whenever you have a new cast iron pan, you will want to season it yourself.
The amount of seasoning you need to do before using your pan varies from source to source; some say once is enough.
Others insist that seasoning it six or even seven times over several hours is more appropriate, which will also vary depending on the oil you have chosen.
Cast iron has to be freshly seasoned at least once a month, and the more often you use it, the better. Remember, seasoning is created from oils.
Left to sit unused, your pan risks rust spots or even, in extreme cases, the seasoning turning rancid.
You will find that using your pan often will reinforce the seasoning and change the flavor profile of the oil coat; if you cook a lot of bacon, your food will taste like bacon.
Some Common Questions about Cast Iron Seasoning
Below are some questions people often ask about seasoning in cast iron pans.
Do Pre-seasoned Cast Iron pans need seasoning?
Yes, pre-seasoned cast iron pans need seasoning. Pre-seasoning adds a layer of vegetable shortening or fat that is applied to the cast iron pan in the factory.
This layer helps to protect the pan from rusting and also gives the pan a non-stick surface.
However, over time this layer will wear away and the pan will start to rust.
To keep your cast iron pan in good condition, it’s important to season it regularly.
Seasoning a cast iron pan involves coating it with oil and heating it until the oil has been absorbed into the pores of the metal.
This will create a protective barrier against corrosion and will help to prevent food from sticking to the surface of the pan.
Is the Stove Top method to season cast iron as good as doing it in the Oven?
The Stove Top method is a good way to season cast iron, but doing it in the oven will give you better results. Seasoning in the oven will help the oil to penetrate deeper into the metal and create a smooth, non-stick surface.
Also, using an oven to season your cast iron pan is a lot easier, as you can put the pan in the oven and leave it. With a stove top, you will have to keep a close watch and it can also generate some smoke.
Would regular cooking with oil help season the cast-iron pan?
The more you cook with oil in your cast-iron pan, the better it will season and the less likely you will be to experience sticking problems.
Some people advocate using a very light coating of oil on a dry cast-iron pan before heating it, but I’ve never found that necessary.
If your pan is properly seasoned, it will have a natural non-stick surface. However, if you’re experiencing sticking problems, then try adding a light coating of oil to the pan before cooking.
Be sure to use an oil that has a high smoke point, such as canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil. And always heat the pan until it’s hot before adding the food.
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