Cast-iron skillets are certainly a class apart. Whether you love crispy hash browns or a delectably seared steak, a cast-iron will deliver the best results!
It’s truly a versatile mainstay in most kitchens. However, there is one thing about cast-iron skillets that has the world divided.
The perennial debate is on whether people should opt for seasoned or unseasoned cast-iron pans.
To find the answer to this debate, keep reading.
Seasoned Vs Unseasoned Cast-iron Skillet
Nowadays, most cast-iron skillets come pre-seasoned. These skillets have a nice, sleek black finish. However, some manufacturers still sell unseasoned cast-iron skillets.
These skillets come with a distinctive matte gray finish.
When you cook food in an unseasoned cast-iron skillet, it will stick to the surface. The skillet might not even heat properly. This is why you must preheat it on a medium flame for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
When it comes to preseasoned skillets, you need to take care of that shiny black surface.
Even though cast-iron is universally said to be quite indestructible, it is susceptible to moisture and corrosion. The oxygen and moisture in the air can cause your pre-seasoned skillet to lose its luster.
This is where seasoning can help you. It will protect the luster of your skillet and also enable it to develop non-stick capabilities.
You can easily fry foods that tend to stick to the surface, such as eggs and fish. They will glide right off the surface!
So, the truth is that the more well-seasoned a cast-iron skillet is, the easier it is to cook in it!
But what is cast-iron seasoning exactly?
What Is Cast-iron Seasoning?
Cast-iron seasoning is essentially layering your cast-iron skillet with hardened oil.
When seasoning a cast-iron skillet, all you have to do is bake a layer of carbonized oil onto the surface of the skillet. This will give your skillet a protective layer.
The seasoning will appear as a natural, easy-release finish and it will make cooking and cleaning quite easy.
When you heat oils and fats in your cast-iron at a high temperature, they change their state from a wet liquid into a slick, hardened state. This process is called polymerization.
It creates an immaculate coating of seasoning that is molecularly fused to the cast-iron. Without this protective layer, your cast-iron skillet will corrode and rust due to the moisture and oxygen in the air.
Are you wondering why this seasoning works on cast-iron skillets?
Well, cast-iron has a naturally jagged, uneven surface. This ideal texture offers the carbonized oil more surface area to bond and adheres to the iron.
How to Season a Cast-iron Skillet
When it comes to an unseasoned cast-iron skillet, you should season it in your oven. If you don’t want to take this route, then cook dishes that require large amounts of oil in your skillet.
Deep-fried dishes or food that renders a lot of fat, such as bacon, are perfect partners for a cast-iron skillet.
This is because each time you cook with fat or oil, you are inadvertently seasoning your skillet with them.
There are two simple ways in which you can maintain the seasoning of your pre-seasoned cast-iron skillet.
The easiest way is to cook in it regularly. This will enable the oil to add another layer of seasoning to your skillet.
Over time, these hardened layers will lead to a strong, nonstick cooking surface.
The second way is to season your skillet in an oven. This is the preferred way of seasoning for all cast-iron enthusiasts.
Seasoning your cast iron in the oven enables a thorough layer of hardened oil to form all over your skillet.
This method is ideal to season an unseasoned cast-iron skillet or to restore a rusty, pre-seasoned one.
Here’s how you can season your cast-iron skillet:
Wash Your Skillet
You might have heard that you must never use soap to wash your cast-iron skillet. Well, that’s not entirely true, especially if you’re about to re-season your skillet.
Use a minimal amount of soap to wash your skillet.
This will get rid of any food particles and crusty bits of rust from the surface of your skillet. It will also help you create a smooth coating.
If your skillet has a coating of rust on it, use some steel wool to scrub that red hue off. You can also clean the outside of your skillet with it.
Dry Your Skillet
Next, you need to dry your skillet as thoroughly as possible. This is because any lingering water droplets on your skillet will come in the way of smooth seasoning.
Use a lint-free cloth or a paper towel to dry your skillet completely.
You can also put your skillet on the stovetop on low heat for a minute or two to evaporate all the water from it.
Rub Some Oil on Your Skillet
Now, you need to coat the surface of your cast-iron skillet with cooking oil. Typically, canola oil is used to season cast-iron skillets.
But you can also work with corn or vegetable oil. Even though you can use any oil to season your skillet, the aforementioned oils are significantly better.
This is because they have a high smoke point. Since you will heat your skillet to a high degree, any oil with a low smoke point will fill your oven with smoke.
Meanwhile, canola or vegetable oil will be able to withstand the temperature without emitting smoke.
Use a paper towel or lint-free cloth to smear a thin layer of oil on the surface of your skillet. Make sure to cover the entire surface both inside and out.
Continue to rub the oil in until the skillet doesn’t look too greasy. You need to go easy on the oil because using too much won’t season your skillet.
Instead, the oil will form pools and you will end up with hard droplets of polymerized oil on your skillet.
Heat Your Skillet in the Oven
Now you need to expose your cast-iron skillet to even heat, which isn’t possible with a stovetop. This is why you need to plop your skillet in your oven.
Preheat your oven to 350 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Put some aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven to catch any excess oil.
Put your skillet upside down on the center rack of your preheated oven. This will prevent the oil from pooling on the cooking surface.
Leave the skillet in the oven for at least half an hour. After the designated time, turn off your oven and let the skillet cool inside it. This will allow the seasoning to cure and stick to the iron.
Alternatively, you can repeat the oiling and heating process a few more times for a truly solid layer of seasoning.
This is especially useful when fixing a wrecked skillet. To re-oil the skillet put on your trusty oven mitts and take the skillet out of the oven.
Use another paper towel to rub some more oil in it. Pop the skillet back in the oven for 30 more minutes. Repeat this process 2 to 3 times or until you’re satisfied with the seasoning.
How to Take Care of Your Cast-iron Skillet
With a thick layer of seasoning on it, your cast-iron skillet is quite resilient. However, to extend its life and to keep it in good shape, you must take care of it properly.
Here are some things that you can do to take proper care of your cast-iron skillet:
Season It Lightly Before Use
Even pre-seasoned skillets need some extra protection from wear and tear.
You can season your new skillet lightly by heating it on the stovetop for a good 5 to 10 minutes or until it’s evenly hot.
Then, use a paper towel to rub some oil on the skillet and let it cool. Repeat this process until you’re satisfied with the seasoning.
Clean Your Skillet after Each Use
You must clean your skillet thoroughly after every use. Wait for your skillet to cool completely. Use a paper towel to scrub out any gunk or debris from the bottom.
Then, run your skillet under the sink and use the scrubby side of your sponge to clean it.
Re-Season Your Skillet
If you used soap to clean your skillet, then you must re-season it right away. Put the skillet on your stovetop over high heat.
When the water has evaporated from it, put half a teaspoon of vegetable or canola oil in it. Rub it in with a paper towel.
Continue to heat your skillet until it’s heated through. Rub the oil one more time, reheat it, and then allow it to cool.
Keep Cooking in Your Skillet Regularly
The best way to keep your cast-iron skillet in good shape is to cook in it as much as you can. Use your skillet for searing, frying, and baking your food regularly.
It will help the seasoning become more layered and harder.
Don’t Let Your Cast-iron Skillet Soak in Water
Don’t ever let your skillet soak in water. This is because moisture is the ultimate enemy of iron. Even if you let one droplet of water sit on your skillet, it will lead to a rust spot.
This rust will only come out with lots of scrubbing, which will lead to more re-seasoning.
So, make sure to dry your skillet as thoroughly as possible. Use a paper towel and coat it with a minimal amount of oil before storing it.
FAQs About Seasoned Cast-iron Skillets
Here are some FAQs about seasoned cast-iron skillets that will help you take better care of your skillet.
Why Is My Seasoned Skillet Sticky and Gummy?
Your seasoned cast-iron skillet will be sticky if you use too much oil to season it and don’t heat it long enough. Simply use a paper towel to wipe off the excess oil.
Put your skillet back in the oven for an hour to get rid of the stickiness.
Why Is My New Seasoned Skillet Not Smooth?
It might be because the cast-iron skillet is not seasoned well enough. The more you cook in your skillet, the smoother it will become.
This is because each time you cook in your skillet, the seasoning becomes better and it leads to a smoother finish.
What Are Some Foods That I Should Avoid Cooking in My Cast-iron Skillet?
Don’t cook large amounts of acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus in your skillet. This is because they might eat away at your seasoning.
However, a squeeze of citrus, a dash of vinegar, and few tablespoons of tomato sauce are perfectly fine.
Similarly, don’t use your skillet to cook alkaline foods, such as beans, for long periods. This is because these foods can damage the thin layer of seasoning on your pan.
If you are using your skillet to prepare these foods, then it’s best to strengthen the seasoning first.
Why Are Black Flakes of Seasoning Coming Off My Pan?
At times, your seasoning layer might flake off from your skillet. This happens if layers of seasoning have not fully bonded with the cast-iron.
If your skillet is flaking, simply use some salt or a nylon brush to scrub it clean. Then, rinse and dry it as thoroughly as possible.
Rub some canola oil on the skillet and put it in your oven to bake a stronger layer of seasoning.
The Bottom Line
To sum it up, if you want to extend the life of your cast-iron skillet and make the best use of it, then seasoning it is the way to go!
Use the aforementioned method to season your skillet. Make sure to follow the tips to take care of your seasoned cast-iron skillet.
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