Seasoning Cast Iron and a Carbon Steel

Wow! your frying pans <cast iron> and wok <carbon steel> are so well seasoned! How do you do that? I keep scrubbing the seasoning off of my mine.

My response varies from flippant to more serious.

So do I follow all the instructions? More or less.

Let’s start with what does seasoning a pan mean? There’s a lot of science and technical descriptions and explanations, which you can find through any internet search. But basically, it’s creating a slick surface on your pan through evaporating/burning oil in the pan. The more you use the cookware the thicker this residue builds up.

My first point: just use them. It’s twofold. The more you use the pans the more the residue will build up. Also, the more you use them the more experience you will gain in what works and what doesn’t, and feel more comfortable using it. An easy way of building up the seasoning is fry bacon or deep fry with the pans a few times.

At the end of the day for cast iron and mostly for carbon steel woks. It’s a solid hunk of metal. There are no moving parts to destroy. If you really “mess up” you can just literally scour off the rust with baking powder and steel wool. Or in really horrible cases of finding a rusty cast iron pan in your basement I understand people have had luck with grinders and dremels.

Stop scrubbing so hard! Seriously, you have to be careful when cleaning seasoned pans, so you don’t destroy the finish. But! they actually require less delicate handling than Teflon pans. You do have to be judicious with your use of water. But, despite what people and the internet say, I do use dish detergent and water to clean it. I understand that I could remove the seasoning, but the idea of just wiping it down or using only salt or baking powder grosses me out, even though I realize that the seasoning process pretty much sterilizes the surface. So I still clean with detergent and water and steel wool. But! After I’m done I put the pan on the stove top and heat up the pan until the water is evaporated.

I’m serious about taking cast iron or carbon steel camping. We used to go to Pennsic War. And my cook ware got the best seasoning there. Since the pans would be sitting outside even if in a plastic tub, I would always wipe it down with oil after cleaning, this kept the pans from rusting. For the cast iron, I cook bacon more often when camping, that really helps with the seasoning. I also bake in the cast iron dutch oven in a firepit. That’s like instant seasoning! Especially if you bake something really greasy like a duck. Also give the proliferation of campfires while camping, It’s easy to oil up the cast iron and just tuck them into the middle of fire. I just fish them out of the ashes the next morning. You do have to make sure it doesn’t rain over the night.

Another way to season at home is to oil up the pan and put it in the oven when you are using it. This is not a good idea for woks that have plastic or wooden handles though! Also, is it not a good idea to just store the pans in the oven and not removing than when you are using them unless you remember to keep oiling them. Kenji Alt-Lopez says the seasoning will start flaking off. And I can confirm this.

Now that I’m not going to Pennsic every year. I do have to remember to oil my wok occasionally after cleaning. And it oil up the cast iron and bake it in the oven. Until you build up a nice layer of cast iron, you do have to be careful when deglazing with acidic liquids. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, just that you should probably oil the pans after cleaning more often, especially just after cooking something very acidic. I even make tomato sauce in the cast iron occasionally.

So look at the Serious Eats and Lodge websites. There is a lot of good advice. But the most important this to remember is. Don’t be afraid to try, because if you never use it, it will never get seasoned.

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