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Learning how to properly season cast iron cookware will ensure years of dependable service. Cast iron is durable, and when properly seasoned, it is essentially non-stick and is often passed down for generations. Seasoning is a fairly simple process and should be performed before the first use. Cast iron has been used for thousands of years. It contributes a small amount of iron to the diet and is popular with chefs for its even heat retention and ability to go directly from the stovetop to the oven.

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What is Cast Iron Seasoning?

You won't need herbs and pepper when seasoning cast iron. Seasoning cast iron refers to creating a polymerized layer that adheres to the surface of the pan. This slick layer creates a non-stick surface, which becomes slicker with regular use. When cleaned and stored properly, the seasoning on a cast iron skillet can last for years.

seasoning cast iron fcafotodigital / Getty Images
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Signs Cast Iron Needs Seasoning

Due to its durability and longevity, people often pick up cast iron cookware at garage sales, flea markets, second-hand stores, or may even inherit pieces from family and friends. These pieces typically require re-seasoning. An infrequently used pan, or one that has been soaked too long, may also be a candidate. Three signs cast iron needs to be seasoned are:

  • Rust
  • Dull, gray appearance
  • Difficulty removing food
signs cast iron needs seasoned busypix / Getty Images
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Oil and Shortening Options

Almost any type of cooking oil or shortening, including coconut oil, can be used to season cast iron. Saturated shortenings such as butter, lard, and even bacon fat aren't recommended. If the pan isn't used often, they can turn rancid. Most manufacturers recommend using flaxseed oil or grapeseed oil for seasoning, although any cooking oil will work.

oils for seasoning cast iron fcafotodigital / Getty Images
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Step One in Seasoning Cast Iron

Each step of seasoning is important. The first step is to thoroughly clean the surface of the pan. Cast iron muffin pans can be tricky, as they have small areas that are difficult to reach without a long-handled scrub brush. Use dish soap and cast iron to remove any oil or previous coating from both the inside and outside of the pan. Rinse and place the pan on a burner to thoroughly dry.

ausages with Scrambled Eggs and Toast LauriPatterson / Getty Images

Step Two of the Seasoning Process

After the pan is dry, use a paper towel to apply your choice of oil to both the interior and exterior of the pan. Next, use a clean paper towel to wipe off most of the oil. Leave only a very thin layer of oil for seasoning the pan. This also helps alleviate smoking up the house in the next step.

oiled cast iron for seasoning reid3850 / Getty Images

The Final Step

Two preparation tips for the final step are to lay foil under the oven rack and to turn on a vent fan to remove smoke. Set the oven to a minimum of 375 degrees. Place the pan in the oven upside on an oven rack over the foil, and bake for an hour. Allow it to completely cool before removing it from the oven.

seasoned cast iron skillet GreenArtPhotography / Getty Images

A Well-Seasoned Pan

At this point, the pan should be ready to use. If you don't plan to use it immediately, lightly coat it with oil, wipe dry and put it away. A light coating of oil should be wiped on and off of the pan every time it is cleaned. Use a paper towel to buff the pan. It should have a lustrous sheen rather than being sticky or oily.

seasoned cast iron rudisill / Getty Images

Test the Seasoning

The egg test is one of the most popular and easiest ways to test your seasoning. Add a tablespoon of butter or cooking oil to a cast iron skillet and place it on a burner. Get the pan hot, and drop an egg onto the melted butter. After the egg is fried, approximately three minutes, use a spatula to remove it from the pan. If the egg sticks, the pan should be re-seasoned.

Frying Egg in a Cooking Pan in Domestic Kitchen GMVozd / Getty Images

Protecting Cast Iron

Once it has been thoroughly seasoned, cast iron is easy to care for. The non-stick surface allows most food to simply be wiped away using a paper towel. Avoid harsh soaps or steel wool, which can strip away the seasoning. Avoid soaking the pan and make sure it is thoroughly dried before putting it away.

baking in seasoned cast iron DianeBentleyRaymond / Getty Images

Cooking with Cast Iron

Cast iron has retained its popularity over centuries. It is safe to use, non-stick, and versatile. A single skillet can be used to cook on the stovetop, bake pizza, or dessert. The handles get hot, so be prepared with hot pads. Cookware options include wooden handles and enameled cast iron, as well as the standard solid cast iron.

cast iron cookware meals JMichl / Getty Images

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