So you got a new cast iron pan? (OMG YAAASSSS!)
Now it’s time to get seasoning. Most cast iron lists itself as “pre-seasoned” but it almost never is seasoned enough to be totally non-stick, and could definitely use a few coats of seasoning to get them started, as well as ongoing maintenance. You will notice the texture of the pan get smoother as you build up the layers of seasoning.
What is cast iron seasoning? It’s bonding a layer of oil to the metal of the pan to create a layer of polymer that is non stick. To explain what polymerization is, I asked my friend and chemist extraordinaire Kristen to explain:
“The process of seasoning a cast iron pan involves adding oil to the pan and then heating it so it polymerizes with the cast iron. Now, polymerization is just a fancy word for one chemical process by which small molecules link together to form big chains. You can think of both the oil and cast iron molecules as separate chain links, with none of them being linked to each other. When you heat them up together, the oil and cast iron molecules then have enough energy to form links together and form very strong bonds (like a very long chain). This results in the coating being both non-stick (because oil doesn’t mix with water) and also very durable (meaning not able to be scrubbed or rinsed off) because the bonds are so strong.”
So that nonsense about not being able to wash cast iron with soap or scrub it is bunk. Unless you have a soap or scrubber that can break down molecular bonds, you can clean your pan normally and not worry. About the only thing that can break it down is a strong acid, or very high heat. So if you’re cooking something very acidic (tomatoes, lemon juice, etc.), it’s something to keep in mind.
1. Wash the pan
Using hot soapy water, give the pan a good scrub. You may want to use a scrubber to get in all the nooks and crannies. Rinse it very well, and dry it completely.
2. Add Oil
Add a neutral oil to the pan, such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or vegetable shortening, and heat it over medium heat. Try not to use a flavoured oil like peanut or olive as it can add flavour to everything you cook, and animal fats can go rancid. Carefully move the oil around so it coats not only the bottom of the pan, but the sides as well.
3. Cook it
Heat your oven to 375° and put the pan inside. Cook it for an hour, then let it cool. Once cool, pour off any excess oil. Repeat steps 2 & 3 to add more layers. A good way to do it, is after you’ve cooked a meal in a pan, and have some oil left in it, throw it in the oven for an hour. Just make sure there are no food bits left on it.