Monday, March 10, 2014

Season Your Cast Iron in 5 Easy Steps

These are the three pans I purchased at an antique store
before cleaning and seasoning.

I have heard and read some really negative information about health risks associated with using aluminum (thought to contribute to Alzheimer's) and non-stick coated pans (off-gassing and carcinogens). My research led me to choosing to go back to traditional cast iron and porcelain-on-steel pots and pans. My quest to find high-quality, low-cost cast iron led me to search for vintage cast iron pans as opposed to purchasing newer machined and imported pans. Buying new Lodge pans is an option, but they are somewhat expensive, so I began keeping an eye out for vintage pans at antique stores.

I purchased some really great vintage cast iron pans at an antique store while on vacation for under $20 each. They had so much carbon build up on the them that I couldn't read the maker on the bottom. When I got home and examined them closer, the thought actually crossed my mind that these may have been beyond saving. I took a gamble and I put the pans through 5 easy steps to restore them. Guess what? I couldn't be more pleased. They are wonderful!

Here is how you can turn this:

Carbon and rust from improper care and storage.

into this:

*Ignore my dirty burners, please.
I hadn't cleaned up for the night yet!
Before you get started you may be wondering why you must season cast iron. It is a good question and one I didn't really understand the science behind until I was in college. Cast iron has pores. These pores create an uneven surface to which food will stick when heated. In fact, when heated, the cast iron's pores open up essentially grabbing food and holding onto it for dear life. By seasoning a pan properly, we fill those pores with healthy and safe Coconut Oil which, in turn, creates the fantastic non-stick surface. It is for this reason we must heat the pan with oil in it multiple times to build up the season and then we must maintain the season by adding oil back after cooking.

Now on to how to season a cast iron pan in 5 easy steps:

Step 1. Place the pan in you self-cleaning oven face-down. Set to clean and walk away. Allow to cool overnight. Use a paper towel or old rag to dust off the now powdered carbon build up. I actually took my pans outside to wipe them off because of the amount of carbon build up was so bad that it was now a thick layer of dust.

Use Your Self-Cleaning Oven To Do The Dirty Work
Step 2.  Take the pan to your sink and soak it for 1 to 3 hours immersed in a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar. This will remove rust. The more rust, the longer the soak. Rinse and wipe out well with paper towels. You now should have a carbon-free and a rust-free pan that is naked.

Vinegar and Water Soak
Step 3. Coat the pan liberally with Coconut Oil and place back in the oven at 200 degrees for 1 hour. After an hour, take the pan out and swirl the oil to coat the inside well. Poor off excess oil and return to the oven. Heat for one more hour. Turn off oven and allow pan to cool.

Coat pan with Coconut Oil

Step 4. Repeat step 3, adding another layer of Coconut Oil generously, except increase the temperature to 350. Heat and let completely cool. Do this process between 3 to 5 times until you have a well seasoned pan.

This pan has been coated, heated, and cooled one time.
Back it goes for more until the coating is even. The well-seasoned
pan will feel slick like non-stick cookware.
Step 5. Enjoy cooking with your newly seasoned pan. A well seasoned pan has a naturally non-stick surface. Do not use soap to wash, but rinse with water, wipe out well, and rub in a little Coconut Oil. Your pan should be serviceable for years if well maintained.

Scrambled eggs slide off the correctly seasoned surface.
After pan has cooled, rinse with water, wipe out any food particles,
and lightly coat with another layer of oil to maintain the season. 

  • Tip: Allow cast iron pans to completely cool (cold to the touch) before cleaning. Never immerse or run a hot cast iron pan under water. This will warp your pan. Move hot pans to an unused burner to completely cool before cleaning.
  • To help maintain season: Heat your pan in a 100 degree oven, carefully remove, rub a layer of Coconut Oil on the pan, and return it to your oven. After an hour turn off the oven and allow to cool completely. Wipe excess Coconut Oil out. 
  • Do Step 4 over the course of a week. I did this step each evening and allowed the pan to cool in the oven overnight.