One of the most contentious things discussed by cast iron enthusiasts is what is the most effective method for seasoning their cast iron pans or dutch ovens (along with whether or not to use soap when cleaning it, but that’s a conversation for another day).
Through trial and error, and quite a bit of research, we’ve settled on the use of flaxseed oil due to its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and almost lacquer hard finish.
The idea, when seasoning your cast iron, is to use an oil that’s high in omega-3 fatty acids (and specifically the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)) the free radicals that aid in polymerization. Flaxseed oil fits the bill on the ALA and creates a very hard finish on cast iron, unlike bacon grease or vegetable oil which can be soft and easy to scratch.
Some people disagree that the use of flaxseed oil is more effective than other methods due to one theory or another. I disagree with their disagreement. If you want to dive into the science of why flaxseed oil is the best option, and the source of the information for this post, you can read more here.
I’ve tried it and a half dozen other methods, and flaxseed oil has produced the best results for me, hands down. That’s all that really matters in my mind. I really don’t care all that much about why it works. It just does. I’ll leave the science to the scientists and spend my time at the campfire.
How to Season Your Cast Iron
Seasoning your cast iron isn’t a difficult process, so don’t worry about messing it up. Just follow the directions below make sure you have plenty of time for the heating up and cooling down process. Also, be prepared for a bit of a smelly house.
- Pour a small amount of flaxseed oil on your skillet (or dutch oven, or whatever)
- Use a dishcloth to wipe the entire pan with the oil. Be certain to wipe the pan off to the point that you can barely tell there’s any oil on it at all (this is important).
- Put your pan upside-down on the middle rack in your oven with a foil covered pan on a lower rack to catch any potential drips. (do not preheat your oven before putting in your cast iron)
- Turn your oven on to bake at 500 degrees. Once it reaches temperature, set your timer for an hour and let it bake.
- Once it’s cooked for an hour, turn off your oven and let it cool for an another hour with the pan still in it.
- Take the pan out (careful, it will still be extremely hot) and reapply the oil the same way you previously did (If it comes out sticky, you likely put too thick of a coat of oil on it – repeat step 5 above before moving on). Put it back in the oven and cook it for another hour before reapplying more oil. Repeat the heating and cooling process three or four more times, re-coating the pan with oil each time before placing it back in the oven.
- Once you’re done, let it cool completely and its good to go. No need to oil it again before putting it up.
A good tip to help build up your seasoning is to cook plenty of fatty foods like bacon as often as possible after its first seasoning. Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes which can eat away at the seasoning and starchy foods like potatoes which will stick like glue.
Re-season every two or three months during your first year of use and, with proper care, you’ll end up with a pan that’ll be slicker than teflon.
Keep in mind that this is just your first seasoning. It won’t be perfectly non-stick like teflon at first. That takes time and care.