Cast Iron Pan Care and Seasoning

Lodge has a pretty good page about caring for their pans, but I respectfully disagree with them about almost everything.

1. Rust is not that detrimental to a pan, as long as it's not in the cooking surface. If it gets in there, just make sure to scrape down the rust and surrounding areas, and re-season it. If rust is on the outside, just wash it off and rub some grease into it -- or just rub some grease into it. Next time it heats up, it'll get seasoned.

2. Use animal fats to season the pan. It is smoother that way. They keep saying to use vegetable fats, but in my experience, animal fats work better. Fry up some bacon for the grease.

3. You can wash them with soap, and you can even put a little cold water in them when they're hot. The water will just boil. If you scrape off the nonstick surface, just re-season it.

4. Every once in a while, I get a buildup of gunk on there, and the regular gentle scraping with a turner won't smooth the surface. I go at it gently with a scouring pad or fine steel wool, to knock down the high spots. The seasoning is thick enough to handle it. Afterward, you have to get some grease in there and cook something to build the surface up again.

The surface is "non-stick" but you can't treat it like a teflon coated pan that doesn't require oil. You need to grease the pan before using it. If you're not into oils, at least wipe the surface with oil. This grease helps build up the surface.

The best greases are animal fats. Too bad for vegetarians. Animal fats seem to produce a smoother surface. A good way to apply fat is to use a strip of bacon, or a piece of animal skin with fat attached to it.

The best vegetable oil for frying is peanut oil. It takes the heat before smoking.

A really good, quick way to season a new pan is to use an outdoor grill. Wash the pan down with steel wool (to remove the casting grease) and coat it with fat, all over. Put it on the grill, and get it to start smoking. Then, toss some bacon into the pan and cook it up.

Don't start a fire!

Vegetarians might want to fry up some tortillas or something. Use some peanut oil.

Let the grease do it's magic, and turn brown, then black on the metal surface. Mop the grease around so it gets all over. If it looks "dry" add some more until it's shiny. Flip it over and do the bottom of the pan too. Coat everything. Let the heat build up and burn the surface until it smokes.

Then, coat it and burn it, over and over until you get a nice surface that's smooth enough to cook on.

By the way, I mean an outdoor charcoal grill, not one of those gas ones you see at the stores these days. Use the plain old cheap charcoal briquettes, not the fancy lump coal. You want even, high heat that will burn the surface.

Once it's seasoned, you should use the pan, a lot. After a few years, the real "non-stick" surface will develop. You can't really rush this process. It just takes a long time.

By the way, even with all this hassle, cast iron is a big timesaver. For one, you're not supposed to wash it, and that's a big timesaver. Another thing is that you don't go through a period of time when the pan is messed up, waiting to be replaced with another cheap pan. You'll just keep the same pan until you die, then pass it on to your kids.

Here's a site called Melinda Lee with better cast iron tips.