99% of home cooks are seasoning their cast iron skillets all wrong — here’s how to do it the right way. . .
Have you ever tried to season a cast iron skillet? Were you frustrated with the results? There is no shortage of people who will tell you how to do it. There are more than 2.6 million stories and 1.1 million videos that purport to have the optimal method — most get it all wrong — I know because I’ve tried many of them. After failing more times than I care to admit I think I’ve come up with the optimal method for seasoning a cast iron skillet. Before I figured it out I struggled with my skillets being patchy, rough, and sticky so I avoided using them like the plague. Instead, I relied on a blowtorch for searing the various proteins I cooked using the sous vide method (seen below).
The other day I hosted a small dinner party where I sous vide eight filet mignons. Using a blowtorch on so many filets simply takes too much time so I decided to heat up two of my non-stick pans with garlic, butter, oil, and various aromatics. I got both pans smoking before I placed four filets in each pan. The problem? It should have only taken 1 minute per side to sear the filets, but after five minutes I was still unhappy with the results. The filets had absorbed the heat from the pan and as a result they cooled down and never got the caramelized crust that I love. The truth of the matter is that there isn’t a better way to sear a sous vide steak than in a properly seasoned cast iron skillet. I knew it was time to figure out how to fix my cast iron skillets.
First clean your skillet removing all preexisting oil and/or rust. The easiest way is to use steel wool and warm water to bring it back to the base metal. Once you’re seeing bare metal place the skillet on the stove to boil off the remaining moisture.
Next rub flaxseed oil inside and outside of the skillet. You can use other oils, but several material scientists suggest that the properties of flaxseed oil work best because it, unlike other oils, will become harder and tougher than any other food-grade oil through a process called polymerization. Finally, use a clean paper towel to remove as much of the flaxseed oil from the skillet as possible — you want the thinnest coverage possible.
Now place your skillet in the oven upside down and then heat it to the highest possible temperature — I do mine at 550 degrees — for at least an hour. You at least want to get it hotter than the smoke point of the oil (the smoke point of flaxseed oil is 225 degrees) to trigger polymerization. Many instructions suggest 350 degrees is adequate, but I never got the same results I did after heating my oven to 550. Next let the skillet cool down in the oven until it is cool enough to touch. The skillet should be ready to use, but if you aren’t happy with the surface you can try it again assuming you’ve put the oil on very thinly (if it was too thick you might need to start over from scratch).
Care and Feeding
Once you’ve got your pan seasoned you should never use soap to clean it. Simply rinse it out and dry it on the stove after use — then wipe it down with whatever oil you’ve been using. The skillet will get better and better with each use — if you use it regularly you may never have to reseason it again. Happy cooking!