We’re big cooking guys here at hims. We’re not really comfortable calling ourselves “chefs” or anything like that, but we certainly believe we can weekend warrior with the best of ‘em.
That said, we know that if you ask any chef what their top five pieces of standard cookware for any kitchen are, a quality cast iron skillet is probably somewhere near the top of the list.
They’re the workhorses of the kitchen. They can be used to cook damn near anything, from the perfect seared steak, to a slide-off-the-pan fried egg, to baked pasta, other one-pan wonders and everything in between. They’re as much of an asset in the kitchen as they are in the great outdoors, and we often look back on our times with our cherished skillets and smile.
Shut up, it’s not weird.
They can handle incredibly high heat and can be used on the stove top, straight over an open campfire, in the oven or anywhere else you can think to put them. Hell, we bet we could toss one directly into the sun and it’d hold up just fine.
[Editor’s Note: We don’t believe that. Please don’t throw your skillets at the sun.]
However, skillets are, like most beautiful and worthwhile things on this planet, a labor of love. There’s a lot of care and maintenance that goes into keeping one of these bad boys in tip-top shape, and while it seems daunting at first glance, it’s way easier than it looks.
Why Season Your Cast Iron Skillet?
Far as we’re concerned, the only actual bummer about cast iron cookware is that it’s, well, cast iron. And if you know anything about cast iron, you know that it one, heats evenly; two, retains that heat; and three, doesn’t do well in the elements. It rusts something fierce if left raw and open, and that’s the first reason you need to keep it well-seasoned. A good seasoning will keep your cast iron from succumbing to the elements and ready to cook for as long as you own it.
The second is that one of the biggest complaints against cast iron is that it can be super sticky, and that the inexperienced cook can ruin an entire meal’s worth of food if they don’t know what they’re doing.
But that’s honestly not true. A proper seasoning achieves a beautiful non-stick surface superior to any of the standard Teflon stuff in our homes—without the potential health risks.
So, not only does seasoning help protect your cast iron from the elements and keep it working like new for literal generations (Seriously, a good skillet will outlive you by a mile), but it also creates a healthy non-stick surface that you can cook on over and over again.
All you need to know is how it’s done.
Ok, So What’s Seasoning?
Put simply, seasoning is the black coating that builds up on a skillet with regular use. It’s oil that gets gradually baked into the porous iron of your pan over time that provides the skillet with a natural non-stick protective finish.
The more technical explanation, however, is that when subjected to extremely high temperatures, fat molecules break down into polymers that bond with the bare iron in your skillet. Because cast iron is so porous, and because those pores expand when the iron is heated, it retains these fat polymers and, over time, creates a perfect coating that can be cooked on and re-seasoned for years.
There are also a couple different type of seasons. These days, even the most bare-bones cast iron cookware usually comes “pre-seasoned” from the factory. You should still properly maintain this kind of cast iron, because pre-seasoning only goes so far. It’s more to keep the pan from retaining moisture in storage than actually keeping everything together.
The other is seasoning on a brand new, un-seasoned, raw pan. These are the most fun to get right because you know you had everything to do with what’s going on in that pan.
There’s a third type of cast iron cookware that’s enameled, which makes seasoning completely unnecessary. But that’s another conversation for another day. We won’t call it cheating, but… Well, actually, yeah, we’ll call it cheating.
How to Season Your Cast Iron Skillet
Whether you’re skillet came pre-seasoned from the factory or raw as the day it was cast from the fires of hell, you’re going to need to season it. Period.
Now, there are two ways to go about doing this. The first is our favorite, and we think it’ll be your favorite, too:
Step One: Cook with your pan.
That’s it. There’s actually no step two. Cooking with your skillet as often as you can will naturally help build up that seasoning. Every time you use it, another thin layer of seasoning builds on top of the old layer, and so on and so forth.
In fact, a lot of purists prefer this method because the thinner, more evenly spaced layers are generally more resilient and less inclined to scrape or flake off over time.
However, if you’re working with raw cast iron and need to get started on seasoning immediately, the second method is probably what you should opt for:
Step One: Preheat your oven. According to the guys over at Field Company, this is something you should do at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, then gradually increase the temperature through the baking process. We think it’s an interesting method, and we trust those guys to know what they’re talking about.
However, we’re going with the easy old-fashioned method, which involves pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
While this is happening, take your new skillet and scrub it with hot soapy water.
Step Two: While the oven is still pre-heating, dry all the water off the skillet. When it’s completely dry, rub it down (handle to pan and all over) with either melted shortening or some kind of vegetable oil. A lot of people prefer grapeseed oil because of its high smoking point, but most standard vegetable oils will do. So long as it can get to 350 degrees Fahrenheit without smoking, you’re good.
Step Three: Once you have a nice even coat of oil on the pan, take a dry towel (paper towel is fine) and wipe up the residue. Don’t worry if the pan looks dry; it’s not.
Step Four: Place the skillet upside down directly in the 400-degree oven, and let it bake for an hour.
If you’re doing it the old fashioned way, that’s it. Your job is done. Now go cook something.
If you’re doing it the Field Company way, they’d prefer you heat the oven to 300, then take the pan out of the oven, let it sit for 10 minutes, wipe down the leftover residue. Crank that baby up to 400, and when it comes to temp, toss the pan back in for an additional hour. Then your job is done. You can read more about that process at the link above.
Personally, we don’t like fixing things that ain’t broke, so we generally opt for the old fashioned way. Either way works just fine, though.
Want more cooking tips or other general life hacks to keep you ahead of the curve? Check out the hims blog.