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Best Way to Season Cast Iron Pans - Flax Seed Oil

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I try to use cast iron cookware whenever possible.  It has excellent heat dispersion properties, life long build quality, and an inherent ability to cook foods with exceptional control at both high and low heats.  It works on all kinds of stoves, electric, gas, induction - even a fire pit while camping.  

The only snag about cast iron (if you can really call it that) is the seasoning process.  "Seasoning" cast iron refers to a process of building up some amount of material, which I'll call a finish on the pan that aids in cooking, creates a semi-nonstick surface on the pan,  and protects the cast iron pan against any possible rust.

There are lots of theories on seasoning cast iron, from complex rounds of heating and oiling with different types of vegetable and animal fats, to doing nothing at all.  Having tried many of these seasoning processes myself, I feel inspired to write about the flax seed oil method.  It's the most durable and straight forward seasoning process that I've found, and the science behind the process agrees.
 
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Step 1: Flax Seed Oil

Picture of Flax Seed Oil
You can find flax seed oil in the refrigerator aisle at the grocery or health food store.  Flax seed oil is the edible version of linseed oil, a very durable, hard drying finish that painters and woodworkers have been using for a very long time.  As Cheryl Canter writes on her site: "The seasoning on cast iron is formed by fat polymerization, fat polymerization is maximized with a drying oil, and flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible."

What that translates to in practical terms is a durable finish, that even after just a few coats and short term heating results in a deep glassy black seasoning on the cast iron that has held up to months of my daily usage and cooking abuse.  

As with any other cast iron pan seasoning, You don't want to use soap on the pan when cleaning it, but with this method, I've found that using a mildly abrasive sponge when doing the dishes doesn't seem to affect the finish at all.
nottauser2 years ago
I just used my big black skillet for the first time since a friend gave it to me and it worked great! I was amazed at the fact that it cooked my eggs so well without sticking and fried the potatoes to perfection ...now I just need to get a technique down on making fried potatoes like my folks used to when I was a kid and I can call my bachelor cooking skills completed. I love cooking but have a frankenstien approach to doing it, I realize it is a science and like to learn new things. I use grape seed oil to cook and wonder if that had something to do with the slick surface for cooking? Its got the highest level of viamin E even higher than safflower oil but both are great for healthy cooking although more expensive than other oils.
I cooked on medium and no smoke or sticking! INCREDIBLE! Better than a non stick pan and less worry about teflon flakes in the food.
when its time to re-season the pan I will appreciate having your instructable to refer to,Thanks so much!
When I lived in Sicily I learned from my Sicilian neighbors to always use grape seed oil whenever I wanted to fry something on high heat and fast. It has a high something-or-other and doesn't break down like other oils @ high heat. The food also doesn't absorb so much of the oil. I always fry my eggplant in grape seed oil. It comes out nice and crispy but still light.rave

Grape seed will work, Peanut oil adds more flavor.

You are right though, too many people try to use EVOO or something and end up with a smokey, oozy mess.

Make sure you rinse your potatoes at least 2 times to wash the starches off. If you are doing hash browns put them in a paper towels or a lint free cloth and squeeze the bejeeus out of them.

Removing starch and moisture is the key to super crispy and brown po-po-tay-toes.

This Instructable was the catalyst for me to buy Wagner cast iron from ebay. So much better than the big box Lodge stuff I was using.

thomasbandy2 years ago
I did the steps as above exactly as written, 5 cycles in the oven - the pans look great, a smooth matte finish, silky to the touch. I tried to fry some eggs as I do every morning, and they stuck LIKE CRAZY - I cooked them in coconut oil, as usual, and I'd built up a pretty good nonstick surface before I tried this, but it's like it has a 'stick' surface - even the tiniest bit of egg white glued like cement to the surface, and I have to scrub it off with a copper scrubber. What could I have done wrong? I used very thin coats of the same organic flax oil...
Lidz thomasbandy7 months ago
The coconut oil is a surfactant, is was dissolving and softening you new seasoning.
I was always taught to heat the pan first, then heat the oil, butter, grease, etc. THEN put the eggs in. And always have enough of your oil, butter, etc. in the bottom of the pan that the eggs "float". We always fried the bacon first, then the eggs. Yum!

I just had to let you know that your "description" of your problems was really funny. Actually LOL'd. :-) Maybe the coconut oil is not good for seasoning. I used canola and it worked well for me.
ngio641 year ago
I did not have flax oil but I did have flax seeds. I ground them to flour and rubbed and rubbed until the pan had a slight wet look. Then I heated it for 1 hour, let cool, then ground more flax and rubbed it in again. I have done this 3 times and I am getting a really nice thin black surface. If it does not work I can always start over again with flax oil.
davijordan1 year ago
We just leave our skillet in the oven all the time. /great for fritattas and as a substitute pizza stone.
cchubb2 years ago
Why does the "no soap" mantra keep coming up. I've been cooking on cast iron all my life and I use Ultra Dawn on mine after every use, usually using either a regular sponge, or one of those twisted stainless pads if it's really caked on crusty stuff.

I usually season it every two or three years, not because it needs it regularly but because it usually suffers some kind of abuse like having something salty left in it (usually soy sauce) overnight or if the patina gets too thick and I have to clean it in the self-cleaning oven and then reseason it.

I will agree that you never want to use a brillo or other abrasive cleaner (comet, chore boy, etc.) on your iron. It's not as much the metal but the "soap" is much too aggressive. If whatever is in there is that caked on, just soak overnight in the sink, clean in the morning and wipe dry without allowing water to pool on it.

Me, I just use olive oil to season it. Flax oil is "edible" but so is mineral oil and I wouldn't want to use that in my pan.

One thing that looks different from my pans is that the pans in the picture don't appear to have a machined inner bottom, they look more rough, direct from the mold. Perhaps that's just the camera, but when the bottom of your pan isn't flat, you need to fill all of the nooks and crannies with oil to keep stuff from sticking. You have to look a lot harder to find pans with machined bottoms.

None of this comment is meant to be disparaging to the original poster and I'm sure your process works well for you and your pans. But please be aware that too many people are scared away from iron because they think it's too temperamental. I put my iron pans and dutch oven into harms way (melting candy sugar, using soy sauce, scrubbing with dish soap, sauteeing directly on the grill, frying potatoes, caramelizing pork butts, all kind of hot, acidic, salty food and they come through it just fine with little more than an oil wipe down before use and another if it's looking "tired" after washing, followed by a quick heat on the burner to about 300 degrees, then let it cool off in place.
I agree with most of what you say here, except the soaking part. If I have stuff that is so stuck in (frequently), I simply either run straight hot water over it and set it aside for a few minutes, or if it is bad, heat it on the stove top, add screaming hot water and use the metal spatula to scrape the hard to get stuff off. After that, a hot water rinse, reheat and wipe the remaining water out with a paper towel and done. The longer soaks can tend to make it rust if it has any areas that aren't as seasoned as they should be. (or they can make my grandmother roll in her grave, as she firmly believed that too much water on cast iron ruined it)
Really, the #1 secret to having a non-stick cast iron pan is to buy one with the machined bottom. I can't stress that enough. Griswold and Wagner made awesome pans and you can still buy them on eBarf for less than the cost of new a sand-cast Lodge with a surface that looks like craters on the moon.

cast-iron-griddle-2[1].pngcast-iron-griddle-1[1].png
A machined bottom?  is better for the NON STICK properties of a oxidised film of oil on the other side?

You don't say.

All the pan bases I have ever seen are machined.

That is to make them FLAT for better contact with the heating surfaces on electric type stoves etc., and so they don't rock or wiggle on the pot supports of gas stoves.

There is NO secret - only your BS.
The machined surface I am talking about is on the inside, where the food sits. Not the bottom where it sits on the stove. If the inside looks like asphalt instead of machined steel you are going to need a lot of oil to keep it stick free. If it's really flat, like to within 1 or 2 thousandths, it's not going to need much oil.

Hey, I'm happy people are using cast iron instead of some fancy ultra-slick junk that wears out in a year.
"the #1 secret to having a non-stick cast iron pan is to buy one with the machined bottom."

To me that reads base, which is as distinct as using a term such as, "a machined cooking surface" or "has been machined flat on the inside."

Point taken - I just have never seen a pan without the inside being machined.

Some of the skillets, or some of the big pots / ovens yes - but they have rippled surfaces for searing meat or are too deep for frying in the "frying pan" sense of the word.

Perhaps a redraft and a repost.

I will remove my own clutter..... MMmm perhaps not, the discussion is useful for clearer thinking and better use of language.
Everyone from poets to politicians will agree that language is an imprecise medium.

Compare the pictures I posted of pans with machined cooking surfaces with the pictures posted at the top of the instructable. The pans at the top don't have a machined cooking surface, they are exactly as they came from the molds, but possibly sanded flat on the stove side to sit flat on an electric burner. Granted, one has the "grill bars" that help lift greasy food up out of it's grease (and are great for pork chops or burgers), but the others are just sand cast.

I wanted to buy a nice pan for my step brother's house warming and can't find anyone still selling machined pans brand new. I had to buy a used one from eBarf and clean and reseason it myself. It was still cheaper than a new one. (But shipping wasn't cheap...)
"Everyone from poets to politicians will agree that language is an imprecise medium. "


No they don't - most of it the imprecision comes down to poorly thought out or poorly applied use of the language.

Hiding behind cliche's when one has been helped to clarify ones descriptiveness is a cop out as well.

Then I refer you to my original post in which I said "machined inner bottom".
I know of what you speak with the cast iron pans not being finished with a milled flat smooth surface on the inside. I am now 61 when I was in my teens my mother had a cast iron skillet that had a machined inside surface. It was wonderful! Since that time I have never seen one like it. About a month ago, on your and my favorite site "EBARF", I found a unique cast iron skillet that was made as an electric skillet. The brand of the skillet is "Country Charm" mfg by The House of Webster in Rogers, Arkansas from about 1953 until 1997, which is no longer in business. Unfortunately they did not machine smooth the cooking surface, it is typical sand pitting which resembles the surface of the moon. I am going to take it to a local machine shop to have them turn machine flat the surface, like a disc or drum brake, the inside if its not too expensive then season it. Any thoughts?




























































Thanks, I forgot about the metal spatula. It should be your first choice with cast iron, both for cooking and cleaning. Probably because I haven't been able to find one worth a darn in years at the local stores. I'm not going to drop $50+ on something special at Williams Sonoma, but the proliferation of non-stick cookware has made metal spatulas a bit of a rare thing. I just keep my eyes open at thrift stores, you can find some good ones there.

I just caramelized some onions and then roast a chicken in my dutch oven last night. Everything just popped out nicely except for some chicken skin that was burnt on. I worked late so I didn't get a chance to do dishes, so It's soaking in the sink now.
Make a spatula out of a cheap hand saw.

And don't ask how - it's time to exercise your imagination for a change.
Just a suggestion if you have an IKEA near you. I found a great set of cheap metal cooking utensils there. I was having the same problem. I can't stand all of the plastic non-stick spatulas. They constantly melt and it just feels like you can't really ever get them clean.
Broom cchubb2 years ago
The "no soap" mantra is based on the fact that even a film one soap-molecule thick will prevent oils from latching on, and therefore will stop the "self-healing" process of blackened iron.

However, as long as pots are *thoroughly* rinsed in hot water, such films shouldn't form.

Since there's a risk in using soap, and little health risk in not using it (but otherwise following good black iron maintenance procedures), people say "no soap at all!". YMMV; sometimes I use soap for removing excess tar-like burnt oils, but usually I go soap-free on black iron.
workislove1 year ago
This method is great! I found Cheryl's page independently a couple months ago and tried it on four old, inherited cast iron pans from my parents. The results have been amazing!

They are as good as or better than any non-stick pan I've used for cooking eggs and pan frying, and they have also been good for baking - I've made some great cornbread and pizza - great, even heating with no problems sticking.
dlewisa1 year ago
Great minds think alike! Check out my skillet seasoning and modification instructable. I grind my skillets out!

http://www.instructables.com/id/Iron-Skillet-Seasoning-Modification/
Dr.Bill1 year ago
I love Cast Iron pans and there are none to be had in Hawai'i unless you go buy the New Lodge pans. The problem is the good old pans were milled flat inside and the new ones are not.

My question is how can I make the inside of the new pans smooth like the old ones without buying expensive tools to do it?
amnartist1 year ago
Okay everyone, I have a couple of questions for you. I've read a few 'how to season' etc, cast iron cookware. I have 6"&10" skillets (not even sure where I got them). I took them out and they were seasoned but I did a little more just to be sure. What's the point of all the work and energy used(electric oven) to season and maintain them? I have non-stick coated cookware I've used for years that work just fine. And I'm not interested in health issues with them at the moment. My mom cooked with Teflon cookware since it first came out and at 89 years old when she passed, it didn't cause her health problem. The sizes of my cast iron skillets are not very good for most of the daily cooking I do. But I did fry sausage patties in the 10" and you know the darkish grease that seem to follow cooking them, I wiped and wiped but still I get that dark grease on my paper towels. Not sure if I would want to use it for anything else. Also, I used the 6" to melt butter(very handy might I add) but even after wiping the pan out, what's to keep from the excess butter from seeping out and going rancid? I won't be using these every day and I wonder if the grease/butter/lard will go rancid and make us sick eventually. Sorry this is so long, no other way to explain. Thanks!
I use cast iron more than any other pan. Cast Iron is the original non-stick pan. You can heat it to high temps unlike non stick. Non-stick pans with Teflon, if allowed to smoke, release dangerous chemicals that can harm the environment. Specifically, you should not have small birds in your house if you smoke a Teflon pan as the off gasses will kill them (Think of canaries in the mines).

I guess it depends on what you are cooking (a large chicken?) but I have yet to find something I can't bake, fry, cook or sear in cast iron. Unlike non-stick, they can go from stove to grill to oven, everywhere but the dish washer.

Once butter, oil, etc, the fats have infused the iron, they polymerize and prevent the oxidation of the metal. It won't leak, smell or go rancid as the high heat burns away the products that go rancid.

And since it was only developed in 1938, non stick does not have the history or information behind it that cast iron has which has been in use for at least since the 18th century.
Berkana2 years ago
If you use a drying oil such as flax (walnut and hempseed also dry, BTW), it is important to make sure that there aren't added antioxidants. Sometimes antioxidants are added to prevent drying and polymerization, both of which are triggered by oxidation. In this case, oxidation of the oil is precisely what you want.

Thanks for these tips.
Those pans look beautifully seasoned, even better looking than the pans that come pre-seasoned. I've seasoned my pans using high smoke point oils, thinking that they'd give me a better seasoning, but I still ran into the same problems, where the seasoning seemed to be weak and prone to failing upon a single mistaken cleaning with detergent, or in the worst case, being run through the dishwasher (by roommates who had no idea how to care for cast iron).
Added antioxidants to food oil?

I thought that they were only extracted and kept tanked under argon etc., until bottling.
Some brands add antioxidants; others just bottle under nitrogen. (Argon is too expensive, and non-renewable, whereas nitrogen is inert enough.) I forget which brand bottles in tin bottles with those hand drawn illustrations on old fashioned labels, but that brand adds vitamin E to their easily oxidized oils. These would not be good to use for any application which specifically require the oil to oxidize thoroughly.
Argon = non renewable? Argon is one of the heavier gasses in the atmosphere, and it's from there it's extracted.... can't exactly waste water by peeing into the toilet you just drank from.
Oops. I'm mistaken. I thought all the noble gasses are produced by the petroleum industry, separated from the bygasses that come out with crude oil. Argon is the radioactive decay product of potasium-40, found in minerals deep in the ground. It turns out that helium is produced as a bygas of crude oil, but argon is fractionized from liquid air.
I don't know all the in's and out's of the preservative industry but taking this at a bit of a guess, yes nitrogen is sort of inert, except in the radical sense at higher temperatures and or pressures.

And there are lots of things that FEED on nitrogen and nitrogen compounds.

I am not saying this is totally correct as I know heaps but I can't be bothered to clarify stuff I have not dealt with in a long time....

But FUEL goes off in storage tanks, and the atmosphere is 80% nitrogen....

And this may in part come from the intiation of cross linking etc, from the oxygen etc.. but the only FUEL PRESERVATIVES are BIOCIDES.

Yeah from what I can gather Nitrogen is used to reduce the oxygen content to 3% and below.....to limit spoilage by oxidisation.

I have seen the wine makers shift to argon because it's heavier and it blankets the wine in the large tanks.


Anyway too much bullshit about seasoning cast iron cookware.

Just oil it and cook it.

And get a life.

Krimm2 years ago
I personally prefer Bacon Fat.
bodie12 years ago
I was given 3 pieces of cast iron that have wooden handles. I know I can't put these in the oven, so what is the best way to get these fully seasoned?
kissamew2 years ago
I have very old cast iron, inherited and donated. I don't have issues because I keep using it, but I will try this method, it could only keep my pieces great! Thank you for posting! And thanks for all the helpful comments to go with the post!
4real2 years ago
I like the finish on the flax seed pans shown at the top. They look like they are still wet. I will try this method as soon as I get some of the oil.

Read a lot of suggestions on cleaning of cast iron. If you "de-glaze" the pan, like the chefs tell you to, it removes the stuck on food
.
I take the food out of the pan and immeditately run cold water from the faucet into the pan, held at a 45 degree angle. A cotton wash cloth works just fine. The cold water "chill shocks" the pan and the food just falls off. I then return the pan to the hot burner to dry. Grandma did it that way and never had any problem.
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