I love my cast iron because it is an all around solid pan. It produces evenly distributed heat, adds iron to your food, and is beautifully non-stick, not to mention it lasts (basically) forever. As long as you take care of it.
I will say though that some cast iron can be very expensive - do look around though, you can find them for reasonable prices at local box stores without breaking the bank. Once you have one, you should know that it does take a bit of preparation and maintenance. You will need to season it. Seasoning basically means that you are putting an oil coating on the pan to seal it, and help it's non-stick properties shine through (among other things).
Other instructables have cited using flax seed oil to season your pan - see ColumbusCook's instructable. Needless to say this topic has been posted and re-mixed often but I thought I would show you how I season my cast iron because I've done it with a different oil (Beef Tallow) and I love the results!
Side note: If you're vegetarian or vegan, Tallow would not be the seasoning of choice for you. However, you can still use the same technique to season your pan, just select another oil using the criteria mentioned in step 2.
Step 1: Clean Your Cast Iron & Gather Materials
There are lots of different ways people say is the 'right' way to clean cast iron - Some say use soap, some say absolutely not. I personally don't have a strong opinion, and think it's your individual choice based on your comfort level and frequency of seasoning. However you choose to do it, it is important to make sure your cast iron is nice and clean before seasoning.
So before you move on - make sure you have these things:
- your clean cast iron pan (or dutch oven)
- a highly heat stable oil (I will show you this with Tallow)
- paper towel
- access to a stove
- access to an oven
Step 2: Choose Your Oil
There is an important part here to choosing the right oil. To season a pan you need an oil with a high smoke point.
One of the main reasons I wanted to post this instructable because I most recently used Tallow (rendered beef fat) to season to my pan and found it to be very successful.
Tallow - is a unique fat, not often talked about. I was curious about it so I recently rendered some myself (it was pretty easy). If you're interested in making Tallow, it is great for frying or using in place of oil or butter for cooking. (and other applications like seasoning your pan). Here is the 'how to' make it.
If you don't have tallow, or are vegetarian or vegan, you can choose another fat/oil to use but the key is to make sure it has a high smoke point. If anything, here are some oils not recommended for seasoning:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil (but I have used this in a pinch)
- Or any other oil / fat with a low smoke point.
Why a high smoke point?
The key reason you want to use a high smoke point oil is because when you're seasoning you will use VERY high heat to seal the oil and create a coating. So it makes sense that any oil you apply when seasoning needs to withstand that high heat. The low smoke point oils will ultimately end up creating lots of smoke (at high heat) and stink up your whole house if you're not careful (I've been there!). There are certainly more technical reasons for the high smoke point rule but personally, avoiding the smoke detectors going off is a pretty solid one for me!
If you're interested I found a nice comprehensive list of smoke points on this website.
*In case you're interested: Tallow is listed as a 400F/250C smoke point with non-neutral flavour. (the butter, olive oil and coconut oil are 350F or below).
Step 3: Begin Your Seasoning
- Turn your stove on to high
- Warm up your pan on the element for a minute or so
- Add a generous amount of tallow (or other seasoning fat) and allow it to melt and spread all over your pan.
- Once warm and melted, turn off the stove top, and use your paper towel to wipe the oil on each part of the inside of the pan (be careful the pan is VERY hot!)
- Next you can wipe the outside of your pan, the handle etc. (again, be careful it is all very hot)
Step 4: Bake It In!
- Next put your oven on to 'bake' with a temperature of 500 Fahrenheit (260 Celsius).
- Put your oiled pan in the hot oven upside down and bake for 10 minutes. (putting it upside down helps the pan to not have any pools of oil if you didn't wipe down the excess. (also, the lower element will be providing most of the power)
- After 10 minutes turn your oven off and allow it to sit in the closed oven until cooled.
Voila you have a shiny newly seasoned pan (with beef tallow!)
- You may need to repeat this whole process a couple of times in a row to add coatings of seasoning if you have a new pan, or if it has been neglected for a little while.
- ALWAYS dry your cast iron after washing (never leave it with water sitting in it) - it will rust...
- It is also a good practice to use step 3 in between seasonings - i.e. add more oil to your cleaned cast iron, heat it up on the stove, and wipe it down between uses (this acts as sort of an intermediate seasoning).