Best Way to Season Cast Iron Pans - Flax Seed Oil

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About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building o...

Intro: Best Way to Season Cast Iron Pans - Flax Seed Oil

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.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Oil the Pan

Pour a small amount of the flax seed oil into the pan.  Less is more with this stuff, so shoot for more than just a few drops, but no more than a tablespoon.  Start with a teaspoon and go from there.  Then, using a paper towel or rag, spread the oil evenly throughout all the surfaces of the pan, including the bottom of the pan, the sides, and even the handle.

The pan should have a slight sheen to it, but no standing puddles of oil or thick areas of build up.  If you're really feeling inspired, use your bare hands to spread the oil around and envision yourself back in the old world.  Follow the rule of thumb for any other finish - shoot for a nice thin even coat.  You can always apply more, and, as you'll soon see, you will.

Step 3: Bake at 500F for 30 Minutes

Place the oiled pan inside a 500F degree oven for 30 minutes.  Some sources say to heat the pan for longer, but, if you've put on a thin coat of oil I've found that 30 minutes is plenty long enough.

The pan will smoke a bit during this process.  That is completely fine and natural, your oven will not catch fire.
The hot flax seed oil will smell a bit strange.  That is also completely fine and natural, the smell will go away.

PRESS ON! 

Step 4: Repeat 4 to 7 Times

Once you've "cooked" the pan for 30 minutes, remove it from the oven and let the pan sit until it's cool enough to touch.  When you're sure it's not still hot, reapply a thin coat of oil using the same method described in step 2, put it back into the oven and cook it for another half an hour.  

Keep repeating this process until you've gone through as many cycles as you'd like.  I've found that 4 to 7 rounds was enough to result in a semi-gloss, beautifully smooth, tough, black finish that is ready for use.

Step 5: Do All Your Cast Iron at Once

Final tip - do all your cast iron pans at once.  In my opinion, if you're gonna crank the oven up to 500F for several hours and make the house smell a little funny, you might as well make good use of it and season all your cast iron cookware at once.  The good part is that you won't have to repeat the process very often.  I've been going on the same seasoning session for several months now and they still look great.

Step 6: Use the Gas Grill

*update 1/30/12*

I now feel foolish for saying that this was the "best way" to season cast iron without mentioning this important tip that was brought up in the comments: if you want to avoid making your house smell like smoking oil - USE THE BBQ!

What a great idea - thanks to everyone who suggested this.  Next time, I'm definitely gonna use the grill.

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    171 Discussions

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    donw101

    Question 4 months ago on Step 1

    Can I use virgin flax seed oil ?

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    cchubb

    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    18 replies
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    mlaiuppa.cchubb

    Reply 1 year ago

    The reason you have to keep reseasoning it every few years is because you use olive oil to season it and you scrub it with Dawn or detergent often.

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    tubeist-dcchubb

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Mineral oil is 'edible' but indigestible; which makes it a good lubricant for constipation: that stuff ain't going nowhere but out. It also doesn't polymerize. Period. It cannot be used for seasoning.

    Olive oil is fine, but people should bear in mind that the smoke point of olive oil varies widely with cold-pressed, virgin, extra virgin, extra-virgin acidic, etc., and it's slow to polymerize to get to a film condition. Flax oil is best for people who are seasoning their first pan. I happen to use the similarly-behaving walnut oil because I cook with it a lot anyway. Once you have a pan with a good ol' coating, re-seasoning goes well on the old film without much worry.

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    MacA5tubeist-d

    Reply 2 years ago

    Is it safe to use flax seed oil that does not need to be refrigerated? My bottle says it is 100% virgin (or unrefined) flaxseed oil. It does not list any other ingredients. However, it does not require refrigeration. Safe to use for seasoning? Everything I'm seeing with regards to using flaxseed oil says to use the refrigerated kind.

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    HolgerW6MacA5

    Reply 2 years ago

    As long as it is 100% flax seed oil, you can use it for seasoning. There are different approaches in storing flax seed oil. One is the supermarket approach, which basically is, "We don't care if the oil starts tasting awful". Try one of those 100% flax seed oils that are not refrigerated in the store. They all taste very bitter (still not rancid).

    If stored properly, flax seed oil should not taste bitter at all. That can only be achieved by storing it at low temperatures right from the beginning.

    Also, flax seed oil should not be stored longer than 4-6 weeks.

    For seasoning a pan, the bitter taste is no issue.

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    EricO49MacA5

    Reply 2 years ago

    The very thin layers of flaxseed oil, after each one is baked for 30 minutes at 500 degrees, are essentially no longer flaxseed oil. Or at least they are drastically changed flaxseed oil. The hard, shiny, dry surface of a seasoned cast iron pan is not going to "go rancid."

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    mlaiuppa.tubeist-d

    Reply 2 years ago

    Mineral oil is great for seasoning cutting boards.

    Olive oil will turn rancid so shouldn't be used for boards or seasoning cookware.

    Vegetable oil never cures and is always sticky.

    Flax seed oil is the only edible drying oil. For that reason it is great for seasoning cookware. I don't use it on the cutting boards because the entire point of oiling them is to prevent drying.

    So flax seed oil for seasoning cast iron and mineral oil for seasoning cutting boards.

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    BearMgregs12

    Reply 3 years ago

    Mineral oil is ingestible, I've been using it for years on my cast iron. I'm not sure where people come up with the nonsense they spew? As a side note: mineral oil is great for constipation; a tablespoon at a time. Not as a thin coat on cast iron!

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    M2aestroBearM

    Reply 2 years ago

    First, I do not use mineral oil on my cast iron, for I have many kinds of vegetable oil handy, and for seasoning, tend to use one that doesn't smoke at too low a temperature. That said, there is absolutely no reason that one could not use a mineral oil for seasoning, if one use the right one. Food grade mineral oils are used in this country (but not in EU countries) on baking machinery, and if you were to eat much commercially baked goods regularly, you could be consuming up to about 80 mg (eight hundredths of a gram) of mineral oil in your diet. 100 mg of mineral oil is considered a safe limit for a person of average weight. Your body cannot process it, and too much can cause some adverse effects. So, go ahead, season pans with it, but always wipe away any excess that has not polymerized onto a surface or penetrated the surface. By-the-way, in this country, so-called food grade mineral oils, which I'll just lump as highly refined paraffin oils, are used on salad bowls, cutting boards, wooden serving utensils, etc. to minimize ingress of water and bacterial and fluids that could become contaminated by bacteria in the wood's pores. I suspect that this is not approved in the EU, where I think they are overly cautious. This could stem from the fact that less highly refined mineral oils are generally lumped with carcinogens in food use and on food preparation and processing surfaces. So, be careful, find out what your oils really are, and then make your informed choice.

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    ctgypsyBearM

    Reply 2 years ago

    There are food-safe mineral oils on the market, you just have to take the time to look for them. We make bamboo and hardwood cutting boards for sale in our Etsy shop, and we always coat them with food-safe mineral oil and refresh them with a new coating every 6 months or so because washing the cutting boards strips the oil and dries out the woods.

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    BearMtubeist-d

    Reply 3 years ago

    Soap does strip away some of the seasoning. It is best to put a little bit of water in the bottom of the pan and heat it into it bubbles over low heat. Once bubbling, dump the water and wipe out the pan. Also, while it's still warm wipe a thin coat of oil in the pan. It's ready to go for the next time

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    realmassagecchubb

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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)

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    cchubbrealmassage

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    mattsquatchcchubb

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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.

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    M2aestromattsquatch

    Reply 2 years ago

    You must be purchasing junk grade plastic spatulas. We find no trouble with the plastic spatulas we buy here, and those with silicone blades seem to take any abuse we give them. I'm sure that you can find something that is junk, but keep looking, for good spatulas abound.

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    cchubbrealmassage

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    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
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    sdick3cchubb

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    the surface texture is likely you have newer cast iron pan they have a rougher look than the older pans which had an almost smooth appearance to them. unsure the reason for the change.