How to season new cookware

There is nothing like a well seasoned cast iron pan.

Once when I went to New Zealand to see my children John’s daughter decided my blackened, precious, well travelled cast iron pans,  loaded with memories of meals, needed cleaning so for the two weeks I was away she soaked and scoured them with salt and scouring pads, right back to the shiny metal. She stripped them.  She was very pleased with her efforts and showed me my shiny clean old pitted pans, already rusting, with much pride as soon as I walked through the door. I almost fainted on the spot. But had to smile and say thank you. Because that is what you do. Later when she had gone to bed,  I collected them up, oiled and wrapped them gently in cotton like damaged babies and hid them for the duration of her visit. It took  over two years to get them back to their shiny black non stick surface.

Like training dogs and creating a good three dimensional pasture for cows – it takes time. And well seasoned cast iron pans are the most important cooking utensils I have. I have two high sided cast iron big pans, one middle sized pan and one very small. Also one carbon steel crepe pan who has begun her seasoning and now a new wok for John for Christmas (that is coming in and out of hiding to be seasoned  so when it is gifted to my husband it will be ready to cook in).

Do you remember when we played that game : If you had ten million dollars and only two suitcases  and you were leaving home forever – what would you put in the suitcases? Well, my three cast iron frying pans would be going into my suitcases, they have taken years to get this perfect worn non-stick surface. And they add something to a meal. I cook everything from breads to meat pies to steaks and stir fries in the cast iron. Plus they are beautiful as serving dishes.

cast iron

My crepe pan and new wok are Carbon steel –  it is a cheaper alloy than cast iron.  Iron is basically an element. Carbon steel is a mixture of iron and carbon ( creating an alloy) and they are not expensive to buy. Depending on how much carbon to iron in the equation this metal can  be quite hard and durable but its heat stays local. An alloy will not conduct heat well.  Cast iron will spread its heat more evenly, carbon steel is better for having the area above the flame very hot and the rest of the pan less hot – (perfect for a wok). When I finally find the big crepe pan I want I will choose cast iron (hopefully a big old French one – Hugo is going to look for me) whereas the little crepe pan I prefer at the moment is carbon steel and small enough for the whole surface to heat up evenly).  Both carbon steel and cast iron are not too expensive to buy compared to the big shiny brand names. They are not posh. Their value comes from use.  It takes days to get the first layer of seasoning right. And years to get that wonderful blackened look.

The last few days I have been working at the first seasoning of the carbon steel crepe pan, the wok and the new old Steel chapa made from a disc blade found in the barn.

With a brand new pot or pan it is important to wash thoroughly to get the manufacturers seal off the surface. This seal is to stop it rusting while awaiting sale. Once the shiny new pan is clean, dry thoroughly then put on your gas range or in the oven and heat slowly until the surface is so hot it begins to smoke. Imagine that you are opening the pores of the metal. Once it is very hot smear all over with lard. Some people use oils but I have always found lard to create a nice even base for your cooking.  Smear on the lard using a paper towel or tongs.  Be thorough but careful not to burn yourself. Allow it to bake on for another few minutes then remove the pan from the heat source and allow to cool upside down(so there is no pooling if oil). Wipe off the excess and repeat.

The surface will start to gold immediately before the colour deepens into aubergine black.

I repeat this four or five times before I begin to cook with the pan. Open the windows and put the music on – this is a wonderful meditative job but it will take a few hours every day for a few days until you will be ready.

Seasoning really takes months, so after every use; clean using hot water only (no soaps ever) then dry and wipe again with an oil or lard  (I use olive oil for the maintenance wipe) and store.  If you do have burnt on food, fill the hot pan with hot water and pop back onto the heat, it will cook off quickly with gentle scraping from a plastic spatula, then rinse, wipe and oil. Never leave it to soak.  I always deal with my pans before sitting down to dinner. It only take a few seconds to wipe clean when it is still hot.

dirty pig

REMEMBER! With these heavy well seasoned pans make sure to heat the pan until it shimmers BEFORE beginning to cook. Putting fats and foods into a cold pan almost ensures that the food will stick.

I love metal. And I love the study and history of metals. You will remember that my father used to build metal fishing boats.  Both steel and Aluminium.  He even made his own tools.  So the smell of hot iron is an old favourite scent for me.

I have one small copper pot too. (I found it somewhere years ago, it was filthy with a very long rusty handle – I was thrilled to find copper under there).  And one day I shall invest in a larger copper pot for sauces. And a copper bowl for meringue. But copper is another story.

I hope you have a lovely day. It is a beautiful day here this morning so after we have planted the garlic and settled the blueberries I am going to continue to season the chapa. 

Much love


88 Comments on “How to season new cookware

  1. Perfect Timing! My friend and coworker from Kenya is looking at purchasing a lodge griddle and we were discussing seasoning cast iron yesterday! I’ll share this with him.

  2. Thanks for this one. We bought a new cast iron skillet a few weeks back and we’ve been doing the whole coating with oil deal ever since, pretty much as you described. Food still sticks between the grooves sometimes, so I’ll try the hot water and spatula method to scrape it off. Please don’t tell any of my friends I’ve written this as they’ll never let me forget it…ever! 😀

  3. I love my cast iron pans as well and use them daily. I also use a lot of cast iron bake ware. You will love the cast iron wok, Its wonderful!!

  4. I didn’t know the tip about getting the burnt food off by heating the pan with water and scrapping it with a plastic spatula! Thanks Celi!!! 🙂

  5. Cast iron is so good to cook with – I have a blackened griddle pan which I love. Your story about John’s daughter reminded me of my best friend’s dad – he was forever throwing out pots of dirty water (huge pots of lovingly cooked stock for soup), straightening bent knives (an antique grapefruit knife) and scrubbing silver plated cutlery with a scourer – much to my pal’s mum’s dismay!!

  6. My sister-in-law did the same thing to my beautiful old cast iron skillet, but I was not gracious as you, Celi. I howled in pain. She said Well, it always bothered me that you cooked in that horrid thing & this is the first time it has ever been actually clean!—as it was rusted in front of our eyes! I wiped my tears & started over with it, giving her a cast iron seasoning lesson right there. She had never used cast iron herself—having the latest sets of this or that. But now when she is here (we share the house part of the year) she doesn’t clean my pans, and I’ve never seen her touch the cast iron skillet again. I cook almost everything in it. My dented crepe pan is also quite small, dating back to earliest Julia Child days when I was first married. I haven’t thought about a new larger one, but might. And my dear old carbon steel wok & its gas burner ring disappeared in my last move, which troubles me but I haven’t replaced them yet in hopes they will still turn up in some hidden box. I still have my beautiful copper meringue basin, a requested gift from my Julia days. We have our beloved kitchen treasures, well kept & cherished.

  7. I have 5 cast iron skillets and 2 cast iron griddle. I LOVE them and as your described your DIL’s cleaning of your cast iron, I began to cringe. I also have a set of ceramic cookware, which I also love.

    What so many fail to realize is that eating healthy doesn’t just mean eating organically fed meat or organically grown produce. It also means using healthy cookware and service ware. Cast iron and ceramic are also good for the body 🙂

  8. I have a cast iron fondue pot … not used for years! I am very tempted to get myself a flat (ribbed) griddle pan. Great for roast veg and steak. Laura

  9. That’s a great post, Celi. I once had an iron pan. It came along with the ingredients for making “Paella”. I never ever knew that this kind of pans needed to be treated in a special way. I did not like that pan, it and the food smelled and tasted ugly of iron and it rusted. Badly. Not to be used further. I called it a cheap crap and I intended to throw it away. I though kept it a while in my cellar and – a couple of years ago – threw it finally away. Ultimately. What a pity. So sad. I never new how to handle it and until today I never knew what it means “seasoning a pan”. Now I know. In detail. Thank you, Celi.
    Love your photos from today.

      • Maybe you can try a Paella once with your new and well seasoned chapa as it is a little deep in the center. Just guess…. – Still mourning a bit with my threwn away pan now I have got your super tips to season it. And now that I do my lards myself…

      • If – just if I should have once one of this cast iron pots again (ah, the costs)… one more question, Celi : What about the outsides ? They can rust too, can’t they? Are they (sides and bottom) to treat with lard, too and should they be oiled after use, too? Having just an electric kitchen stove, won’t it smoke and stink and be dangerous then oiling the bottom? – Or is there another method for the outsides?

        • I do nothing at all with the outsides, as there is nothing cooking on the outsides they seem to look after themselves.. And mine have never rusted on the outside either due to constant use.. good question.. c

  10. Wait – did I miss what to do with an old rusted one? I bought an old cast iron years ago and never used it bcs it is rusted on the surface and I have no idea what to do to make it usable. Is it the same process? Do I wash the rust off and immediately lard and bake?

    • Yes, give it a good scrub and heat it – when the water has evaporated wipe it with oil or fat until it just starts to smoke. Then turn the heat off and allow it to cool.

      • Yes agreed. Clean the rust off with something abrasive and begin again, heat lard, heat lard again and again until it is happy. Also don’t forget to oil it hot before your put it away each evening, for at least a year.. Good luck – let me know how it goes! c

        • Yes indeed, when using day to day, get it really hot, wipe it with some kitchen towel and add new oil before cooking.
          If I’m cooking meat and deglaze the pan with wine, then I wipe it clean with kitchen towel while hot and apply a drop of oil before putting it away. The dark patina that builds up on the pan creates a natural non stick surface.

  11. OMG – if someone did that to me I’d never leave home again!
    I’ve had three large cast iron pans – my ex wife has one and an ex girlfriend the other. I bought the third, an American one like yours, in 1997. It has seasoning instructions underneath, stamped in the cast iron. I have another, smaller, Le Creuset cast iron omelet pan, which is my favourite, especially for cooking tortilla Español. When I noticed that Le Creuset had stopped making them I bought a second one just in case it ever broke. When I move house recently, I transported all my cast iron pans ahead of time, by bike 😉

    • Instructions stamped into the base – what a find! I saw some Creuset pans that had a non stick surface inside, peeling, it quite put me off them, do yours have enamel inside of cast iron?

      • The saucepans have enamel inside (which is washed normally) and the omelet pan and a small griddle pan are bare metal. Peeling off non stick would be horrid!

          • I think they did do some with a non stick surface and annoyingly they change their range subtly all the time. Things like cast iron casseroles are timeless and should stay constant IMHO. Currently all their lidded pans have silver lid handles – the older Bakelite is much nicer 😉

  12. In a world of “everything will poison you and lead to wonky cells” cast iron is really the safest thing in the world to cook on. I love my cast iron pans. 😀

  13. I have two cast iron enamel lined Le Creuset caseroles, immensely heavy and beautifully blackened inside. I’ve had them for thirty years, and almost the first thing I did when we got married was instruct the Husband in the care of these treasures. Hot water only to clean, and no sharp implements in the pan for cooking. My cast iron skillet and griddle are less beloved, because they are now becoming too heavy for my arthriticky hands to manage easily, and dropping the entire thing on the floor once was enough…

      • It was worse than that! I dropped the whole lot on my bare feet… nasty burns. Sometimes you have to know when to quit. Now, I use a lighter, modern non-sticky frying pan. I’ve had to learn to adapt to a different heat profile, but the pan cleans up exactly the same way!

  14. What a wonderful lesson for new cooks. I had to give up the cast iron for many years when I could pick up nothing heavier than a needle. Finally had surgery on the wrists to remedy that and acquired some again. Then had to leave them when I left him. I’m still looking for replacements now that I have a home to call my own. Nothing cooks like cast iron and no one teaches a person how to use them. We have a tendency to like things to be shiny and new looking. Sometimes the yuckier it looks the better it cooks. I would hide those pans from the unknowing like I hide my fabric scissors from everyone who isn’t schooled in them. No paper, ever.
    Loved seeing your little’s,

      • Those too. I forgot about that. I hide lots of things when my sister is around. She broke several porcelain knives. Nothing is safe around her. Not everyone has the same appreciation for quality equipment. 😦

  15. I keep my seasoned cast iron Lodge 10″ skillet and newer griddle pan on top of the stove for constant use. Also have a smaller hanging old, old cast iron 8″ of my mom’s. Best pans ever. I get excited every time I get to use them! Frittata tonight.

  16. I love my cast iron pans, but sad to say, I no longer have the strength to lift them, specially when full! A town not far from here is called “Villedieu les Poêles” Which means God’s town of the frying pans. Copper pans are made there and sold in many shops, and there is also one of the few remaining bell foundries.
    If Hugo sends you a pan from France, it will cost the earth to mail that weight of iron.

    Thank you for a fascinating post.

  17. I love my cast iron cookware , especially my Le Creuset pots. Some of them have been with me for over 30 years. However, my favorite frying pan is a five quart Calphalon frying pan with a lid.
    Thanks for all the good tips on maintaining our cast iron skillets.

  18. When you are checking out Le Crueset also check Chasseur, slightly less expensive, but I bought first one enameled cast iron casserole pot then another… and I can happily say they are worth their considerable weight and cost in gold. I have other cheaper cast iron pans and a big wok in the cupboard and you’ve reminded me I really do need to get them out and work on them.
    The G.O. tells a story of a cousin who ‘helpfully’ cleaned his uncle’s favourite campfire blackened billy tin until it shined… and then had to run to dodge it being flung at her!

  19. Thank you for your story about the pans. I had this happen a lot of times with my X. He thought they were to be scrubbed all the time. I kept re-seasoning!

  20. I had to stop using my big cast iron skillet – the deep kind you can fry chicken in – because I just can’t rely on my hands to that extent these days. Too much Dropping Of Things. I’ve kept it on a shelf in the kitchen, though, and the day someone comes by and scolds me for not keeping it ready for use, I will offer them a “new” skillet for their own kitchen.

  21. I totally needed this. I have a wok and a cast iron pan neither of which have been properly seasoned. New project!

  22. Celi I don’t comment much, but did you know salt and a paper towel is a great way to clean cast iron without water? That is the way I was taught. Along with the oil layer.

  23. You all have convinced me to have another go at cooking with my cast iron pan I was given for Christmas last year. It came already ‘seasoned’ and I followed their directions but not only does everything stick, but it is so heavy I can’t lift it when it is full and I need two hands even when its empty. I have to tilt it and kind of scrape out the food. Very disappointing as I’ve wanted one most of my cooking life.

  24. I have an old cast iron skillet taking up space. Thanks for sharing what I need to do to get it out and use it. How hard John’s daughter must have worked to clean your cookware!

  25. Had to laugh at the pan cleaning. Dad always insisted mom atleast use a cast iron skillet. Some docs now are even recommending people go back to using them for a little iron in the food.
    I guess it’s the cast iron pans that gets you in the habit of cleaning up the pans before you sit down to eat. Just easier.
    Thanks for the morning chuckles

      • All that flakes off – and into food. Iron pots can help with iron deficiency anaemia which effect red blood cell levels.
        If the water supply has high arsenic levels (naturally found in some places – we moved away from one), the arsenic can block absorption of iron – so people can get sick and kids can have/develop learning issues.So much darn stuff to watch out for.

  26. Pingback: cast iron Christmas, IMK-December | ardysez

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