There is something that warms the heart with a delicious meal prepared in a cast-iron skillet. Whether you are out fishing for salmon, you can prepare some of the best salmon recipes with a cast-iron skillet. Perhaps you’ve decided to panfry that stake at home, a cast-iron skillet is a personal favorite of many.
One major benefit of using a cast iron skillet is that when you are pan-frying that steak, the skillet can get hot enough and remain tough to withstand the super high temperatures. Unfortunately, there is plenty of misinformation out there on the proper way to season a cast-iron skillet.
When long-chain fat molecules are subjected to very high temperatures, they break down to form short-chain polymers. These stick naturally to the carbon and the bare iron. The result is a glaze looking layer.
This is what is called seasoning and similar to Teflon has a smooth, nonstick surface. Another benefit is that the seasoning will form a layer between the iron and the air which protects the metal against rust.
When you take a cast iron and you look down on it under a microscope, the first thing that you will notice is a surface that is porous and bumpy. These bumps will expand when subjected to heat. The seasoning fills these bumps and results in a smooth surface.
The longer you cook with the cast iron skillet the more layers of seasoning that form which bond to the iron underneath.
If you are an avid camper, you can add a layer of seasoning on your cast iron for camping as you fry that fish you caught at the river.
Natural Way to Season Cast Iron
There are two main ways through which you can season a cast iron. The first and most natural method is to use your iron skillet as much as you can. Each time you use cooking oil, you add a layer of seasoning onto the skillet.
Over time the seasoning builds layer after layer onto the skillet until you have a durable and smooth surface. The thin layers must form. This will stick better to the iron. Imagine a wall that has a thick layer of paint. If there are openings or holes, air and moisture can get through and the result is that the paint starts to peel.
The same concept applies to seasoning your cast irons. A thin layer forms a better molecular bond with iron and will, therefore, be more durable.
Note that your cast iron skillet will not look nice at the beginning. There several varying factors that affect the seasoning process such as hot spots on the skillet and stove, how you normally cook as well as the angle of the stove and how it lies against the floor.
Using an Oven to Season the Cast Iron Skillet
This is the second way to season your cast iron skillet. The benefit of this method is that you can add an even layer of seasoning throughout the pan. This method allows you to kick start the entire seasoning process by adding a thin initial layer evenly on the skillet.
When you use the skillet to cook, you will build on this initial layer. In fact, many owners of cast iron cookware will perform this process once they purchase their cookware. They will also repeat the process after a few months or years.
However, if you prefer to simply cook with the skillet until it is well seasoned over time, then this is perfectly fine too.
Tips for Seasoning Your Cast Iron
The best temperature for seasoning is when the oil starts to smoke. This is the temperature when the oil starts to break down into short-chain polymers and carbon. These then bond perfectly with the iron. This is the right way on how to season a cast-iron skillet.
If the temperature is set below that level, then it will not be possible for the oils to polymerize. On the other hand, when the temperature rises too far up beyond this point, then there is the risk of the oils jumping over the polymerizing stage and into the stage where the carbon fully burns.
Best Oils for Seasoning Cast Iron
Some oils work better for seasoning your cast iron than others. The best are cooking oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. These bond much more efficiently with the cast iron.
You may want to avoid saturated fats such as coconut oil or lard as these do not have enough bonding points when breaking down to allow enough carbon molecules to stick to the molten polymers.
That said, you also want to make sure that the oils you use also do not come with too high unsaturated fats. An example is flaxseed oil. It may be a popular choice for many on the world wide web, but the downside of using this is that the seasoning it produces is quite brittle and flaky.
Perhaps the best oil is grapeseed as it strikes the right balance. You can carry this when camping alongside your camping stove.
The Process of Seasoning Cast Iron Skillet
1. Preheat the oven
The first thing that you will need to do is to preheat the oven to the right temperature. Set it to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people will prefer setting the temperate as high as it will go. However, a low temperature ensures a longer duration of baking and therefore much more durable seasoning.
As you do this, you can heat the pan on the stove to make sure that any moisture on the surface evaporates. After the oven reaches the ideal temperature, place the skillet on the heat for 10 minutes. Next, take out the skillet, and increase oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This will remove any moisture and will open up the pores of the iron.
2. Adding the oil
Take about a tablespoon of your ideal oil and apply it to the skillet. Note that to season the skillet, you will need way less than this at about an eighth of a tablespoon. However, you can apply an even coat to the skillet with a full tablespoon of oil.
Take a paper towel and apply the oil in small concentric circles. Once you have the whole surface covered, take another new paper towel and wipe away the excess. Then flip the skillet and repeat the process on the bottom.
But how do you tell that you’ve done it right? Well, your pan should be looking dry with a polished shin on the surface. It may not appear like it but there is plenty of oil on the iron. This super thin layer of oil is what you need.
3. Begin slowly
Check that the oven is at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Then take the skillet and place it on the middle rack. Ensure that you place it upside down. This ensures that no oil pools to the edge of the skillet.
Let it stay in the oven for 10 minutes and then remove it and place it onto the stove. Wipe the oil that has been carried onto the surface. The heat will cause the oil to break down which is what you want.
Note that when you are out in the backcountry, you can make a smokeless fire and use this to season the cast iron skillet even more.
4. Increase temperature
Increase the temperature of the oven to 400 digress Fahrenheit. Put in the pan and leave it inside for an hour. Make sure that you do not open the oven to ensure that you keep the heat constant. Find something to do to pass the time. Listen to some music or watch a movie for example.
After this initial one hour, turn off the oven and leave the skillet inside for another one hour. This will help the skillet cure.
Just because the skillet is seasoned the first time doesn’t make it good to go. It requires multiple layers of seasoning. While you can repeat the process multiple times, the more natural way to add multiple layers is to simply cook with it.
The process above added the first and most important bonding layer. It is up to you to add those next layers through cooking.
What About a Pre-Seasoned Skillet?
The great thing is that nowadays, manufacturers of iron cookware will skillet them before the sale. It saves you the trouble as you can simply cook with the skillet directly. However, it’s important to note that there are often not completely nonstick.
When pan-frying, using butter and a few tablespoonsful will ensure that everything remains well lubricated. It will not do any harm to add more.
A tip when using a pre-seasoned skillet is to ensure that you keep the heat low in early life. The food will likely stick during these initial stages and keeping the heat low will allow the layers to build up until it becomes nonstick. After you’ve added the layer, the pan can take higher temperatures.
Note, however, that there is the food you will need to avoid. Vinegar, acid and circus foods and well tomatoes will often destroy the seasoning. Avoid these until there are enough layers for seasoning.
When there is only a light seasoning, you may find that the acidic flavors take on an unpleasant taste. Once you’ve broken in the skillet and there are enough seasoning layers, then acidic foods will not be a problem.
If you are a vegan who is also a vegan, you can prepare some delicious vegetarian backpacking meals on your cast iron skillet as you add more layers of seasoning.
What to Avoid When Seasoning Cast Iron Skillet
Several things can cause you to be less successful when seasoning cast iron skillet.
The first is letting the cast iron skillet air dry. It takes way longer for water droplets on the skillet to evaporate leaving enough time for rust to form. Some people may not view small rust spots as a big deal but the downside is that you will often need to wash the pan before you can use it. What’s more, is that you will need to re-season it.
The best way to store your cast iron skillet is to wipe it dry with a clean rug and then add a thin layer of oil to keep away the rust.
Secondly, avoid washing the skillet with soap. This can be a problem for most people since we are meant to believe that for anything to become clean, we need soap. Note however that soap contains harsh chemicals that will eat away at the seasoning. Instead, the best way to clean a cast-iron skillet is to use hot water. While you can use a sponge to clean out the surface, an even better alternative is to use coarse sea salt as a scrubber.
After cleaning, add hot water, rinse and dry then add a small amount of olive oil to keep out the rust.
The third thing that you need to avoid is using a metal spatula. The idea, remember is to make sure that you don’t scratch away on the seasoning. Considering how to season a cast-iron skillet and how long it takes to build a healthy layer of non-stick seasoning, you want to make sure that it remains in top form and condition.
Instead, go for wooden or plastic spatulas. These will not scratch on the skillet. You can use metal tongs as long as you are just picking and flipping that piece of steak.
Fourth, is while we will often leave the skillet and other dirty utensils and cookware soaking in water, this is a definite no-no with your skillet. The water can easily kickstart the rusting process. Keep it in a dry place until it is time to clean the pan.
Speaking of rust, a few tips for hiking and backpacking in the rain will help keep your cookware dry and the cast iron free from rust.
How to Re-Season and Restore a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet
If you went through your grandmother’s stuff and found an old cast iron skillet that you simply loved, you might be wondering how to deal with all the rust and how to season the cast iron skillet. With a few clever techniques, you can have it looking brand new.
First is that you will need to check the severity of the rust. If it is too much, you can have it blasted with sandpaper to remove both the rust and the previous seasoning. In the end, all you should be left with is shining iron.
Often, however, things will not be too bad and all you will be dealing with is profile rusting brought about by neglect and moisture. This is simple to remove and you will be done in no time.
To deal with this type of rusting, you will, of course, need a few handy tools. Aluminum foil, dish soap. steel wool, scrubbing brush, an oven, vegetable oil, and a dishtowel.
The first thing you need to do is to scrub using the steel wool until all the rust from the affected areas has been removed and you are left with raw cast iron.
Next, take hot water and wash the skillet with the dish soap. this should remove any dirt. Use a bristle brush to scrub away the surface of the skillet.
Then take a dry towel and wipe away all the moisture from the cast iron skillet after rinsing with warm water a second time.
Then take a small amount of coating and cover the pan. Make sure you apply it on the entire surface of the skillet. Chances are the handle of the skillet is bare iron as well. Make sure that you apply the oil on the handle as well.
Then repeat the seasoning cast iron process above by setting the oven to the right temperature and placing the skillet upside down. You may also want to use an aluminum foil under the skillet to ensure that any dripping oils are caught.
Remember to allow the pan to cool and cure before you can use it.
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Using the cast-iron skillet repeatedly over time is what is going to add the seasoning until it is completely nonstick. Be patient and you can finally have the best pan for cooking some delicious meals.
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- How to restore rusty cast iron skillet, thekitchn.com