One of the most popular and versatile cookware pieces for any kitchen is the cast iron skillet. For centuries, cooks have relied on these tried and true frying pans to create meals with a crispy, non-stick surface. They can go from stovetop to oven to table with ease.
Regardless of whether you buy a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet, or you buy an unseasoned one, you can still season it yourself.
In this article, we will be covering why you should season your cast iron skillet and what will happen if you don’t season it.
What is seasoning?
Seasoning is the process where you apply oil to the pan and bake it above the oils smoking point so the oil polymerizes and bonds with the pan creating a hard plastic like barrier on the cast iron skillets surface. The first time you season on an unseasoned cast iron skillet, it will take several applications of flaxseed oil, or another light tasting oil in order for it to form enough of a layer that it will be effective.
However once this initial coating has formed, you should not need to maintain it anymore providing you follow cast iron care practices, if you start to notice food sticking to your cast iron pan again, just reapply some oil the next time you cook, and it will polymerize during cooking.
Seasoning Vs Unseasoned Cast Iron Skillets
There are many reasons to season your cast skillet skillets vs leaving them unseasoned, below we will cover all the benefits of seasoning cast iron and cover the differences between manual seasoning and buying preseasoned products.
Seasoning your cast iron skillet will make a non-stick surface
Since cast iron is naturally a rough surface, food sticks to it. One of the main benefits from seasoning cast iron is the non-stick surface that’s created with a good seasoning. Not only will a non-stick surface prevent food from sticking during cooking, especially meat, but it will make cleaning the pan a breeze too.
If you decided to leave your cast iron skillet unseasoned, then you’ll hate cooking, because your delicate foods will stick and get ruined, and you’ll have a nightmare cleaning up due to not being able to soak cast iron due to the rust factor.
Which takes us onto the next point.
Seasoning your cast iron skillet will prevent it from rusting
Seasoning a pan is important if you want to permanently avoid rust from forming on your cast iron skillet. It also will not be as likely to be corroded over time.
If you are lucky enough to have some vintage cast iron skillets or pans that do not have a protective seasoning layer, the best way to protect them is by season it appropriately to make up for the lack of seasoning in the first place. By seasoning it, it will create a thick layer of polymerized oil that functions as a barrier against condensation on the surface of the cast iron skillet.
If you leave your cast iron skillet unseasoned, the likeliness of it rusting is quite high, and the likeliness of it rusting only increases depending on how much you cook in it, and how humid your city is.
The protectiveness of a thick layer of polymerized oils is the reason why the Chinese have used cast iron cookware for thousands of years. And why cast iron skillets are still being used today, and will likely be around for as long as there is food to cook on pans.
Preseasoned vs unseasoned
For those of you who don’t want to leave your cast iron skillet unseasoned, and don’t want to season it yourself, you are probably wondering if pre-seasoned is good to use.
Well, pre-seasoned cast iron skillets still have a seasoning on them, so they are better than having an unseasoned cast iron skillet.
However, pre-seasoned cast iron skillets do not have a good seasoning on, it will work for a short time, but it’s a thin layer and will eventually wear down before you can build it up in my experience.
There’s no difference between pre-seasoned and home seasoned, except for the thickness of layers and oils used.
In terms of oils, they all provide different strengths of seasoning, and you never know which oil the manufacturers used.
So In essence, I would always recommend home seasoning over pre-seasoned, but if you didn’t want to home season, then always go pre-seasoned over unseasoned cast iron skillets, this will provide a level of protection that will allow your cast iron skillet to remain healthy for a short while.
How to season a unseasoned cast iron skillet
So now you know that if you don’t season your cast iron skillet, it will rust and become unusable over time. So how do you go about doing the light seasoning process?
Before we begin, I’d recommend using a flaxseed oil or something like canola. The reason being is flaxseed oil is has a low smoking point, and it bonds better to the cast iron due to it having high unsaturated fats and omega-3 in it.
So let’s start.
- Clean your unseasoned cast iron skillet using salt, to do this simply pour some salt on, rub it in lightly with your fingers all over the pan, and rinse with cold water.
- Apply a thin coating over the surface of your unseasoned cast iron skillet. The key to this is you want it to not be too thick, because if you put it on thick, it will fill in the pores in the pan and it won’t work as well.
- Place on your stove/oven with low heat for 30 minutes at 400°F (204C).
- Turn off your heat and leave it to cool.
- Repeat the process for multiple times until you get a nice non-stick surface, depending on how much you use it.
- I recommend doing this process twice a week for the first month or so (if you use your cast iron in that period), and then once every couple of months after that depending how much it’s used.
For an in-depth guide, please see our lengthy article on how to season cast iron.