Black is beautiful
December 2, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm re-seasoning my workhorse Lodge 12" cast-iron skillet. I've seasoned pans before to pretty good results, but I want perfection. What kind of oil/fat is going to give me the hardest, strongest, blackest finish, and what temperature is going to get me there?
posted by wabbittwax to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: According to this person, flaxseed oil. According to me, frequent preparation of bacon. But my opinion is based on a love of bacon, not scientific experiment.
posted by iwhitney at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think more than anything, it takes time. Years and years (in my experience) of cooking to get that dark, slick black finish.

I'm fortunate to have my great-grandmother's beloved cast iron skillet and it's black and slick and shiny. I make sure to cook bacon it in often to keep it seasoned and it works like a charm.
posted by ACN09 at 10:23 AM on December 2, 2010

I have used many kinds of grease for this over the years and last time I tried flaxseed. Wow. It was the best. Very hard and smooth and thick. Glossy, even. Not exactly black though -- I had taken the pan right down to metal in some places and that shone through still.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:24 AM on December 2, 2010

You're asking for perfection, but let me tell you what I do instead.

First, don't buy a new cast iron skillet. My skillet I inherited from my Grandma and it is at least 70 years old. I can wash it in soap (the kiss of death for a well-seasoned skillet), and it is fine. Go to a low end antique store and look around for a good cast iron skillet. Imagine the meals that an anonymous family cooked in it to feed their children and feel right with the world. Reduce, reuse, etc. etc.

If you do need to season anyway, coat thoroughly with veggie oil, set in a hot oven (500 or so) for 15-20 minutes. Wipe away the extra grease when the pan is cool.
posted by Jodio at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2010

Sacrifice a pound of cheap bacon to season your skillet. Fry it up and discard it. Wipe the skillet clean. DO NOT USE SOAP. Water is all right, but not soap. If you use water, put the skillet back on the burner for a few minutes to steam off the moisture, which is the enemy of cast iron. Lube the skillet for storage with a little bacon fat or olive or other oil. Wipe it on with a paper towel. Lube it again whenever you clean it. Enjoy.

By the way, you can burn off years of black crust on cast iron by putting an old skillet in your oven and using the self-cleaning feature. You end up with a very bare skillet that needs to be seasoned again.

Hope this helps.
posted by Jenna Brown at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just re-seasoned a dutch oven by wiping it down with canola oil and baking it in a 450F oven for 30 minutes and it came out black as sin and ready to go.
posted by BZArcher at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2010

Cooking Issues has a good primer on cast iron. Basically, you want unsaturated oil and you want to get it hot (400F-500F, the oven is good for this, but you need good ventilation because there will be smoke). Lots of good discussion (and citations) in the comments.
posted by ssg at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2010

For what it's worth, Cook's Illustrated recommends stove-top high-heat seasoning rather than doing it in the oven.
posted by bcwinters at 10:47 AM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have quite a bit of cast iron. Some we have purchased new others have been in the family for generations. We've also got a 2 year old, so sometimes the pans don't get cleaned before stuff dries/bakes down, so we break the cardinal rule on a regular basis and actually use soap. When we do, we wash them and immediately toss them on the stove to dry them as quickly as possible. Once all the water is gone, we dump a little oil (usually vegetable or olive, since that's what's on the counter) and wipe it down really good inside and out to get a very fine layer of oil on while it's still hot.
posted by Morydd at 11:12 AM on December 2, 2010

Crisco and a 450-degree oven for half an hour did just fine for me.
posted by briank at 11:38 AM on December 2, 2010

Lard. 150 degree oven for an entire day. (This per a guy I know named Farmer Doug, who lives in Iowa and butchers his own hogs.)

The finish you're after is, I believe, the result of years of use, not a single seasoning session.

Personally, I just wash my cast iron after using it, throw it over a flame to dry it off, and then swipe it all over with olive oil on a paper towel. Every single time I use it.

I never need to re-season, but my cast iron is old and was well seasoned when I got it.
posted by goblinbox at 12:15 PM on December 2, 2010

I cleaned my garage-sale-find on the self-clean oven cycle, and seasoned with Crisco in the oven. I was really happy with the result, and it's going on 5 years of near-daily use.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2010

I should say that it is going on 5 years of near-daily abuse, too, since I let it soak, cook all kinds of acidic things in it, and don't always heat and swipe with oil after washing. It is still going strong despite this.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:33 PM on December 2, 2010

Interesting. So many different answers. And I'll give you another: I am vegetarian and in the past couple years have seasoned an 2 entire sets of cast iron cookware and two cast iron woks. I used canola oil on the first set of skillets, which looked fine but took a really long build up time to become glossy/nonstick. Then I read that saturated fats create the best gloss--hence the experience of a lot of people that bacon fat works best for seasoning. So for the next thing I seasoned, a dutch oven, I used palm oil. Which created a really hard glossy finish after one seasoning. Yay. Only I used a red palm so it was an ugly glossy finish. So. The next seasoning I used plain virgin coconut oil which created that hard, glossy black nonstick finish I was looking for.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:27 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

New cast iron pans have a textured surface, while it would seem manufacturers took the time to sand the cooking surface flat back in the good old days. If you want perfection, take the cooking surface down flat with sandpaper or maybe a small orbital sander.
posted by Dmenet at 4:00 PM on December 2, 2010

My favorite seasoning agent is manteca or beef tallow. In my experience it really penetrates the iron and should give you a good couple or 3 years of service. If you really want to kick ass, go through the process, let it cool down to room temperature and go through the process again. It's all about penetrating that iron.
posted by snsranch at 5:47 PM on December 2, 2010

Bacon and hamburgers. Lots of both.

And always, always, always use a metal spatula -- it provides the polishing and scraping that you need to keep the surface shiny and non-stick.

I've tried the oven/oil routine, and it works ok to kind of sort of get a basic base on there, but nothing works as well as repeatedly cooking animal fat in there and scraping with a metal spatula.
posted by Forktine at 5:56 PM on December 2, 2010

Kenji Alt of Serious Eats (and formerly Cook's Illustrated) says that textured vs smooth makes no little difference. And also recommends fairly high heat and unsaturated vegetable oil.
posted by O9scar at 10:13 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cast Iron Dude's method is kind of scary but my pans have never, ever looked so gorgeous afterward. It's my go-to once in a while "start from zero" reboot fix.
posted by ifjuly at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should mention I never have pans so bad I need to do the chemical (oven cleaner or otherwise) prep--just the general "warm at low to dry out, then CRANK THE HELL UP and get a little scared for a while, then rub like hell super carefully" part.
posted by ifjuly at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2010

I just make a big batch of caramelized onions when I want to fix the seasoning in a cast iron pan. My experience is that any fat will work, but since I think goose fat makes the best caramelized onions, most of my cast iron pans are seasoned with it.
posted by foodgeek at 7:37 AM on December 3, 2010

Oh, and yeah, I swear by Crisco. I've never had much luck with vegetable oil or any liquidy oil, honestly.

For everyday after-dinner clean-up, I rinse out, if there's crap stuck stubbornly I use kosher salt rubbed to get it off, and put it back on the burner and give maybe the smallest rub with any leftover fat from cooking (lard!) or yeah, Crisco. Warm it 'til glossy and hot, rub carefully, and stick in the off oven to dry it out overnight (I live in the humid South; this might be unnecessary if you live someplace cold and dry).

And yeah, just being mindful about how you use it too. Someone in a prior thread said something once about how it's like a bank account, where some foods are like deposits--frying bacon--and some are withdrawals--sauteing leafy greens or doing simple pancakes, say. Be mindful if you've made a lot of withdrawal-type meals in it you do some animal-fatty stuff to balance it out and bring it back from the brink, as mentioned above.
posted by ifjuly at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2010

I like cast iron cookware. My friend likes it even more. He cleaned my crusty old frying pan using electrolysis.

It was amazing. Like brand new. I used vegetable oil to season it and I never use soap on it. If stuff does stick I just let it soak for a while and then scrub it with a sponge and / or the scubbing side of a sponge. I dry it on the stove and spray it with either canola oil or olive oil that comes in a spray can at Trader Joe's. It works great for me.
posted by snowjoe at 7:44 AM on December 3, 2010

Response by poster: OK it's follow-up time.

There were a lot of good answers here, several advocating things I've tried before (crisco, vegetable oil, bacon fat mmmm bacon fat) and the first answer suggesting flaxseed oil and offering this link. The before and after pictures and the process described in the link intrigued me, so I decided to give it a shot.

I've now seasoned the pan five or six times with flaxseed oil (I lost count) and it is fantastic. The finish is black, shiny, slick and tough as nails. I've cooked with it a couple of times now as well and I'm definitely sold on flaxseed oil for seasoning cast-iron.

Thanks hive mind.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:37 PM on December 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

> For what it's worth, Cook's Illustrated recommends stove-top high-heat seasoning rather than doing it in the oven

Bizarrely, did anyone notice the most recent issue of Cook's Illustrated revises their position and recommend the very method best answered here, the flaxseed oil finicky thing? Wouldn't it be a hoot if Kimball and company lurk AskMe...
posted by ifjuly at 8:09 AM on January 4, 2011

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