I seasoned my cast-iron pan, and it feels sticky. Is this normal?
May 4, 2014 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm new to cooking with cast-iron, and recently bought this Lodge pan. After the first use (scrambled eggs), I scrubbed it gently with warm water (no soap). I then coated it with vegetable shortening (this brand, which says it has a smoke point of 450°F), and placed it in the oven at 400°F. After about 15 min., I noticed smoke coming out (and smelled somthing burning), so I lowered the temp to 350°F, and left the pan in the oven for an hour. Now that the pan has cooled off, it has a very sticky residue. Is this normal?
posted by invisible ink to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Not normal. A very slightly oily texture is pretty normal, since mostly what you're doing when you're seasoning is driving oils into the pores of the iron. You know what oil feels like, though - it's not "very sticky."

I honestly forget how we seasoned our pan - it's been a few years since we last had to do it - but there was definitely no smoking involved and no stickiness. I might scrub hard and redo, perhaps with canola or veggie oil?

Also in my experience the best finish comes over time with continual use, not the formal seasoning process.
posted by heresiarch at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2014

You may have used too much oil/fat. Try again with less.
posted by softlord at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sadly, no. The sticky stuff is probably oil--either you used too much or didn't bake it hot enough, or both. I've done this, too.

Is the stickiness flat, or is it lumped up? If it's flat, you're probably ok--just put the pan back in the oven for another hour and see what happens.

If it's lumpy, you need to remove it. Scrape off as much of the goo as you can with an old credit card or a blunt knife. Then heat the pan on the stovetop, which will (hopefully) soften the goop. Crumble up some aluminium foil and use that as a scrubber on the sticky stuff. You can add a little table salt to the pan for more abrasiveness. That's the labor intensive and smoke light version. You can also just put the pan in the oven, set the oven to self clean, and leave the pan there through the cycle, but be aware that it might smoke.

If you just have a small patch of lumpy sticky that you scrape off, you can probably skip reseasoning and just rub some more oil on that spot while heating the pan on the stovetop. If you run it through the self cleaning cycle, you'll definitely have to reseason. I wouldn't worry about some smoke--I've never seasoned cast iron without a little smoke. Open a window and run a fan, if you can.
posted by MeghanC at 2:52 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've found sites that have this product that say that say that it can handle heat 'up to 450°F', but if you check the Spectrum corporate site, they say no such thing. In fact, they say that their shortenings are good for medium heat cooking.

It has been a while since I've used cast iron, but I remember seasoning with oil, not shortening.

Also, any pan I buy would get cleaned (with soap) after I get it from the store. Who knows what it has been exposed to on the way to your house. Afterwards you heat it to boil the water away, then season it.
posted by eye of newt at 3:05 PM on May 4, 2014

I just read the Lodge pan link and realize that it is 'pre-seasoned...and ready for immediate use', so I guess I can see not immediately cleaning it, (though I probably would anyway).
posted by eye of newt at 3:08 PM on May 4, 2014

I've been using cast iron for years and love it! My skillets are as nonstick as any product sold with a coating to make it nonstick. I wash my skillets with a small amount of dish soap and rinse it well, wipe it dry, then put it on a stove burner on low heat while I finish wiping down counters, etc. Then shut off the burner and use a paper towel with a small amount of vegetable oil or olive oil to wipe all over the inside of the skillet - and once in awhile, over the outside also. Don't leave any standing oil in the pan, just a nice, shiny finish inside.

If you do this faithfully - it's just part of my doing dishes routine - it will take awhile, but you'll eventually have a perfect nonstick finish, with no chemicals like the coated pans have. I have pet birds and they're very susceptible to the fumes from an overheated and dry nonstick-coated pan - the fumes will kill a large bird in the next room in minutes; is it really unreasonable to wonder what kind of damage they're doing to a person standing over the pan?

I gave my largest skillet to my granddaughter as a wedding present, so I had to replace it. I went to an antique store that specializes in cast iron and bought a great one; the man who sells them cleans them down to the raw iron then painstakingly seasons them many times to reach the perfect finish. My new one is a beauty - a 12" Wagner!

If you do, at some time, make the dreaded mistake of leaving the pan sitting in water for hours, don't fret. Just clean it well, dry it, put it on the stove burner on low heat for a half hour or so (iron is porous, so the burner needs to have time to heat dry the iron all the way through), then coat it with the thin layer of oil on a paper towel. I'd probably reheat it for a short time and then recoat it with oil.

If you should let it overheat when dry, it will probably smoke (the oil coating will smoke) but that won't hurt anything - it just notifies you to shut off the burner, dummy - you don't have to worry about the fumes, and neither do your pets.

You'll love your new pan - just don't worry about it. If I were you right now, I'd wash it to remove any lumpy oil build-up, then just season it as above. It will be fine. Cast iron is forever.
posted by aryma at 3:38 PM on May 4, 2014 [15 favorites]

I highly, highly recommend washing thoroughly and starting over with this method. Can be washed, even with soapy water after this treatment, as long as you dry over a burner and re-oil, lightly. Lots of good tips there even if you don't choose to go that route. I've never found the "pre-seasoning" on Lodge pans to work well (things still stick) and it looks more like the photo on the left in the link.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 3:44 PM on May 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yes, sticky means you left too much on. I would heat it up, wipe it down, get as much oil off as you can, and then back in the oven.

Smoke is fine; you actually want to heat the oil past its smoke point. Fine for seasoning, bad for cooking. OneSmartMonkey's link is my favorite, though I do the exact same process with canola oil or bacon fat.
posted by supercres at 4:14 PM on May 4, 2014

i respectfully disagree with some of the above posters. i have some lodge pieces, some pre-seasoned, and you didn't do anything wrong, you may just have applied a tad too much oil.

what you need to do now is pan-broil a good steak. turn your hood fan up high and put your pan over a big flame. cast iron, unique among pans, can take this. wait a few minutes, smoke a cigarette, browse metafilter. your pan will be smoking too, the volatile elements you don't want will go up the hood, and the remaining carbony material will form additional seasoning. when the pan is almost glowing, take a really nice steak that has been pre-dryrubbed or anointed with whatever, briefly rub its fatty edge across the hot surface and lay the steak down in the center of the pan. four or five minutes later, turn it over and do the other side. suggest that you pick up and tilt the pan, hold steak against it with a fork and drain excess fat into your fat jar at the midpoint, because you are, after all, pan-broiling it and not frying it. at the beginning of the second half (another four minutes or so), crumble a good blue cheese over the now top-facing hot half of the steak. standard cleanup afterward, your pan will catch up to your oil misapplications and perform like a champ.
posted by bruce at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sticky is definitely not right. Maybe you had too much fat in it, too low a heat, or it wasn't heated long enough.

Weird, though, because you put oil in cast iron all the time outside of the official seasoning process, and you just scrub or scrape off any excess. So I'm guessing it pooled there and was heated just enough to sort of congeal. So definitely try what bruce says, except you don't need to smoke or drop out of school or anything. Just say no to peer pressure!

If the stickiness is stubborn, I'd try reseasoning it with the pan upside down, with a baking sheet beneath it to catch any drips. That way, any excess will just come out rather than pooling in the pan. It may come out a little uneven at first, but it'll build back up more evenly in short order.

If you're OK with pork fat, bacon is really good for seasoning, too. It's really fatty and you cook it relatively high, so the fat really gets into the pores. I'd recommend just cooking some bacon in it every six months to a year or so to refine and maintain the finish whenever it starts looking a little dull.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:33 PM on May 4, 2014

I do exactly what aryma does with my cast iron pans and I've been doing it for decades.

If your cast iron is sticky, you just put too much oil on it. Wash it down and reseason it. No biggie. Cast iron is tough. It can take a lot.
posted by patheral at 5:45 PM on May 4, 2014

I adored my cast iron pans. I never used soap: just scraped 'em well with a metal spatula, then dumped around 1 tsp of salt, scrunched up paper towel or whatever to protect my hands, and scrub like a demon. The salt both abrades stuck-on residue and absorbs extra oil.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:49 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a few of the Lodge pieces.. they're pre-seasoned, no need to season them.. unless you mess them up somehow. But ya if its sticky then there's too much oil. Not a big deal though.. just cook something with it.

After cooking, if you need to rinse the pan at all, what I do to follow up is (similar to aryma):
-rinse the pan as necessary (I never use soap)
-dry pan a bit and put it back on a heated burner
-dry pan some more if necessary
-add few drops of oil to pan; let it heat a bit. (VERY LITTLE, like a couple drops)
-smear it around with paper towel, you want a shiny.. sheen, no more. do whole pan inside/out once in awhile.
-leave it to heat a bit more
-turn off heat before it smokes, or as it starts to.

Seems an involved process, but it gets to be second nature.. and I'm usually working/washing/drying/waiting-for-food-to-cool/other stuff during the process.
posted by herox at 5:51 PM on May 4, 2014

Let me help you.

- Baking soda or fine salt + metal scrubber, rinse hot water.

- Put pan on a high burner, wait for ALL water to evaporate and get scorching hot.

- Turn off flame. Use a tea towel to manipulate the pan, lightly oil the entire pan with any oil you have handy (seriously, anything will do) using a paper towel.

Cast iron pans don't have to be more complicated. I don't know why anyone insists on that oven BS.

Enjoy your pan!!!
posted by jbenben at 10:43 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man alive, my Lodge pan gives me nothing but grief. It's lovely to cook with but the maintenance near kills me. I've definitely experienced the sticky too-much-oil post seasoning residue before.

That said, I recently bought a carbon steel pan* (De Buyer) and it made me realise that I've been both over-thinking and under-thinking the whole seasoning process. The revelation was twofold:

(1) I'd been over-thinking cleaning. I found that I always had some burnt on food after cooking, and that wasn't going to be helping the seasoning any. I now basically follow Aryma's method - I usually simmer a little water in the pan to loosen residue, then scrub hardily in running hot water using the same scrubby sponge I use for the rest of my dishes. Yes, there's a little soap on the sponge. Yes, some of the factory pre-seasoning flakes off. No, it doesn't matter because...

(2) I now re-season the interior every time I use it. It's not hard at all, I just put the wet pan back on the burner. Once all the water has evaporated I wipe out the interior with a paper towel dipped in a tiny amount of flax seed oil that I keep on hand just for that purpose. I let the oil smoke a little and wait until the shiny oil finish settles down into the pores of the metal, then I let it cool on the stove before putting away. I really like this method, because it makes it really easy to apply just the tiniest amount of oil.

Every now and then I'll season the whole thing in the oven, but only when I remember.

I started doing this with the Lodge pan after going nuclear on it using Sheryl Canter's method. Sheryl Canter knows what she's talking about, and it was a fun bit of weekend chemistry.

The Lodge pan still isn't my favourite seasoned pan to cook with - that honor goes to my De Buyer carbon steel pan - but I use it a helluva lot more now that I've given myself permission to really scrub any food residue out after cooking. Yep, some seasoning chips away sometimes, but the beauty of an iron pan is that you can always bake on some more oil.

* as an aside, my carbon steel pan was a REVELATION. I finally got that low-maintenance slick non-stick seasoned finish I'd been promised from the Lodge. I think it's because carbon steel is so, so so smooth when you get it, but the Lodge is super pebbly and textured. If you want an easy everyday pan I really recommend picking up an el cheapo carbon steel pan from a kitchen supply place.
posted by nerdfish at 1:34 AM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

What the heck are y'all cooking in your skillets that you need to use abrasive cleaning techniques afterward? Once a skillet is good and seasoned (and if you're cooking with enough fat), you shouldn't have to do much more than lightly rinse and towel-wipe.
posted by rikschell at 12:11 PM on May 5, 2014

I just went to a few workshops on outdoor cooking, and those teachers all used a little bit of mineral oil to season the cast iron. The facilitator at the last one said to season cast iron that's in need of repair clean it with steel wool, spray or wipe a small amount of mineral oil on it, then leave it in a 200 degree oven overnight.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:09 PM on May 5, 2014

Maybe I'm doing it wrong too, but as a new user of cast iron I find this chain mail pan scrubber and hot water is all I need to get the pan "clean."
posted by Big_B at 3:19 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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