I have had cast iron for years and have continually been trying to get them seasoned properly. If there is any stuck food I use the plastic part of a scrubbing and do the bare minimum of effort to unstick the food. I season them by heating them up and using a paper towel to put on a thin layer of crisco that melts in. I then put them in a 450 oven upside down for at least 30 minutes.
The net effect of doing this for years is a thick ring of carbon around the outside, kind of bumpy - not smooth and not sticky and a relatively unseasoned middle. HELP! I’m about ready to take my orbital sander to the pans and start over but clearly I have no clue what I’m doing.
What am I doing wrong?
How do I fix the current problem?
Hmm, I’m not an expert, but I do have a cast iron frying pan that’s nicely seasoned.
I remove any food that burns on. Even if I have to remove some seasoning. Burned-on food will ruin the surface.
When my daughter soaked the pan overnight and it rusted a little, I started over. I scrubbed down the surface really well, then I coated it with peanut oil (that’s my usual high-smoke-point cooking oil) and put it in a hot oven for a while. After it cooled, I rubbed it down with paper towels.
It still wasn’t well-seasoned, but then it was okay.
I regularly use the pan to make popcorn, which I think is really good for the surface. Recipe: put a dollop of goose fat, or a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the pan. Heat until it runs easily, then drop in two kernals of pop corn. When they pop, add 1/3 cup popcorn and cover with the soup-pot lid. Shake gently from time to time until the corn mostly stops popping. Remove from heat, pour out popcorn into a bowl with salt.
I also avoid using it for anything acid, like tomato sauce. We have stainless steel for that.
If you want to start from scratch and have an oven with a self-clean cycle, just throw it in there, and all the crud will fall right off of it and you should end up with a gray-ish looking pan that is basically in a virgin state.
After that, try using flaxseed oil. It’s the method I’ve been using for the last decade or so, and it worked a treat for me, but there’s some debate out there if that really is “the best” method to season a cast iron. For me, it’s the best finish I’ve personally been able to get on a cast iron pan, and it’s good enough that I could cook eggs on it without them sticking to the pan. And I don’t baby the things otherwise. I cook tomato sauces in them, I occasionally forget to dry them properly, I use soap and water. Once you have a good seasoning, you’re pretty much set.
I’ve had similar problems with my cast iron skillet.
There are a lot of YouTube videos on this. My problem is cleaning them properly. Cleaning without soap seems to leave oil residue and whatnot. Crusted on stuff is hard to get off without a scrub or a soak. Never figured out the trick to this.
I just follow the directions on my Lodge Pan. No special seasoning is needed. Just clean it immediately after use—there’s no reason to avoid soap and water. But don’t ever soak it. Clean it immediately and dry it thoroughly right away. And then just oil it up and put it away.
No special baking in the oven or avoiding soap is required.
If you need to use a little soap, use soap. You want to get any food crud off. And you can certainly scrub it. I use a hard plastic scrubbie on all my pots and pans, including the cast iron. Steel wool might be a bit much, though.
I’ve never had a problem with my cast iron frying pans.
a) THIS IS IMPORTANT: get a milled surface cast iron frying pan. If the metal looks like tiny pebbles when you look at it closely, give that pan to the salvation army thrift store and go get a milled pan.
b) Don’t get all weird and obsessive about “seasoning” the damn thing. This isn’t rocket science. Pour a capful of high-heat tolerant oil (I recommend safflower or grapeseed) into the pan and heat it stovetop until it is very liquid and runs to all edges of the pan. Take a paper towel and wipe up all the excess. Now put it in a 350° oven for a little while. Go ahead and cook with it, but repeat the oiling after you’ve cleaned it (* see below).
c) * Cleaning your pan after use. Run it under the hottest water your kitchen tap produces. This will dislodge most of the food and excess oil. Use a scrubby brush of your choice – NOT steel wool for god’s sake but mildly abrasive fabric-based utensils are OK. Don’t use soap if you can avoid it. (OTOH, it’s not the end of the world if you use soap. It will recover, although it won’t recover immediately). DRY your pan and then oil it and heat it on the stovetop and then, if necessary, sponge up the excess oil with a paper towel.
I am not questioning your methods as a good way to keep an iron skillet in good shape but holy cow that is a LOT of work to clean a pan every time you use it. That is a lot of paying attention and dealing with cleaning a dirty pan every time you use it.
Every week may be an exaggeration, but it gets used regularly. My husband uses it to make chickpeas (maybe every other week) I use it if I’m making steak or chops and not using the grill (so more in the winter than the summer) and I use it for popcorn and for corn bread.
We also have a wok that is seasoned. It’s just a piece of steel, not even cast iron. And we don’t use it all that often. Mostly for stir fry and chicken with ginger and scallion and beef with oyster sauce. Truth be told, the center of the wok is nicely seasoned, there’s a ring of sort of sticky crud around that, and the outside of the wok isn’t seasoned at all. So maybe the trick is that the oil needs to get hot enough. At least, that’s the difference between the part of the wok that’s beautifully seasoned and the part that has crud.
No extra work involved for folks who clean their utensils after every use - after washing (I use soap; a rinse or a wipe won’t budge oil that has the potential for rancidity) I set the pan on a burner and heat to drive off the moisture; less work than drying with a towel. Truth to tell, I’m lazy and tend to air-dry everything. Voice of experience: don’t dry your tupperware this way…
The real key to prepping and preserving your cast iron, and the real work, if you consider one minute wiping the oil on with a paper towel actual work, comes when you season.
Use flax seed oil; this is the food grade version of boiled linseed oil, the base material of alkyd paints and varnishes for centuries. When heated, flax polymerizes, forming a hard-to-damage film, a varnish, if you like, on the iron. It also seems to somewhat level the texture of the rough C I we find new today; a random orbital sander, if you have one, can help with that.
So: warm the pan in the oven, wipe on and spread THINLY a little flax oil, bake at 450 for an hour, cool, and repeat five (5) or more times.
Awarding the doigt d’or to the first doper to post “FIVE times? Oh, my schedule!”
The milled stuff is definitely preferred, but even the pebbly one gets a reasonably smooth seasoning on it after several applications of oil. I have a set of small milled cast iron pans that are smooth as glass, and a large cast iron pan that’s pebbly that I bought at Target about 15 years ago. For sure, the milled ones took less effort to season and get relatively non-stick, but the large one (which is the one I use several times a week) works just fine. It just took several coats of oil to get it that way.
I sort of collect vintage cast iron. It started when I decided that I wanted to get a set of pans for everyday use and then sort of just kept going once I had.
I’ve had good luck following the advice here for cleaning, and here for seasoning.
Much of the advice there mirrors what already appears in this thread. There are two differences of note:
The first is a caution against using a self-cleaning oven for valuable pieces. Some people have reported that on occasion pieces deform or crack with this method. That risk is probably tolerable for convenience’s sake for a $20 Lodge pan, but may not be for the crusty old Griswold Erie pan you just found in Grandpa’s basement. Personally, my go to method is to knock off the worst of the crud, coat the pieces with oven cleaner, throw them in a heavy duty garbage bag, squeeze most of the air out and seal it, and then let them sit out behind the garage for a week or so. Yeah, it requires waiting a week, but the pan is usually pristine after a no-scrub rinse.
The second concerned the fact that people have had mixed results with flaxseed oil. For re-seasoning, I use grapeseed oil, mostly because of the mixed reports about the durability of the flaxseed oil finish. The article pulykamell shared suggested a reason for this though, namely that people were using impure oils, so maybe I should reconsider. On the other hand, I get good results with grapeseed, so maybe not.