Today I am going to share with you the absolute best method I have found to season cast iron cookware. As I have said before, this is based totally on the research performed and posted by Sheryl Canter. I invite you to read her blog posted at http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/. I also invite you to read an article she wrote on “black rust”. You can find it located it http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/02/black-rust-and-cast-iron-seasoning/
Now for those of you who know me personally, you know that I have a degree in biology and a minor in organic chemistry so when I was reading Mrs. Canter’s blog post on the subject of seasoning cast iron I was thinking to myself the whole time, well this makes perfect since, why didn’t I think of that.
I have been comparing her techniques to the ones I have been using for years and find that her methods do produce a superior season to the methods I had been taught and used for years. I will go through the steps here so that you can start using them right away.
First, your CI has to be clean. Wash and scrub your CI to get it as clean as possible. Use scrubbing pads and soap if you have to. After all, we are going to be putting a new seasoning layer on it. If the cooking surface is very dirty or flaky or has an uneven look/feel to it I suggest you use oven cleaner to strip it. Spray down you piece of cast iron completely with Easy-Off oven cleaner. Make sure you wear gloves and follow all safety precautions. Wrap the oven cleaner soaked CI in a plastic bag and sit outside for a day or two in the sunlight. When you take it out and wash it off, most of the caked on grime and old finish will come off with minimal scrubbing. It you still have spots that will not scrub off, soak it again in oven cleaner.
Before you actually start applying the seasoning you also need to make sure that it is completely dry. Generally I will set my oven to the highest setting it will reach (550° in my case) and leave the pan in it for about 1 hour. This drives off excess moisture, opens up all the pores of the metal, and starts to form the first of the black coating that you want as protection on your cookware. Let the pan cool for at least 3 or 4 hours in the oven before moving on. You want the cookware to be warm but not so hot that you cannot handle it.
Now comes the oil. If you read the two links I posted above you know that Mrs. Canter recommends Flax Seed Oil because it produces a hard finish. I have conducted several test of my own and I agree with Mrs. Canter. Flax Seed Oil does produce the best seasoning finish I have seen. I personally will never use another method for seasoning my cast iron. You can buy Flax oil at most health food and whole food stores like Earthfair, The Fresh Market, or The Health Home Market. Save yourself some time and ask where it is. They generally keep it in the refrigerated section somewhere.
Now take the still warm, but not to hot to handle, pan and set it on a paper towel. Now coat every single surface, front and back, with a very thin layer of flax oil. You can use your fingers or you can use a paper towel to coat the surface. Just make sure you coat every surface with a nice thin layer.
Next, take a paper towel and wipe off as much of the coating as you can. Trust me on this one. All the oil that needs to be on the surface stays on the surface. Get it as dry as possible.
Put the pan back into the oven, upside down, and set you oven to its highest setting. Once it reaches temperature hold it there for 1 hour. Then, let it cool in the oven back to room temp. I generally let it cool for 3 or 4 hours so that it is still warm but can be handled. Then repeat the whole process.
The secret is to repeat the oiling and heating until it has gone through a total of 6 applications of oil and heating. This will give your cookware a very hard protective surface.
Do not be tempted to use a thick layer of oil to speed up the process, it will not work. If after the piece cools the seasoning it the least bit gummy or sticky it is because you used to much oil, didn’t heat it high enough, or heat it long enough. When it comes out of the oven after it has cooled it should feel nice and dry.
There you go, the very best method I have found for seasoning cast iron. If you try it, you will agree.