Experts explain how to season a cast iron pan – and it isn’t as difficult as you may think

Seasoning a cast iron pan may seem intimidating to some, but cooking experts explain that the process is actually quite simple. With the right techniques and a little patience, anyone can learn how to season cast iron cookware properly. The end result is a natural, non-stick surface that makes cast iron skillets and pans extremely versatile to cook with. Read on as experts reveal their tips for seasoning cast iron, from start to finish.

Why Season a Cast Iron Pan?

Seasoning is an essential process for cast iron pans and skillets. Here’s why it’s important:

  • Creates a natural non-stick surface. The seasoning process forms a smooth, slick patina on the cookware. This makes food release easily when cooking, allowing for efficient cooking and easy cleanup.
  • Prevents rusting. The oil coating applied during seasoning forms a protective barrier. This prevents moisture from reaching the bare iron, inhibiting rust formation.
  • Enhances flavors. Many cooks believe cast iron imparts a pleasant flavor to foods after seasoning. The oil seeps into the pores of the iron over time, acting as a natural flavor enhancer.
  • Improves durability. Seasoning protects the iron from damage and wear-and-tear. Well-cared for cast iron lasts for decades, even with frequent use.

So while it requires some work upfront, properly seasoning a cast iron pan provides long-lasting benefits.

Step-By-Step Seasoning Process Explained

Seasoning cast iron consists of applying thin, even layers of oil and heating the cookware to bond the oil to the surface. It typically takes multiple rounds of oiling and heating to build up adequate seasoning. Here is the basic process:

Supplies Needed

  • Cast iron pan or skillet
  • Oil or fat for seasoning – vegetable, canola, flaxseed and grapeseed oils are good choices
  • Paper towels or clean cloths
  • Oven, stove-top, or campfire for heating


  1. Clean the cast iron. Remove any packaging and wash the pan in hot, soapy water if needed to remove residue. Dry thoroughly.
  2. Apply a light coating of oil. Using a paper towel or cloth, rub a thin layer of oil all over the surface and edges of the pan. You only need a small amount – too much will result in sticky seasoning.
  3. Heat the oiled pan. Place the oiled pan upside down on a middle oven rack. Bake at 350°F for at least one hour. Alternatively, heat the pan on the stove-top for 15 minutes over medium-low heat, flipping periodically.
  4. Allow pan to cool and repeat. Once cooled, apply another thin coat of oil. Repeat the heating process. The pan should develop a darker, matte look as the oil bonds.
  5. Use and maintain the seasoning. The pan is now ready for cooking! As you use the pan, the seasoning will continue to improve. Avoid harsh scouring and only hand wash gently as needed. Reapply a thin oil coating after each use.

It typically takes 3-5 rounds of seasoning before the pan has a natural, non-stick patina. Don’t worry if the initial results aren’t perfect – seasoning improves over time with regular use and care.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While the basic seasoning process is straightforward, it’s easy to make mistakes that result in poor seasoning. Here are some key errors to avoid:

  • Applying too much oil. Using excessive amounts of oil leads to a gummy, sticky surface. Always use a thin, even layer rubbed thoroughly into the cookware.
  • Incomplete oil coverage. Ensure oil reaches all surfaces, including corners and handles. Incomplete coverage can allow rust to form in missed spots.
  • Overheating the pan. Heating above 400°F can damage the seasoning finish. Keep temperatures moderate to slowly polymerize the coating.
  • Using the wrong oils. Some oils, like olive and butter, smoke heavily and produce a spotty finish. Stick to oils with high smoke points like grapeseed.
  • Not allowing the pan to fully cool. Cooling slowly between oil coats prevents uneven seasoning layers.
  • Washing with harsh detergents. Stick to hand washing with mild soap and warm water only to preserve seasoning.

With attention to detail and patience through multiple seasoning rounds, it’s possible to achieve a beautifully slick and non-stick cast iron pan surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some lingering questions about the ins and outs of seasoning cast iron? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Does cast iron need to be seasoned before using?

Yes, it’s recommended to season a new cast iron pan before the first use. Pre-seasoning fills in the porous cast iron surface, preventing food from sticking. It also protects against rust and corrosion.

How often does cast iron need to be reseasoned?

For well-maintained pans that are regularly cooked with and hand washed, reseasoning 1-2 times per year is sufficient. Heavily used pans or those scrubbed with soap may need more frequent touch ups.

Can you use too much oil when seasoning?

Yes, using excessive oil can lead to a gummy, sticky finish that food will stick to. Thin, even layers of oil work best – wipe off any excess puddling in the pan.

Is there a maximum temperature for cooking with seasoned cast iron?

Avoid cooking temperatures above 400-450°F to prevent burning off the seasoning finish. But for most cooking uses, cast iron handles standard oven and stovetop temperatures just fine.

What types of oil work best for seasoning cast iron?

Opt for oils with high smoke points and polyunsaturated fats to polymerize well on the pan surface. Common choices are grapeseed, canola, vegetable, sunflower and flaxseed oils.

How can you tell if cast iron seasoning is worn and needs to be redone?

Look for the cooking surface appearing dry, patchy, flaky or rusty. Sticking food is another sign the protective oil barrier has worn off. Reseason per the instructions.

Is it safe to cook acidic foods in cast iron?

Properly seasoned cast iron creates a barrier against acidic ingredients. But for extra protection, lightly coat the surface with oil first. Avoid cooking very acidic items until seasoning is well-established.

Can cast iron pans be seasoned using the self-clean cycle on an oven?

No, the extreme heat of self-cleaning can damage the pan surface and seasoning. Hand wash and scour off any stuck-on food instead.

Advantages of Cooking with Cast Iron

Once you’ve put in the work to properly season cast iron cookware, you’ll be rewarded with some great benefits that make the material a legendary and beloved way to cook.

Consistent, Even Heating

Cast iron heats gradually and evenly, avoiding hot spots. Foods cook thoroughly without burning. And once hot, cast iron maintains its temperature, preventing the need to adjust stove temperatures frequently.

Versatility Across Cooking Methods

The utility of cast iron extends across numerous cooking applications. Use it for searing, pan frying, braising, roasting, baking and more, all on the stovetop or in the oven up to 500°F.

Nutrient Retention

Cast iron cooking surfaces don’t leach chemicals into food. Meats cooked in cast iron retain more natural juices and iron as well. Cast iron is perfect for healthy cooking.

Can Go From Stove to Oven

Preheat your cast iron pan on the stove, then transfer directly to the oven to finish cooking meals seamlessly. Great for recipes like roasted chicken, baked casseroles and seared steaks.

Food Releases Cleanly

The seasoned surface of cast iron prevents food from sticking, allowing for easy release. Cleanup is a breeze – usually requiring just a quick scrub with no harsh chemicals needed.

Adds Trace Iron to Foods

A small amount of dietary iron is transferred from the pan surface during cooking, providing a boost of this important nutrient, especially helpful when cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce.

With proper seasoning and care, a cast iron pan can become naturally non-stick, heat evenly, retain flavors and nutrients, and last for many years. Cast iron is a worthy investment for any home cook.


While cast iron cookware must be properly seasoned before use, the process is straightforward when armed with the right techniques. Seasoning forms a protective coating that prevents rusting, provides natural non-stick action, and enhances flavors. Using thin, even oil layers heated at moderate temperatures is key to build up great seasoning over repeated cycles. Avoid mistakes like incomplete coverage, overheating, and washing with harsh detergents. With some elbow grease on the front end, a well-seasoned pan will provide a lifetime of versatile cooking enjoyment. Embrace cast iron’s legendary capabilities with these simple seasoning tips from the experts.