As a cook for more than 50 years, I can honestly say that my favorite cookware is cast iron. My sister and I inherited my mother’s cast iron skillets and griddles that were seasoned with hog lard or Crisco, and they are the best I’ve ever used, by far. And I’ve always used whatever oil I have on hand to season my skillets. So, when asked what kind of oil I use to season my cast iron, this is the best answer I can give.
The best oil for seasoning cast iron is vegetable oil due to its high smoke point and mild odor and taste. Other very good options are canola oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, and lard. Any seasoning oilc should have a smoke point of roughly 400 degrees Fahrenheit and not have a strong odor or flavor.
To further explain this, let’s discuss what the term “seasoning” means, why cast iron should be seasoned, what is the best oil for seasoning cast iron, and how seasoning is accomplished.
What Does Cast Iron Seasoning Mean?
Cast iron seasoning is the term used for oil baked onto a cast iron pan which creates a layer of carbonized oil through a scientific process called polymerization. Seasoning helps keep food from sticking to the pan and prevents rusting.
To give you an example of how this works, it is basically the same process used in building asphalt roads. Oil is sprayed on the asphalt where the volatiles in the oil evaporates, leaving hydrocarbons that harden to create the smooth, hard surface of asphalt highways.
Why Does Cast Iron Need to Be Seasoned?
Cast iron cookware must be seasoned because the natural surface of the cast iron is jagged and uneven. This surface would cause food to stick while cooking and would allow the cookware to rust and corrode over time from exposure to oxygen and moisture.
In order to create a smooth surface for cooking that will prevent sticking and avoid rusting and corrosion, the layers of carbonized oil formed by seasoning fill in the uneven surface of the pan, creating a smooth, naturally non-stick cooking surface.
At the same time, this smooth surface formed by the seasoning process protects the pan from being damaged by contact with oxygen and moisture while preserving the cookware for many years and creating a family heirloom to be passed down in families to be enjoyed and treasured by future generations.
The Best Oils for Seasoning Cast Iron
Here is a list of the most widely recommended and most accessible oils for seasoning cast iron:
1. Canola Oil
Number One on my list is canola oil. Canola is my favorite oil because of its high smoke point and mild taste and odor. Fortunately, it is reasonably priced and readily available in virtually all supermarkets. Because I use it regularly, when it is time to re-season my cast iron, it is already in my pantry at my fingertips.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that my opinion is confirmed by the Lodge Cast Iron Company who manufactures cast iron cookware and also markets a seasoning spray that is made from 100% canola oil. So, they agree with my finding that canola is the best oil for seasoning cast iron.
2. Vegetable Oil
Number Two on my list is vegetable oil. Vegetable Oil has a very high smoke point, is always easy to find, is inexpensive, and is thus used by many people.
3. Peanut Oil
Number Three on my list is peanut oil. It ranks near the top of my recommendations because it has the highest smoke point of the oils I’m familiar with and is widely accessible. After all, most stores carry it, and many people keep it on hand regularly for frying fish.
The one drawback I can see for using peanut oil is a potential hazard for persons with peanut allergies of eating foods cooked in a cast iron pan seasoned with peanut oil. So, if you cook regularly for someone with peanut allergies, it would be better to refrain from using peanut oil for seasoning your cast iron.
4. Grapeseed Oil
Number Four on my list is grapeseed oil, which I have personally never used and am not familiar with at all. I added it to this list because it is so highly recommended for cast iron seasoning by so many knowledgeable people for its high smoke point, low saturated fat content, neutral odor and taste, and the fact that it is affordable.
Several of the cast iron manufacturers prefer this oil and use it on their new cast iron products. Since it is highly recommended, I will give it a try and update this list with my findings if grapeseed oil outperforms my current preferences.
Number Five on my list is lard, which is my second favorite oil for seasoning because I have personal knowledge of how it performs when used to season cast iron. The wonderful condition of my mother’s cast iron pans is proof of its ability to create a smooth surface for cooking and to protect cast iron cookware from rust damage.
The pans that I inherited from my mother are more than one hundred years old and were seasoned with lard from the time purchased, and lard was the only oil used in them for many years until my mother started using Crisco.
My reason for not ranking lard higher on my list is due to a major drawback for seasoning cast iron with an oil like butter or lard that is more likely than other oils to become rancid over time.
Make sure you use it often: If lard or butter is used to season the pan, but the pan is not used often and allowed to sit unused for long periods of time, the seasoning layer may develop a foul smell causing the foods cooked in it to have a rancid or at least an unpleasant taste.
Which Oils Should Never Be Used to Season Cast Iron?
Several oils should never be used to season cast iron:
- Olive and coconut oils have a very low smoke point. If you season with an oil like olive or coconut, you must season multiple times at a lower temperature to provide sufficient time for the oil to create a bond on the pan’s surface. If a good bond is not formed, every time you use your pan at a higher temperature, the bond will begin to break down, and the pan must be seasoned even more often.
- Avocado oil is costly and hard to find.
- In addition to being expensive and hard to find, flaxseed oil has a powerful odor and taste.
By the way, here is the video I did on cast iron seasoning oils:
What Is the Best Way to Season Cast Iron?
There are two ways to season your cast iron cookware.
Method Number One:
The best and easiest way to season your cast iron is to use it often. Every time you fry anything in oil, you are seasoning the pan. Just be sure to clean the pan after each use, dry completely, and add a little oil to the surface occasionally, if not after every use. Because food does not stick to cast iron as it does to other surfaces, it is usually very easy to just rinse out the pan with a cloth and warm water.
Method Number Two:
The 2nd method is to season your cast iron cookware in the oven.
- Scrub your pan with soap and hot water. Dry well.
- Apply oil evenly over the entire surface of the pan, using a soft cloth or paper towel to spread the oil over the pan.
- Bake upside down in the oven at 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour. Spread aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any oil drips. Allow to cool.
According to Lodge Cast Iron Manufacturing Company, seasoning in the oven is the best way to season cast iron. They use the method to season every skillet and pan they manufacture before they are distributed to be sold. They recommend following these instructions:
What Is the Proper Way to Care for Cast Iron?
- Fry foods in oil often in your iron skillets.
- Wash by hand.
- Wash in hot water.
- Use soap only after cooking something that has a strong flavor and odor.
- Dry well and add a little oil after each use.
- Do not cook highly acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus, wine, or vinegar in cast iron, as it will break down the seasoning coat on the cast iron.
- Do not cook recipes with high liquid content, as this could also break down the coating on the cast iron.
- Do not fry eggs or fish until your skillet has been used several times after seasoning.
- Do not allow cast iron to soak in a pan of water.
- Do not allow cast iron to sit with water in the pan.
- Do not use a scouring pad on cast iron.
- Do not wash in a dishwasher.
- Do not stack until completely dry.
Proper Washing Technique:
- Wash by hand with hot water only. Use a small amount of soap if necessary.
- For stuck-on food, use a scraper.
- For stubborn stuck-on food, add a little water to the pan, heat on the stovetop for 3-5 minutes, and use the scraper again.
- Rinse well and dry completely.
How to Tell When Your Pans Need to Be Re-seasoned
Here are a few ways to tell when your pans need to be re-seasoned:
- When food begins to stick in your cast iron pan.
- If you see any spots or areas where the seasoning seems to be worn off.
- If rust spots develop on any surface of your pan.
How Often to Reseason Cast Iron
If your cast iron pan is seasoned well the first time and the pan is used to fry foods in oil regularly, it may never need to be re-seasoned. However, if any of the problems mentioned above arise, then re-season, but only when necessary.
For cookware that you use outdoors and/or that you do not use regularly, be sure they are cleaned well and dried completely before storing. Here again, if any rust appears or the food cooked in the pans begins to stick, then they will definitely need to be re-seasoned.
Let me stress here that if you have been using cast iron cookware for years and they are still in good condition and cooking properly for you, then my advice is to keep doing whatever it is that has been working for you. The old theory of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” applies here.
But, if your cookware has become a little rusty around the edges and the food is sticking when you use it, then it is probably time to re-season. If so, this article should give you the information you need, but if you still have questions, just take a look at the Lodge Cast Iron Company’s website https://www.lodgecastiron.com/ for anything you need to know about cast iron cookware.
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