The 'seasoning' of a skillet is an integral part of what makes cast iron pans such unique cookware pieces. While plenty of food gurus will try to convince you of extra-fancy tips and tricks to season your skillet, it has very little to do with salt or spices.
According to the experts at cookware retailer Minimax, the seasoning on a cast-iron skillet is the description for the hard, protective coating formed by heating fats and oil on cast iron.
A brief science lesson: when fat is heated, it enters a polymerisation process, which bonds to itself and the metal, converting into plastic. This plastic is what makes up the 'seasoning' layer of a cast-iron skillet.
Notable for its hard and blackened skin that protects the metal, a well-seasoned pan provides not only flavour but nonstick properties that unstick even the dreaded fried egg.
Most skillets come pre-seasoned. But if you want the best results, you'll need to add a little extra. The first step is to clean your skillet. While cast iron skillets don't do too well in the dishwasher, they are super easy to keep clean. A wipe with a damp rag across the skillet after cooking will generally remove most cooking residue.
If you find some little nasties sticking to your skillet, a scourer is a big no-no. You want to preserve as much of that 'seasoning' as possible. A gentle rub with a natural fibre pot scrubber should do the trick, and even a little rock salt thrown in as well will shift just about anything that's baked on.
After you've cleaned the skillet, put the pan on the stovetop for a minute or two to burn off any remaining water.
Now it's time to get out the cooking oil and start buffing your skillet. While you can use whatever oil you'd like, Minimax recommends unsaturated cooking fats, as they're just as tasty and easier to spread. Make sure to cover the entire pan, including the handle, until the whole skillet looks greasy. Don't leave any excess oil, as it can form hardened droplets, or worse, get all sticky if left unused.
Once you've greased up your skillet, pop it in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. Be warned, things will get a little smokey, so be sure to open up a window if your kitchen isn't well ventilated. A neat trick to avoid excess oil spots is to place the pan upside down on a piece of baking paper. Gravity will do the rest.
Lastly is the repetition phase. Take the pan out of the oven (be careful, it'll be hot) and rub it with more oil, then put it back in the oven. Repeat this three to four more times, let the pan cool down, and you'll have one well-seasoned cast-iron skillet that's ready to take on whatever culinary cuisine you have in mind.
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