Letter Re: A Science Based Technique for Seasoning Cast Iron

Dear Hugh,

Hi – first off, I am in NO way an expert or even knowledgeable enough about this matter to offer advice.

After reading Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning in Odds ‘n Sods,I became interested in the subject as I generally just use grapeseed oil to season my pans. The very first article I pulled up not only refuted the information in the article above, but it also suggested that taking the advice of the article above could be dangerous.

Here is the relevant extract: ‘Perhaps no other related topic is so rife with garbage on the internet than the seasoning of cast iron pans. It is cancerous with political correctness and completely removed from practicality. I think the worst that I have read was someone selling new pans and (proudly) saying he seasoned them with flax seed oil. Flax seed oil? That is just about the most unstable polyunsaturated oil there is. It is so unstable — read easy to oxidize — one never cooks with it, ever. To subject it to high heat for seasoning can create dangerous compounds and guarantees lousy performance. It is difficult to express just how stupid that is. I’ve also read where people spray a pan with no-stick spray then throw the pan in the oven at 500F for three hours, a pointless expensive exercise that might burn the house down.’

Here is the full article. I haven’t the foggiest notion who is right and who is wrong on this matter, but I thought it worthy of being brought to your attention. – J.B.

HJL Replies: I’m almost embarrassed to admit how we treat our cast iron. We have two pieces that have been handed down at least three generations. The standard procedure is to use whatever oil is at hand– canola(rape seed), olive, lard, butter, whatever. The meal is prepared and then the pan is merely wiped out with a paper towel while still warm. Since the pan is used on a daily basis, it never imparts a bad taste. Occasionally someone will cook something in it that ruins the season or cooks a strong flavored food which requires soap and steel wool to clean. In these cases, it generally has to be re-seasoned and the most common method is to wipe it down with canola oil and heat it on the stove top or oven. We generally just heat it until the oil is right below the point where it smokes and then let it cool down on the stove. About every 5 years or so, we begin to notice a black crud forming on the rim above the level that food is generally at. When it becomes noticeable, I just take the pan out into the yard and use a 100,000 BTU weed burner to heat it to the point that the carbon crud burns off, then let it cool down overnight and re-season it in the morning. There are many who would say that we are abusing our cast iron, but it’s tough to argue with a process and pan that are 100 years old. My wife informs me that making her southern cornbread is an excellent way to keep the skillet seasoned. She pours about 1/4″ of canola oil into the skillet and pre-heats it to 425 degrees before pouring the batter (made without any oil) into the hot oil. The cornbread is then crispy, southern-fried and your skillet is a pleasure to work with.