Cast Iron Skillet Central: "How To Season Cast Iron Cookware"

Why season your cast iron? Well, the point of using a cast iron pan or skillet is to have a cooking surface that heats evenly and doesn't cause food to stick to it during the cooking process. Seasoning your cast iron cookware is going to make this possible.

Seasoning a cast iron pan is a scientific process. It's a lot like blacksmithing: The combination of heat and metal, treated in certain ways, improves the quality of the final product. Cast iron pans are fairly simple and fairly standard items, so the process shouldn't deviate too much from what I'm about to describe.

First of all, when you buy cast iron cookware, avoid anything but a solid piece of cast iron. You don't want anything that screws on, nor do you want any wood fixtures or strange coatings. Just 100 percent cast iron! When you have selected your cookware, also make sure that you have food grade peanut or coconut oil, and a roll of paper towels. You may have read that lard or animal fat is appropriate for the task, but that's incorrect. You want a hard layer of curing, not the soft layer that animal fat gives you! Remove all the labels on the pan, scrub it by hand (never use a dishwasher on your cast iron) to get any glues off, and allow it to air dry fully. Never season a wet pan!

Now lightly coat the entire inside of your pan. I cannot stress this enough: Only use a light coat of oil! Using too much oil is not only a waste, but will increase the amount of oil that needs to be burnt off, thus disrupting the seasoning process. Put out a piece of aluminum foil (a little larger than the main body of the pan) on a counter top that you can spare for a couple of days. Flip the pan over (face-down, with the bottom of the pan pointed at the sky) so that the oil and slowly run and dry over the course of the next 36 hours to 48 hours. At the end of that period, take the pan off the foil and examine it, but do not touch the cooking surface! If you see any spots that are still liquid, gently blot them. The pan should now be ready to season.

Set your oven to 500 degrees (Fahrenheit of course) and cut out another strip of aluminum foil, the same size as last time. Put that foil on the shelf of your oven, and place the pan face down (bottom of the pan once again pointed at the sky) on top of it. Some people say that you can do this process at lower temperatures... but that isn't science. Science says that you want about 500 degrees in order to properly burn the oil to the pan. Leave the pan in the over for a full hour. If you're doing multiple pieces at once, leave them in for an extra five minutes or so.

After you've started the pan baking, remember this important step: Turn on every vent and open every kitchen window that you can! This process can be smoky, to say the least! Proper ventilation is a must. Of course, be aware of fire hazards at all times, and be ready to deal with them!

When time is up, remove the cookware from the oven with your best oven gloves; it's going to be very hot. Allow it to cool on the stove top, then examine the surface. Now, because you used good oils at high heats, you should see some darkening or blackening of the pan. If you aren't satisfied, apply a very light coat of oil, and season it in the oven for another 60 minutes at 500 degrees. Because you allowed it to cool first, and you're using such a light layer of oil, this should be no problem for the pan (no need to let the oil get tacky for a couple of days on the second run). Either way, when you're satisfied, allow it to cool to room temperature. Never use water to cool your cast iron pan, as it will undo all the hard work you've just done!

On that note, some tips for caring for your seasoned cast iron:

* Clean cast iron while it's hot. If you need to use water to clean it, use only hot water, and always clean by hand - no dishwashers!

* Much of the time, you've fried something oily in the pan, and you can simply use a paper towel to gently wipe the pan clean.

* If you have to scrub (shame on you for using too much heat or not enough oil!), use a bamboo or stiff fiber brush to avoid damaging the cured surface. No wire, no steel wool! You can use modern soaps, but no 'traditional' soaps with harsh chemicals in them. And remember: Hot water (use rubber gloves if it's too hot for you) when you wash your cast iron!

* In time, after you use your cast iron enough, you'll see it blacken. This coating is awesome, better than any commercial coating out there. You'll need to use less and less oil, and caring for the pan will become easier and easier.

Johnny Waymire is an entrepreneurial enthusiast that has branched into the internet arena with web sites dedicated to helping consumers make wise decisions when purchasing kitchen appliances and flat panel TVs.