Seasoning the Bottom of a Cast Iron Pan
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You’re not using spices or seasonings when you season a cast iron pan. You’re actually conducting a chemistry experiment. I know, sounds fun, right?
Why Do People Season the Bottom of the Cast Iron Pan?
Simply put, seasoning the bottom of a cast iron pan makes it non-stick. Cast iron pans, when made, have small imperfections divots that cause food to stick. Many manufacturers will pre-season their cast iron before sending it out.
However, many folks like to go one step further and do a bit of their own seasoning. People have very passionate feelings about their cast iron.
Many families pass the pans through the generations, and along with the pans, they pass down fervent beliefs on how the pans need to be cared for.
The divots are filled with polymerized oil by seasoning the bottom of the cast iron. When those divots are filled, the bottom becomes smooth and non-stick.
How Do You Do it the Right Way?
There are so many different ways to season a cast iron. But essentially, it comes down to heat and oil. Oil has an interesting reaction when it reaches high temperatures depending, of course, on the type of oil and the amount of heat.
When oil gets hot enough, it undergoes a chemical reaction that causes it to harden. So to properly do this, clean your cast iron, coat it in a high smoke point oil of your choice, invert it, and bake it in a preheated 450 F oven for 30 minutes.
Do this three or more times to ensure the oil becomes solidified, and presto chango, your cast iron is ready to rock and roll.
Should You Do it Every Time You’re Using it?
Most definitely not. If you needed to season your cast iron every time you used it, I don’t think they would be as popular as they are. No, your cast iron only needs to be seasoned about every three to four years or if it appears that the patina from the oil is wearing down.
Proper care and maintenance are important to keep your cast iron in good working order. Make sure to keep your cast iron oiled and don’t leave it sitting in water or with too much water left in it after cooking.
Water and iron make rust, and you don’t want rust in your meals. Never fear, though. Even with a little rust, your cast iron can be salvaged and made good as new.
Should You Season the Handle as Well?
Seasoning the handle of the cast iron seems silly. However, there is a method to the madness. Think of a sponge. Say you need to waterproof the sponge for whatever reason. You wouldn’t want just waterproofing one side or half of the sponge.
The same goes for cast iron. You want the patina created from the oil to cover the whole pan. Cast iron is somewhat like a sponge; it is porous. If the whole thing isn’t protected, it has a potential for moisture to seep in and cause that dreaded rust.
How Do You Clean it Afterwards?
Soap and water! Oh man, I don’t think I’ve ever said something so polarizing! Now, we all know a Nonna who would faint from fright if they saw you put soap and water on her cast iron.
But with the advancements of science, we now know we can use a slight bit of soap and a smidge of water as long as Nonna is in a different state and no one tells her. On a serious note, however, the world will not end if soap and water touch your cast iron.
Always wash by hand; use small amounts of soap; if your foods are stuck on, add some water and put it back on the stove to heat up. This will loosen up the leftovers and allow for easier cleaning.
Cast iron is heartier than most give it credit for. The most important part of cleaning your cast iron is drying it, remember iron and water make rust, and rust is not your friend.
If you notice your seasoning starts to wear or parts of your cast iron appear to dry, you can always re-season. We’ve covered many controversial topics here today. Please keep in mind that there are more ways than one to do things.
Your way might be right for you, but someone else’s way may be right for them. As long as you do it the way Nonna wants when she is there, no one should get hurt.
As a final thought and maybe the most important, do not ever under any circumstances put your cast iron in the dishwasher. This is wrong, and everyone will be mad at you. Take care!