Cast Iron Pan Seasoning

The motivation for stripping our cast iron pans:

Wagner cast iron skillet - before - top

Wagner cast iron skillet – before – top

The bottom, of course, carried a heavier layer of crust:

Wagner cast iron skillet - before - bottom

Wagner cast iron skillet – before – bottom

The wet areas came from the usual after-breakfast washing.

Looking down into the electrolytic stripping bath, with bubbles forming on exposed metal areas around the crust on the bottom of the pan:

Wagner cast iron skillet - in stripping bath

Wagner cast iron skillet – in stripping bath

After a day of electrolysis, all the crust was gone. Low labor, low danger, no fuss, not much muss.

Given three stripped pans, the seasoning process involved wiping them with flaxseed oil, baking at 500 °F for an hour, cooling for two hours, and repeating. Six iterations occupied a long day, uncomfortably warmed the kitchen during a long hot summer day, and turned out to be just fussy enough to fit around some short-attention-span projects.

Fast forward one day.

The outside of the seasoned pans looks lovely:

Wagner cast iron skillet - after - bottom

Wagner cast iron skillet – after – bottom

I’d have been hard-pressed to pick out the “Wagner Ware” before stripping the pan.

The inside of all three pans had a peculiar mottled appearance:

Wagner cast iron skillet - after - top

Wagner cast iron skillet – after – top

The medium pan:

Medium cast iron pan - after - top

Medium cast iron pan – after – top

The small pan:

Small cast iron pan - after - top

Small cast iron pan – after – top

The dark spots might suggest I used too much oil and it puddled / collected / whatever while baking, except that I’d slathered the oil on using a scrap from a cotton towel (actually, many scraps, one per iteration), then wiped it off with more towel scraps before baking the pans.

Protip: You’ll eventually have a pile of cotton rags soaked in a drying oil similar to linseed oil. Woodworkers will tell you to wet oily rags with water before sealing them in a plastic bag, because the “drying” process is exothermic: oil-soaked rags can get hot enough for spontaneous combustion. Make it so.

Breakfast proceeded pretty much as usual and the giant omelet (5 eggs, lots of chopped chard, two finely chopped bacon rashers, cheddar cheese, plenty of oil, stuff like that) seemed to stick somewhat less than usual: it’s not a Teflon-coated pan, but worked pretty well.

I did the usual post-breakfast KP, which involves washing the pan with ordinary dish soap, scuffing the recalcitrant bits, and dropping the pan in the dish drainer. I don’t scour the pans, but I don’t treat them with fawning obeisance, either; they’re utensils, not sacred objects.

Just before lunch, this appeared:

Wagner cast iron skillet - washed - top

Wagner cast iron skillet – washed – top

The bottom sported similar rust spots:

Wagner cast iron skillet - washed - bottom

Wagner cast iron skillet – washed – bottom

So that suggests I didn’t apply enough oil. Or scrubbed too hard. Or did something utterly wrong.

Haven’t a clue about what happened. If I didn’t follow the seasoning process, I don’t know what I’d change. Ditto for washing up; it’s not like we haven’t been using the pan for decades.

After supper, I washed & dried the pan, slathered on a generous oil coating, and let it sit, all in the hope the oil eventually forms a good crusty layer.

By and large, the pan works better than it did before and the seasoning not nearly as well as I expected.

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  1. #1 by solaandjin on 2016-09-12 - 08:15

    I would immediately dry them after washing instead of letting them drip dry. http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html says soap is not forbidden, but leaving a drop of water can lead to a rust spot.

    • #2 by Ed on 2016-09-12 - 10:37

      The crust on the pans pretty much eliminated rust spotting, so maybe I’ve gotten used to mistreating the poor things.

      I’ve taken to cleaning, drying on the simmer burner (lest the towel turn black), then wiping on more oil. That’s an experiment, not a long-term solution…

  2. #3 by Daniel B. Martin on 2016-09-12 - 08:23

    … 5 eggs, lots of chopped chard, two finely chopped bacon rashers, cheddar cheese, plenty of oil …
    All this food for two people?!? You folks have impressive morning appetites!

    • #4 by Ed on 2016-09-12 - 10:32

      Well, divide that by two, expect it to last until a bit after noon, and it’s all good…

  3. #5 by Mick King on 2016-09-12 - 10:15

    That’s not that much food. But since I’ve been reading John Lescroart about his character Hardy, I don’t wash mine with soap and water, usually. Generally I crank up the heat and scrape out any residue with my steel spatula. Sometimes I’ll add some oil and salt and scrape it around, scrub it with a paper towel.

    They look great, though….

    • #6 by Ed on 2016-09-12 - 10:39

      There’s only so much KP I’m willing to endure: the dishpan’s full of soapy water, the cast iron pan’s in the other sink basin, I’ve got a scrubby pad in my hand, and that’s how it’s going down! [grin]

  4. #7 by Jose I Romero on 2016-09-12 - 13:57

    I’ve found the ideal seasoning substance by accident. Aldi’s frozen hashbrown patties. They contains copious amounts of Mystery Oil (It appears to be cottonseed oil). That Mystery Oil readily polymerizes when spread as a very thin layer on the cast iron surface.

    You can cook them without adding any extra oil in medium, just press on them with a spatula to get the oil out and keep rubbing them on the surface. By the time we were done with the box of patties we could get perfect non-stick fried eggs adding no more extra oil than what’s contained in the shredded potato goodness.

    In any case i recommend against leaving a layer of oil in the thing for more than a couple days, it gets rancid, what you really want is to polymerize that oil with temperature and have the thinnest layer possible each time.

    • #8 by Ed on 2016-09-12 - 18:39

      And it lines your innards the same way: stuff slides right through! [grin]

      That pan is our daily driver, used pretty nearly every morning and most evenings, so I was willing to slather oil on it between uses. When the weather breaks and the stars align, I’ll have another go at the seasoning routine with somewhat thicker coatings to see what happens.

  5. #9 by Jack Chastain on 2016-09-13 - 09:40

    Ed – have you read this on Seasoning Technique (and some chemistry) : http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/

    I read this quite a long time back and it seems good in most bits but has a few rail-failures (as in goes off of), but overall, I think it has good technique.

    The only place I see where you may differ is in the wiping off of – as well as flax vs linseed (same oil yes but linseed may be questionably “edible”?)

    I am not quite that particular with my pans as I can’t keep my wife from scrubbing the life out of them – literally. They behave well, just don’t look great. I would like to try the flax seed treatment someday though.

    • #10 by Ed on 2016-09-13 - 12:20

      Yup! In fact, that’s the basis for what I was doing; I had the link in the first post about stripping the pans and it’s somewhere in this one, too. Perhaps my seasoning was inept, but I had good intent!

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