Baking your cast iron skillet may not be the largest undertaking you’ve had in your kitchen. However, you might not want to do it every other day. To keep your skillet at its best, you need to use the best oil for cast iron seasoning.
But there are so many oils to choose from, and blind experimenting puts your cookware (and meals) at risk. That's why we've put together this guide! Learn how to use the best oil for cast iron seasoning and maintain the patina and your cast iron's utility for longer.
What is Seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet?
Seasoning a cast iron skillet is the process of baking a neutral oil onto your skillet. The hot oil creates a non-stick texture that acts as a protective coat (AKA a patina). Cast iron skillets are porous and have a texture that, when left unseasoned, makes for the worst cooking experience. Cast iron skillets can also rust easily if you're not careful.
Seasoning is based on the science of polymerization. For example, baking oil onto the skillet allows the oil to change from liquid to a hardened polymer. Then the polymer bonds with the iron, creating the shiny black patina that characterizes the skillet.
How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet with Oil
Cast iron skillets are built to last and can be used by entire family generations. So, don't worry if your skillet is looking a little rusty. You can always refresh it by giving it a good seasoning. Here’s how to go about seasoning cast iron:
Clean Your Skillet
If your skillet is rusty, then it needs a good clean. You don’t want to skip this part because anything that you leave on the pan will merge with the iron. Simply use warm water, a very small amount of dish soap, and a scrubber. Wash the skillet gently without scratching the metal.
If you’re interested in a gentle scrub for cast iron, you can try one from Virginia Boys' Kitchens. It’s made from walnut husk and essential oils that won't scratch or strip your pan of its oils. Once you are satisfied, dry your pan with a towel and then place it on the stove on low heat to remove all moisture.
'Season' Your Cast Iron with Oil
Use a neutral oil and a kitchen towel to lightly coat the pan. Be sure to hit all the curves and crevices without making the pan wet to the touch to avoid pooling. You can use a cloth or paper towel or a professional oil applicator (which won't soak up and waste oil).
Make sure you oil the handle, the cooking interior, as well as the exterior and bottom of the cast iron! You should use enough oil just to cover the pan so it looks shiny - not so much that you can see oil dripping.
Place the pan upside down in a 350°F oven and leave it for 1 hour. Allow it to cool in the oven and repeat the process for any missed spots.
What are the Qualities of a Good Seasoning Oil?
High Smoking Point
The smoking point is the point at which oils begin to burn and produce smoke. The higher the smoking point of your seasoning oil, the easier you’ll have it seasoning your pan. A low smoking point will create a smoke disaster in your kitchen. It’s also important to remember that you will use your pan to make different meals that require different cooking temperatures. You should choose an oil that can accommodate both really high and really low temperatures.
High in Unsaturated Fats
When picking an oil to use for seasoning, it is important to pick one with a high concentration of unsaturated fats. This is because unsaturated fats have at least one carbon bond that makes them optimal for polymerization creating an even patina.
Affordability of Oil for Cast Iron Seasoning
Seasoning your pan should not cost an arm and a leg. Settle for an oil that is easily accessible with a good price tag. Furthermore, you may need to maintain your seasoning to avoid firing up your pan every other week. This includes dabbing your pan with a little oil after every wash. Finding an oil that is affordable makes this maintenance easier on the pocket.
Having a base flavor to build on seems like a good idea until all your meals have a recurring taste you can’t shake off. For this reason, we recommend finding oil with a neutral flavor that is incapable of dominating the taste of your meal.
Best Oils for Cast Iron Seasoning
Here are some of our best picks for seasoning;
This seasoning oil is made with your skillet in mind. It is a natural oil that is made to hydrate and seal all the pores on your pan to create an even season each time. This oil is infused with coconut oil and light essential oils to make the most out of the seasoning process. We build our oils to last and not go bad, so you’ll always have a seasoning oil to reach out for without the worry of using a rancid oil.
Vegetable Oil and Canola Oil
These are some of the most readily available oils in any kitchen. They have just the right smoking point to make them an easy pick for someone not looking to invest in an oil specifically for pans. While they work just great, you may need to re-season your pans more frequently because the seasoning breaks down quickly.
Grape Seed Oil
Most cast iron fanatics will swear by the seasoning ability of the grape seed oil. It has a relatively high smoking point and an impressive amount of unsaturated fats. While it is a good seasoning oil, it is not readily available in most kitchens and you may have to seek it out. If you do have it on hand already, don’t hesitate to give it a try.
This is the original cast iron seasoning oil. While it is no longer as popular today, it was an embraced option as it was a free oil that needed very little work to go about the process. In fact, if you’re constantly making bacon in your skillet, you’re doing an inactive season which may be why you haven’t had to fire up your oven.
There are numerous oils that you can use to season your skillet, and they all promise a good finish. However, choosing an oil comes down to preference. While other oils are supposedly healthier than others, it is your duty to do some research to find out what works for you. We hope this list is a good starting place.
RELATED PRODUCTS YOU MIGHT LIKE
See our full collection of wood and cast iron care products including our plant-based cast iron scrub and cast iron oil for optimal cast iron care.