Seasoning is a layer of carbonized oil that's been baked onto your cast iron pan, forming a protective layer on top of your cookware. It's what gives your skillet a natural, easy-release finish and makes cooking and cleaning a breeze. The more you cook in your cast iron, the thicker this layer of oil becomes, transforming your pan into an heirloom with a smoother and darker cooking surface.
Polymerization: The science of cast iron seasoning
When oils or fats are heated in cast iron at a high enough temperature, they change from a wet liquid into a slick, hardened surface through a process called polymerization. This reaction creates a layer of seasoning that is molecularly bonded to the iron. Without this layer of carbonized oil, iron cookware would corrode and rust due to the oxygen and moisture in the air.
On a microscopic level, cast iron has a jagged, uneven surface. This texture provides more surface area for the seasoning to bond and adhere to the iron. As the layers build up, the oils and fats will fill in the texture, creating a smooth, naturally nonstick cooking surface that will last for generations.
We get this process started for you by seasoning all of our cast iron cookware right in the Lodge foundries in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. In fact, Lodge was the first brand to foundry-season its cookware. We spray a thin layer of vegetable oil onto the surface and bake it at a high temperature in a large oven. Prior to this innovation, bare cast iron cookware would have to be seasoned in the home before you could cook with it. But now, Lodge cast iron cookware is ready to use right out of the box.
Unseasoned Cast Iron
Seasoned Cast Iron
My new Lodge seasoned cast iron cookware has a spot or mark that looks unfinished. What is this?
When you get a new piece of Lodge cookware, you might notice a small spot or mark that looks unfinished or rusty. This is all a part of the process that makes cast iron special! We season our cookware with oil on a hanging conveyor, which sometimes causes a small spot or bubble to form around the edge of the skillet or on the support handle where the skillet was hung. The seasoning process is all-natural and makes your cookware ready to use as soon as you get it home. This variation might chip away, revealing a brown color. Don’t worry! This isn’t rust and it’s perfectly safe—it’s simply oil that has not fully carbonized. With regular care and use, this spot will disappear. It’s a testament to cast iron’s ability to roll with the punches and get better with age.
How to season cast iron as you cook
There are two ways to maintain the seasoning of your cast iron cookware. The best—and easiest—way is to cook in it regularly. Each time you cook with oil or fat, you're adding another layer of seasoning to the pan. Over time, these layers build up to form a strong, nonstick cooking surface.
These initial layers of seasoning added as you cook in a new cast iron skillet may be uneven. That's okay. How and what you cook, hot spots on your stove, and the temperature setting all affect how and where the oil bonds to the pan. Our best advice? Just keep cooking! These patchy layers will interlock like puzzle pieces to create a well-seasoned cooking surface.
How to season a cast iron skillet in the oven
Many cast iron enthusiasts are referring to the oven-seasoning process listed below when they mention the phrase "to season." This process helps you add a thorough coat of seasoning all over your skillet. This method can help jumpstart the base layer of seasoning on a newly restored cast iron pan. Oven-seasoning can alleviate other problems as well; if your pan becomes dull or gray, if food sticks to it, or if the pan feels sticky, trying seasoning the pan in the oven.
Wash your pan
Wash your cast iron pan with warm, soapy water. A little soap is okay to use since you're preparing to season your pan in the oven.
Completely dry your cast iron skillet with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. You can place it on the stovetop on low heat for a few minutes to make sure it's completely dry.
Add a very thin layer of cooking oil—like our Seasoning Spray—to the surface of your cast iron (inside and out) with a cloth or lint-free paper towel. Go easy on the oil—you want just a thin layer, not enough to drip or run when you tilt it. Thin layers are important for baking seasoning into the pan.
Bake for 1 hour
Preheat your oven to 350–450 degrees F. Place aluminum foil on the bottom rack of the oven to catch any excess oil. Put your cookware upside down on the center rack. This helps prevent oil from pooling on the cooking surface. Bake for 1 hour.
Cool in the oven
Turn off the heat and allow the cast iron skillet to cool in the oven. This allows the seasoning to further cure and adhere to the iron.
Cast Iron Seasoning FAQs
No, we do that for you. When we make cast iron in our foundries in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, we spray a thin layer of vegetable oil onto the surface and bake it at a high temperature in a large oven. This provides a protective layer of seasoning on your cast iron, giving it an easy-release finish that's 100% natural. All you have to do after you purchase your cast iron is rinse, hand dry, then start cooking!
The best way to care for your cast iron? Use it. Cooking in it regularly is a great way to keep your pan in tip-top performance. If your pan becomes dull, gray, or gets rusty, it could probably benefit from being seasoned.
Seasoning is fairly resilient, but it's not bulletproof. It can withstand a little soap and water and a good scrub with a brush, but we don't recommend using anything too abrasive on your cast iron like harsh detergents.
This will happen if too much oil is used to season your cast iron or if you didn’t heat it for a long enough time. It’s easy to fix! Just pop it back in the oven for another hour, or until the stickiness is gone.
The more you use cast iron, the smoother it becomes. Each time you cook with oil, the seasoning on your cast iron improves, making you cast iron darker and smoother. After a few years of regular use, the finish on your cast iron will be very smooth, similar to cast iron you might find at the flea market.
A squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce, a dash of soy sauce—these foods in small quantities are just fine. But large amounts of very acidic foods like vinegar, tomato sauce, and citrus can eat away at the seasoning when cooked for extended periods of time. The same goes for foods that are extremely alkaline, like beans. We don’t recommend cooking these foods for long periods of time in new cast iron cookware because they can damage the thin layer of seasoning on the pan. We recommend avoiding acidic foods or recipes with higher liquid contents for longer periods of time until the seasoning is well established.
Some cookware may have slight variations in the seasoning finish. These variations do not affect cooking performance and typically even out with use.
Sometimes layers of seasoning may flake off your cast iron pan. This can happen if layers of seasoning have not fully bonded to the metal. If your pan is flaking, don't panic. Simply scrub the pan with a nylon brush or salt, then rinse, hand dry, and rub with oil. You may want to try seasoning in the oven to help build up a strong layer of seasoning.