7 Steps To Season Your Cast Iron Skillet 5505

Unfortunately, your cast iron skillet does not come ready-prepped with that signature sheen, characteristic of Grandma’s well-loved cast iron. You have to “season,” your skillet to develop that smooth, glossy layer, and we’re not talking about with salt and pepper.

“Seasoning,” cast iron refers to the process of baking oil into the iron through a two part chemical process known as polymerization and carbonization. It’s important to do this so food doesn’t stick to your pan. Proteins in particular like to stick to metal pans, but a well seasoned cast iron will be non-stick. Cast iron cooking tools are a kitchen staple. They’re incredibly versatile and make great addition to your RV kitchen and collection of campfire cooking tools.

Seasoning your cast iron takes time, but it’s well worth the effort. Plan this activity for a rainy day at home so you’ll be prepared to cook tasty cast iron recipes on your next camping trip. Your finished product should have a dark black shiny surface.

Here’s how to season your cast iron in seven easy steps.

Fish cooking in a frying pan over an open fire with a canoe and northern Minnesota lake in the background
Cast iron cooking goes hand in hand with camping and cooking outdoors. Image: Shutterstock

Step One: Purchase the Perfect Cast Iron Cook Tool

Buy a cast iron skillet or griddle. Or, consider a specialty cast iron accessory. Here are few cast iron appliances to get the recipe ideas rolling:

  • A cast iron pie iron: A fun tool to have at the campground. Cook sweet or savory hand pies in this clever tool
  • A cast iron grill grate: Achieve that signature grill char look and flavor with cast iron grill grates.
  • A cast iron dutch oven: A real workhorse, cook everything from cobblers, to bread, to soups, stews, and pot roast.
  • A cast iron griddle: the paramount appliance for pancakes and crispy bacon. I like to sear a steak or Ahi tuna on my cast iron griddle.
  • A cast iron deep skillet: Another multi-purpose kitchen tool, the skillet is great for one pot meals, frittatas, dutch pancakes, pies, or even deep dish pizza.
  • If this is your first foray into cast iron, jump in with a cast iron starter set.
Bluberry Pie in Cast iron pie iron
Blueberry Hobo Pie or Camp Pie. Image: Shutterstock.

A good skillet is not cheap, but they can last forever so your family can use it for generations over a glowing campfire. A good quality cast iron piece can actually be a really cool heirloom. Imagine cooking the family recipe for apple dumplings in your grandmother’s dutch oven.

Occasionally you can find a used one at a garage sale or online, but then you risk taking on someone else’s issues and therefore have to do a restoration. Restoration can be problematic and more trouble than it’s worth. Our suggestion? Go new.

While you’re buying your skillet, you should also buy a good book to read. You’ll need it later, trust us.

Pie Iron Recipe Book
Pie Irons are a fun campfire tool with endless options for sweet or savory treats.

Step Two: Wash And Dry Your Skillet

Wash and dry your new skillet with warm water and a small amount of gentle dish soap or cast iron cleaner. Use a lint free microfiber towel to dry the skillet.

Step Three: Oil and Heat Your Skillet

To start, set your oven temperature to 450F. Take your cast iron skillet and rub it with a thin coat of oil—inside and out and, yes, the handle too. An unsaturated oil works best here. You’ll want to heat the cast iron to just above the oil’s smoke point. Try grapeseed oil or sunflower oil. Some swear allegiance to canola, lard, or even a more exotic oil like flaxseed. But don’t waste your expensive extra virgin olive oil to season a skillet. You’re just laying the foundation right now.

For the easiest solution, use Lodge’s cast iron cooking spray, 100% canola oil and offered in a convenient spray bottle that delivers even lubrication.

A note: Do not season your cast iron skillet in your RV. This process will suck up a lot of LP to fire up your RV’s oven, and then you’ll be left with an awesome seasoned cast iron skillet and no gas to cook anything in it.

scrambled eggs in cast iron skillet over campfire
Cooking an egg scramble in a cast iron skillet over a campfire is a great way to start the morning. Image: Shutterstock

Step Four: Bake and Wait

Once the oven is at 450F and your skillet has been well-oiled, place it upside down in the oven on the middle rack, shut the oven door, set the oven timer for a half hour. Start reading your book.

After that half hour is up, don your oven mitts and take your skillet out. Re-rub the cast iron with oil using a heat tolerant rag and put it back on the oven for another half hour. Continue reading your book.

Beef steaks grilling on a cast iron plate on a camp fire. Campfire cooking. Outdoor BBQ
Cast iron griddles deliver that signature char and crisp that makes over-the-fire cooking so delicious. Image: Shutterstock.

Step Five: Repeat

Repeat the previous step two or three more times. It’s a new skillet, so you’ll want to season it thoroughly. Keep reading your book; you have time.

Step Six: Remove and Let Cool

Don’t burn yourself! Take the skillet out of the oven using oven mitts or a pair of thick work gloves. Put it on cooling rack to cool (careful not to set it on unprotected countertops). Let the cast iron breathe until it can be easily moved without the use of gloves.

Closeup of bread in cast iron pot with fire coals on the cover
A cast iron dutch oven is the best way to get a thick crust on freshly baked bread. Image: Shutterstock.

Step Seven: Maintain

Congratulations! You’ve actually done the hard part. Now you just need to properly care for and maintain your cast iron. Here are a few tips:

  • When you use your cast iron, try to use hot water and a cast iron pan scraper to clean it out. You can use a small amount of soap if necessary for stubborn food, but remember: your cast iron does not need to be squeaky clean. When you dry your cast iron, the dark residue left on the towel is the seasoning–that’s the good stuff. If you’re nervous about what type of soap to use, be safe and use a verified cast iron cleaner, which combines a cleaning agent and lubricating oils in one.
  • Too much soap will break down the seasoning, stripping it off. If that happens, you will need to season it more often. When you cook food with natural fats and oils, such as a good steak, your skillet should remain seasoned for quite some time.
  • When lubricating your cast iron with oil, rub the oil in until there are no streaks or residue.
Beef steak on cast iron skillet
Grilling foods rich with natural lipids will keep your cast iron perfectly seasoned.

Do you have any questions, concerns or thoughts? If so, leave a comment below. 

15 Comments

  1. A good way to clean the cast iron but keep the seasoning is to use a mix of cider vinegar and water mix, 4 parts water to 1 part cider vinegar. rinse pan with hot water and scrub with brush or scouring pad then rinse and spray on the mix. Cider vinegar is a great anti-bacterial that will not take the seasoning away from the pan. I even use it on my nonstick skillets to hold the seasoning on them. It is also a healthy alternative to harsh cleaning items.

  2. After the seasoning process, cook a batch of old fashioned cornbread in your skillet. This is what cast iron skillets were made for!

  3. Here is how I’ve learned to season a cast iron skillet from muy grandparents, I’m talking of a process from 100 years now. Simply wash in the sink with a scouring pad, rinse, then place on stove. Heat it on low until all water evaporates. Use a small dab of shortening (Crisco or an equivalent) and let it melt. Wipe the melted shortening all over inside of pan with paper towel or cloth, remove excess and let cool. Then put it back in the cupboard until next time. Simple. But yes, do start with a new pan and not someone else’s problem. NEVER let it rust.

    1. That is a good method. Not sure if it seals as well as using the oven but I am sure it works. With the price of good cast iron skillets getting more affordable (see Bob’s comment), buying a used one isn’t even worth the hunt.

  4. I don’t get the “A good skillet is not cheap” comment. An excellent Lodge 10 1/4″ inch cast iron skillet is available on Amazon for less than $13. Can’t get much cheaper than that for a piece of quality cookware.

    1. Good point, Bob. Is that the 10″ skillet? A good size for most campers, but some prefer larger. And you are correct, Lodge is a good brand.

  5. Do not EVER us soap on a cast iron pan! It will absorb the soap as cast iron is porous and your food will taste like soap! I did out door training for the Girl Scouts for many years, I know what I am talking about.

    1. Absolutely correct, Sue! Occasionally, if you are not cooking foods with enough fat or oil in them, the cast iron skillet will need to be re-seasoned, but using soap is a huge no-no. And way to go training Girl Scouts! I’m sure it was fun!

  6. Don’t pass over that old, used cast iron skillet or pot so quickly. I inherited one from my in-law that was covered with rust. After lots of scouring with course salt, emery cloth, oil and elbow grease I now have a 60+ year old skillet that is the best I have seen – EVER. Well worth the effort and a testament to the old adage, “They don’t make them like they used to!”

    1. If you know where that old cast iron skillet came from, then by all means you should rescue it! Good on you, Mary!

  7. Old, rusty skillet? Sand blast it down until ALL rust is gone. A wire wheel or sand paper is not good enough. Then follow the seasoning procedure. Results will be good as new. Any old cast iron can be resurrected.

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