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Care and Seasoning of Vintage Cast Iron Pans

Sep 28, 2012

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Okay, you’ve got the pan, now what?

You need to season it, and then you need to properly care for your investment.

There are many different recommended methods to season your pan. I’ve tried most of them. Here’s how I season and then maintain my vintage pans.

Before the initial seasoning of a pan, it should be cleaned to bare iron. See FAQ on cleaning cast iron. After the pan has been cleaned to bare iron:

  1. Thoroughly dry your pan. I use paper towels. If I need to dry nooks and crannies, I use a chopstick covered with a piece of terry cloth. Wet pans are very susceptible to flash rust once all seasoning has been removed, so act quickly to dry the piece.
  2. Once it is dry, put the pan on the rack in your oven and turn the oven to 450 degrees. Let the pan “cook” for an hour, then turn off the heat. You will notice an odor as the pan “cooks.” Let the pan cool for an hour or so. I have found that this step helps your pan to get that rich black color that is so beautiful on vintage cast iron.
  3. After the pan has cooled for at least an hour (cast iron holds its heat well, so it will be HOT for quite a while – let the pan cool down so you don’t burn yourself), take the pan out of the oven using pot holders. I use a microfiber dish cloth rag to put a very thin layer of Crisco vegetable shortening on the pan. Cover all areas of the pan – inside and out. I use a chopstick covered with a piece of the microfiber, dipped in Crisco, to get into nooks and crannies. Wipe away the Crisco using a different rag. Take care to wipe away any excess; you want a very very thin layer. I use the microfiber cloth because it seems to do a great job at putting down a very thin and even layer of Crisco. Beware: if your pan has not cooled enough, the microfiber cloth will melt onto the surface of the pan, leaving quite a mess!
  4. Place the pan upside down on a rack in your oven. Some people put foil or an old cookie pan on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips, but I’ve found that using the microfiber towel, there are no drips because it’s a nice light layer of Crisco. You can “cook” multiple pans at the same time, if you wish.
  5. Turn the heat to 500 degrees. Once it’s up to 500, “cook” the pan for an hour. Turn off the heat, and let the pan fully cool in the oven – about 3 hours. You will likely notice some smoke coming from the oven during this step. The amount of smoke depends on the amount of Crisco used. When you have a very light layer, the smoke is minimal. If it is not a light layer, you will need to use fans and you will likely get complaints from other household members. Regardless of any smoke, there is an odor during this step.
  6. Once your pan has been properly seasoned, it will be virtually non-stick. The more you use it, the more seasoning that will build up and the more non-stick it will be. I like to cook bacon or hamburger in a newly-seasoned pan – I think that it helps to build up seasoning.
  7. After use, I use a nylon scrub pad or stainless steel scrubbie ball and plain hot water to get any stubborn sticky areas clean. If I feel like the pan needs a drop of soap, I use a drop of soap. If I don’t get to the pan right away and food has crusted on to the surface, I heat water in the pan on the stove and scrape it with a nylon scraper or wooden spatula. I also use my chain mail scrubber for particularly dirty clean up jobs.
  8. After cleaning it thoroughly, I immediately completely dry the pan with paper towels. Sometimes I place the pan on the warm stove or into a warm oven to ensure complete dryness. I then spritz some Pam on the pan and wipe it down with a paper towel.