This article was shared by Mom's Pantry friend Julie Miklas, who owned a retail outlet for cast iron cookware. We appreciate her sharing her expertise with us.
Coming home with your new Dutch oven or other new piece of cast iron is exciting, and if you're like most folks, you want to start using it right away. However, if you haven't purchased a "pre-seasoned" piece, you will have to go through a few steps to "season" your new piece prior to using it. Whether you have a brand new piece, or an older piece that has been stripped of its seasoning, these instructions will work for you.
When you purchase a new piece of cast iron, it will most likely be covered in a wax coating. This coating protects the cast iron from rusting during shipping. The first thing you will have to do is remove that wax coating. If you have an older piece that just needs re-seasoning, you can simply skip over the "wax melting" process.
Removing the wax coating is a simple matter of placing the piece in your grill or oven and literally melting it off. If doing this in your oven, be sure to have a foil-lined tray below the cast iron piece to catch the melted wax. Set your oven to about 300 degrees, or place over medium heat in your grill until all the wax has melted off. It won't take long, so be sure to keep an eye on your cast iron and the oven! Carefully remove your cast iron from the oven and allow it enough time to cool so that you can handle it.
Once you have the wax removed and your cast iron is cool enough to handle you can start to season it. Don't be alarmed as seasoning is actually quite easy. When initially seasoning an oven, I prefer to use a high quality olive oil as it not only penetrates better, but also doesn't smoke as much, so your house won't fill with smoke. Trust me on this, as I've seasoned with shortening in the past and I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the fire department!
Saturate a clean lint-free cloth with the olive oil and coat all the surfaces of your cast iron piece. Place your cast iron upside down in the oven at 425 degrees and set your timer for two hours. Be sure to place a foil-lined tray on the rack below your cast iron so that any oils that drip will be caught on the tray. Some smoking may (most likely will) occur, and you may even notice some odor, but if you use a good olive oil, it won't be much and you won't have to worry about the neighbors calling the fire department!
Once your oven timer goes off, turn off the oven, but leave your piece in there to continue the seasoning process as the oven cools. Once the oven and your cast iron have cooled, your cast iron should be a lovely shade of charcoal/black.
At this point, you can start to cook with your newly seasoned cast iron, but it really won't be anywhere near as non-stick as you'd like and some foods WILL stick to it! I have a cast iron pan that I've been using and working on for five years that still is not non-stick enough for eggs. Don't be disheartened. Even if you remember grandma making eggs that slid right out of her cast iron skillet, you need to remember that she probably used that skillet for 20 years before it got to that point of non-stick. The first rule of seasoning cast iron is that it takes time. I usually season my new pieces at least three or four times prior to using them to cook. Yes, I really bake the oil on that many times. And even then, there are certain foods that I won't cook in it right away because they are going to stick. No doubt about it!
To maintain the seasoning, I continue to use olive oil. After each use, once your cast iron is cleaned and dry, apply a small amount of olive oil and thinly coat all surfaces of the cast iron. The more you use and season your cast iron, the more non-stick it will become.
When storing your cast iron, if it has a lid, be sure to keep it slightly ajar, with a paper towel draped half in/half out to wick away any moisture. If the lid is placed directly on the cast iron and it is not used for a period of time, your seasoning CAN go rancid – especially if you used animal fats (i.e., lard), instead of plant based oils like olive oil.
When using newly seasoned cast iron, it's best to avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes. While probably not good for YOUR health, for the health of your cast iron, you're much better off starting with foods that have a high oil content (i.e., bacon), which will only enhance the initial seasoning. And let's face it, everything tastes better with bacon anyway! Ha!
Following these simple steps will help to give you that treasured cast iron piece you always wanted!