The weather is turning cold, windy and rainy. We’re not doing as much camping. Now is a good time to inspect the seasoning on your cast iron. Are there any gouges or thin spots in the seasoning? Is there any rust? Does it smell funky?
These are all good reasons to add more seasoning or scrub it all off and apply all new seasoning. If your goal is to scrub off all the seasoning, then it is okay, in this instance, to use soap. An SOS pad works well for scouring off any rust. Rinse well.
So, after you’ve scrubbed it or stripped it, you’ll want to make sure the cast iron is thoroughly dry. Cast iron is porous and water can get deep inside those pores. Cast iron can’t just be toweled dry or left to air dry. It must be baked dry. The heat from your camp fire or your home oven or stovetop opens the pores and bakes out any moisture trapped inside those pores and prevents rust from forming.
To bake dry in your home ovens, place the cast iron in a 200°F oven for about 30 minutes. This will open the pores and ensure the cast iron is dry. Remove the cast iron from the oven and turn the oven off so it can cool down (I leave the door open to vent it faster). As soon as the cast iron is cool enough to handle, you’re ready to apply your first layer of seasoning.
What kind of oil do you use to season your cast iron?
Ask 10 different camp chefs what they use to season their cast iron and you’ll probably get 10 different answers, and they will be strong, opinionated, passionate answers. Some will claim their method been passed down through the family for generations and who can argue with grandma?!
Far be it from me to say that grandma was ever wrong, but we do need to consider her environment. Our grandmothers were not raised in a global economy where a myriad of products were available at their fingertips. They used what was available to them at the time. If your grandmother was raised on a farm, she may have used bacon fat to season her cast iron. If grandma hailed from Italy then it was probably olive oil and so on. Was it the best? Maybe not by today’s standards, but it was the best at the time and grandma swore by it. But that doesn’t mean we have to.
Nowadays, we have large grocery chains that stock practically everything and if we can’t find what we want, we can take to the internet and order online and have it shipped to our doorstep. Grandma would be truly amazed at the seemingly endless possibilities.
To season my cast iron, I use cold-pressed, unrefined, organic flaxseed oil. I buy it from a reputable, online retailer. It’s a little expensive but I don’t use a lot of it. Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different seasoning oils, everything from Crisco to olive oil, and flaxseed oil is the best I’ve found so far that makes a really tough, durable, and nonstick seasoning.
So, using the oil of your choice and working on an old towel, pour on a little oil and rub it all over the cast iron. I like to use my bare hands. I find it a little therapeutic. Work slowly and massage the oil into the cast iron.
Using a cotton cloth, rub off any excess oil until the cast iron looks dry. You don’t want it glistening with oil and you certainly don’t want to see oil pooled or running anywhere. You might not believe it, but you are leaving behind oil in the pores and a very thin layer on the surface.
Place the cast iron upside down in a cold oven and set the oven at 500°F. When the oven is fully heated, set a timer for an hour. After an hour, turn off the oven and, leaving the door closed, let the cast iron cool down inside the oven for about two hours or until it is cool enough to handle.
The cast iron should be a little darker and have a matte finish. To achieve the beautiful semi-glossy patina we desire, the cast iron will need about six coats. Yes, this is a time consuming process but the results are a tough, hard surface that should last a while. So lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve applied six coats. You’ll know you are done when the cast iron has that beautiful black patina that we all know and love.
Don’t be tempted to use thicker, fewer coats of oil to speed up the process. Trust me, you won’t be happy with the end result. The cast iron may come out of the oven feeling sticky and the seasoning may not be as strong.
Take your time and do it right. When you’re done, you should have a beautiful black patina that is tough, durable, and nonstick.