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How to Perfectly Season Your Cast-Iron Pan

Caring for cast-iron cookware is easy, and proper seasoning helps make delicious dishes for decades.

1 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

This Skillet Cries Out to Be Seasoned

This cast-iron skillet has seen a lot of action. Inside its cooking surface are lots of deposits from carbonized oil that will make delicate food stick. To remedy the situation, it's time to clean it out and re-season the pan.

2 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Add a little water

First add an inch or two of water into the skillet.

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Simmer for a few minutes

Next turn on the stove and bring the water to a soft boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes to loosen bits of debris and stuck-on junk.

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Pour out the pan

Turn off the stove and pour out the water. Remember, this pan is hot and so is its handle. Always use a pot holder to avoid serious burns. Then, set the skillet aside to cool down a bit.

5 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Don't fear the dish soap

Once the pan is cool enough to handle, Grab a steel wool pad, and smidgen of mild dish soap. Yes, it's OK to use soap and abrasive wool when re-seasoning a cast-iron pan. 

The idea is to remove the stuck-on bits, then create a smooth layer of seasoning. 

6 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Scrub with steel wool

Don't be afraid, scrub that skillet!

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Wash out the gunk

Take your scrubbed pan to the sink and wash it in warm water.

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Dry out the pan

Now dry the skillet with a towel, then place it back on the stove. Fire up the burner to medium and heat the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. The point is to evaporate any lingering moisture. 

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Use some canola oil

Turn off the stove and let cool until it's still warm, not cold. Next add about a tablespoon of canola oil. You can also use a solid shortening like Crisco.  

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Rub in the oil

Grease the inside of the pan gently with a paper towel or lint-free cloth.

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Oil the entire pan

Don't forget to oil every part of the skillet, including the sides and bottom -- even the handle. Cast iron cookware is made from a solid piece of iron. Every inch should be protected from moisture and rust.

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Preheat your oven

Next, preheat your oven to 350 or 400 degrees F (175 or 200 degrees C). 

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In goes the skillet

Place your cast-iron pan into the preheated oven. Make sure to drop it in upside down so oil doesn't pool as it melts. Put an empty baking sheet on the rack directly below the pan to catch any drips.

Run the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then let the pan cool completely in the oven undisturbed.

14 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Outdoor grills are a fine alternative

Seasoning tends to create some smoke or at least odd odors. Another way to go is to use an outdoor grill. That way, any unpleasant smells stay outside. 

Don't let the heat levels get too high, though. Above 600 degrees F (315 degrees C) risks burning your oil seasoning right off.

15 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smoothly seasoned for duty

This pan is now much smoother inside and ready for action. The more you use it, though, the smoother and slicker the interior will get. 

At this point, avoid abrasive pads and cooking highly acidic food. That will pull the season off, forcing you to repeat the process.

16 of 18 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A trial run under fire

To test my revamped pan, I got it screaming hot in the oven (500 F). 

I then carefully placed it on the stove (using a heat-proof pot holder), added a bit of oil and fired the burner up to medium-high.

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Test steaks in the pan

With two steaks handy (New York strip and rib eye), I added them into the hot pan.

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Oh, that cast iron sear!

Two minutes later I flipped my steaks over. What I saw warmed my heart -- nicely browned crust  -- the hallmark of a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet.

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