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Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning (2010) (sherylcanter.com)
218 points by mzehrer on Nov 15, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 142 comments

I saw this post a few years ago. Having read her other two posts on seasoning cast iron, I came to the conclusion that she was just making the science up as she went along.

In "Perfect Popovers" [1] she advises Avocado Oil for its high smoke point, out of fear that letting the oil smoke will release carcinogenic free radicals into your food.

Then in this "Science-Based How-To" (three weeks later) she switches to flaxseed oil and suddenly isn't concerned about the free radicals anymore.

There is no hypothesis testing, and there are no measurements of free radicals or polymerization. It's all conjecture.

Her third post [2] calls out "black rust"/magnetite as a key component of seasoning cast iron, because "someone sent me some links". The links are not provided.

I have no problem with her blogging about her experiences seasoning cast iron, but what she's doing is not science, and it is misleading to call it "science based". If the author were a chemist, biologist, or nutritionist, I could defer to her education and wouldn't be writing this comment. But her bio [3] doesn't indicate any such training.

[1] http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/perfect-popovers-a...

[2] http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/02/black-rust-and-cas...

[3] http://sherylcanter.com/background.php

Well, she does mention in this post why she was wrong about the avocado oil, so there's that at least.

When I first got into cast iron, I spent a lot of time on oven-seasoning. It turns out that your daily practice is much more important than that oven seasoning, and the two important steps are:

1. Get the oil hot before you add any foods.

2. Use a sheet-metal spatula/flipper

Humanity has known for a long time that when you get your cooking oil hot, it repels food instead of binding it to the cooking surface; but the amateur cook has forgotten because of a reliance on non-stick surfaces.

The sheet-metal spatula/flipper lets you clean the cast iron with each pass of the tool. A rubber/wooden tool will leave small, burnt on bits of food, which accumulate more bits of food; a sheet-metal tool with scrape those off before they become a problem. Also, a sheet-metal spatula will scrape the roughness of the cast-iron from the bottom of your pan over the course of decades, moving you towards that inky-black mirror of grandma's old pans.

I can cook anything on my cast iron, just by following those steps, even fried eggs: the surface is totally non-stick. And cleaning is simple too: sometimes I'll make a few passes with the spatula to scrape off any food that has dried on, but that's all I ever do.

> moving you towards that inky-black mirror of grandma's old pans

I really don't think that will happen. The reason your new cast iron pan doesn't have that shine is because they've changed how they make them.

Agree on hot oil. Not only non-stick, it also keeps meats moist and vegetables fresh (actually fried, not fry-boiled).

A few things I do:

Use wire mesh to clean, quickly, immediately after cooking.

Only use tap water to clean it. No detergents. This allows the pan to develop a literal taste of its own after a few months or years.

Heat the pan after cleaning, evaporating all water.

Yes on these 3, especially the 'no soap' rule.

For stuck-on food, I've had best luck with a coarse copper mesh pad (e.g. Chore Boy), which I use lightly, and only to remove the gunk.

In the past, I'd also used coarse salt as an abrasive, but I like the copper wool better.

I also heat the pan to dry it off. As to the comment about this promoting rust: if you have a well-seasoned pan, you don't have any wet metal; you have a wet seasoned pan. You could just as easily dry it with a dish towel, but this tends to get your dish towel dirty.

> Heat the pan after cleaning, evaporating all water.

Don't do that. It causes rust.

Metal rusts MUCH faster when hot than when cold. If you have wet metal that you are worried will rust get it as cold as possible, and let it dry. Best place is in the fridge - it's cold, plus low humidity helps.

A fridge is not necessary for cast iron, but don't heat it when wet.

How is heating it up for 2 minutes to dry it off going to cause rust compared to the 20 minutes you spent cooking with liquid in the pan?

Much more oxygen as it dries. You are not supposed to boil water with cast iron, you need oil when cooking which protects it from air.

The point is don't warm it to dry thinking it will rust less since it's wet for less time. Just let it dry in regular air.

I suppose that might be true, but have you actually done the math here?

If it dries say 50 times faster, does iron rust more than 50 times faster at 400F than at 70?

I have no way of knowing either way, but I've got a cast iron pan that belonged to my great grandmother and I remember my grandmother heating it to dry it off. My mom did the same with it, and now I've done the same--no rust.

I didn't do math. I did an experiment.

I took two identical pieces of metal. Dried one in a warm stove the other on a table.

The one on a table had no visible rust. The one in a stove was completely orange.

I don't doubt that warm metal rusts faster, just how much faster.

There's a pretty big difference between drying something in a warm stove vs applying a direct flame to it on the stove top.

It takes just a few minutes to get the skillet hot enough where the water pretty much instantly evaporates. I'd imagine putting it in a warm stove took much longer to completely dry it.

Direct flame would be even worse. It will rust much faster than it will evaporate.

Reaction speed doubles for every 10 degrees F, but evaporation doesn't.

Reaction speed doubles for every 10 degrees F.

That can't possibly be correct, or at least it's only correct over part of the range.

If a pan rusts at a given rate at 70F, it would rust at 2^33 times that at 400F--those numbers just don't work at all.

Also once the pan heats past the boiling point of water, there is a huge decrease in drying time.

If my cast iron can rust from two minutes on the stove, I need to stop cooking wet foods in it. It has yet to be a problem, though.

Of course. But that isn't what I said.

What I said was that if you are heating the iron in order to speed up evaporation to avoid rust, you are being counter productive. You will avoid more rust (if any would be formed in the fist place), by just letting it air dry.

I don't know what you said, then. People are saying we put our cast iron on the burner for a couple minutes to dry it off and you're saying the direct flame will cause it to rust.

In my house, we stove-dry pans constantly, precisely to prevent rust, and we never get any. It's not intentionally an "experiment", but it's enough to make me think there's an issue with your methodology.

You probably would not get rust anyway, so stove drying isn't hurting anything much.

But it's certainly not helping.

The methodology was not complicated: I washed some porous/rough metal under the faucet, dried it with a paper towel, then put one piece in the oven at 170F, one on the table.

170 is below the boiling point of water, it may speed up evaporation but it won't boil off.

300-400 (what you'd get from the stove top) is above the boiling point, so the water rapidly boils off.

These 2 things aren't comparable.

Maybe iron will rust faster when hot, but I don't think heating it to dry it is an issue -- I do that fairly often, and haven't had a problem.

Here's a counter example: There are many tons of metal in hot desert climates that have a small amount of rust on them, but nothing like the kind of rust from a cold wet climate. There may be complications from cooking, but, and this is without giving it much thought, I'd say that water is a much larger factor than heat.

> in hot desert climates

You still need water.

My understanding about the "grandmas old pans" comment is that new pans are cast, i believe using sand?, in a way that leaves the "pebbled" texture. It's unfortunate, the smooth cast is certainly better, but I believe it doesn't have as much effect as you might think.

I've got two of them that I bought about 15 years ago (Lodge brand) -- they both had that roughness to them. One I use daily (the round one), the square one not that often. Looking at the round one now, and it is perfectly smooth, just like grandma's. So it can be done, it just takes a bit of time.

Yeah, they've definitely started out closer to smooth than ours. As you say, I don't know if mirror smoothness is terribly important, but it might let you get away with a bit less oil.

If you want your pan smoother, you can always sand it smoother. Will need to re-season it afterwards, though.

As I understand it most of the old pans were sand cast too, but they then polished them before selling. Modern manufacturers skip the polishing step. You could always sand it down yourself as abakker detailed.

Do you consider oven-seasoning to still be important?

It's nice in that it might let you get away with less oil day-to-day. My best answer is that you can get away with skipping oven-seasoning if you follow the daily practice, but not vice-versa.

Additional tips from someone who failed:

1) Buy a used cast-iron off ebay. The old cast irons were machined smoother. Anything you buy new from lodge today is going to have a texture like low grit sand paper. Any old Wagner or Griswold is going to have a much smoother base surface.

2) Make sure you get everything off your pan. If you did buy a new pan, they often have weird artificial seasoning on them. If you have an old pan, anything loose can provide a failure mode for your new nice coat of seasoning.

3) Don't get 100% of the oil off between coats as the article suggests. You won't build any seasoning.

4) Consider using Canola oil. The flaxseed oil that you buy seems to have some particulate matter that is noticeable in the finished seasoning. That or I didn't shake mine enough.

5) Consider doing this at a time when you can open all the doors/windows. Even if you stick to the really thin layer, your house will still get a smelly smoke.

6) Don't leave anything nice on the top of your stove. My oven vents out over the burners, and a Le Cruset pot resting there got covered in a sticky residue that was a pain to clean off.

More background:

I tried this with a beat up hand-me-down wagner about a year ago. I did six coats of flaxseed while following the instructions to "get all the oil off" with a towel after each application. The result was a pan with basically no seasoning that everything stuck to.

I went back and repeated while leaving a thicker layer (still not oil pooled or anything, but noticeably wet/shiny). This worked much better, and left a decent coat on the pan that things don't stick to. Sadly I did not strip the pan back down after the first misadventure, and some of my nice seasoning is now peeling around the corners.

"The flaxseed oil that you buy seems to have some particulate matter that is noticeable in the finished seasoning."

I'm guessing that you buy unrefined flaxseed oil, and that you keep it refrigerated? That's what you should be doing, and it's all well and good. But unrefined flaxseed oil contains a mix of fatty acids with different melting points. Some of these solidify under refrigeration, and give the appearance of being particulates when poured or used.

See olive oil if you live in a colder country (and supermarkets don't heat enough)

Maybe you can bring it to room temperature (to something like 25C) before using

Spot on. Thanks for the insight!

Carbon steel pans (DeBuyer) are a good alternative as well.

this is the answer. right here.

just don't pay retail.

cast iron is for hipsters

>cast iron is for hipsters

Yes, and it would be foolish to use cooking utensils preferred by a group of people who likes simple, time-tested tools and methods to cook tasty, balanced meals using high-quality ingredients.

Hipsters don't have any priority claims on cooking with good methods or ingredients, simple or not, healthy or not.

The type of pan you use has no bearing on this.

Its foolish to use something that performs worse than something that also cheap and readily available.

Thats just called ignorance.

Try a de buyer or a mafter and then come back and update your post.

I'm simply objecting to the use of 'hipster' as a pejorative here, which I find tiresome (and I assume many others on a forum used largely by young technologists do as well). In this instance it's a strange term to use negatively, as hipsters the hipster stereotype includes some foodie-ism. It's also an imprecise way to characterize cast iron cookware, unless you can demonstrate that hipsters do have priority claims on it over less hip groups like the elderly or midwestern housewives or NRA members or whatever. My apologies for trying to fight snark with snark, I'll keep my whining non-sarcastic from here on out.

In any case, although I have no current plans to replace my cookware, what should I expect in improvement upon switching to said less ironic brands? Less food sticking? Better heat distribution or other characteristics?

Its all about the design, shape and weight.

1) long handle, low sidewalls, medium volume

2) medium weight, low center of gravity

3) smooth machined surface

> The flaxseed oil that you buy seems to have some particulate matter that is noticeable in the finished seasoning

Running it through a simple coffee filter might fix this.

7) Do it outside on a campfire, not inside your house in the oven. It's much faster and less messy.

A gas barbecue grill (on low) works quite well to.

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has a good companion article to this one regarding care and usage of your now properly seasoned cast iron pan:


I knew this name looked familiar. He's written tons of great articles!

One of my personal favorites is on making the perfect french fries:


His greatest contribution to the world of modern cuisine is this recipe -


Its bang for a buck of effort is absolutely off the charts :)

I made this a couple of weeks ago, it was better than a lot of pizzaria pizzas I've had.

If you have some time, it's even better if you can age the uncooked dough in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You get bigger bubbles and better texture.

Aged dough. That stuff is good.

I use a recipe for making loaves of plain old white bread that requires making a biga ahead of time (Cuisine at Home, Feb. 2003 p32-35). It's impossible to eat store-bought bread after that.

If anyone's curious about this specific recipe, I could either email you a scan or post it here.

Your timing is unsettling, huhtenberg. I'm going to be making pizza tomorrow. You're not psychic, are you? :)

The story has a link to "Cooking For Engineers: Smoke Points of Various Fats" [1] that looks real useful, but it does not provide any reference as to where the values come from, and the stated smoke point temperatures listed vary a lot from those listed on Wikipedial [2]. I'll begrudgingly refrain from making jokes about believing what you read on the Internet, but I figured pointing out the discrepancies might be useful to some.

[1] http://www.cookingforengineers.com/article/50/Smoke-Points-o...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_point

Smoke point temperatures found in literature and on the Internet seem to be something of a religion itself. The same could probably be said of cast iron seasoning. I've seen people argue that extra virgin olive oil has one of the highest smoke points. If two sources ever agree on smoke points, I wouldn't bet on it being sourced from independently replicated experiments.

Even when a reference is provided, the reference itself isn't reliable. Cooking seems to be slowly emerging from the dark ages, but there is still a lot of pseudo-science that most people unfortunately don't even realize is exactly that.

I've seen this before and have tried seasoning with flaxseed oil. In short, it does work much better than other methods. It also smells a bit unpleasant compared to some other oils when seasoning the pan.

Once you get that base coat really solidly on, you shouldn't ever have to hit your skillet with anything harsher than water and a rubber spatula.

I also leave my skillet in the oven as a thermal mass, but that's another story.

I use soap all of the time on mine. I also scrub it off. Just throw some oil on after. Been using it for years.

Cast iron is a lot less maintenance than people think. I cook food too hot for Teflon, scrape the crap out if other pans, and like to throw things in the oven. I also use a metal spatula for everything. I pretty much do all of the things that these sites say not to, and never have problems.

i'm with you - i don't really take good care of my cast iron pans because they were so incredibly cheap and i just don't care that much. i never 'seasoned' them, i just started using them. i don't wash them regularly, and when i do, sometimes i use soap, sometimes i don't, depending on how negligent i was. it doesn't seem to matter.

they work fine and produce great results with my heavy duty metal utensils (spatula, tongs). they can easily produce non-stick eggs and fish. i can brown->roast without worrying at all about the pan. i have also destroyed every other pan i have ever had, and have learned my lesson - i just won't buy those precious non-stick or anodized or ceramic pans anymore.

to me that's the beauty of cast iron - superior results without having to treat it well. i thought that was obvious but apparently some people have a very different take on it!

>Once you get that base coat really solidly on, you shouldn't ever have to hit your skillet with anything harsher than water and a rubber spatula.

Rubber spatulas aren't recommended for cast iron. You're much better off with a metal spatula as long as it has a straight edge.

Wow, really? What's the reasoning? (Also, technically I guess I use a silicone spatula.)

With a metal spatula, you're machining the pan smooth over the course of decades, and also constantly scraping off any good bits that are getting stuck.

One of the things I like about cast iron is that you can use metal utensils that you can be sure aren't melting (which I realize would also not be a problem with silicone).

Not necessarily a sound rational basis for it, but it's at least less gross in my head, which is enough reason.

Simple! Just heat, oil, reheat, and cool your pan six times in a row. For eighteen hours. And don't mess up or you'll have to start over.

Yeah, sounds like a pain. But I don't do anything like that and my pan is perfectly functional (and great at browning).

The only thing I really do is to: use it, immediately clean it, put it on the stove to heat and dry, then wipe on a layer of whatever fat I have at hand. Really, the last step is the only difference from how I treat most pans (yes, I dry them with the heat from the stove). I have done the real seasoning thing, but found it both a pain and not noticeably more effective...

I followed these instructions a couple years ago for some of my cast iron cookware, and it worked out pretty well. That being said, I only resorted to these instructions after failing to find a service to re-season my cookware for me.

I looked online for just about anywhere in Northern California and made phone calls to various kitchen stores and iron workers up to a radius of about 25 miles and found absolutely nothing. I would much rather have just paid someone who knows what they're doing to re-season my cookware than half-ass it myself. So does anyone else know of a service for this?

A start-up is born. ;-)

Thanks! I had completely missed the point that when oils start releasing smoke they are not really usable any more due to the free radicals.

My family will actually eat healthier food after I read this article since "Dad's panfried stuff" will no longer be so carcinogenic :)

I keep seeing people saying this here and there, including the comments of this article. But I can't find any real substantiation of this carcinogenic claim in Googling. Anyone have something resembling real research?

She may be right that flax oil is better, but I don't think she gives the right reason. I don't think she knows what she's talking about as far as the science goes -- I'm far from an expert, but I believe most cooking oils will polymerize through exposure to oxygen and heat -- it doesn't require special drying oils.

There's a traditional black smith's finish to make an almost indestructible coating by rubbing some beeswax on steel heated to the smoke point... I imagine it's the same process when seasoning a cast iron pan with cooking oil.

BTW, There seem to be a lot of people looking for cast iron pans... Keep a lookout at garage sales and swap meets. You can usually find pans without too much trouble, and for around $5--$10 or so.

As far as seasoning goes, I just wipe some olive oil on and heat it 'till it smokes, let it sit, and repeat three or so times. As far as I can tell the oil forms a tough plastic-like coating. The only thing that'll damage it in normal use is cutting into it with a sharp knife or the edge of a spatula, or burning the coating off by getting the pan too hot. Flax oil max stick less, or be slightly better in some other way, but I doubt there is much of a difference.

Who, do you think, copied who?


Scroll down to "The Recipe for Perfect Cast Iron Seasoning" and compare with her "The Recipe for Perfect Cast Iron Seasoning"

I remember reading that other webpage some years ago, while her post is brand new. This kind of un-credited copying might well be called "plagarism"

Since you ask, I think that House of Paine copied much of the article from Sheryl Canter without offering her credit. Sheryl's article was clearly published in January 2010. But although http://www.houseofpaine.org has been archived by http://archive.org since 2005, the CastIron page does not appear until 2013: http://web.archive.org/web/20130517140647/http://www.houseof...

Other than your recollection, I can find no evidence that Sheryl plagiarized this article from HouseOfPaine.org. Additionally, the archived version of the first blog post from House of Paine confirms that they intend to republish copyrighted material of others without authorization:

  This website contains copyrighted material the use of which 
  has not always been specifically authorized by the 
  copyright owner. houseofpaine.org is making this material 
  available in our efforts to advance the understanding of 
  economic policy, educational, environmental, political, 
  human rights, democracy, scientific, and social justice 
  issues, etc. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” 
  of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 
  of the US Copyright Law.

While this statement doesn't offer any confirmation, it seems fair to say that their beliefs regarding fair use are not in line with the usual interpretation of the courts, and indicate at least a willingness to commit acts that others would typically refer to as plagiarism.

Well, it looks like they're only months apart from each other. The House of Paine one refers to 1999 in the html file, and this post was published February 2000. Is it possible they're the same person?

Either way, it's kind of interesting. Nice find.

EDIT: ignore what I said about 1999. Clearly wrong now that I looked more at that page. They even reference 2000 in the House of Paine page.

I can tell you that her blog post states that it's from 2010, not 2000. So that's a big gap.

For those of you who have the pebbly-textured pans from Lodge, this worked really well for me:

1. clean the inside of the pan of any oil, run it through the dishwasher, and then clean it with acetone. (you are doing this so the oil doesn't build up in the sandpaper, and keep it from cutting)

2. get several grits of sanding discs for a random orbital sander. 50, 80, 120, 220. Also get a fine particulate mask. Iron ground with 220 grit paper makes some very fine dust.

3. start sanding the inside of the pan. for a 10 inch pan, this took a while, but it will successfully grind away quite a bit of metal.

4. once you are done with the 220, it should be much smoother, then you can clean it with soap/water again, and then begin the seasoning process. I seasoned my pans outside on a grill.

Couldn't you wet sand it to minimize dust?

yes, if you were to use sandpaper that was designed for wet sanding. The problem with most random orbital sandpaper, and most random orbital sanders, is that they are designed for woodworking. Woodworking paper tends to be AlO2 and is typically bonded with a non-waterproof adhesive.

Non-waterproof sandpaper works better on soft materials like wood because it tends to "load" less, so it lasts longer.

If you hand sand, you could use Silicon Carbide paper (the black stuff labelled "waterproof"). This would minimize dust, but cast iron is very very hard, and would probably be difficult to sand evenly by hand.

I've followed the instructions here. They work, but they're kind of a pain to complete. Just buy enameled cast iron and be done with it.

https://www.reddit.com/r/castiron is a good resource for anyone interested in cast iron.

A very timely write-up! Just last night I ordered a large (19"x16"), flat cast iron griddle[1] for oven baking after another disappointing result cooking pizza on my stone.

I used to own a pizza stone that seemed to transfer a lot of heat to my bread, even though it was relatively thin and didn't feel very dense. Bread and pizza would brown nicely on it, even though it was too small for baguettes. One day it cracked and I bought a different kind (Ceramic Chef brand). It's a little thicker and feels more porous, and I just can't get crisp bread on it even after pre-heating it in a 500F oven for 30 minutes. The new one is definitely a different type of stone. Maybe it's engineered for people who want to cook on rocks but don't like crust?

I'm excited about baking on a large slab of cast iron. I've had a 12" cast iron skillet for ~15 years and use it all the time.

[1] http://www.katom.com/067-1016905.html (store link; the manufacturer only describes it in detail in a PDF)

According to the very knowledgeable folks on the pizzamaking.com forums, the best surface to bake pizza and/or bread is between 0.5 and 1" of cordierite, which is the kind of ceramic you find in pottery kilns. That's what I use with excellent results.

Previously the only hankering I got from reading HN was to acquire some technical book. Now I'm nearly shopping for cookware after reading these posts on best cookware.

I also just bought a cast iron frying pan and it should be delivered today. I'm mainly curious about how good it can cook without having the nonstick layer, which feels dubious considering I am terrible at ensuring I don't use too much heat which would melt the Teflon and presumably poison me. Cast iron with oil/butter may be a bit greasier but hopefully more forgiving given my blunt culinary abilities.

This article is targeting people who want to do a really serious job of creating that non-stick layer - and good for them. But I would forgive you if you were too lazy to follow their instructions (I probably am).

But a rudimentary seasoning is really easy:

Wipe some oil over the pan. Use as [high temp oil] as possible, but whatever you have will work. Wipe off any access with a paper towel. Put it in your oven at 230(C)/450(F) for at least 30 minutes. (careful it will smoke a bit).

I couldn't recommend using it at all without some base layer of seasoning. It's really easy to do and lasts quite a while, even if you don't follow the articles really thorough methodology.

source: me - frying with cast-irons twice a day for 10 years

[high temp oil] aka those with the highest "smoke point" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooking_oil#Types_of_oils_and_t...

Much of the point of the article is that smoke point is a less useful guide than the composition of the oil.

If you don't want to use flax seed oil, just use canola oil.

If you season it appropriately (see the original article) you should be able to slide an egg on it.

That will just never happen on new cast iron. Old stuff was machined smooth from the factory, new stuff has a texture on par with sandpaper. Unless you intend to take a dremel tool or whatever to your new cast iron before you begin using it, you're just not going to get a surface comparable to a Teflon pan without years of use to build up a layer of seasoning that smooths out the castings peaks and valleys.

I've got a newish, rough Lodge and a vintage smooth Wagner that I both stripped and reseasoned (with just Canola oil. This flaxseed method is overkill IMO). The Wagner can cook eggs like teflon; the Lodge, even after two years of heavy use is still pretty rough for eggs, its nonstick enough for most other foods.

Cast iron is nice and I prefer it for its properties besides the nonstick abiluty, but for the casual home cook making eggs, Teflon is pretty foolproof.

Is the cast iron going to wick away the moisture like a stone? That's the point of a pizza stone, and what gives breads and pizza crusts that crispiness.

Here is an article that breaks down a baking steel vs a baking stone. The steel comes out on top, mostly due to the thermal properties of steel: http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/09/the-pizza-lab-...

Is that actually how a pizza stone works?

Doesn't it just provide a very hot surface that boils off any local moisture? That's would happen with a cast iron skillet.

It would explain why cast iron pans or glazed earthenware is used for baking no-knead bread.

No, it's absolutely not how baking stones work. A 450 degree chunk of stone isn't wicking anything with a boiling point of 212. If it were possible the stone would explode as the wicked water flash boiled inside the stone.

Steels are the trendy thing to bake pizzas on right now.

I use a cast iron griddle for baking pizza on and I love it. I hope yours works out for you too!

I followed the instructions in this post several years ago, and I can confirm that it produces an excellent finish. One of our pans has taken a bit of abuse recently, however, and has started to rust. I can't say I'm excited about having to do this again...

Still, you can't beat cast iron for durability and ease of cleaning.


In German speaking media, the universal recipe I found is to use any high-heat oil (canola, sunflower, etc), fill the pan with a lot of it (3 mm of oil in the pan), then add potato peels and a lot of salt. Fry the peels (and flip them in the process) until the peels are completely charred, done.

I haven't tried either.

I tried the potato method and am not pleased with the results at all. I'm going to try one of the oil based approaches instead, they sound far less messy.

That's great, thanks for sharing!

I'm fascinated by cast iron cookware, the durable nature of it seems to contrast with so much of the rest of our lives. Take good care of it and it will last generations!

It's not only the durability. As cookware my cast iron pans outfry every other pan I have. Their only downside is that they are not very large and since they are kinda needy when it comes to care I'm not sure I would like to have bigger ones anyhow.

My cast iron pans are awesome. They cook the best steak and they have been in the family for generations. I remember eating some good steaks as a kid that were made in those pans and now I use them myself.

I once found a cast iron skillet on the back of a hillside and cleaned it up. Honestly the hardest part was getting the rust off. After that, it's worked like a champ. BTW, the article links to a prior entry about rust removal that was way easier than what I did.

Yeah, those cast iron wonders are like some legendary swords in various works of fiction. Just give them a good rub and they're as good as new :)

I've been cooking for a long time and over the decades I've noticed non-stick has become better "value engineered" over time such that no matter how much you pay or how much you baby the pan, you'll be buying a new one every couple months. When I was a kid my mom's non-stick lasted for years, until the handle breaks off or something, but they've done a lot of coating engineering work to increase repeat sales for non-stick. So maybe a decade ago I switched to cast iron in a rage at my latest pan only lasting a couple months. I was shocked at the cost, I was trying to buy upscale to get non-stick pans that don't suck, and instead of paying $100+ for a six month lifetime non-stick I was paying like $15 for a lifetime grade CI pan.

I do understand how non-stick pan mfgrs stay in business, because they're guaranteed about two sales per year due to amazingly low product durability. I have no idea how Lodge and the others stay in the CI business because the pans last forever. Its a mysterious business model.

One more point to add is I have CI grates on my charcoal BBQ and a similar seasoning mindset applies to CI grill as to frying pans. Dump the coals, scrape/scrub the grates, apply some oil/crisco while it'll still smoke a little but not too much, you're good.

Another non-stick alternative I cook with a lot is stainless steel. If you're generous with the oil and keep the temps very high but not too high and start with a surgically clean pan, you can fry in stainless. "Barkeepers friend" is the best thing I can find for cleaning stainless. Stainless is also basically eternal. Unlike CI, if you're used to spending $50 at Target for a non-stick pot or pan, a CI equivalent will be like $15 but a large stainless pot could be maybe $100 to $150 for all-clad? I'm in the "all-clad or nothing" tribe of stainless users, there are cheaper alternatives. I like a steak in a nice near red hot stainless pan. You'll need the "barkeepers friend" cleaning powder after that. I could imagine that powder would strip a CI pan pretty well, given how well it strips baked on stuff off stainless pans.

This. The older I get, the more I care about purchasing or preferrably re-using proper durable tools of all kinds. Cast iron cookware is one of those. Another thing I love: the scythe. Belonged to my grandmother's father and because of genes I happen to have his posture making the scythe a pretty good fit for me. This handmade tool, now being close to hundred years old but with a new blade outperforms any motorized tool I've tried for mowing our grass. Cuts faster, less tiring, non-polluting, doesn't throw grass or rocks in your face and so on.

My wife's grandmother recently gave her a cast iron skillet that was allegedly owned by her grandmother! Awesome cookware :)

The reason it lasts generations is that the previous generations didn't use it! They put it up in the attic and used an aluminum or stainless, porcelain or copper cookware instead.

You're a riot.

I recently got a pan like this: http://www.kohls.com/product/prd-1305988/country-cabin-10-in... which turned out to be super-coarse. I ended up polishing it with an angle grinder and fine sandpaper, then seasoning the resulting smooth surface.

I haven't seen more high end antique pans first hand, but my understanding is that they were factory-polished, and that this step is somewhat costly.

Modern pans are cast in sand because it's cheap. The manufacturing method changed about 60 years ago from a more precise mould (that happened to cost more, but gave a smoother finish).

I've wondered about the angle grinder thing. It surprises me that isn't given more often as a solution to the sand casted pan issue.

The impossible to remove gunk in deep-fryers is also commonly attributed to polymerization. What are really the properties of polymerized cooking fats?

When I read "flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible", Tung Oil came to mind as a candidate for seasoning cast iron. It's easy to buy 100% tung oil that's reasonably priced and FDA approved for food contact (see http://www.realmilkpaint.com/oil.html).

This time of year, articles about cast iron cookware pop up all over the Internet. It's Holiday Season, time to get your sister-in-law a cast iron skillet that she will attempt to use a handful of times to her great dismay and frustration and then put up into the attic so that her grandkids can reproduce the experiment twenty years later.

"Cast iron seasoning" is a scam. There, I've said it. I've got a full set of cast-iron cookware and have made repeated furtive and unsuccessful attempts to use it it over a period of 30 years. It just doesn't work. You _will_ inadvertently put tomatoes or lemon juice into your skillet, it _will_ lose it's "seasoning", and you _will_ attempt to "re-season" it with only 25% success rate but a guaranteed 100% stinky and smoked-out household (complete with 9 smoke-alarms beeping) rate.

Instead of giving someone cast iron cookware (akin to giving someone herpes, but slightly less intimate and curable), give them a teflon skillet - it will work immediately and unfailingly. It will lose it's charm slowly and gracefully (instead of the first time it is cleaned, as with a cast iron skillet). They will know when to replace it.

Let the posts from the alleged hundreds of blissfully contented cast-iron skillet users now commence.

> It just doesn't work.

My experience is a counter-example. I've been using my iron pan for years and I've never had those problems. After I bought it used, I cleaned off the gunk, rust spots, and dust bunnies with soap, water and steel wool. I dried it over the burner, and wiped it with some oil. I wiped away the excess oil, and that was it. No oven-baked seasoning process.

To clean after cooking, I usually just wipe it out. Every now and then I do a more thorough cleaning, essentially repeating what I did when I first bought it. Wash with soap, scraping with a spatula to get stuck bits off. Dry it over the flame, and wipe on a thin layer of oil, and wipe off the excess. When I'm done, I can sometimes see a dull reflection of myself in the bottom of the pan. It is quite smooth.

I have cooked with citrus, tomatoes, vinegar, alcohol, etcetera. It is not "non-stick" enough to cook eggs or fish without oil, and usually those foods necessitate washing. I have never had to do a bake-on seasoning process. I have never started a smoky grease fire with it.

More high-maintenance than a stainless pan, certainly, but I like the cooking characteristics. I like that I can scrape hard with a metal spatula to release food after searing. I like that it reacts to temperature changes more gradually. I like that it heats with a significant temperature differential. I like going from stove top, to oven, to broiler, to grill, to wood fire without damaging the pan.

I am happy with mine. I ever thought of it much until I read a few articles written by people who want to spend more time messing with their pans than cooking on them.

Using cast iron is simple. Take a pan, throw in some oil, cook, clean, wipe down with some oil. I grew up using nothing but cast iron skillets and all of this talk about how only a perfect organic oil combined with a special oven can create a decent seasoning is bs. I use vegetable oil and they work fine. Also, my pans have a sandy surface and they work fine. I didn't buy mine at an estate sale, but at a store years ago and they work fine.

I fry food in mine, stick it them the oven to bake, make eggs, steaks, bacon, vegetables. I pretty much cook everything on cast iron because it is easy to take care of and lasts forever. People turn this into something it isn't.

I also grew up making lots of bbq in Texas. People do the same thing with bbq - they spend so much time working on perfecting their tools that they forget to cook the food.

Nobody can reply in disagreement to a comment like yours without making you feeling rightious and validated. Downvoted.

Several notes:

a) Why attempt to make judgements about how other people "feel" when you simply don't know. For example, in this case I feel neither "rightious" nor "validated" from what others post. Instead I _know_ from my own experiences over several decades how cook-unfriendly cast-iron cookware is.

b) It's "righteous", not "rightious". Perhaps you could enable a spell-checker. It is much easier to read posts with correct spelling (and grammar).

> Let the posts from the alleged hundreds of blissfully contented cast-iron skillet users now commence.

This line is pointless baiting and your post would have been better without it.


> Please don't bait other users by inviting them to downmod you.

Your spelling lame in your follow-up post is just rude and again needlessly baiting.

My statement in an earlier post, which you reference here, was neither baiting nor rude. I know how passionately people feel about their cast-iron skillets. Indeed so much so that they simply cannot resist showing their cast-iron love. Making fun of that is fair play.

Pointing out a misspelling, even if only one of tens of thousands made on this and other Internet groups, is simply a honest reminder that literacy is valued even on the Internet. I said nothing rude. Your calling the correction "lame" _is_, however, at the least ambiguous and at the worst truly rude, since you may be making (incorrect) assumptions about my internal state of mind.

My Favorite Article on Cast-Iron Skillets:

"Why Do I Have a Cast Iron Skillet? By Sonia Saraiya


Okay. I <3 my cast iron. I haven't gone to the full effort of seasoning it like the article says, but I have done a bit of work on it and it's worked great for me. I do dislike the whole "stinks up your house" part, though I've never had it set off smoke alarms--sounds like you may have had residue from other stuff in your oven, or maybe you used too much oil or it had too low a smoke point.

I make tomato (or other acidic things, like spinach or chard) stuff in it fairly regularly and as long as I clean it within a few hours and give it a little mini-seasoning (re-oil, cover with lid, set on hot burner for awhile, turn off and let return to room temp while covered) it's fine. Keeping it covered is key to minimizing the stinky house problem.

Maybe if I followed the article I wouldn't have to do that, but it's just not that hard now that I have the habit and I really like the cooking characteristics of cast iron (how well it holds heat, etc.) so I'm going to stick with it (pun intended ^_^ )

I'll refrain from gushing about grandma's pan coated with 70 years of lard & love, etc. :D It's not for everyone. But I will say you should skip the teflon and buy an enameled pan instead. They can be quite cheap and are much tougher than teflon.

But as good as it is, it will never be as truly non-stick as a good teflon pan.

Don't get me wrong, I use and love both my cast iron and a few old All Clad stainless with copper cores. Teflon will never sear as well, never give you the ultimate maillard you're looking for.

But you can crack an egg into a teflon pan without oil and slide it out without leaving a trace.

for pancakes, IMO, a teflon pan is probably going to last decades anyway.

>give them a teflon skillet

Why risk the PFOAs? Just get enameled cast iron or carbon steel.

I'm sure there's a point in there somewhere, buried beneath all the smug.

The article is good, but I was bothered by the post title. In this case, "science-based" seems to mean that the author merely presented her claims with a logical argument.

An example from the article:

But it’s not a good idea to use a spray oil, no matter what oil it’s made with, because of its additives. You’re doing chemistry here. If you want good results, use pure ingredients.

It's a compelling argument, but it's not science-based. Where is the evidence that additives affect the seasoning or polymerization? It could very well be that additives have no effect, or more likely that it depends on the type of additive. If this was the only example, that would be fine, but the blog post is full of examples like this. There is no citation of any scientific source anywhere in the article!

If you are writing articles than claim to be science-based, you really should link or cite actual scientific literature. (Or run your own experiments!)

Introducing unknown variables (additives) when you don't need to doesn't make sense if you're treating this as lab experiment. Why complicate the process for no reason?

Isn't that the point, though. It isn't "complicating for no reason," it is "running an experiment to see if it matters."

Ruling out some experiments to try is often necessary, because time. However, it is far preferable to use prior evidence to rule them out, not speculation. No matter how logical it may be.

It's still complicating it for no reason. It's trivially easy to buy the proper oil and not use a spray oil with random stuff added to it to keep it spray-able. It's like not washing your test tubes out before conducting an experiment. It introduces additional variables and complexity for no good reason. Do you really expect the author to test for every single random additive from every single random spray oil producer and see if it affects the process? It's a waste of time when the proper process is easy... just use real unadulterated oil.

Meh, a simple "we already had a full docket to test with our main goals and didn't want to allocate the time to try any spray oils" is more than adequate.

And you are doing a bit of goal post shifting. Nobody is asking to try all ingredients and isolate everything. But it was never even established that a spray oil wouldn't work. Just speculation as to why it wouldn't.

I will throw out that, for myself, I think the majority of the effort that most people go through with their cast irons is for cosmetic purposes and failing to realize that we use much milder soaps today than we used to. If you want a decently seasoned cast iron skillet, just commit to using it consistently. Will it be pretty? Probably not. But it will work just fine.

> Meh, a simple "we already had a full docket to test with our main goals and didn't want to allocate the time to try any spray oils" is more than adequate.

The thing is, there's not one 'spray oil additive' that everyone uses they could even test. They could just say: "Spray oils use additives that could complicate this process and each spray oil is different. We didn't test them and don't recommend that you use them. Using real, unadulterated oil is simple, proven, and effective."

I can't comment on the effectiveness of the overall process of seasoning a skillet, nor was I.

It doesn't matter that there are multiple additives. It hasn't been established that any additives affect things. (Or, again, if it has been established, cite.)

That is, you are commenting on the process. Specifically, you are saying that spray oils are bad for it. And then giving a quick (and appealing) argument for it. However, the question is when and how was this established.

Incorrect. I said specifically that spray oils 'could' complicate the process and that they didn't test for it. That's all. You're reading the rest into it yourself. I never once said that additives affect things.

Additives are a random addition that serve no purpose in the process of seasoning a cast iron pan. They didn't test for throwing a handful of salt or baking soda in either. Nor should they. There's no need.

The point of this thread is that they should either a) test for it, b) acknowledge that they didn't test for it, or c) cite some place that has. To dismiss it as a bad idea with no reason is precisely the topic of this thread.

You brought up that it would complicate things. Of course it would, but that is basically beside the point.

Edit: apologies, I should say with no evidence, not reason.


You do realize you just took this in a full circle, right?

It was agreed at the beginning that the argument is compelling. To the point that there really isn't much concern with this one occurrence, but that it happens throughout the article.

Does it make for a good read? Sure. Probably is even good advice on a good technique. What it is not, is "science."

That is, specifically, this entire thread was because someone was pedantic that this shouldn't be called "science" as it was presented. And it should be noted that many of us agreed. To the point that the thread was renamed on HN.

The only reason I removed my comment is because I determined that it wasn't worth continuing as it seemed you were 'arguing past me' about a different point than the one I was making. You hadn't yet replied when I deleted it. It seems you are continuing to argue against a position I never took up in this comment here. I don't care about the article, personally. And I don't think the article is 'scientific', even if they cite and follow certain 'science' aspects at different points. I never claimed that it was. So, I'm unsure why you keep arguing against a point that I am not making when I agree with you that the original article isn't 'science' and that science doesn't belong in the title.

I had responded to your nitpick with one specific point where I think you are incorrect. There's no reason for the original authors to have to do anything at all related to additives. They don't need to test for additives, they don't need to cite that they are harmful. It's enough for them to state that they did not use them and why they recommend against them. Which they did. Additives are a completely unnecessary complication in the process of seasoning. Just as a contamination would be an unnecessary complication to a science experiment (please note again that this is an analogy and in no way means I believe the article is 'science-based'). There's no reason at all for the additives to be there. And no reason for the authors to test for them or cite anything related to them. The same as there's no reason to test or cite how well it works with the presence of dirt, salt, sand, baking soda, or moon rocks. That is the one point I was making. I will not be replying again as this is a poor use of time.

Isn't that called falsifiability?

Yeah, the speculation that nitrates in bacon fat would somehow be unhealthy was a bit weird too.

I consider it science-based. She researched the choice of oil based on the underlying polymer chemistry and gave a taste of that research. The article also contains a lot of opinions that are not, or probably not, based on science. But "science-based" is sort of like "based on a true story": some liberties are acceptable.

Moreover, I think the article is fairly scientific in spirit. When she had to make judgment calls, she described how and why she chose the option she did. A scientific research article doesn't have to settle every question it raises and do every possible experiment. It just needs to be clear about what it did and didn't do.

Which is to say the irony is the term "science-based" is something meant for the layman. To be scientific, you either present the data directly or "cite the article" on which you base your claims. The standards applied to the data and the citation is extremely high and uniform. That's the whole reason why it succeeds as ... science.

The only thing that can be said when using a generic term as "additive" is: it depends

Name the substance and you can get a better answer

Try it sometime... If you use Pam or other spray oil, there are usually soy or other additives that leave a sticky shell on your pan. If you want to experiment on your own, buy a new, cheap pan and fry up some eggs 4-5 times.

You'll see a brown residue on the sides of the pan -- that the stuff.

The brown residue is most likely oil that's partially burned on (or partially polymerized to use the article's term). You can get this residue from any fat. You're just more likely to see it with spray oils because the spray is not precise so you get overspray in undesired areas.

No, that's different. Cooking sprays usually include Soy lecithin, which can cook on (if you don't wash it off) and forms a sticky brown residue. The polymerized oil is slippery.

The residue issue is more pronounced in thick/dark pans like cast iron that retain heat for a long time -- unless you clean them immediately, the residue cooks on. If you cook some eggs, eat, and go back to clean your cast-iron pan, the oil will have been cooked on.

The solution for this use case is to use something like the "Misto", which is a spray pump that lets you spray plain oil on a pan.

If you're not cleaning off the overspray, you'll definitely get sticky brown residue from oil. Oil is only slippery after it's fully polymerized. If it's partially polymerized, it's a sticky mess. Oil on the sides of the pan will generally not fully polymerize without a cycle in the oven because there isn't enough heat being applied.

The lecithin might make it worse, though.

Buy an organic flaxseed oil. You don’t want to burn toxic chemicals into your cookware to leach out forever more.

That sounds deeply unscientific.

One aspect not discussed is you'll be breathing the smoke while you're seasoning... Its definitely an "all windows open" operation. Stuff that won't boil off beyond smoke point isn't going to be very reactive below smoke point. I'm not disagreeing with the author but agreeing with her for a different reason... at seasoning temps you'll breath pretty much every pesticide / herbicide molecule in the oil, and it'll be gone from the finish stuck to the pan.

Another thing I agree with her WRT respiration you'll breathe less smoke over your lifetime if you use the best finish possible.

After cleanup, I make an art form of heating up the cleaned and oiled pan right up to smoke point but not too far beyond.

I've never even heard of the authors self cleaning stories about fires and warping. I guess its possible...

Why is that unscientific? It's well known that cast iron gets "seasoned" by what you put in it, so if you put crap in it it's going to get seasoned with crap.

I'd say it's unscientific because it includes an unfounded / somewhat superstitious implication that non-organic flaxseed oils contain toxic chemicals. Less notable, the author casually misuses "leach."

Sure, but she seems to be assuming that flaxseed oil pressed from organic seeds must necessarily be more pure than oil pressed from non-organic seeds. I'm not sure what the reasoning is... organic seeds wouldn't necessarily have been treated with any less pesticide, for example. The "organic" label often just means that the soil was fertilized with nitrogen from sources like manure, rather than nitrogen fixed from the air... but it's still just nitrogen.

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