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You’ve probably heard seasoning mentioned before and wondered why these maniacs are throwing salt and pepper in their empty pans. Then after some time, it dawns on you, they’re not talking about food seasoning and it turns out they thought you were the maniac this whole time.
At first, it seems like a pretty alien concept, but it’s actually a very simple process that only ever includes a few steps. So, to get you cooking like a pro chef, we’re going to be discussing everything to do with seasoning! So next time it comes up in conversation, you don’t just have to nod along hoping nobody asks you any questions. You can hold your head up high and school them with your exquisitely sensational, seasoned seasoning knowledge.
Table of Contents
What is Seasoning?
Simply put, seasoning is the process of treating a pan with oils and heat until it has a semi-permanent, slightly darker coating or patina as it’s sometimes referred to.
Reason for the Season?
Seasoning can have different purposes depending on the design and material of the pan. Generally speaking, seasoning fills in any imperfections in the surface and provides a protective layer of polymerized fat that keeps your pan safe from pitting and oxidation, adds more flavor to your food, and gives it a slick non-stick quality. So, basically, it keeps your pans in top shape, and it makes cooking with them a lot easier.
Seasoning your pan can also be amazing for your health as you need little to no lubricants to cook your food. This means all those fatty oils and sprays you’ve been using all this time are no longer necessary, giving you lighter, leaner meals.
If you live in a particularly humid climate, it’s especially important to season your vulnerable pans as this kind of atmosphere will accelerate the rusting process.
Should You Season All Your Pans?
You can if you want to, but not all pans absolutely need it. Seasoning any pan will prolong its lifespan, which is fantastic, but it might be a little exhausting to keep up with, especially if you have a lot of pans. So, which pans need seasoning?
The Four Seasons
It’s essential to season cast iron pans to stop them from rusting and to give them a non-reactive coat.
Carbon steel will also rust after prolonged exposure to moisture, which is a shame as they’re incredibly durable and would otherwise last a decade or longer. Seasoning your carbon steel pans will help keep the orange devil at bay and give them a long, healthy, delicious life.
Raw aluminum is very delicate and is also a reactive metal, so seasoning provides a handy non-stick layer that protects you and your pan. Aluminum oxide is aluminum that’s been treated by an electrolytic process known as anodization. This makes it incredibly strong and stabilizes its reactive properties. The only problem is that it’s a pretty sticky cooking surface. Seasoning your aluminum oxide pan will fix that in an instant.
Tin is another rust-prone material, although it has pretty good natural non-stick qualities.
What About Non-Stick Pans?
Non-stick pans are already coated with either silica-based gel (often referred to as ceramic) or PTFE (Teflon). Both of these coatings are non-porous and give your pan a nice slick and glossy finish that reduces friction during cooking.
While they are brilliantly slippy, these coatings can be quite delicate, so it’s a great idea to season them. There’s no better way to prolong their life and to protect them against your utensils.
When you season your ceramic or PTFE pans, you should follow the same rules you would with any other material; however, you should slightly drop the temperature. PTFE pans release toxic fumes between 400 and 500 degrees, therefore, should be seasoned at a maximum of 350 degrees. Ceramic pans are safe up to 600 degrees, but it’s recommended you never go over 450, so 350 degrees makes sense for both these pans.
How to Season your Pans on the Stove Top
Right, let’s get down to business. A lot of pans these days have heat resistant plastic handles that are great for use with your burners, but probably wouldn’t survive in your oven. Don’t worry though, you can season using your stovetop.
Giving your pan a thorough wash before you start is essential. Even if it’s a brand new pan fresh from its cellophane wrap, you still need to give it a really good wash before getting started. In fact, whether you’re seasoning or not, all new kitchenware should be washed before use as there are often residues left on the product from the factory or storage.
Make sure you wash your pan in an appropriate manner. In most circumstances, warm soapy water will suffice, but used cast iron pans need to be scrubbed with salt rather than lots of sudsy water. If your cast iron pan is brand new, a thorough rinse is good enough. Once your pan is squeaky clean, it’s time to move on.
Dry your pan with a clean dishcloth. You can also use a paper towel to wipe it down as best you can but make sure it doesn’t tear and leave fibers on the pan. Leave it for a further 10 minutes to ensure it’s completely dry.
Here comes the exciting bit: dressing the pan in the necessary oils. You can use canola oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil. As long as your chosen substance has a high smoke point, you’re good to go.
Rub around a teaspoon of your chosen oil into the surface of your pan, making sure to spread it evenly up to the rims. You can use a cloth to do this. It’s much like treating an axe head before chopping logs.
Set your burner to a medium intensity and place your oiled pan down for 30 to 60 seconds…basically, until it starts smoking. This will differ from pan to pan depending on size, material, and oil.
Note – You can apply the oil once the pan is up to temperature. This replicates the effect the pre-heated oven has in the seasoning process. Just make sure you’re careful not to burn yourself.
Remove your pan from the burner and set it down somewhere safe to completely dry and cool down. When it’s ready, wipe away any residual oil from the pan using a paper towel or clean dishcloth, and viola! You’ve seasoned your pan. Easy, right?
You may have to repeat this process up to twice more before you achieve optimal coverage and color.
So, let’s sum up by distilling the process down with some simple bullet points:
- Wash your pan
- Dry your pan
- Oil your pan
- Place your pan on a medium heat burner for 30 seconds to a minute
- Leave to cool and dry
- Wipe away excess oil
- Repeat a possible two more times
How to Season Your Pans In the Oven
If your pans are coated with a non-stick substance, preheat your oven to a minimum of 300 or maximum of 350 degrees F. Most other pans can be seasoned at 400 degrees F.
Same as before, give your pan a thorough clean.
Dry your pan off with a towel or cloth then leave to air dry a little longer.
Massage in the teaspoon of oil, making sure to get full coverage.
Place your pan upside down on a tray with a sheet of baking parchment. Place the tray in the oven on the middle shelf for about an hour.
Place your pan somewhere it can cool and dry. As soon as it’s ready, wipe away the excess oil with a paper towel or clean dishcloth.
Just like the stove method, you’re probably going to have to repeat the process a couple more times to get the full effect of the seasoning.
Let’s bullet point this out again.
- Preheat oven between 300 and 400 degrees
- Wash your pan
- Dry your pan
- Massage in the oil
- Place on the middle shelf of your oven for an hour
- Leave it to cool and dry
- Wipe up excess oil
- Repeat the process
Can You Season with Olive Oil?
No, you should never season a pan using olive oil as it has a low smoke point. Olive oil is great as an ingredient in loads of different cuisines, but I’d never even use it as a base lubricant for cooking, let alone for seasoning.
The high smoke point means it starts to break down and burn at comparatively lower temperatures, producing carcinogens in the process.
Caring for Your Seasoned Pans
Caring for your seasoned pan is essential. If you don’t do all you can to protect the seasoning, there’s really no point in seasoning at all, as the process can be undone relatively quickly.
Each type of pan will require slightly different care and maintenance, so make sure you’re using the appropriate measures with your particular pan.
Rule number one: No Dishwashers.
You should hand wash your pan while it’s still warm as this makes the removal of debris easier. If you don’t allow them to cool, the sudden change in temperature when you add them to water can cause warping which will damage non-stick coatings, open up gaps in the seasoning, and create hot spots in your pan.
Ideally, you should only ever use water, sponges and cloths to clean your seasoned sizzler. More abrasive scourers or chemicals will destroy the fatty lining. You can use mild dish soap on non-stick coated pans if it’s essential. If you need to use a scourer, make sure it’s a soft non-scratch design.
If there’s some particularly stubborn debris on your pan, you can try deglazing it by adding some warm water and placing the pan on a medium flame, letting it simmer for around 10 minutes. This is more suited to non-stick pans, and you should probably re-season afterward.
You can now leave your pan to dry. It should be completely dry before being put into storage.
The best way to store a seasoned pan is by hanging them from hooks spaced apart to prevent any unwanted clinking.
If this isn’t viable in your kitchen, you can stack them in a cupboard or on a shelf. You’ll need to separate them with a protective layer such as a cloth to prevent them from scraping against one another.
There are a few rules you can apply to your cooking to maximize the longevity of the seasoning. First of all, banish metal utensils from your kitchen. These will scrape away the new layers. Try using wood, plastic, rubber, or silicone utensils instead.
Secondly, avoid really high temperatures, especially if you’re not adding any lubricant. High temperatures will break down the protective layer.
Another bit of sound advice is to avoid cooking sprays. They don’t cook off and can cause greasy build ups around the edges of your pan. You should only use oils with a high smoke point and butter if you need to. Consider applying the oil using a mist sprayer, and always apply oil or butter to the pan cold. This reduces the chances of smoke harming the coat.
How Long will Seasoning Last?
Seasoning doesn’t provide you with a permanent layer. Unfortunately, it will eventually wear down, leaving you in the same position you were in when you started. But how long will a properly seasoned pan stay…well, properly seasoned?
It depends how often you use it for cooking and how you use it. If you only use the pan once in a blue moon and care for it properly, there’s no reason the seasoning won’t last up to a year, longer maybe.
If you use your pan every other day, the protective layer is going to dissipate far more quickly.
When Should You Re-Season?
If you have a cast iron or tin pan, it’s good to re-season after every wash. As for your other pans, There’s no set schedule for keeping them in top shape, but there are a few signs you can look out for that will indicate it’s time to re-season.
The first cry for help your seasoned pan will give you is a slight discoloration in the center, or rather a return to its original color. As mentioned earlier, seasoning your pan will at least darken its original hue. Some pans may go from silver to jet-black after a seasoning. If you notice the color starting to fade, that’s a sign the polymerized layer is dissipating. Re-seasoning will seal everything back up again and keep your pan in non-stick territory.
The next sign you should be looking out for is your food starting to catch a little during a cook. This is an indication that the protective layer has all but vanished. You should re-season immediately to protect your pan and your food.
If you’re using a ceramic coated non-stick pan and your food starts to stick, rather than throw it out and replacing it, simply season it and it should be perfectly fine to continue using.
Rust on your pans means moisture has found its way through gaps in the protective layer, but it doesn’t mean it’s time to throw it away. Give it a really good wash, scrubbing away the rust with a heavy duty scourer, dispose of the metal powder, rinse, dry thoroughly, re-season, and you’re good to go.
Setting Your Own Seasoning Schedule
Of course, you’ll discover what works best for you and your pan, and you can set your own seasoning routine. Once a week is a pretty great way to make sure your pan is healthy and happy. If that sounds like too much maintenance for you, why not try once a month. Some pans are so well coated already that you may even get away with a couple of times a year.
How to Re-season Your Pan
Fortunately, you just need to follow the exact same process you did the first time around. Just rinse and repeat, as they say. Do be careful during the rinse though. Different materials require different kinds of wash.
That’s all there is to it, folks. There’s nothing difficult about seasoning your pans. It all just requires a little bit of care, and that’s what cooking’s all about.