By Ardith Stephanson
So you’ve got your cast iron cookware home and unpacked, and you’re excited to use it.
But first, should you season your cast iron cookware? If you’ve purchased Fresh Australian Kitchen cast iron cookware, you don’t have to season it first. That’s because Fresh Australian Kitchen’s cast iron cookware all comes pre-seasoned and ready to use or to cook with immediately.
But as you get busy cooking with cast iron, you will need to eventually season your cookware. That’s because with use, cast iron will lose some of its non-stick quality, and could even rust. So seasoning is simply part of the regular care of your cast iron cookware.
Why Does Cast Iron Cookware Need To Be Seasoned?
Cast iron cookware has many benefits over other types of cookware, one of which is a natural non-stick surface. But cast iron isn’t non-stick until it’s seasoned, which is a simple process that involves oiling and baking to develop its non-toxic, non-stick surface.
Cast iron’s surface also becomes smoother with more seasoning. And, the seasoning process will help ensure a long life for your cookware. After multiple uses, the non-stick quality may start to diminish, or your cookware may develop rust if it hasn’t been dried properly.
So the more you season, following the right process, the longer your cookware will last. You’ll get out of your cookware what you put into it.
What’s The Key To Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware?
Fresh Australian Kitchen pre-seasons its cookware, and then provides easy instructions for re-seasoning to ensure your cookware lasts and performs at its best.
One of the keys to seasoning is to ensure you follow that process by heating the pan for at least an hour on high heat. That means rubbing the pan with oil and then baking it for an hour at a temperature of at least 260 degrees celsius. Then turn the oven off and leave the door closed with the pan inside. Let your cast iron cool for up to two hours before removing.
The other key point, which we are about to cover, is choosing the right oil to season your cast iron. You need an oil with a high smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil starts to burn and smoke.
It’s not a good idea to season (or cook) with oil heated past its smoke point. It makes the pan and the food smell and taste burned, but it also destroys beneficial nutrients found in oil, and can create harmful “free radicals.”
Which probably leads you to ask, “What’s the best oil to use to season your cast iron cookware?”
So we’re here to help with the 8 best oils to use for cast iron seasoning, and 2 oils to avoid.
- Soybean Oil
As mentioned, your Fresh Australian Kitchen cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned.
To do this, we use a blend of soybean oil and resin. Soybean oil is our preference for several reasons.
First, soybean oil has a high smoke point of 234 degrees celsius. That means it can withstand anything you want to cook, from eggs to steak to pork loin.
It also means it can handle cooking on a variety of surfaces, from a regular stovetop to natural gas; from a regular oven to a convection oven; and, from a grill to a fire at your campsite.
Soybean oil is also rich in healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. That makes it a great choice as an oil for cooking with, as well as for seasoning your cast iron cookware.
- Grapeseed Oil
This is another good choice as it has a high smoke point of 216 degrees celsius. It’s also a popular choice because its taste blends well with other flavours. In other words, it doesn’t stand out with a distinct taste that can overpower other seasonings.
In fact, it lets other flavours shine through, so it’s also good to use for making salad dressings and in other recipes where you want a neutral base.
- Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is increasing in popularity for cooking, because it’s high in healthy fats and antioxidants. As avocados increase in popularity, its oil is following behind.
Avocado oil is also beneficial for seasoning because of its high smoke point of 271 degrees celsius. That makes it ideal for searing and frying in your cast iron as well. You can also use it for roasting, or for making salad dressings.
- Peanut Oil
Peanut oil does have a distinct flavour, so it’s not quite as versatile as grapeseed or soybean oils. However, it’s extremely popular for deep-frying, mostly because of its high smoke point of 232 degrees celsius.
And you may want that somewhat powerful flavour, depending on what you’re cooking. Peanut oil is ideal as a complementary flavour, so Asian cuisine is a natural for this oil.
Or, when you’re done seasoning, you can try the peanut oil in a new recipe. Skillet-fried chicken would be excellent “deep fried” in peanut oil, cooked up in a cast iron skillet frying pan.
- Bacon Fat
Animal fats like butter and bacon grease can also be used, with bacon fat being the superior choice. Simply save bacon fat in a jar after each time you cook bacon. In fact, the best way to fry bacon is in cast iron cookware!
You can strain the solids if you like, or simply pour the grease into a heat-proof jar, and keep it in the cupboard or fridge. You won’t need much for seasoning your cookware, and rendered bacon fat is ideal to use in other cooking, like added when frying potatoes or preparing meat.
Bacon grease’s smoke point is 190 degrees celsius.
- Vegetable Oil
Vegetable oil is usually a blend of several refined oils. Its neutral smell and taste does make it versatile, but it only has a smoke point of 204 degrees celsius.
It would serve your needs as a seasoning oil, but may not be the best choice. You can use it after seasoning to fry or sauté in high heat, but don’t count on it to add any flavour.
- Canola Oil
Canola oil is similar to vegetable oil in many ways: neutral flavour, the same smoke point of 204 degrees celsius, and it can be used for many of the same recipes and cooking needs.
With canola oil, you know exactly what you’re getting – a product pressed from the rapeseed plant. It isn’t a blend. It’s also handy for salad dressings, as it won’t overpower herbs and other seasonings.
- Flaxseed Oil
Some experts claim flaxseed oil is the ideal choice, but the results can vary greatly depending on the grade of oil that you purchase.
Flaxseed is favoured by some because it dries out naturally, but depending on the quality you're using it may only smoke as low as 107 degrees celsius, making it less than ideal. You have to be certain to get 100% flaxseed, not blended, which is said to smoke up to 232 degrees. It has a unique smell though which can turn off some people.
It’s also pricier than other oils and usually only found in health food stores and occasionally pharmacies.
Bonus: What Oils Not To Use
Now you know the top choices for seasoning, here’s what not to use to season your cast iron cookware.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 109-162 degrees celsius. Save olive oil for dipping bread and preparing dressings with its unique flavour. It’s not ideal for seasoning cast iron.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has a higher smoke point of 232 degrees celsius, but has a strong flavour that doesn't match many cuisines. It’s also solid at room temperature, so it’s not great for salad dressings or other meal prep.
Instead, use your coconut oil for moderate-heat cooking if you desire a tropical scent and flavour; think prawns or other shellfish. Or, try it as a butter substitute in baked goods. Just don’t use it for seasoning cast iron cookware.
Over To You
One of the benefits of cast iron is the natural non-stick quality of the cookware. It’s excellent for preparing a wide variety of foods, without unnatural chemicals added to the surface to give it a non-stick finish.
To keep that non-stick quality, however, it’s essential to properly care for the cookware, including re-seasoning it from time to time. This doesn’t require much work, and it will ensure you get years of use from your cast iron, whether it’s a skillet, a griddle or a Dutch oven.
Now that you’ve read our guide to the 8 best oils to use to season your cast iron cookware, along with a couple you shouldn’t, you’re ready to head to the store and get some oil to use with your cast iron. Happy cooking.
Ardith Stephanson is a freelance writer and communications professional who has some fun with her blog theardizan.com