You received a cast-iron skillet as a gift a few months back and you’re finally ready to put it to use. Whether you’re making bacon, a Dutch baby, fried eggs, or a chocolate chip cookie cake, you’re excited about the possibilities. Your recipe says to season the skillet first. Can you use olive oil to do so?
You should not season a cast-iron skillet with olive oil. Its smoke point is lower than other oils so free radicals may be released during seasoning. Flaxseed, grapeseed, and soybean oil are a few better options.
In this article, we’ll explain the seasoning process in detail as well as delve deeper into why using olive oil for seasoning a cast iron skillet is not recommended. We’ll also fill you in on which oils to use instead of olive oil, so make sure you keep reading!
What Does It Mean to Season a Cast Iron Skillet?
Assuming you’re new to using cast iron skillets, let’s explain the seasoning process.
When you season a cast-iron skillet, you bake carbonized oil onto the cooking surface. What occurs is polymerization. This scientific process takes the oil–which starts as a liquid–and makes it into a slick solid. The oil is bonded to your cast iron skillet, creating a dark patina that consumers expect of cast iron.
More so than that, seasoning a cast-iron skillet makes cooking easier, as now the foods you bake or cook won’t stick to the surface. Your skillet is also rust-proof since you’re shutting out moisture and oxygen from the air.
Even if you buy a cast iron skillet that comes pre-seasoned, it’s still advisable that you season it yourself anyway. How exactly do you season a cast-iron skillet? Here are the steps to follow.
Step 1: Clean the Skillet
With a dish sponge, water, and dish detergent, wash and clean both sides of your cast iron skillet. You can scrub if you must, but use a gentle hand as you do. Wash away all soap residue when you’re finished. Towel-dry or air-dry the skillet.
Step 2: Turn on Your Oven
Grab a baking sheet and put a strip of foil on it. Turn your oven on and let it preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the foil-wrapped sheet in the oven on the lower baking rack.
Step 3: Add Oil to the Skillet
While your oven is preheating, you can begin the seasoning process. Pour a generous amount of oil onto a paper towel and then rub the paper towel all over the cast iron skillet, including the outside.
Step 4: Put the Skillet in the Oven
Your oven should have beeped by now letting you know it’s reached 350 degrees. Flip your cast iron skillet so it’s face-down, then put it on the top rack. Do not take out the foil-covered pan on the bottom rack, as it needs to stay in the oven as well.
Step 5: Cook for an Hour
Leave the cast iron skillet in the oven for the next hour. When the time has elapsed, turn your oven off but don’t remove the skillet. It’s far too hot for handling at the moment, even if you’re wearing oven mitts or using a potholder or two.
Step 6: Remove the Cooled Skillet from the Oven
When the cast iron skillet has cooled, you can pull it from the oven. Examine it on both sides. Does your skillet have the desirable patina you wanted? Look closely at the grooves throughout the skillet. These should have been filled with oil for a smoother cooking surface.
Step 7: Repeat
If you’re not quite happy with the first round of seasoning, that’s okay, you can do it again. The patina improves the more you season, and the cast iron skillet will have an even better non-stick surface.
You don’t necessarily have to season the skillet in the oven if you think it needs more work. After the first round of seasoning, try cooking something like a steak or bacon in the skillet. These meats are fatty enough that the oils will improve your cast iron skillet’s seasoning even more.
Can You Use Olive Oil to Season a Cast Iron Skillet?
Oil is an essential part of the seasoning process, as you learned in the last section. Your question is can you use olive oil to season your skillet?
While olive oil is beneficial in many applications, from reducing cholesterol when eaten to improving your hair when used topically, you shouldn’t choose it for seasoning a cast-iron skillet.
Why is that? We already explained that skillet seasoning is a scientific process in which heat causes the oil’s molecular structure to harden. Yet seasoning your cast iron skillet also produces free radicals.
Free radicals can wreak all sorts of havoc on the human body. For example, you may be at a higher risk of genetic degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. You could develop diabetes, vision issues like cataracts, cardiovascular diseases, and central nervous system diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
You’re more likely to prematurely age, experiencing hair thinning or hair loss, hair grayness, wrinkles, and loose, sagging skin. Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases can occur as well, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
The free radicals produced by seasoning a cast iron skillet are known to be carcinogenic. To keep you and your family safe and healthy, the oil you use for seasoning must have a high smoke point.
By releasing smoke during seasoning, the free radicals can escape, increasing the health risks of seasoning a cast-iron skillet. If no smoke is released, then the risk is far lower. The free radicals are gone once the skillet has cooled and you can take it out of the oven.
The smoke point of olive oil is between 325 and 375 degrees. As you may recall from the last section, you need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees to season a cast-iron skillet. This may already be over the smoke point for olive oil.
Besides the health risks, when you cook with a cast-iron skillet at a temperature higher than an oil’s smoking point, the seasoning breaks down little by little. You’d have to season the skillet again, as your food will begin sticking.
Could you use olive oil to season a cast iron skillet if that’s all you had handy? Yes, but it’s otherwise not recommended.
What Should You Use Instead to Season a Cast Iron Skillet?
Okay, so you know better than to select olive oil to season a cast-iron skillet. Which oil should you choose? Here’s a helpful list to get you started.
Vegetable oils such as canola oil are a much safer bet for seasoning. Canola oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees, which is quite a lot higher than olive oil’s smoke point. This rapeseed product contains about seven percent saturated fat. Other types of oil may be more stable than canola, but it’s still stable enough.
Canola oil contains low amounts of the omega-9 known as erucic acid yet is high in alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, an omega-3. This composition allows canola oil to become a thick seasoning layer that dries fast.
The second type of oil you can reach for when seasoning your cast iron skillet is soybean oil. Its smoke point is even higher than canola oil at 453 degrees. Between that and how inexpensive it is, you should always have some soybean oil in your kitchen pantry.
Made without peanut oil, animal fats, or synthetics, soybean oil is one of the safest bets when seasoning your skillet.
Linseed or flaxseed oil–which is produced when the flax plant is pressed and extracted–is a drying oil. That means it’s efficient at polymerizing into a firmer solid, which is just what you need for seasoning. This is still the case even though flaxseed oil’s smoke point is only 225 degrees.
Some cast-iron skillet enthusiasts say that of all the oils you can use for seasoning, flaxseed oil is the best since it makes a durable seal over the skillet. You should even be able to put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher without any ill effects if you seasoned it with flaxseed oil.
The last type of oil we recommend for seasoning a cast iron skillet is grapeseed oil. When the seeds of grapes are pressed, the oil that results is aptly-named grapeseed oil. This oil is a natural winemaking byproduct. Its smoke point is the highest of all the oils we’ve discussed at 420 degrees.
The polyunsaturated fats in grapeseed oil allow the oil to cross-link, which means the oil coats your skillet not once, but twice. As you can imagine, now your seasoning is even stronger than using other types of oil.
Can I season my cast iron skillet in coconut oil?
Coconut oil comes from coconut milk, meat, and kernels. It doesn’t have much of a tropical taste, but it’s still a nice oil to have handy. Can you use it for seasoning your cast iron skillet? You could since its smoke point is 350 degrees. However, there are a few reasons that might make you want to reconsider.
For one, coconut oil is quite costly. Second, it also has a lot of saturated fat, so it’s not the healthiest oil by far!
How many times should I season a cast-iron skillet?
We mentioned before that you may want to repeat the seasoning process to get your cast iron skillet ready for all your cooking and baking needs. Yet how many times is necessary? We’d say seasoning upwards of two to four times should be sufficient, but you may be able to do it less if you use oils like grapeseed oil.