Back in January I skillet roasted a chicken in my venerable cast iron skillet. The chicken was fantastic but it generated a lot of smoke in kitchen. The oven continued to smoke when we cooked something else in it later in the week. Clearly something needed to be done.
|Skillet roasted chicken.|
I looked around the web about ways to rehabilitate cast iron; I found Sheryl Canter’s web site on seasoning cast iron. This web site has lots of details and chemistry about the process. I noticed a lot of other web advice pointed to Sheryl’s method, including Cook’s Illustrated. For years Cook’s Illustrated recommended oiling the pan and baking it for an hour in a 350˚F oven. But they tried Sheryl’s method and were convinced. (warning – paid subscription may be required to see that post). They even put a newly seasoned cast iron skillet in the dish washer and it came out in good shape. If it’s good enough for CI, it’s good enough for me.
The first step is to completely strip the skillet of all prior seasoning. I had considered cleaning the pan by putting it into the oven and running the cleaning cycle. I did not take this approach because of horror stories I read about fires starting in the oven and warped pans.
The best way is to use oven cleaner; the lye really does the trick. I heated the oven, put a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack, sprayed oven cleaner on the skillet and followed the instructions for cleaning a warm oven. I was not liberal enough the first time around and had to redo it. That old seasoning is baked on, I tried to scrub the last little bits off with no success. Another round in the oven with oven cleaner did the trick.
My oven is a self-cleaning type and I’m probably not supposed to use oven cleaner so I had to really clean out the oven afterwards. Having used this method I don’t recommend it. It really stinks up the house and I’ve got to believe all that lye is not good for the house environment. If I were to do this again I’d take the second approach which is to spray the pan with oven cleaner, put it in a big plastic bag, seal it, and leave it outside for a couple of days. It takes longer but may save the smell in the house a bit more.
It’s hard to argue with success; here my newly cleaned and stripped skillet.
|Freshly stripped cast iron skillet.|
The seasoning on cast iron is formed by fat polymerization, fat polymerization is maximized with a drying oil, and flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible. From that I deduced that flaxseed oil would be the ideal oil for seasoning cast iron.
|Oil for seasoning the pan.|
Start with a dry pan. I put the skillet in a cold oven, turned it on to 200˚F and let it bake for 20 minutes. The key to the process is to use very fine layers of oil and bake them on one layer at a time. I used about a teaspoon for the outside and another for the inside, wiping it on with a paper towel. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the lower rack of the oven to catch any loose oil. Then put the skillet upside down on a middle rack. Turn the oven on as high as it will go and bake for an hour. I baked mine at 450˚F.
|Bake upside down over aluminum foil to catch any drips.|
I waited a day between each iteration and watched the transformation.
|After 1 or 2 seasoning runs|
|4 or 5 layers applied.|
|After 6 coats of flax seed oil, a nice hard, non-stick finish.|
|Bottom of the seasoned pan.|
The skillet looks to be in better shape than it was but I haven’t used it for much other than heating some tortillas without oil. I’ll post an update when I use it for something more significant; maybe another skillet roasted chicken.
Be warned that this process may stink up the kitchen. Even with very thin layers of oil some smoke will flow from the oven. I suggest doing this on warm days when you can open the windows. I also recommend cleaning the oven when you are all done to clean out any residue oil.