The absolute best way to season your cast iron skillet is with ghee. (No, seriously!)
Those of us who love to cook with cast iron know how important it is to have well-seasoned pans. Seasoning keeps the surface of cast iron shiny and smooth and it prevents rusting and sticking, sort of like using a non-stick pan only without the toxic chemicals.
In the old days, when you bought cast iron, you had to take it home and season it yourself. You’d likely have to do this a few times to get the desired result. It was a work in progress, but it was worth it. Grandmas and Grandpas would get out the butter, the lard or the tallow and season away. Those were the good old days when stable, saturated fats were more commonly used.
These days, cast iron is sold pre-seasoned, typically with volatile, liquid oils high in polyunsaturated fat like soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed and even the nebulous “vegetable oil”. When exposed to light and heat – especially high cooking temperatures – they easily deteriorate, breaking down into toxic, oxidized compounds.
Why Ghee is The Best Choice
Although fats and oil are blends of different fatty acids, with few exceptions, those highest in saturated fats are preferable for seasoning cast iron since they remain stable at higher cooking temperatures.
Ghee, with a high smoke point of 485°F and being made up of about 65% saturated and only about 5% polyunsaturated fats is the perfect choice. Now you could use other highly saturated fats like bacon grease, but you probably don't want the sweet things you cook in your cast iron to taste like bacon, do you? (Hmmm. I'm imagining a bacon-scented cherry pie. It actually doesn't sound too bad!)
Ghee is thankfully quite neutral. It tastes like butter, and that flavor profile goes well with literally every food ever -- from baked goods to breakfast scrambles to steaks.
To season your cast iron with ghee, follow along with these easy steps:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Give your entire skillet, front to back, top to bottom, handle included, a good scrubbing with warm soapy water and a steel wool pad. Rinse well with hot water then thoroughly towel dry.
Set skillet over med-high heat on your stovetop. Melt about a tablespoon of ghee, swirling the pan to spread the ghee.
Rub the ghee all over the entire pan with paper towels. Once completely coated, use more paper towel to rub off the excess ghee. Remember, cast iron is porous so it’s going to absorb some of the melted ghee.
Put the skillet on a center rack, face down. Let it bake for an hour then turn off the oven leaving the skillet inside until it cools.
Enjoy your shiny “new” pan.
How to maintain your ghee-seasoned cast iron.
Before cooking in cast iron, always pre-heat cast iron for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Add stable fat or oil such as grass-fed organic ghee or refined organic coconut oil. Heat for another minute or so before adding food.
After cooking in cast iron, wash your skillet in water with a scrubbing sponge to remove all food particles. Dry thoroughly with a towel, then heat the pan on the stove top until all the water evaporates. Once the pan is fully dry, spread a small amount of ghee over the inside bottom and sides and let sit until the next time you cook with it.
How frequently do I need to fully season my cast iron?
Quick touch-ups with ghee between uses (as described above) will likely allow you to cook in your cast iron skillet dozens of times. If you notice that your food is sticking to your cast iron more frequently, it may be time to fully season it again using the oven-bake method.
Why we recommend seasoning cast iron below the oil's smoke point.
Traditionally, our ancestors seasoned their cast iron with animal fats like lard or ghee, depending on where in the world they lived. Modern cooking oils didn't even exist yet. Remember, they've discovered cast iron cookware in archaeological digs in India dating back to 1300BC, but we've only had canola oil since 1974. That's because the technology necessary to extract oil from those seeds didn't exist until relatively recently.
All this talk of using "semi-drying" or "drying" oils to increase polymerization on your cast iron sounds good. You get a shiny, hard, impenetrable non-stick cooking surface! What's not to love? How about the same thing that's wrong with using teflon no-stick pans? It's unhealthy. Just like I don't want to be ingesting small amounts of microplastics with every meal I eat when I use a teflon-coated skillet, I don't want to be ingesting small amounts of highly-oxidized, rancid oils if I eat a meal made in one of these polymerized cast iron pans.