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Seasoning (cookware)

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Cast iron skillets, before seasoning (left) and after several years of use (right)
A commercial waffle iron showing its seasoned cooking surface (the dark brown surface coating)

Seasoning is the process of coating the surface of cookware with fat which is heated in order to produce a corrosion resistant layer of polymerized fat.[1][2] It is required for raw cast-iron cookware[3] and carbon steel, which otherwise rust rapidly in use, but is also used for many other types of cookware. An advantage of seasoning is that it helps prevent food sticking.

Some cast-iron and carbon steel cookware is pre-seasoned by manufacturers to protect the pan from oxidation (rust), but will need to be further seasoned by the end-users for the cookware to become ready for best nonstick cooking results.[4] To form a strong seasoning, the raw iron item is thoroughly cleaned, coated in a very thin layer of unsaturated fat or oil, and then heated until the bioplastic layer forms, and left to completely cool. Multiple layers are required for the best long-term results.

Stainless steel and aluminium cookware do not require protection from corrosion, but seasoning reduces sticking, and can help with browning as the seasoning coating has high thermal emissivity.[5][6] Other cookware surfaces are generally not seasoned.

A seasoned surface is hydrophobic and highly attractive to oils and fats used for cooking. These form a layer that prevents foods, which typically contain water, from touching and cooking onto the hydrophilic metallic cooking surface underneath.[7] These properties are useful when frying, roasting and baking.

Methods of seasoning[edit]

Food sticks easily to a bare metal cooking surface; it must either be oiled or seasoned before use.[8] The coating known as seasoning is formed by a process of repeatedly layering extremely thin coats of oil on the cookware and oxidizing each layer with medium-high heat for a time. This process is known as "seasoning"; the color of the coating is commonly known as its "patina" - the base coat will darken with use.[9]

To season cookware (e.g., to season a new pan, or to replace damaged seasoning on an old pan), the following is a typical process: First the cookware is thoroughly cleaned to remove old seasoning, manufacturing residues or a possible manufacturer-applied anti corrosion coating and to expose the bare metal. If it is not pre-seasoned, a new cast-iron skillet or dutch oven typically comes from the manufacturer with a protective coating of wax or shellac; otherwise it would rust.[10] This needs to be removed before the cookware is used.[11] An initial scouring with hot soapy water will usually remove the protective coating. Alternatively, for woks, it is common to burn off the coating over high heat (outside or under a vent hood) to expose the bare metal surface. For already-used cookware that are to be re-seasoned, the cleaning process can be more complex, involving rust removal and deep cleaning (with strong soap or lye,[12] or by burning in a campfire or self-cleaning oven[13][better source needed]) to remove existing seasoning and build-up.

Then several times the following is performed:

  1. Applying a very thin layer of animal fat or cooking oil (ranging from vegetable oil to lard, including many common food-grade oils).[14]
  2. Polishing most of it off so that barely any remains or alternatively use a seasoning paste
  3. Heat the cookware to just below or just above the smoke point to generate a layer of seasoning.[15][16][17]

The precise details of the seasoning process differ from one source to another, and there is much disagreement regarding the correct oil to use. There is also no clear consensus about the best temperature and duration. Lodge Manufacturing uses a proprietary soybean blend in their base coats as stated on their website, but states that all oils and fats can be used.[18] The temperature recommended for seasoning varies from high temperatures above 260 °C (500 °F) to temperatures below 150 °C (302 °F).

Seasoning a cast-iron or carbon steel wok is a common process in Asia and Asian-American culture. While the vegetable oil method of seasoning is also used in Asia, a traditional process for seasoning also includes the use of Chinese chives or scallions as part of the process.[19]

Surface chemistry[edit]

A well seasoned baking tray

In conventional seasoning, the oil or fat is converted into a hard surface at or above the high temperatures used for cooking, analogous to the reaction of drying oils. When oils or fats are heated, multiple degradation reactions occur, including decomposition, autoxidation, thermal oxidation, polymerization, and cyclization.[20][21][page range too broad]

Often cookware's seasoning is uneven, and over time it will spread to the whole item. Heating the cookware (such as in a hot oven or on a stovetop) facilitates the oxidation of the iron; the fats and/or oils protect the metal from contact with the air during the reaction, which would otherwise cause rust to form. Some cast iron users advocate heating the cookware slightly before applying the fat or oil to ensure it is completely dry.[22][23]

The seasoned surface is hydrophobic and highly attractive to oils and fats used for cooking (oleophilic). These form a layer that prevents foods, which typically contain water, from touching and cooking on to the hydrophilic metallic cooking surface underneath.

The seasoned surface will deteriorate at the temperature where the coating breaks down. This is typically higher than the smoke point of the original oils and fats used to season the cookware. Thus old seasoning can be removed at a sufficiently high temperature (~500 °C), as found in oven self-cleaning cycles.

High-temperature seasoning[edit]

Some Chinese cookware is seasoned at a much higher temperature than conventional seasoning at 450 °C. More akin to bluing, this type of seasoning mainly involves a chemical change of the iron pan itself and not the oil. When beef tallow is heated at this temperature, it evaporates on the iron surface and increases the partial pressure of O2 (oxygen gas) on the pot surface. This transport of oxygen encourages the formation of Fe3O4 nanoballs. The surface formed is broadly speaking hydrophobic and oleophilic, but is more versatile in that it temporarily turns hydrophilic on contact with high-water ingredients.[24]


Some food writers advise against using seasoned pans and Dutch ovens to cook foods containing tomatoes, vinegar, or other acidic ingredients because these foods would eventually remove the protective layer created during the seasoning process.[25][26][27] Tests conducted by America's Test Kitchen found that, while cooking a highly acidic tomato sauce for over 30 minutes produced a metallic taste, cooking acidic food in a well-seasoned pan for a short time is unlikely to have negative consequences.[28][29][30][31][32]

Cast iron pots are best suited to cook food high in oil or fat, such as chicken, bacon, or sausage, or used for deep frying. Cleaning (except prior to seasoning) is often carried out without the use of detergent. Some cookbook authors recommend only wiping seasoned cookware clean after each use or using other cleaning methods such as a salt scrub or boiling water.[33] The protective layer itself is not very susceptible to soaps, and many users do briefly use detergents and soaps.[28] However, cast iron is very prone to rust, and the protective layer may have pinholes, so soaking for long periods is contraindicated as the layer may start to flake off.

Unlike commercial non-stick coatings such as Teflon, with which metal cooking utensils are not used because they damage the surface, seasoned surfaces tend to be self-reforming, so they allow the use of such utensils. These are of course much more effective in scraping off food than the softer utensils used with non-stick pans.[34][page needed][32]


In the process of bluing, an oxidizing chemical reaction on an iron surface selectively forms magnetite (Fe3O4), the black oxide of iron (as opposed to rust, the red oxide of iron (Fe2O3)). Black oxide provides some protection against corrosion if also treated with a water-displacing oil to reduce wetting and galvanic action. Bluing is often used with carbon steel and cast iron pans in conjunction with seasoning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McGee 2007, p. 790.
  2. ^ López-Alt 2015, p. 37.
  3. ^ "How to season your cast-iron skillet — and keep it seasoned". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  4. ^ Perlow, Jason (2022-04-21). "The best carbon steel pans in 2022". CNN Underscored. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  5. ^ Werner, Tommy (23 March 2017). "How to Turn a Stainless Steel Skillet into a Nonstick Pan". Epicurious. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  6. ^ Sevier, Joe (10 May 2016). "Why a Dirty Sheet Pan Makes You a Better Cook". Epicurious. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  7. ^ Villa, Syndee; Broome, Dewayne (2020). "Hydrophobic Properties of Polymer Films on Cast Iron Substrates". UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal. 12 (2). doi:10.5070/M4122048166. S2CID 236872499.
  8. ^ "How to Keep Food From Sticking to a (Not-Nonstick) Pan". Wirecutter: Reviews for the Real World. 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  9. ^ n.agolini (2018-01-30). "Patina is a layer that variously forms on the surface of bronze and metals". FONDERIA ARTISTICA MARIANI. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  10. ^ "How to Clean and Season Cast-Iron Cookware". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  11. ^ "Care of Cast Iron Pots and Pans". Archived from the original on 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  12. ^ "Cleaning Cast Iron With Lye". Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  13. ^ "How to use your self-cleaning oven for cleaning cast iron". Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  14. ^ "How to season and clean a cast iron skillet properly". TODAY.com. Retrieved 2022-07-16.
  15. ^ "Lodge - Seasoned Cast Iron". Lodge Manufacturing. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
  16. ^ "Care and seasoning of your wok". Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  17. ^ "Seasoning Frying Pans". 7 February 2005.
  18. ^ All about seasoning
  19. ^ Young 2004, p. 48.
  20. ^ Chang, Stephen S.; Peterson, Robert J.; Ho, Chi-Tang (October 1978). "Chemical reactions involved in the deep-fat frying of foods1". Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 55 (10): 718–727. doi:10.1007/BF02665369. PMID 730972. S2CID 97273264.[page range too broad]
  21. ^ Paul, S.; Mittal, G. S.; Chinnan, M. S. (November 1997). "Regulating the use of degraded oil/fat in deep‐fat/oil food frying". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 37 (7): 635–662. doi:10.1080/10408399709527793. PMID 9408730.
  22. ^ "Seasoning Cast Iron". Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  23. ^ "Seasoning Cast Iron Pots". Cooking Louisiana. Archived from the original on 2007-12-16. Retrieved 2007-12-31.
  24. ^ Gao, Chenxi; Yang, Na; Li, Cunpu; Wang, Xi; Yu, Xun; Zhang, Ling; Wei, Zidong (June 2020). "Seasoning Chinese cooking pans: The nanoscience behind the Kitchen God's blessing". Nano Materials Science: S2589965120300416. doi:10.1016/j.nanoms.2020.06.001.
  25. ^ Chodosh, Sara (November 8, 2019). "Seasoning your cast iron pan isn't enough". Popular Science. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  26. ^ MacMullin, Heather (January 22, 2019). "What Not To Cook In A Cast Iron Pan, Starting With Tomato Sauce". Chatelaine. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  27. ^ Thomson, Julie R. (August 16, 2017). "Think Twice Before Cooking Tomatoes In Your Cast Iron Skillet". HuffPost. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  28. ^ a b "The Truth About Cast Iron". America's Test Kitchen. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  29. ^ Cericola, Lisa (July 18, 2017). "6 Things You Didn't Know About Your Cast Iron Skillet". Southern Living. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  30. ^ Henry, Alan (May 1, 2016). "It's Okay to Cook Acidic Dishes in Cast Iron (and Other Cast Iron Myths, Debunked)". Lifehacker. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  31. ^ Bonem, Max (January 14, 2020). "9 of the Wildest Misconceptions About Cast Iron, Debunked". Food & Wine. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  32. ^ a b Tracy, Erika (July 30, 2020). "The 5 Biggest Things People Get Wrong About Cast Iron Cookware". Kitchn. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  33. ^ Emery, Carla (2003). The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book. Sasquatch Books. p. 41. ISBN 1-57061-377-X.
  34. ^ Grady 2015.

Works cited[edit]