If you’ve just bought a new cast iron pan or inherited a vintage piece, proper seasoning is key to unlocking its potential. Seasoning not only creates the ideal non-stick patina, it also prevents rust and gives your food an added layer of flavor.
But with so many oils to choose from, how do you know which one is best for seasoning cast iron? In this ultimate guide, we’ll uncover the top oils for achieving a slick, durable seasoning and maintaining your pan for generations to come.
Table of Contents
What is Seasoning and Why Does it Matter?
Seasoning refers to the process of coating a new, uncoated cast iron pan with oils and baking it to form a protective patina. This patina fills in the natural pores of the iron, creating a smooth, non-stick surface.
The benefits of seasoning are two-fold:
Non-Stick Cooking Surface: The patina prevents food from sticking and makes cooking much easier.
Rust Prevention: Seasoning protects the iron from moisture damage and oxidation (rust).
Without seasoning, food will stick relentlessly to the pan’s rough surface. Any bits left behind will also lead to rust.
But with proper seasoning, your cast iron will become naturally non-stick and last for decades.
Understanding Key Terms: Smoke Point, Polymerization, and Organic Oils
Before jumping into oil choices, let’s quickly define some key terms that will help you understand the seasoning process:
Smoke Point: The temperature at which an oil starts burning and smoking. You want an oil with a high smoke point for seasoning.
Polymerization: The chemical reaction that occurs when oils are heated past their smoke point, bonding them to the pan’s surface. This is the foundation of seasoning.
Organic Oil: Oils made from ingredients grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Check for organic certification.
Now let’s explore the characteristics that make certain oils better suited for seasoning cast iron.
Top Oils for Seasoning Cast Iron Pans
1. Refined Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil is growing in popularity for seasoning cast iron. It has a high smoke point of 420°F and a neutral flavor that won’t compete with your food. Grapeseed oil also contains high levels of polyunsaturated fats that effectively polymerize to the pan.
Look for a refined version, as virgin grapeseed oils have a much lower smoke point. A 16 oz bottle of La Tourangelle Refined Grapeseed Oil costs around $8.
High smoke point (420°F)
Neutral in flavor
May degrade at high temperatures
Slightly less durable seasoning
2. Refined Avocado Oil
Avocado oil is another excellent choice with a very high smoke point of 500°F. It contains mostly monounsaturated fats that create an incredibly tough seasoning. Though pricey, its versatility makes it worth the cost.
Be sure to buy refined avocado oil. You can get a 16 oz bottle of Chosen Foods Refined Avocado Oil for about $12.
Very high smoke point (500°F)
Creates a durable seasoning
More expensive than other oils
3. Canola Oil
A budget-friendly option, canola oil has a decent smoke point of 400°F. Though it may require a few more initial seasoning layers, canola oil creates an evenly-coated patina. Try Kirkland Organic Canola Oil, $9 for a 64 oz jug.
Decent smoke point (400°F)
Requires more seasoning layers
4. Refined Coconut Oil
Coconut oil seems like an ideal seasoning oil given its 450°F smoke point. However, the high saturated fat content doesn’t polymerize well. Food may stick more often, requiring frequent re-seasoning.
If you want to try coconut oil, LouAna Refined Coconut Oil costs around $8 for 16 oz.
Very high smoke point (450°F)
Nice coconut aroma
Doesn’t polymerize effectively
Imparts coconut flavor
5. Vegetable Oil
A blend of oils, vegetable oil provides an affordable, neutral-tasting seasoning option. With a smoke point of 400-450°F, it will get the job done. However, the seasoning won’t be as slick or durable as other oils.
A 48 oz jug of Crisco Vegetable Oil goes for about $8.
Decent smoke point (400-450°F)
Requires frequent re-seasoning
Less durable patina
Not Recommended: Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil may be suggested online for its “drying” properties. However, it has a very low smoke point of 225°F. Food will likely stick. The seasoning also tends to flake off.
Stick to oils with higher smoke points for better results.
Analyzing Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Beyond seasoning performance, the health qualities of oils should also be considered.
Grapeseed Oil: High in omega-6 fatty acids. Contains vitamin E. However, grapeseed oil may contain traces of harmful compounds when heated. More research is needed on its impacts.
Avocado Oil: Loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocado oil also increases absorption of antioxidants like carotenoids.
Canola Oil: Canola contains omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and vitamin E. However, 91% of canola crops are genetically modified. Opt for organic, non-GMO oils.
Coconut Oil: An excellent source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that may aid weight loss and brain health. But, it’s also high in saturated fat. Use sparingly.
Vegetable Oil: Often a blend of corn, soybean, and canola oils. May be highly processed. Focus on organic, non-GMO blends.
Specific Product Recommendations
Here are some top-rated oils for seasoning cast iron:
1. Canola Oil
Kirkland Organic Canola Oil
Spectrum Naturals Organic Refined Canola Oil
Healthy Harvest Non-GMO Canola Oil
2. Coconut Oil
LouAna Refined Coconut Oil
Nature’s Way Organic Refined Coconut Oil
3. Grapeseed Oil
La Tourangelle Grapeseed Oil
Pompeian Grapeseed Oil
4. Avocado Oil
Chosen Foods Avocado Oil
Baja Precious Avocado Oil
5. Seasoning Oil Blends
Caron & Doucet Organic Cast Iron Oil
Cast Iron Sam’s 100% Natural Seasoning Oil
Kuche Chef Store Organic Cast Iron Oil
These oils offer high smoke points and quality ingredients to get your seasoning off on the right foot.
How to Season Cast Iron: Step-By-Step
Once you’ve selected an oil, use this simple process to season your pan:
Cast iron pan
Oven-safe pot holders
Oven thermometer (optional)
Seasoning oil of choice
Wash and Dry – Wash new cast iron with mild soap and water. Dry thoroughly with a dish towel. Pre-heat oven to 200°F.
Oil and Wipe – Apply a teaspoon of oil to the entire pan surface. Wipe thoroughly with paper towels to remove excess, leaving just a micro-thin layer.
Bake – Place pan upside down in oven. Bake at 200°F for 10 minutes to open the pan’s pores. Remove pan and increase oven to 450°F.
Re-oil and Re-wipe – Once oven has reached 450°F, remove pan and re-apply another thin layer of oil, wiping off any excess.
Bake – Returning pan to oven upside down, bake at 450°F for 30 minutes.
Repeat – Repeat steps 4 and 5 at least 3 to 5 times to build up the patina. The more layers, the better the seasoning!
Cool and Store – Once the final round of seasoning is complete, turn off oven and allow pan to cool completely before removing. Store your seasoned pan in a dry place.
Get ready for slick sautés, crispy fried eggs, and other non-stick delights! Pro