Okay, here it is:
I go to quite a few different forums for hunting and shooting and several have cooking subforums. Many times in the past there have been people asking about how to season, use or care for cast iron cookware. I've posted on several threads where people are asking what to do. I've also heard a lot of things that I consider to be downright wrong. So, in the interest of sharing my own experiences over about 20 years of using all manner of cast iron cookware I decided to make a post about how I season and what I use to do it.
The short version of what I usually say when asked is that the best way to strip and restore an old pan is to run it through a self clean cycle in your oven. All stuck on crud short of outright rust will turn to ash and brush right off. Then there are usually some basic comments on how to season and care for the stuff afterwords. This thread will be mostly about how to reseason a pan after it has been properly stripped. Or, if it is brand new and has never been seasoned. By the way, on brand new stuff, the first thing I do is get out my orbital sander and sand the dogsnot out of the inside to make is nice and smooth. Virtually all the cast iron made today is sold "as cast" so the texture of the sand mold shows not only on the outside but on the inside too. That's one reason I prefer to buy antique cast iron and restore it. Look at an old Wagner or Griswold pan and then look at the new stuff and you will find that there is no comparison. The old time stuff was milled smooth inside and does not show the casting sand texture like new stuff does. The fact that you can get lucky at yard sales and antique stores and find old, good quality cast iron for a fraction of the price of the new stuff is also a bonus. However, be prepared for some wicked high prices from antique dealers who have done research and think their cast item is a family heirloom from Abe Lincoln's kitchen or something. Some of it gets priced way to high. Dang collectors ruin it for the rest of us... But anyway, back to the subject of seasoning.
A while back I noticed that one of our favorite pans was getting a little crusty on the outside and wanted to clean it up and start over again. Instead of doing the oven self clean, I decided to get more primitive and throw it in a fire to burn clean. This particular pan started it's life with us in just that way... We'd gone camping and realized that we forgot to bring a frying pan. There was an antique store up the road a ways and we stopped in and found a square cast iron pan that would fit perfect on my Coleman stove. For about $5, it became ours. It was kinda scabbed up on the outside so that night I threw it in the campfire which was mostly hedge wood and let it burn clean and in the morning, we fried up some bacon to season it and never looked back. Fast forward about ten years... The pan had served us well and was a house favorite but it was getting a little "scabby" on the outside from years of use and little dribbles running down the side that went unnoticed and unwiped. It was time for and good stripping and reseasoning. I thought instead of the self clean thing, I'd stick with the rebirth by fire theme and throw it into the BBQ grill that had a good charcoal and hardwood fire going. Well, it cleaned it okay but not like a hedge fire. I remember using a stick to fish the pan out of the hedge fire after it had been in the coals for about an hour and it was glowing red! This time, when I did it in the grill, I screwed up and forgot about it being in the grill since it got late and I went to bed. I remembered and took it out two days later after it had rained and rust had started to form on it.. Really ticked me off! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! It's been sitting around waiting for a "fix up job" ever since. Speaking of which, think about this... Have you ever heard of anyone FIXING a teflon pan? Heck no! They spend all kinds of money on them. Some are cheap wally world specials and others are fancy shmancy stuff that are supposed to be "professional" grade and it seems to me that they all wear out at about the same rate. Some last a little better but whether they're cheapo's or expensive, your are limited to plastic and wood utensils. With cast iron you can use almost anything you want without harming the pan. If, after years of use, the pan is getting a little yucky, just burn it clean and start over like it's a brand new pan! Anyway, back to the topic...
Today, I took it to work and used our glass bead blaster to clean it up. WOW!!! It looked like it just came out of the casting sand! Took a while but boy did it ever do the job. I left it "dry and dusty" as I knew that if I washed it, rust would start to form in minutes. When I got home, I decided to go ahead and wash it, dry it on the stove and season it. I had it hot on the stove and added a dab of lard, spread it around and thought, "I should get the camera and take some pics of this process since so many people are always asking about it. I ran upstairs and grabbed the camera and came back to the kitchen. Total time maybe a minute after I'd put the lard in and wiped it around to cover the entire pan.
Here is the picture. It's already starting to brown a little but note how silver the rest of it is. The sand blaster really took it down to the bare metal.
p.s. Please ignore the little bit of spilled stuff in the bottom of the stove. My wife does day care, we have three kids of our own, I'm a rather big fella and we USE our stove. She usually has it all clean before bed time but sometimes on the weekend she lets it slide till the next morning. She'd be pretty P.O'd if she knew I posted pics of her stove looking like this...
Now, a lot of folks will tell you the best way is to season in the oven at about 350 degrees. I've done it and it works pretty good. However, I think doing it on the stovetop is a little faster and gives you better control. When it's in the oven, usually you just wipe it down, stick it in and walk away. Pretty easy for sure.
But when I do it on the stove top, I can control the amount of lard, wipe things around to sort of "smooth" the oils as it seasons and freshen it up if needed. It doesn't get the sides of the pan quite as well but you can do the bottom nicely and the rest will come with time or you can stick it in the oven after doing the stovetop method if you want and it will even things out a bit.
There is a lot of varied opinion about what is the best lube to season a pan with but personally, I feel nothing is better than lard. Especially for the initial seasoning. I've tried crisco, vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, olive oil etc. etc. etc. They all work to varying degrees but for consistent results and more importantly hardness and durability, I feel lard is the best there is. In my experience, all the other oils and shortenings tend to leave a slightly gummy residue that is not quite as durable as lard. This a traditional cooking utensil used by virtually ALL of our grandparents who were all about doing what works best. Lets at least try the traditional methods first eh? Right about now is the part where someone usually jumps in and claims lard will go rancid in the pan, therefore you should use olive oil or some other oil instead. Well, all I can say is that I've been using cast iron most of my life and have never had a pan go rancid on me. I thought maybe it was because my pans usually don't sit in storage long enough for the lard to turn bad but in recent years I've had pans that sat on a shelf in the basement for a couple years until I needed them and they were just fine. I've come to the conclusion that if there is a problem with going rancid, it's a problem of not properly wiping the pans down after cleaning. We all know that you're not supposed to use soap and water on cast iron. That's a pretty good general rule but not hard and fast. At least not in our house. I usually use hot water if I cook something that leaves a lot of residue. Especially if it sticks a bit. A little bit of soap and water on a well seasoned pan (I'm talking years of use) won't hurt it much if at all. If I have to go that route, I usually dry the pan on the stove and add a dab of lard and wipe it around in a thin layer and let it set on medium heat until it appears to start to dry up and then just give it another wipe with a dry paper towel and put it away.
But I'm getting off topic or at least out of sequence. Our pan has been sitting patiently on the stove taking on a golden brown hue. Here is my little brick of lard that I feel is so important.
About five minutes after the first wipe down with lard, this is how the pan looks.
I've used the same paper towel I initially spread the melted lard with to sort of "refresh" the light layer of oil several times already. It's been soaking into the paper towel so when I wipe, not much goes onto the pan but it's enough to just give it a shine and change the color to a "wet look".
After another couple minutes, I decide to add another dab of lard to the pan. Might be a good time to take a pic to show how much or how little I actually use. It's not very much really. After it melts, it's just enough that a wadded up paper towel can sop up the excess from inside the pan and I can wipe down the outside and give it a little shine.
Another 3 or 4 minutes and I've set off the smoke alarm.... Ooops! Anyway, it looks like this now.
You will notice that there is a circular pattern inside the pan. That's because of the shape of the burner flame. It's the one advantage to using the oven. If you don't like the looks of a stove top seasoned pan use the oven. But honestly, after a few more uses, it will all even out and turn black. I still opt for the stove top method because I like the control of being able to look for little droplets forming on the surface and wiping them away before they harden into bumps like they would if left unattended. If you really want it to look even right away, after you do the stove top thing, toss it in the oven upside down at about 350 degrees for an hour or so. Or just live with it until it evens out by itself from normal stove top use.
Now, I'm not sure if this link will work or not but I went ahead and fried an egg in this pan on video. Remember, 15 minutes ago, this pan had a freshly sand blasted finish with ZERO seasoning. I'll let YOU be the judge as to whether it works or not. By the way, since the video camera does not have a flash, the pan looks a lot darker than it did in the pictures but it's the same pan.