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Jan 19, 2009 03:07 PM

help me troubleshoot my cast iron experience

After reading here (and on the cooks illustrated site) about how great cast iron is, and how much like nonstick it can be, I decided to take the plunge and buy a lodge cast iron skillet. I brought it home, oiled it up, preheated it, added some more oil, and tried to make pancakes. It was not successful to say the least- I've never seen anything stick like this. A huge mess.

Where did I go wrong? Does the pan just need to be seasoned some more before I can use it for something like pancakes, or is there some technique I am missing? Thanks!

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  1. Yes, it needs more seasoning. Give it some more time before you try something like pancakes. Make bacon. Lots of bacon. Make fried chicken. Make fried anything. A really slick surface builds up with use, but it does take a while.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JoanN

      I got a new pan in the summer. I've cooked breakfast with it almost every day since and it's just starting to get good.
      You can't cook too much bacon when it's new.
      And save the drippings to season with.

      Do not scrub too much. At least once a week I wipe it down with bacon drippings, turn the exhaust fan on and turn the heat on. I'll let it go about 10 minutes on medium heat.
      I also season it often in the oven.


    2. What you're describing (oiling, preheating, oiling again before cooking) isn't a seasoning process as I understand it. Seasoning involves heating the oiled pan in a preheated oven for an hour or so, then letting it cool completely and wiping it down before it's ready to use.

      Did you buy one of the Lodge preseasoned pans? I had nothing but headaches from mine for several years, until now it seems to manage allright with recipes that have a sustantial amount of fat (biscuits, pan frying.) It's possible they've improved the coating and you will have better luck with seasoning a preseasoned pan. Maybe other CH will have constructive suggestions if this is the kind of pan you purchased...

      13 Replies
      1. re: amyzan

        amyzan is correct, you didn't season it properly to begin with. My understanding is that to season it initially, you need to get it pretty hot in the oven so that its pores open up and the seasoning fills in the pores. Theres some debate about this, but I usually warm it on the stovetop, put some crisco on a paper towel and work it into the pan, inside and out. i then put it in the hot oven upside down with a cookie sheet under it to catch the dripping and let it sit in say a 350-400 degree oven for an hour or 2. you can also cook something else in the hot oven so that you're not feeling that you're wasting the hot oven.

        1. re: chuckl

          what pores? how do they open up? iron atoms aren't going to be moving around (melted!) at 500 degrees in an oven.

          1. re: jaykayen

            Atoms and molecules are always moving around and vibrating. Atoms don't necessarily move from place to place within a crystalline structure like cast iron, but in the simplest terms, electrons are in a constant state of motion moving around the nucleus.

            Molecules on the other hand are always vibrating and the faster they vibrate the hotter the pan. That's the basic principle of induction cooking.

            1. re: HaagenDazs

              I would like to add my beliefs on cast iron that is based on purely practical experience. Although a castiron skillet may appear to be a solid piece of metal, it is actually quite porous, much like a sponge. If you have the opportunity, closely examine a piece of broken castiron. The fracture will reveal the minute pores and crevices of the castiron. The 'as cast' surfaces will be pretty smooth. This would be the handle and outer surface of the skillet. The machined surfaces will be much smoother, this would be the cooking surface and sides of the skillet. Castiron expands when heated even at 400 to 500 degrees. This temperature will allow the skillet to expand, that is, the air pockets will become marginally larger while retaining the shape of the skillet without distortion. That is why I would heat a skillet to a temperature of 400-500 degrees for at least thirty minutes. This should allow the skillet to be a uniform temperature. Applying the oil at this temperature will allow the oil to penetrate the iron and begin the metal treating process. After the first application, I would clean the surface with hot water and a rough stainless steel scratch pad, use soap if necessary. There should be no sticky or oily residue. Repeat these steps until you are satisfied with the results, then critique it again and again. Good luck.

              1. re: powillie

                Cast iron is porous, but heating to 300 degrees, even to 500 degrees does not change the porous nature. It does not cause the "pores to open up," despite the mythology surrounding seasoning to the contrary.

                The process of seasoning causes fat to semi-permanently adhere to the pores and other surfaces of the iron, therefore creating a smoother, slicker surface. Heat is necessary to create a sufficient layer of carbonization (that's what seasoning is), not for the iron to become any more porous than it already is. To change the physical nature of the cast iron itself in a way that makes the pores somehow "open up" would require getting the pan heated up near its melting point which is much hotter than 400 degrees. Even then, you'd have no better seasoning, you'd just have a lump of melted cast iron (and you'd probably burn your house down).

                1. re: taos

                  My experience with cast iron is also purely pragmatic. All I know is If you leave oil/fat in a pan for long enough at low, i,e., highly liquid, temperatures (or turn in up to low-medium and quickly turn it off ) and really let the oil sit in the warm pan for a prolonged period, like an hour, or repeat if you want a good head start, you can do pancakes right off the bat with no problem as long as the pan had a nice smooth clean metal finish to start with and you keep a greasy paper towel around to insure a thin film of oil between batches.

                  I call it priming the pan. I never understood why it was called seasoning anyway until I stumbled across an amazon post that claimed "THE WAY" is too have hard carbonized old oil stuck to the iron--which takes a good long time to develop properly. Carbonized oil will flake off unless the oil got a good chance to soak in while in liquid form first. Really it seems like this method is only reasonable if you use your pan say, exclusively for pancakes at a low temp. Come to think of it this is how my old aluminum plate waffle iron works... more or less... with a little cooking spray now and then. So it does seem to me there is more than one method that works, but it depends what you all use you iron pan for.

                  As far as iron being porous---I use the same treatment on my stainless steel cooking surface/ aluminum clad pans. It doesn't work quite as well as on iron so I have to assume that iron is somehow more porous.

                  I do agree that high temperatures are not going to work simply because at high temperatures the oil turns to glue before it can soak into the iron porous or not! A nice even low temperature and liquidy shortening with plenty of time is the way to go. On the other hand if you have grandma's old griddle and it's not going to be used for anything else but pancakes on the pancakes side and it looks like it's "seasoned," leave it intact and give it a shot. After all, it was good enough for grandma. If the seasoning is gooey and gross and the metal isn't smooth enough and someone else threw it out to the thrift store, it might be worth it to break out the drill sander and start over with fresh smooth metal.

                  1. re: meetoo

                    "As far as iron being porous---I use the same treatment on my stainless steel cooking surface/ aluminum clad pans. It doesn't work quite as well as on iron so I have to assume that iron is somehow more porous."

                    Uh ... I might be misreading you here, but stainless steel can't be seasoned. Is that what you mean by "same treatment"?

                    1. re: razkolnikov

                      Polymerized oil can stick to stainless steel, this is often the case after using my saute pan at higher temperatures. The reason cast iron can be seasoned is that the iron acts as a catalyst for the polymerization. Many people also season aluminum dutch ovens it just takes quite a bit longer for an appreciable layer to build up.

                      1. re: rockfish42

                        "Polymerized oil can stick to stainless steel, this is often the case after using my saute pan at higher temperatures."

                        Oh, no doubt -- we've all had to scrub (and scrub ... and scrub ...) that off our pans once in a while. It's just that it's not something that anyone strives for to "season" the pan.

                        "Many people also season aluminum dutch ovens it just takes quite a bit longer for an appreciable layer to build up."

                        Interesting -- didn't know that. Guess I've only ever encountered SS (with aluminum layers inside) and cast iron dutch ovens.

                      2. re: razkolnikov

                        READ THE WHOLE POST!

                        If you read my whole post you will notice I call what I do "priming" the pan. This may be mostly semantics but then I don't really advocate "carbonization" so maybe it's more than that.. My method is to give the oil some time to steep into the pan at low warm temperatures. I use stainless steel for braising this way and it reduces pan stick only slightly and all the nice sticky things get cooked off with liquid eventually anyway. I guess you were doing a quicky read but the point was, and even as you say stainless steel cannot be "seasoned" but any other name or activity, so that proves that iron has some porous qualities that stainless steel does not so iron is relatively "porous".

                        1. re: meetoo

                          Nah, read the whole post, but maybe it's just semantics. IMHO, letting oil warm up in the pan at low temperatures serves to HEAT the oil and pan to a temperature that minimizes sticking a bit, not to give the oil time to steep INTO the pan. Maybe I just misread you as saying that the oil somehow penetrates into the stainless steel. No harm done.

                      3. re: meetoo

                        Cast iron is porous. However the pores do not "open up" sitting in an oven at 350 degrees or even at 500 degrees, nor is opening up of the pores necessary for seasoning.

                        As I've said before, you're carbonizing fat onto the cast iron, not giving it a facial.

                        1. re: taos

                          I don't have the science to see exactly what is going on at the molecular level---all I know is low heat temp, iron, oil/fat, and time make non-stick happen. This may have more to do with the liquidity of the oil/fat at low warm temperatures, but since it works much better on iron than stainless, I am guessing that iron has some porous qualities. Heck I don't know. It might be some electronic bonding on the atomic level, after all heat/electricity is about shifting electron charges. All I know is this is what works.

          2. It takes a lot of regular use before you're ready to try something like pancakes, unless you use a lot of fat in the pan. I've had a Lodge for years (well before pre-seasoning was an option) and love it, but I still don't use it for some tasks - frying eggs, for example.

            I don't know if this is SOP with cast iron, but I usually wipe a small amount of oil over the inside of the pan and heat it up on the stove after cleaning.

            4 Replies
            1. re: CK8

              I also oil my pan after cleaning, but I have found solid shortening works much much better.

              I don't think I'd try pancakes or eggs, ever, without a lot of added oil. Cast iron, even really well seasoned, is just not that kind of non-stick.

              1. re: jeanmarieok

                Everyone has an opinion on seasoning and care for cast iron. I usually don't oil mine after using because it usually just needs a quick wipe with scalding water. If it's super grimy, I'll scub it with some coarse salt and a nylon brush, then hang it from my pot rack. But if you do need oil, I wouldn't use cooking spray . Try something like a like coating of coconut oil. You want something that's stable and won't get rancid sitting on an exposed pan.

                1. re: jeanmarieok

                  For whatever it's worth, eggs do just fine in a cast iron skillet if you cook the bacon in it first!

                  1. re: Clarkafella

                    We use ours for eggs all the time, no bacon first. It's well seasoned and the eggs do not stick.

              2. First for pancakes I use a non stick skillet. so much easier. However I love my cast iron pans for some things. And I don't know about the seasoning process. I just got a run of the mill cast iron pan and oiled it. The secrete is using it alot. I would never attempt pancakes even in mine which is 10 years old. My skillet is so much easier. The more you use your pan the better it gets. I don't know about proper seasoning. My grandma taught me and she just used it. Not some fancy seasoning method. Just wipe it with hot water and clean after each use. I lightly re oil just a bit and then time use it again. I have 5 pots and pans and they are all wonderful. I am sure they can all be used for pancakes or just about everything, but I use cast iron for some, non stick for others. I try to take the easy way out and not make things difficult.

                One thing, pan cornbread is great with a cast iron skillet.

                1. I am assuming you are using a pre-seasoned pan -- anything made by Lodge in the last few years will be pre-seasoned. Some folks will recommend scouring/burning off the pre-seasoning and re-seasoning. You could do that, but IMHO that is a waste. Just realize that the pre-seasoning is just a head start. You season the pan everytime you use it -- it is a never-ending process.

                  I really wish people who ought to know better would stop referring to cast iron as non-stick. It takes a bit of use to get cast iron to release food without using some oil or grease.

                  Cast iron suffers no fools. You have to play by its rules or it bites! Heat the pan gently -- low-medium to medium heat is about right. The pan is at the right temp when water droplets dance. OK, now add the oil. For some reason it makes a difference to add cold oil to a hot pan.

                  For pancakes, mop up the excess oil with a paper towel. After each round comes out, add a little more oil, mopping out the excess. You want the surface wet, but no discernable depth. Between the thin layer of grease in the pan and the fat in the batter (pancake batters are pretty rich with melted butter), pancakes should be a snap. Like most foods, pancakes will stick fast during most of the cooking process -- they will tend to release as they approach "doneness".

                  Oh yeah, have fun -- try not to get too frustrated. Cast iron is a joy to cook with, but takes patience.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: MikeB3542

                    Curious why you think cast iron needs to be heated gently. Back in the day, I used to make Paul Prudhomme's blackened redfish. The first instruction is to heat the cast iron skillet over very high heat for at least 10 minutes until it is beyond smoking and white ash begins to appear in the bottom of the skillet. These days I make fish fillets by preheating the pan under the broiler for 15 minutes. I've had my cast iron skillets for more than 40 years and they must love this treatment 'cause they just keep getting better and better.

                    1. re: JoanN

                      I suggested medium heat for the benefit of the cook rather than the cookware . Using low or medium heat makes it a lot easier to control, especially if you aren't accustomed to how your pan responds to various flame settings and foods. The OP was trying to make pancakes, which aren't so good blackened. ;-)

                      Even over lower heat settings it is remarkable how hot cast iron will get if you give it time. As a by-product, slower heating will ensure that the pan is heated more evenly.

                      There is a tendency to overshoot your target temperature with cast iron. It takes a while to heat up. So then you crank up the burner, and before you know it, it is way too hot. Now it takes forever to cool back down.

                      Cast iron does handle high heat really well -- I would have to say that you aren't going to damage a skillet in a residential range (or a commercial range, for that matter). Even if you decide to pick up a non-stick skillet or griddle for things like pancakes and eggs, keep some black iron around for searing and blackening fish, chicken, steaks, veggies, etc. (mpalmer6c's point)