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Seasoning coming off cast iron

g
Greypilgrim Mar 20, 2009 01:45 PM

I have a cast iron dutch oven which I have tried twice now to restore/reseason. Following directions I found posted here at Chowhound, I soaked the cast iron dutch oven in a lye bath for several days. Then I scrubed off the resulting goo, used steel wool to scour off the rest, getting nicely down to bare metal.

I used naval jelly to get rid of the bit of rust that developed on the surface of the cast iron, rinsed the dutch oven well and immediately began the reseaoning process.

I slightly heated the dutch oven and coated all the surfaces evenly with Crisco. The first time I put the dutch oven in the oven for about 3 hours at 500F. Afterwards, I let the dutch oven cool and repeated the process the next three days, for a total of 4 coats.

Everything looked beautiful -- a smooth, shiny black surface covered the dutch oven. But the first time I used the dutch oven, for braised collard greens, the seasoning came off whereever the braising liquid had touched the metal, including the domed lid (from condensation). My best guess was that the acidity of the braising liquid, which was a combination of wine and wine vinegar, had taken the seasoning off the metal.

I also wondered if my oven wasn't hot enough or if I hadn't baked the cookware long enough. So after soaking the dutch oven in lye once again to get all surfaces down to bare metal, I repeated the process. This time, the temp was verified by an oven thermoment -- a bit over 500F -- and I left the cookware in the oven for a full five hours. I also let the cookware cool in the oven without opening the door. After four coats of seasoning, I waited three days before I used the dutch oven. The first three times I used it, I used it for nothing more than cooking bacon. After each use, I wiped down the inside with a paper towel, used a bit of soap and water to clean the bacon grease off the surface, gave it a light coat of olive oil and heated it on the stove just to the smoking point. After the three uses for cooking bacon, it looked even better than when it was first finished.

So I used it to cook corned beef and cabbage the other night. Nothing more than the corned beef, water and cabbage was put into the pot. And when the cooking was finished, the seasoning was once again off the inside of the dutch oven.

So what am I doing wrong?

Could it be that there is some residue from the lye cleaning bath that is inhibiting the bonding of the seasoning layer to the cast iron? Or is there something else going on here?

Help is desperately needed.

Doug

  1. paulj Mar 20, 2009 01:56 PM

    Braising is not a good thing to do in cast iron until the coating is well developed. Frying things like bacon, and baking things like cornbread enhance the coating.

    1. Zeldog Mar 20, 2009 04:36 PM

      Quite a mystery. 500F is hotter than what I use, but otherwise your seasoning technique seems fine. What do you mean by "the seasoning came off"? Did it turn the liquid grey? Were there black flakes floating in it? Or maybe it came off in sheets like a bad paint job?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Zeldog
        g
        Greypilgrim Mar 20, 2009 04:55 PM

        It didn't come off in flakes, but rather seemed to "melt" off, turning the liquid a grey color. When the dutch oven was emptied, the bare metal was showing.

        1. re: Greypilgrim
          Zeldog Mar 20, 2009 05:27 PM

          All I can think of is maybe the high temperature is turning the oil to ash. You can check out other threads discussing seasoning techniques, but I suggest trying 3 or 4 rounds at 350-400F. No need to extend the time, 3 hours should be fine.

          And I'm not sure all that chemical cleaning is a good idea. I prefer brute force. When I need to strip and re-season a cast iron item I put it through an oven cleaning cycle and give it a good going over with coarse steel wool.

      2. m
        MakingSense Mar 20, 2009 04:54 PM

        You aren't doing anything except expecting too much too soon.
        Who told you that you could season cast iron in a few days?
        That's just the preliminary.
        It takes a long time and a lot of use to get it properly seasoned.
        Patience, cricket, patience.

        1. alanbarnes Mar 20, 2009 05:06 PM

          A really well-seasoned pan doesn't have seasoning -on- the cast iron; the seasoning is -in- the iron. It takes a long time.

          So what to do in the interim? Two words: fried chicken.

          1 Reply
          1. re: alanbarnes
            MikeB3542 Mar 20, 2009 11:35 PM

            I would try making a few batches of popcorn -- remember to keep the lid slightly ajar to let the steam out.

          2. HaagenDazs Mar 21, 2009 07:17 AM

            There's no mystery here and bacon or anything else cooked in the pot will NOT help you in this situation. "Making Sense" is getting you on the right track. And I hate to say it, but I didn't even read your whole post. I pretty much knew exactly what you did by first reading the title of your post and second, I was reaffirmed by reading that you "repeated the process the next three days, for a total of 4 coats." You CANNOT make coats of seasoning - it will NEVER, EVER work. There are lots of people who have tried this (on this board) and all of them have the same problem and wonder what they've done wrong. You aren't painting anything onto this pan and if you think you're going to completely season your pan in one weekend, you're not only wrong but you're wasting your time. Seasoning takes time and LOTS of it.

            It's unfortunate that so many new cast iron users try this... 4 or 5 or 6 "coatings" in one weekend of seasoning WILL NOT WORK! You'll end up with exactly what you've described - a sticky, peeling, dissolving mess. Season your pan ONCE with a lipid of your choice and gradually work your way into foods. Cook bacon in it (after seasoning it ONCE), fry up some Italian sausage (after seasoning it ONCE), but by no means should you try to use a brand new cast iron as a "main pan". Eventually graduate to braises, but only after several months of cooking small batches of things like fatty meats can you finally start to use you pan for other uses like chili or braises.

            14 Replies
            1. re: HaagenDazs
              p
              PrincessPeanut Mar 21, 2009 05:01 PM

              Hear, hear!

              We've been nursing 3 or 4 skillets and a dutch oven along for about 3 years now. Got one skillet absolutely PERFECT, the rest are getting there, all having started from "naked," not the preseasoned junk they sell now.

              My advice would be to go down to the local megamart and buy the econobox of the cheapest, fattiest, nastiest bacon you can find. Fry this in multiple batches in the cast iron vessel. You WANT as much grease as you can get. In between, pour off the grease, cool, and then rinse it, dry well, and wipe down the inside lightly with melted shortening. Yes, Crisco-type, and the el-cheapo stuff from the megamart is just fine.

              Another thing - never, ever, EVER wash your cast iron in soapy water. You're just defeating the purpose of getting as much grease as possible in the pores of the metal. Unless you've inherited a 100-year-old skillet from your great granny, don't cook tomato products in cast iron. They'll develop an ungodly metallic taste and leach the seasoning out. Finally, if you get something burnt on or stuck, don't take the cleanser or the scouring pad to it - put a little water in it, set it on the burner, and boil it briefly. Then pour the water out, rinse it again (yes, it's fine to take the dishrag or sponge to it), and again, dry well and wipe with a light coat of shortening.

              1. re: PrincessPeanut
                paulj Mar 21, 2009 05:07 PM

                Cooks Country Kitchen, or whatever the latest incarnation of Americas Test Kitchen, preferred the Lodge Logic skillet in their latest look at cast iron and carbon steel pans. They liked the preseasoning, though they obviously expected to use it a ways that enhanced the coating.

                My own experience was that LL is a good a starting point as any.

                1. re: paulj
                  p
                  PrincessPeanut Mar 21, 2009 05:17 PM

                  Starting point is the key here. Yes, you can avoid the whole grease it up and bake it step, but pretty much from there on out, it's the same principle.

                  1. re: PrincessPeanut
                    m
                    MakingSense Mar 21, 2009 09:05 PM

                    I've bought Lodge pre-seasoned. It's about the equivalent of having cooked a couple of pounds of bacon over two weeks or so.
                    Hardly "pre-seasoned."
                    Seasoning only comes with time.
                    No way to rush it.

                    BTW, I use liquid dishwashing detergent in my cast iron every single time I clean it. It doesn't do a bit of harm. None. And I use tomatoes in lots of things I cook.
                    My cast iron is well seasoned and keep on cooking!

                    1. re: MakingSense
                      KaimukiMan Mar 23, 2009 10:52 AM

                      yes yes yes

                2. re: PrincessPeanut
                  j
                  jacquelyncoffey Mar 24, 2009 09:33 AM

                  I have old (50+ years) cast iron that is well seasoned. I wash it with hot soapy water and re-season by heating on the burner for just a few minutes, until hot but not smoking, then wipe down with a litlle vegetable oil, cool, and wipe again. Comes out perfect, is clean and sanitary, and still non-stick.

                3. re: HaagenDazs
                  g
                  Greypilgrim Mar 24, 2009 08:34 AM

                  I've been reading the suggestions and digesting them. Now it is time to probe more deeply into the issues. (I've replied to your post, HaagenDazs, because your comments are on point for the questions I still have. I'm not picking on you, but using your comments to spring into further discussions.)

                  It seems to me that the commonest advice I"ve recieved is to forget about "coatings" of seasoning, insetead seasoning it once. Other advice, however, suggests otherwise. To wit:

                  I had two primary resources to hand when I started the process. The first is another thread here on Chowhound. (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/433869). The second was the website What's Cooking America? cited by bgazindad: (http://whatscookingamerica.net/Inform...

                  )

                  The What's Cooking America? website says, "Repeating this process several times is recommended as it will help create a stronger "seasoning" bond." And acmorris, in the earlier thread here on Chowhound says, "My usual on new or reseasoned cookware is 3-4 coats. Just until the pan turns carbon black or very near. If you can see a lot of color (grey, orange to brown etc), then the carbon layers aren't thick enough, reapply and bake it again. I just slide the rack out and brush on a new layer. Once you are satisfied, bake for an additional 3-4 hours to set the finish. Your cookware should be black or very near, glossy and not sticky or slimy."

                  So what's a neophyte to do?

                  Another question, asked to learn, not to quibble (I'm taking for granted the wisdom of taking time before braising or cooking chili): "eventually graduate to braises, but only after several months of cooking small batches . . . ." Frying bacon and Italian sausage were mentioned.

                  My presumption is that the length of time to wait will depend on how often one uses the pan, rather than merely allowing the pan to sit for two or three months. Do you have any more explicit advice on how many times to use it before graduating to braises? Or how to tell when it is time?

                  Also, will deglazing the pan hurt? With any liquid? or just with acidic liquid, like vinegar or wine?

                  Looking forward to continuing education.

                  1. re: Greypilgrim
                    HaagenDazs Mar 24, 2009 09:17 AM

                    No matter, you can pick all you want. ;-)

                    The one thing I can say in reply to the other info about multiple seasoning layers is that it obviously hasn't worked for you. I can speak only from experience but I like to think that my experience and thus my instruction is valid. I have seasoned many cast iron pans some for me, some even for friends, and all of them were seasoned once and then used. Granted, some of them were grayish-brown for a few months depending on the use of that particular pan, but all of them are now a wonderful shiny, jet black.

                    You *may* be able to repeat the process several times but I think you should repeat the process (maybe) once a week all the while cooking things in it, in the time between seasonings. Multiple, soft layers built up in a few hours as opposed to a few weeks are undoubtedly going to be less "bullet proof" than ones built up slowly over time.

                    After all, cooking things like bacon or sausage in the pan is essentially a seasoning process in itself. You have oil (fat) in the pan and heat and that's all you really need. The bonus of course is that instead of having a smokey oven you have crispy bacon!

                    Here's what I do to my pans on the first venture, and why people use their ovens and smoke up the house is beyond me. If you have a grill, you have the perfect seasoning location. Just heat up the grill and pop the oiled pan/pot in there (assuming your D.O. fits) and let it heat up. Any smoke generated from the process floats gently away on the breeze. ;-) After the initial seasoning process I take a plastic scrub brush, hot tap water (as hot as you can get it) and I scrub the pan down. That removes some stickiness and whatever dust and grime is there on the surface (remember I'm using my grill). Then I usually move straight into bacon. It doesn't have to be right away, but usually I'll do this the next morning. After the pan is cool enough, pour off the excess bacon grease and then take a paper towel and wipe out the inside of the pan, you'll obviously have a wad of greasy paper towels that you can now happily rub all over the rest of the pan. I'll usually run it under the hot tap water again at this point just to get most of the bacon bits off the pan's surface. Save the pan for dinner and cook some pork chops or a nice steak. Just keep the pan on the stove and start cooking with it, trying to avoid any big doses of vinegar or super-liquidy ingredients. Corn bread works well too.

                    All I can say, from experience, is that time is your friend here.

                    Oh - FYI, the Chow link doesn't work...

                    1. re: HaagenDazs
                      Soop Mar 24, 2009 09:21 AM

                      That makes sense.

                      It seems like re-seasoning many times in a row causes the second layer to stick to the first rather than becoming part of the pan.

                      1. re: Soop
                        HaagenDazs Mar 24, 2009 09:22 AM

                        Yeah, that's my thought exactly. Thanks for clarifying!

                      2. re: HaagenDazs
                        g
                        Greypilgrim Mar 24, 2009 09:40 AM

                        Again, I'm not trying to argue with you, nor to pick the advice I like simply because I like it. I'm taking in all the advice, practicing, and eventually I will develop a method that works, just like you have.

                        Do you have any thoughts on deglazing the pot during the early months? (Not right away, for I understand that you are counseling that the first couple of uses should be frying things like bacon or Italian sausage. But after a couple of times doing that, what is your advice on deglazing the bottom of the pan after frying (for instance, to make a gravy)?

                        1. re: Greypilgrim
                          HaagenDazs Mar 24, 2009 09:47 AM

                          I think you'll be fine after a couple other ventures, like you mentioned. A gravy will work wonderfully. The only hesitation that people often have, I think, is that deglazing often involves wine which is inherently acidic. Another thought to consider is that if you haven't yet built up a good seasoning, the gravy or deglazing liquid can sometimes be a little metallic-y tasting especially if it sits in there and cooks for a few minutes or if you scrub the bottom of the pan with something like a whisk or big spoon.

                        2. re: HaagenDazs
                          g
                          Greypilgrim Mar 24, 2009 09:46 AM

                          Regarding the link: it doesn't work when I click it, either. But if I cut it and paste it into my browser's window, it works just fine. So I don't know what I've done wrong.

                          1. re: Greypilgrim
                            m
                            mlgb Mar 24, 2009 12:23 PM

                            I would try it again without the naval jelly. That seems an uncommon process and maybe it contributes to not sticking.

                            Also maybe try an oil rather than Crisco. I've never used an animal fat (bacon or otherwise), and I think the animal fat layers tend to be softer and more likely to wear down.

                            I like the stovetop reseasoning process (after you do it once in the oven to lightly season the exterior). You can build up layers on the inside bottom of the pan quickly (despite what others have said) using a high heat, (exhaust on), some unrefined peanut oil, and a piece of bread. Lightly coat inside with oil, toast the bread, using it to soak up excess oil until the smoking stops. Repeat as often as you want, building up seasoning on the cooking surface. The shiny coating is nice for show but don't expect it to stay that way when you cook with it.

                            This is based on my personal experience and not relying on sometimes dubious articles, etc. The heat once in the oven is a quick and dirty method that merely starts the process.

                    2. bgazindad Mar 21, 2009 07:53 AM

                      http://www.whatscookingamerica.net/In...

                      Try this website. It goes through seasoning and reseasoning cast iron. There is also a FAQ. From what little I have read, there is no mention of a lye bath or naval jelly. You may want to forego those steps. Also your temperature of 500 degrees appears to be more than adequate. hope this helps.

                      1. j
                        jaykayen Mar 22, 2009 02:55 AM

                        I think it's a typical newbie mistake to do the multiple coats thing.

                        It doesn't work. I eventually stopped worrying about the seasoning and started cooking bacon in it. It's beautiful.

                        And, save some energy and the environment... 3 hrs at 500 is excessive.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jaykayen
                          HaagenDazs Mar 23, 2009 05:58 AM

                          It's the mentality that if one is good then 4 is far better. Sometimes that's the case (hey if you're handing out $20 bills...) but in this situation it's just the wrong thing to do.

                          1. re: HaagenDazs
                            j
                            jaykayen Mar 23, 2009 05:06 PM

                            yep, exactly.

                        2. Soop Mar 23, 2009 09:42 AM

                          It sounds to me from what HD said, that it might be worth keeping your pan in the bottom of the oven when not in use. That way, it's economical, while you're cooking/baking something else, the pan will heat.

                          I have to say, I'm no expert by any means, but from what I've heard I don't think extra heat would harm it. Cook some bacon, and then pop it in the bottom of oven to store when you're done.

                          1. m
                            mlgb Mar 23, 2009 05:22 PM

                            I'd try it without the lye-naval jelly treatment.

                            And hold off the braising with an acidic liquid for a few months.

                            1. j
                              jakee512 Sep 23, 2013 09:20 PM

                              I hope this post isn't too late for this discussion, but is there a vegetarian/vegan suggestion for the process everyone is recommending? (It seems like there is some agreement on the approach of starting with an oil (lipid) and seasoning once, then slowly cooking fatty foods to build up a seasoning.) Unfortunately, I've had a similarly frustrating experience with failing to successfully create a lasting non-stick surface that is "in" the pan... (A new, 12" Lodge, by the way.) Even if I attempt to slowly build up a seasoning and only use the minimal coating for the initial oven heating, it still seems to create either an undesirable "sticky" surface and/or a surface that comes off after 10 or so uses.

                              From what I've read in the responses and from what I've read online (including this website), everyone suggests bacon/meat products as the necessary item to begin cooking. I'd be willing to consider some animal product oils (only if no one has any suggestion) but I obviously don't eat animals, so pork or fried chicken or any other greasy meat isn't really an option. I've read about flax seed oil as a great first oil and considered it, but would love to hear any insight or suggestions. Thank you!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jakee512
                                C. Hamster Sep 24, 2013 04:27 PM

                                Crisco.

                                Liquid vegetable oil makes it sticky.

                                1. re: jakee512
                                  DuffyH Sep 24, 2013 05:29 PM

                                  I've cooked hash brown potatoes in mine, cornbread too. Just fry things in it. Meat products and animal fat are not needed. I normally use peanut oil.

                                  A note on the potatoes, they stuck a bit at first because they were cold, but they released beautifully a little later with a terrific crust.

                                  My skillet is coming along very nicely.

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