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Jan 5, 2010 10:23 PM

What is in Cast Iron Conditioner?

I came across cast iron conditioner online. It seems that it's made by a couple of manufacturers, but the most common one is from Camp Chef: The descriptions all state that it's made from "natural", plant-based ingredients, but those ingredients aren't specified. I found one person on another forum who guessed that it might be coconut oil, since that is not supposed to go rancid over time. Anybody know for sure what's in the stuff, or if it is actually useful/worth it?

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  1. I don't know. Coconut oil, walnut oil and almond oil are all good possible ingredients. Coconut oil, however, turn into solid at low temperature at 25oC, so it may not be as easy to market it. So I bet it cannot be pure coconut oil.

    1. The resurgence of interest in cast iron cookware has spawned an industry that produces products supposedly required for the upkeep/use/storate/etc. of these items. Unfortunately, many younger cooks have little or no experience with cast iron so can easily be bamboozled into paying stupid amounts of money for stuff they don't realize they don't need. This "conditioner" for one. Vegetable shortening or lard, rubbed generously on new cast iron pans, then heated for a while will almost certainly produce the very same result at much lower cost. Using a cast iron pot or pan frequently - as our grandparents did - will prevent the oil from becoming rancid. You renew the surface slightly with every use. I wash my cast iron skillet after cooking, then coat with a light smear or shortening before storage. Doesn't rust, doesn't go rancid. Nothing, however, can take the place of regular use - the patina of cast iron develops over time. We're talking years here, not weeks.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Nyleve

        Are you stereotyping young people? :P

        Actually, I do not understand what is the big deal of rancid oil on a cast iron pan. It is not the end of the world. Just swipe it away. There is a difference between having rancid oil on a cast iron pan (which can be easily removed in 10-20 second) and having rancid oil in a chopping block.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I feel that I have earned my right to be curmudgeonly about young whippersnappers who will purchase anything that anyone tells them to. This is not, obviously, all young people. But many - especially those who have been raised in The House of Teflon - can be convinced that the upkeep of cast iron must be complicated and therefore require special products. How would then know different? They never watched granny cook anything that didn't come out of a package.

          Kidding. Kidding. Kidding. Honest. Really kidding. Sort of.

          1. re: Nyleve

            How long did you take you to come up with "House of Teflon"?

            Are you saying that young people buy things which they do not need? Because I have the impression that those 9-ply cookware, $1000 knives, and many expensive cook tools are marketed toward wealthy seniors with large disposible incomes. I think most young people try to go cheap if anything, like can I sharpen my knives on the concert floor? or can I cut out the mold and eat the rest of the bread?

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Can you live without it? Sure. Are you a sucker for buying it? Not really. It really isn't that expensive, since you use it very sparingly. A bottle will last a long while.

              Cast iron conditioner makes a whole lot of sense if you have camp ovens, which will go long periods of time without use, especially if you live in a cold climate. Nothing is worse than a rancid oven -- just wiping it down doesn't work, since the off-flavor gets into your food. Blech! Pretty much have to scrub the piece down and re-season.

              For skillets and stuff that gets regular use, it isn't necessary.

              1. re: MikeB3542


                Good points. I think the questions come down to what is this conditioner made of. If it is ra good mixture, and only X2 the raw material price, why not? If it is just coconut oil mixed alcohol (I am just making this up) and maketed 5-6 times the amount, then why not just buy coconut oil, right?

                Well, you are just not wiping it enough then. I had oil gone rancid on cast iron cookware and they no longer smell anything at all now. At least, I think the oil gone rancid because the cookware started to smell.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  This was my point exactly. If it's just walnut oil, I'll just buy some walnut oil. But I think you're definitely wrong about the rancid oil wiping off--that oil is the seasoning, and it should be pretty much bonded to the iron. If you're removing it, you're removing the seasoning. I've seen people put way too much oil on their pans, and those pans are gummy feeling the next time they pull it out (6 months later), and they require vigorous scrubbing.

                  I guess the real root of my question would be, what is the best oil to use on cast iron? Do different oils really make that much difference? The only cast iron skillet I have is an 18 inch monster, which I've had for almost 20 years, but which I hardly ever use because of its immense size. I bought a preseasoned 12 inch pan online, and I'm thinking that I'll be using it more.

                  1. re: angusb

                    Hi Angusb,

                    I probably did not expressed myself correctly. Although the cast iron conditioner you mentioned can be used for seasoning as well as for storage protection. I only commented on the storage aspect.

                    The seasoning surface is created by carbonizing oil. Carbonized seasoning surface cannot go rancid. It is just carbon. For storage, however, oil is applied on cookware to prevent rusting. If cooking oil is applied, it can go rancid. I was referring to wiping this protection oil off, not the seasoning surface. Let me know if I am still being confusing on that point.

                    For seasoning cast iron cookware, you can use any oil as long as you do a good job seasoning as you mentioned: do no apply too much, though many believe it is easier to use lard or shortening to season cookware -- presumably of their higher ratio of saturated fats.

                    For storage protection, I know many people use mineral oil because it cannot degrade. Now, you will probably need to wipe off the mineral oil before cooking because many do not like the idea of consuming mineral oil. As you mentioned, you can use coconut oil because it has a very long shelf life. However, it is slightly more expensive.

                    Finally, you can just use any cooking oil especially if the storage time is short. In my opinion, even if the cooking oil goes rancid after a long period of storage, you can still wipe the rancid oil off from the seasoning surface.

                    Just my opinions.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I know this is will probably be scoffed at, but after washing and before storage I tend to give my cast iron a quick spray with Pam, wiping to leave just the slightest film. It keeps the rust off and doesn't go rancid, in my experience. For actual seasoning I use veg. shortening.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I do understand, and you have expressed yourself clearly. It seems that the miscommunication might be more a difference of experience. You say that the rancid oil that was used while a pan was in storage can be wiped off, but my experience shows that it is not always so simple. I have come across many pans that are actually sticky to the touch, where the rancid oil is bonded to the pan like glue. This gummy mess cannot be wiped off--it requires vigorous scrubbing, and oftentimes requires the use of soap, which may remove at least some of the seasoning. I did not express my concern as clearly as I could have in my earlier posting.

                        Perhaps it's a moot point. The cast iron I have now is rarely used because it is either too large (the 18 inch pan I mentioned) or its use is too specific, such as my Griswold bailed griddle: (not my photo, but an exact duplicate of my pan). If the new pan is more user-friendly, I'll use it more often than those other pans, and whatever oil I use won't have a chance to go rancid. In any case, I'm still interested to know what's actually in that bottle of conditioner!

                  2. re: MikeB3542

                    All my friends at the Wagner and Griswold Society use mineral oil for the same purpose: long-term storage. Works great and is a LOT cheaper. :-)

                    1. re: Beckyleach

                      Beckyleach, what about short-term storage? I remember my mother would always wash her cast iron pan and then put it back on the burner for about 20 seconds. You could watch the water evaporate. Once it was totally dry, I think she wiped it with Crisco. I plan to use the pan pretty frequently, and I would prefer to use an oil that is not derived from petroleum, is possible. Is there anything you would recommend? I'd say there's a pretty good chance I'll end up using shortening just like Mom does.

                      1. re: angusb

                        We cook with a lot of peanut oil, so that's what's handy.

                        1. re: angusb

                          I was using olive oil for this purpose (since I already had a cruet sitting by the stove) but I've switched to PAM. Spray, wipe, put away....the lecithin in the PAM makes the pans pretty and waxy, without looking greasy. :-) And, apparently, it does go a bit longer before "turning."

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Ok touche. You're right - I've seen lavish, expensive kitchens installed in homes of affluent older folks (ahem) who really no longer cook, if they ever did. And I've eaten unbelievably fabulous meals cooked in ridiculously inadequate kitchens with almost neolithic tools. You're right - my own kids mostly buy second hand/garage sale cookware and make do with what they can get.

                      BUT - I also think that inexperience makes for overspending sometimes. Someone tells you that you need a special product to take care of something, and because you've never seen any different, you buy into it. Many people of my kids' generation have not been raised by parents who cooked. Never mind cooked from scratch using old fashioned equipment. So it's not their fault they don't know what they really need. Haven't we all bought some stupid thing or other because it was nicely packaged and cleverly sold?

                      1. re: Nyleve


                        I didn't mean to be touche. I meant to be funny. Guess, I should have put up more :P Faces.

                        :P to you.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          <<I also think that inexperience makes for overspending sometimes. >>

                          They got me on the teflon bandwagon when I was a sprout. Now I use the cheaper Le Creuset stuff.

                2. I grew up using cast iron; I now have the set of cast iron skillets that were a wedding present to my grandmother. We use them fairly often. Upkeep is simple:
                  - If I've cooked something oily or fatty and nothing stuck, I just rinse it out, wipe it out with a paper towel.
                  - if something stuck, I let water set in it for a while and then use a sponge to push it off - this almost always works
                  - if something REALLY stuck, I soak and then use a scrubber brush to get off the rest.

                  Then on a burner until the water is gone. If I scrubbed it I rub on some peanut oil. Then let it heat until just when it starts to smoke a little. That will carbonize the remaining oil to the pan.

                  1. I've tried the Camp Chef cast iron conditioner, since someone gave me a bottle. It's nothing special and doesn't work better than anything else. I suspect it's just coconut oil, since it's kind of a white paste. Suet, hot temps, and vigorous rubbing do just as well if not better. Or peanut oil. DAN

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: danbob

                      Coconut oil has a very different favor than peanut oil. Can you lick it for us? =)

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I agree it acts like coconut oil, but where do we find out just what it is? I agree with Danbob It;s nothing special, but it is in a nice plastic bottle that stores well.
                        Any info would help.
                        Thank you

                        1. re: willy the wild one2

                          Hydrogenated soybean oil would be my guess. The descriptions on the web say it's plant-based. Hydrogenated oils resist breakdown and rancidification, and since all plant oils would eventually become rancid without some sort of modification, I'm guessing it's a hydrogenated plant oil. Soybean oil is what most manufacturers use to ensure a long shelf-life, so it follows that being cheap and relatively common that that's what it is.

                          Some readers might already have some of this in their homes right now, although instead of being pure soybean oil it's a soybean/cottonseed oil mix. You can find the soybean/cottonseed mix if you shop around a bit.

                          You can find it under the brand name of "Crisco".

                    2. I should mention that if you go to the manufacturers site and look at their product catalog it mentions that this product is palm oil based. This makes sense, since it would be less likely to go rancid as it is a highly saturated fat. I assume it is also important for a general product like this to be compatible with vegans / vegetarians.

                      As an aside, I assume the palmitic fats in palm oil are also more susceptible to saponificate (turn to soap) and also to grease (soap / oil mixtures), some of which could make high quality lubricants. I have posted a similar theory at hoping someone with a chemistry background could confirm this theory is plausible, but haven't had any bites.