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Jan 2, 2011 06:17 PM

The ultimate way to season cast iron, per Cook's Illustrated

NOT to get any controversy started, but there is in the February Cook's Illustrated an article detailing a 'better' way to season cast iron. It involves using flaxseed oil and repeated oven times. Anyone see this? I am going to try it as soon as I can put my hand on some flaxseed oil. The article credits blogger Sheryl Canter for this method.

Anyone see the CI article? Anyone use it?

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  1. Flaxseed oil, aka Linseed oil, is a "drying" oil, meaning it polymerizes at room temperature *much* faster than other oils.

    And yet it all boils down to turning that coat of oil into pyrolytic carbon, and NOT getting it too thick.

    If the article says to turn the piece upside down in order to let any excess oil drip out, I'll call it full of.... err... horse puckey.

    6 Replies
    1. re: ThreeGigs

      It may be a "drying" oil but it won't really dry. That's why woodworkers won't use linseed oil on wood. It's always sticky. Woodworker use boiled linseed oil because it has chemical dryers added which include some heavy metals. Boiled linseed oil will actually dry.

      1. re: pgmrdan

        When I did martial arts, we were specifically told to treat our (ash) staffs periodically with raw linseed oil. It was never sticky. We were forbidden to use boiled because it resulted in a finish that was considered inappropriate.

        1. re: pgmrdan

          >> It may be a "drying" oil but it won't really dry. That's why woodworkers won't use linseed oil on wood.

          Well, to be fair, (and more to the point of this article and this board), are woodworkers really drying their oiled wood in 550 degree ovens for an hour?

          After all, this is Chowhound, not Carpenterhound. Or Karatehound.

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster

            And I guess you've just become Mr Monitorhound.

            1. re: MacGuffin

              Reporting for duty, MacTangent!

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                I merely responded to someone else's comment (and no need to report for duty when one is self-appointed).

      2. It calls for 5 coats of flaxseed oil, baked onto the pan one at a time. The process would take a minimum of 15 hours the way they describe it.

        To test it, they used 2 new, unseasoned skillets. One they seasoned with vegetable oil, the other with flaxseed oil.

        They note that, even after a run through a commerical dishwasher with a squirt of degreaser, the pan seasoned with flaxseed oil came out unscathed, with all of the seasoning still intact.

        The original blog post that inspired the CI article is here:

        16 Replies
        1. re: NotJuliaChild

          Yep, I read that article some time ago. It is an interesting article, but I have not tried it.

          1. re: NotJuliaChild

            I read that article, and the author hasn't really done her research.
            She says seasoning is the polymerization of fats... wrong, seasoning BEGINS with polymerization, then proceeds to carbonization. She says "The process is initiated with the release of free radicals, which then become crosslinked, creating a hard surface." - err, wrong. The glyceride chains link (not crosslink), and the free radicals produced are driven off and combine with nitrogen or oxygen in the air to form smog.

            She says: "The more drying the oil, the harder the polymer" - also wrong... all oils share the same essential structure, and it's the glycerides in the oil that polymerize and then carbonize. It's just that a drying oil will form a hard surface FASTER, and in today's impatient society where people want their skillet to look like grandma's that's been slowly carbonizing for 20 years and think they can do it overnight... well, some things just ain't gonna happen. Yeah, a drying oil might yield a fairly decent surface sooner and I'm sure that makes up for some of the impatience.

            One thing she does have right is something I've always said: THIN COAT of oil.. wipe it on and wipe as much off as you can. Too many people use too much oil, and a drying oil might also help to mitigate that mistake.

            1. re: ThreeGigs

              If her understanding of the science behind it is wrong, does it make the results of the process any less effective? Okay, maybe she'll have a hard time synthesizing the results in other applications... but we're talking about a frying pan - I care more about whether it works, not whether her explanation of why it works is inaccurate.

              As justanotherpenguin asked, "has anyone tried it?"

              1. re: wpodonnell

                Here is a quote from the article. "Flaxseed oil is the food-grade equivalent of linseed oil, used by artists to give their paintings a hard, polished finish, and it boasts six times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as vegetable oil. Over prolonged exposure to high heat, these fatty acids combine to form a strong, solid matrix that polymerizes to the pan's surface. . . .We highly recommend the treatment."

                In terms of older cast iron that might have the slick surface of many years of use, I have to say that my old skillets came to me without that. The only skillet I purchased with any "carbonization" was so heavily encrusted it took me a week to clean it up. Skillets I used previously, and gave away, and skillets I know from my childhood never had that slick surface either. Now that I know more of what I need to do to attain that surface, I have kept seasoning my skillets after each use. If I could attain that perfect slick finish on them, that apparently lasts, I would be very happy.

                Thanks NotJuliaChild for the blog link to the original article about this.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  "... and it boasts six times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as vegetable oil"

                  in that article she also references omega-3's as the driving force behind what makes a better oil for seasoning. It's the iodine value that she should be referring to. A higher iodine value will make the oil more reactive, but is also more likely to become rancid. If you're going with this approach make sure you carbonize the oil so no polymerized goo is left behind to stink up your pan.

                  as wpodonnell points out, this might seem kind of like a nit-pick...but I think it's more important to convey correct information for anyone wanting to try to experiment with oils for seasoning on their own, i just see it as good practice in the name of science ;)

                  1. re: cannibal

                    Its nice to know the science behind this. Does the iodine value promote the bonding of the oil to the iron? Are you talking iodine value of the flaxseed oil? Does iodine value mean iodine content?

                    1. re: sueatmo

                      iodine value is how much iodine a 100g sample of oil can "soak up"
                      the iodine value is reference for all oils, though flax has a high value which makes it a fast drying oil.

                      I found a link to explain it, since i'm terrible at putting things into word :P

                      1. re: cannibal

                        Oh, so using olive oil is probably not the best for seasoning cast iron because it is not fast-drying? But so many people use that, or meat fat which would also not be a fast drying oil. I have been using canola oil myself. But the fast drying is a major component of this method, I think. I am neither chemist not scientist. Is the fast drying aspect important, or is it a side issue?

                        1. re: sueatmo

                          a side-issue i would think, both paths will get you to the same will just take longer. Some people swear by bacon fat, others corn oil, and others still go by olive oil. The important thing is to try a few methods out and go with what works best for you ;)

                          as noted above, it's very important to do a thin coat of oil on the in try to wipe it all off with a paper towel, and then leave the pan right-side up when baking it. if you get a gooey substance in your pan it's either due to the oil being too thick, the temp for seasoning not being high enough, or the time in the oven is too short. or all three :D

                          your best bet is to just play around with seasonings, it's a tedious process to do repeatedly but unless you experiment you'll never know

                          1. re: cannibal

                            one thing i forgot to mention, look up the smoke point for whatever oil you are using, and heat above that to ensure you're getting your oil to the carbon state and not just polymerizing.

                            1. re: cannibal

                              what if you accidentally used olive oil (as my debuyer crepe pan just said 'oil' unfortunately), and then I did it a second time, also not doing it in the oven for an hour [which sounds great] but rather on stove top with the oil -not- covering the entire inside per the attached directions which said I only need a mm of oil.

                              After the two attempts, back to back, one olive oil with [I read somewhere else] potato skins, the next using only canola oil spread across the entire surface with a paper towel, there is a slight rough patch along about 1/3 of the wall.

                              Should I ignore this and just keep seasoning it using better methods? Or is there a way to get rid of the rough patch before attempting crepes in this, or using it for anything else?

                              Thanks for any help anyone can give me with this new mysterious [but very exciting] pan. Thank you so much for your expertise here; I'm just learning about seasoning a decent pan....

                              1. re: jojojovich

                                Ignore it and just keep using the pan. Believe me, you're making 'way too much out of this. My mother bought unseasoned CI pans when she married in 1952 and did nothing but fry in them. I bought unseasoned CI when I married in 1975 and did nothing but fry in them. The pans all seasoned just fine over time and are still in use, despite the absence of Internet boards and Cook's Illustrated. I did follow de Buyer's instructions to the letter with my crêpe and blini pans and have had no problems. And incidentally, it's pretty safe to assume that no "better method" for seasoning a particular make of pan exists than that suggested by the manufacturer, especially one that has been in business as long as de Buyer.

                2. re: NotJuliaChild

                  If your CI is so trashed, get different CI. Notice different, not "new". I automatically look for it at garage sales, flea markets, etc. The older the better, as long as it's not damaged. This so called method is silly. I have several pieces of my grandmothers, it is 100 years old and I--nor she or my mom ever went thru that, or ever would. Mine is jet black and smooth as ice. It is one of my most treasured possessions. I would certainly not ever put it in a dishwasher and that test seems ridiculous. Who would do that? Scrub it, yes with water and even soap, for messy stuff, DRY IT OVER HEAT, and give it a coat of any oil once in awhile. USE IT.

                  The better CI manufacturers make it preseasoned now and while I would coat that, I would certainly not turn it into a marathon. I have even used butter and cooking spray and it was fine.

                  1. re: Whosyerkitty

                    I'm with you. My take is that Cook's Illustrated is selling a magazine, and order to do that they need articles with some new angle. So they cooked up this method which nobody needs to appeal to those who like to think of seasoning iron pans as some sort of black art.

                  1. re: justanotherpenguin

                    Yes! I've tried this on my Staub teapot which I scalded to a crisp~it worked perfectly! I have a gas oven, so the timing involved didn't phase me. I've since re-seasoned it again (after another few scaldings) and it worked.
                    I didn't have any drips into the pan I put underneath~I think I remember the article stating to put the edge of the "pan" (teapot in my case) to the corner, I think this helps with the air circulation.

                    1. re: justanotherpenguin

                      If you read to the bottom of the thread you can see the answer. A few of us did this.

                    2. I don't think this argument is ever going to be settled. I've been a cast iron convert for a couple of years now. I've got some Lodge and I've got some real cheap 3 pans for $10 stuff. I use them just about every single day. All I care is that nothing sticks....and guess what? Nothing sticks to these pans. They are a pleasure. I use olive oil and canola oil for the most part. I cook with them; they're non-stick; that's all I care about.

                      A couple of years ago, Kimball demonstrated how to season a Lodge skillet in the Cook's Corner segment and guess what he used? Plain old vegetable oil.

                      Trust me, the more you actually cook, the better the seasoning.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Ambimom

                        I am sure that is true, especially if you saute or fry frequently. I don't, actually. I do use my pans though. I bake in them, or grill in them. I do like browning meat in them too. On the occasions that I fry, I use a cast iron skillet. I don't find that the cooking I do maintains the slick coating. The article referenced calls it the ulitmate way to season cast iron. Since the coating is supposed to be permanent, I'm interested. The first think to do is to strip the pan. The article recommends using oven cleaner, but I put a skillet in the dishwasher to get rid of everything. Then you put it in the oven to warm it (open the pores!) (I expect someone will now post that iron does not have pores!) and then proceed with the flaxseed oil.

                        As I have explained before, I really work at maintaining good pan seasoning, and I don't feel that I have ever achieved perfection, at least as described by posters on Chowhounds!

                        And yes, CK, I am aware of the lengthy discussions on this board about the subject. But I am interested in whether this procedure works for me.

                        1. re: Ambimom

                          "Trust me, the more you actually cook, the better the seasoning."

                          Bingo. The absolutely best non-stick coating you will ever get is from repeated use and proper care. Cooking with bacon and/or a variety of oils will give you a non-stick sheen as good as anything Calphalon could ever produce.

                          1. re: BigE

                            I agree. I'm of the 'if it ain't broke" school. I even rinse it out with hot water and scrub out any stuck on stuff. It's still shiny. Wipe it mostly dry with a paper towel. Put of the stovetop on high. Heat it up. Put in a little oo. (I use that simply for the convenience that it's always sitting right by the stove). Turn off the heat. Take the wadded up towel and run it all around the inside of the pan. It's easy, it works and no hocus pocus. But what do I know? I put knives in the DW and don't oil my cutting boards :)

                        2. Seasoning of cast iron these days has become the theater of the absurd. Let's do a little time travel and think about the realities of the times. Very few people would have had the time or additional cooking implements to season cast iron as these recent articles prescribe. I'm certain the "What's for dinner?", "Nothing, the cast iron isn't done seasoning" would not have gone over well in many households. Nor would the wasting of 15 hours worth of cooking fuel. The typical process would have involved removing any protective coating, applying a thin film of grease or fat, heating the cast iron, a wipe down and proceeding to cook with whatever was used in the household. Over time the patina developed. I have a lot of cast iron and am being convinced that it doesn't require any more seasoning requirements than carbon steel. Very thin layers of oil or fat and let cooking do the rest.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: SanityRemoved

                            "What's for dinner?", "Nothing, the cast iron isn't done seasoning"

                            That is funny. Now, you do bring up a good point. Are we making seasoning more time consuming than it really should be? Traditionally, cast iron cookware are seasoned as they are cooked/used, so the seasoning process is more or less a beneficial side-effect from actual cooking. The cooks do not invest additional time for it. It just happens with cooking.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              That is my method....USE! I buy old cast iron at junk shops, clean them up and "season" them- and give them as gifts to interested friends. Seasoning at my house means using animal oil (only) in them for several weeks (pork, beef, chicken) and rinsing with hot water, wiping really dry, and maybe spraying with Pam if they look dull after washing. I keep this up until they are slicker than an ice cube. I can swirl my fried egg around the pan and slip it onto my plate.
                              It is really not that hard.

                              1. re: sedimental

                                I am sure you all have a solid point. But, as I pointed out in an earlier post, using my cast iron has NOT produced the permanent slick coating others swear by. I don't cook with animal fat, I don't do a lot of frying, I do spend time recoating my pans very carefully, wiping them thoroughly before putting away. I am in the middle of doing the flaxseed oil procedure on one skillet. I will see how it goes.

                                I am in a agreement with the viewpoint that seasoning skillets is seen as a huge problem to be overcome. I'm just doing it. I'll find out for myself if it is worth my time.

                                And to restate something else: I have used and known of use of cast iron skillet for much of my life. I NEVER remember encountering this legendary slick coating on a skillet. I do remember my mom burning off the crud in a backyard incinerator, though.

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  I think the only way to get the "legendary slick coating" is to use the cast iron frequently by cooking animal fat. As it has been done for decades. I have never heard of anyone getting it any other way. I will be interested if you can get it by using flax oil. Please report back and let us know. It would be nice to know -as many folks are vegetarian and would probably appreciate another way of seasoning. In my experience, olive oil doesn't work as well for seasoning.

                                2. re: sedimental

                                  You give them away omg I would buy one from anybody that was a used an well seasoned one please tell me you would sell one to me a 10 12 inch
                                  What I would like to have. If you or any one has one already used a well seasoned just let me know. Would love to buy one. I'm a new cook so please let me know if got one for sale I pay shipping and handling. I be glad give my address an could pay through PayPal.

                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    Well I would love to buy a ci that is seasoned an slick as you say. Would like a 10 inch if anybody has one they would like to sale to me.

                                3. re: SanityRemoved

                                  This is very true. I have witnessed my mom, grandmothers, aunts, etc. do just that. But I also would say that their cast iron skillets were used at least twice a day, every single day. Unlike me that might use them once a week, if that. I also believe that the heavy use of of my grandmothers skillets is what made them so slick and smooth. Twice to three times a day scraping with metal spatulas, will smooth the metal out. Not to mention the scrubbing they got perodically. And every so often when the build up on the pan grew, they were thrown out into the fire to cook off the coating and would start again. All this would provide a very smooth coating on the pans.
                                  I also actually witnessed my grandmother in law actually wear out one of her skillets.
                                  She was frying chicken when she exclaimed "goodness what is this mess" One of her daughter went to look and there was grease all over the stove. They got to looking in the pan, and sure enough, a hole had worn through the bottom of her cast iron skillet. They took the chicken out, threw the pan in the trash and got another one.
                                  I could kick myself for not rescuing that pan with the whole, just to keep as a conversation piece. But at the time I was young (19) and new to the family and I thought they would all think I was nuts for wanting that old pan.
                                  But yes. Those old antique pans saw an incredible amount of use. And that is why I think they were so smooth and well seasoned.

                                  1. re: SanityRemoved

                                    One of too infrequently perfect posts. I'll call you SanityRestored if you don't mind.

                                    1. re: SanityRemoved

                                      Well, maybe, maybe not. It really depends. In many households in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, the kitchen stove also heated the house. The stove fire, literally, never went out. Even if it did, the stove retained a lot of heat. Therefor, the oven was almost always hot, or at least warm. The housewife would likely keep at least some of her cast iron cookware in the oven if for no other reason than to keep it dry. This would have the side effect of seasoning it, or at least helping to.

                                      I have several cast iron pans that were given to me by a friend. They belonged to her now ex-husband. They _do_ have that legendary slick finish. Unfortunately, my brother "helped" me clean up in the kitchen and scrubbed the patina off of one of them, and I'm trying to figure out how to get it back.