During a conversation about his company's cast-iron skillets, Isaac Morton told me I’ve been seasoning mine all wrong.
According to Morton, founder of Smithey Ironware in Charleston, South Carolina, seasoning skillets in the oven is the slowest and least effective option you’ve got. “In my opinion, when you’re seasoning in the oven you’re just protecting the skillet from rust and the elements,” Morton said. “Other than cooking in it over and over again, what we call stovetop seasoning is the better method of seasoning.”
Permutations of this method are endorsed by two gear testing greats — Jeff Rogers and J. Kenji Lopéz-Alt — and Morton goes as far as to say “we can’t do it in production [of skillets], but we all do it at home. You take a new pan and you’re able to apply a layer of seasoning on it that accelerates something like 10 years of seasoning process.”
“The reason these old Wagners and Griswolds are so nice and tidy is because they’ve been cooked on for 100 years — this is basically a way to expedite that process,” Morton said.
Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Open windows, turn on fans.
Morton made it clear before going into the specifics of this seasoning process: if you don’t have good to great ventilation in your kitchen and home, don’t use this method. Open your windows, turn on ceiling fans, kitchen fans and prep for a healthy dose of smoke. (For what it’s worth, I was able to use this method in a small Brooklyn apartment by following this step. It got smoky, but not unsafely so. Use good judgement.)
Step 2: Apply oil and crank up your stove.
The coat of oil should be very, very light. Dab a rag in your seasoning oil of choice and wipe it all over the skillet; then wipe excess oil away with a paper towel. As with cooking something in a cast-iron skillet, it will take 5 to 10 minutes to fully come to temperature. Be patient, this method of seasoning will still take a fraction of the time the oven method would. Pay attention to when the skillet starts to smoke, as that’s when you need to start paying attention again. In Morton’s words, “if it’s smoking, it’s doing what it’s supposed to.”
Step 3: Intermittently wipe pan with oily rag.
“Light, very light,” Morton says. When the skillet starts to look dry, that’s when you apply another quick wipe. The longer you have it turned up and smoking, the sturdier the resulting seasoning — Morton says 10 minutes should be good, and 15 minutes is probably more than is necessary. “When it starts to turn dark chocolate to black, you’re set.”
Step 4: Let the skillet cool.
Turn the stove off. The skillet will be hot for up to a half an hour after seasoning is completed. Let it sit on the stovetop or slide it in the oven to cool. Your cast-iron skillet should be a deeper color, release foods from its surface more easily (Morton notes it will never be truly non-stick, but it can come close).