Start With the Right Oil (It’s Not What You Think)
I’ve read dozens of Web pages on how to season cast iron, and there is no consensus in the advice. Some say vegetable oils leave a sticky surface and to only use lard. Some say animal fat gives a surface that is too soft and to only use vegetable oils. Some say corn oil is the only fat to use, or Crisco, or olive oil. Some recommend bacon drippings since lard is no longer readily available. Some say you must use a saturated fat – that is, a fat that is solid at room temperature, whether it’s animal or vegetable (palm oil, coconut oil, Crisco, lard). Some say never use butter. Some say butter is fine. Some swear by Pam (spray-on canola oil with additives). Some say the additives in Pam leave a residue at high temperatures and pure canola oil is best. Some say it doesn’t matter what oil you use.
They are all wrong. It does matter what oil you use, and the oil that gives the best results is not in this list. So what is it? Here are some hints: What oil do artists mix with pigment for a high quality oil paint that dries hard and glassy on the canvas? What oil is commonly used by woodturners to give their sculptures a protective, soft-sheen finish? It’s the same oil. Now what is the food-grade equivalent of this oil?
The oil used by artists and woodturners is linseed oil. The food-grade equivalent is called flaxseed oil. This oil is ideal for seasoning cast iron for the same reason it’s an ideal base for oil paint and wood finishes. It’s a “drying oil”, which means it can transform into a hard, tough film. This doesn’t happen through “drying” in the sense of losing moisture through evaporation. The term is actually a misnomer. The transformation is through a chemical process called “polymerization”.
The seasoning on cast iron is formed by fat polymerization, fat polymerization is maximized with a drying oil, and flaxseed oil is the only drying oil that’s edible. From that I deduced that flaxseed oil would be the ideal oil for seasoning cast iron.
As a reality check of this theory, I googled “season cast iron with flaxseed oil” to see what came up. The very first hit is a page written by a guy who seasons his cast iron cookware with linseed oil from the hardware store because it gives the hardest surface of anything he’s tried. (I’m not sure how safe that is; I don’t recommend it.) Below that were several sites selling traditional cast iron cookware from China, which they advertise as being “preseasoned with high quality flax oil”. I don’t know whether they really use food-grade flaxseed oil (which is expensive) or linseed oil from a hardware store. What’s significant is the claim. Seasoning with high quality flaxseed oil is something to brag about.
Seasoning Is Not Cooking: Different Principles Apply - http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/
Johanna Ruth wrote:I just found this forum, so I'm a complete newbie.
I have a cast iron dutch oven. I used it last week to boil down a turkey carcass. When I finished and rinsed it, I wiped it with a cloth and the cloth got black. So I decided to do a round of seasoning. I wiped it with coconut oil and put it in a 350 degree oven. After several hours, it still had a brown/black film on the cloth. It isn't forming the 'cured' surface. Not sure why or what to do about it. None of the things I can find on seasoning cast iron cookware mention this. Any ideas?
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