A cast iron skillet can be a lifelong kitchen appliance if you care for it properly. It’s a truly underrated tool that can give strong flavors to your chicken based meals, and create a perfect sear for your steaks. The problem is, most people don’t know about the most important part of the cast iron; the seasoning! Seasoning isn’t something you do just once either. You should be doing it throughout its usage, even after years of flavor being added to the iron.
There are a bunch of oils you can use to season your cast iron and I’m going to explain what each can do for your meals. But before I dive into the flavors and aromas that can enhance your food, you should first know why we are doing it in the first place.
If you’re a kitchen buff and already know the ins and outs of cast iron seasoning, then skip down to the “5 Best Oils To Season Cast Iron” section. But for the rest of you, you might want to gain a little background knowledge for your new favorite appliance!
What Is Cast Iron Seasoning?
Normally when we say “seasoning” in the culinary world, we mean adding spices and herbs to your food, and although the seasoning process can add flavor to your food, this isn’t the reason that we season the cast iron.
Instead seasoning your cast iron is a process where you create a layer of protection on your cast iron skillet. This protection is a natural non-stick coating created through the oils that you use. Non-stick is an essential component of most modern day kitchen equipment, so you probably already know that it is helpful to a cast iron skillet as well. If you don’t know what “non-stick” is, then the clue is in the name. It stops your food from sticking to the cast iron.
Not only does the cast iron gain this non-stick coating, but the seasoning process also protects the iron from rust! Seasoning your cast iron skillet protects it for a lifetime, but you need to top it up every once in a while!
5 Best Oils to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
To some people, seasoning choices are to do with a person’s connection to their food. You can be seasoning your skillet for generations and generations, not using any of the oils which I’m about to suggest. If it works for you, then keep doing what you’re doing but, if you don’t like how your food currently tastes, or if you’ve bought a new cast iron and want to start from scratch, then I’ve picked out the 5 best oils to season your cast iron skillet with.
OUR TOP PICK
Grapeseed oil is most chefs’ number one choice for seasoning a cast iron skillet. This is because grapeseed has a high smoke point of 420F. This is important when you cook with the skillet because you want to cook at a temperature under the smoke point so you don’t melt the seasoning. 420F is a great temperature because most recipes don’t want you to go this high, but when it comes to actual seasoning most ovens can reach this height. You can season the skillet quickly, and it’s high enough that you don’t have to worry about your cooking melting the seasoning afterwards.
Grapeseed is also a favorite because it doesn’t have an aroma or flavor. This means that it won’t clash with the flavors of your dish. You can cook anything with it and know that the flavor you originally expected will still be there!
Grapeseed is a healthy choice of oil as well, and it is reasonably priced in comparison to another popular seasoning oil, we will get to in a minute (Flaxseed Oil).
This is why most professional chefs use Grapeseed oil. It is also my number one choice for seasoning your cast iron skillet.
- 420F Smoke Point
- Neutral Aroma
- Neutral Flavor
- Reasonably Priced
- Hard To Find
Flaxseed oil has become very popular these days, and even though it’s a great pick, there are some downsides to flaxseed oil. It has a strong smell which can be off putting, it's hard to find in stores and it isn’t any good for cooks who only use a cast iron once a year. This is because the oil can go rancid if left alone for too long, creating a car-oil-like smell.
But, if you are happy to buy the flaxseed online, and plan to use your cast iron often, then these issues can be ignored. It has a high unsaturated fat percentage (86%, the same as the grapeseed), which means that it will bond easily to your cast iron skillet. It has a lovely and slick finish that makes your food glide around the iron without sticking. It can also dry naturally so you don’t have to dab it with a paper towel or kitchen roll. This is particularly great as cast iron skillets are sensitive to moisture.
The Flaxseed oil’s smoke point is 225F, which means it is easy to season your cast iron as the temperature doesn’t need to be that high. But because of this, you have to do it multiple times to get a good coating. Also when you are cooking you don’t want to go higher than 225F otherwise the seasoning could melt.
All in all, I would suggest this oil for chefs who plan on using their cast iron skillet often and prefer to cook low and slow.
- Dries Naturally
- Easy to Coat
- Neutral Taste
- 225F Smoke Point
- Strong Smell
- Shouldn’t Coat on a Rarely Used Skillet
Olive oil is a surprisingly great choice to season your cast iron with. Not only is it an oil that most people already have in their pantry, but it is also healthy and has an average smoke point (375F). I personally love the olive oil option because it can be used for multiple seasonings on my cast iron, but also in my food in general.
I did say that the smoke point is 375F, but this does depend on if you have a virgin or an extra virgin oil. Because olive oil comes in these purer varieties the smoke point temperature can be hard to pinpoint. I suggest you put the oven to the highest heat you can and see when the smoke starts occurring. That will be your smoke point.
Olive oil does have an aroma, as well as a taste. The likelihood is that you already know what these taste and smell like, because of the popularity of olive oil in general, but if not then I’m happy to inform you that it tastes like nuts and smells almost fruity. Olive oil goes with most food combinations so you don’t have to worry about these flavors mixing, but if you know that the flavor you’re going for will clash with the classic olive oil taste, then it might be something you have to consider when seasoning your cast iron.
Olive oil is an easy to find oil, relatively cheap and goes with most food flavors.
- Smoke Point 375F-ish
- Easy to Find
- Nice Smell
- Nice Flavor
- Has a Smell
- Has a Flavor
- Smoke Point Can be Inconsistent
If you want to have the highest smoke point out there, then I would recommend Avocado Oil. Avocado oil has a smoke point of 520F! This means that if you like to cook at high temperatures, you’ll know that the seasoning you’ve created won't break under that hot environment. But because of this reason avocado oil is considered to be a super strong seasoning.
As avocado oil is made from avocados, you can be sure that the flavors and smells are neutral, and it has a myriad of health benefits.
The only real negative of avocado oil comes back to the 520F smoke point. Most ovens cannot reach that temperature. If you are a professional oven, then you might have something that can polymerize the oil, but the rest of us might be playing with fire.
Using avocado oil usually comes down to your oven choices rather than how great the oil is itself.
- High Smoke Point - 520F
- Neutral Smell
- Neutral Taste
- Hard to Break the Bond
- Hard to Create the Bond
- Hard to Find
Peanut oil is a bit of a curve ball, and some of you might already have alarm bells going off in your head.
If you have a peanut allergy or cook for someone who has a peanut allergy, then do not use this oil to cook with or to season your cast iron skillet. Even though the oil sinks into the pores, it can still transfer onto the food you are cooking, and it’s not worth causing a dangerous reaction just to create a nutty flavor.
Now the warning is over, I want to talk about Peanut Oil’s good points. Peanut oil is an easy to find oil. It’s in most stores and it isn’t expensive either. It has a smoke point of 450F which is wonderfully high (for cooking with) and easy to reach (for the seasoning process).
Because peanut oil is a great deep frying oil, you might already have some in your home or want to use it for other occasions.
If you choose a refined version then it won't be a healthy oil, but it’s no worse than vegetable oil which you may have noticed is not on the list (do not use it!). You might rather the refined version despite the negative health issues because they tend to last longer on the shelf!
Depending on if you chose a refined or unrefined peanut oil, the smoke point will be different. So like I said before, you’ll want to whack the temperature up to high and see when the smoke starts to form to get the real smoke point.
The only real negatives to the peanut oil are the allergic reactions you could have and the unhealthiness in comparison to the other oils on the list.
- Easy to Find
- 450F Smoke Point
- Nutty Taste
- Cannot Use For People With Nut Allergies
- Hard to Find Smoke Point
- Not a Healthy Pick
- Has a Taste
Best Oil To Season Cast Iron Buying Guide
Why Should I Season My New Cast Iron Before Cooking
So I’ve told you why seasoning is important to your cast iron, but you might think that this seasoning process can happen over multiple uses, so why bother putting aside time to season the iron at all. Although that thought process does sound wonderfully organic, you will have a real headache working with an unseasoned cast iron.
New unseasoned cast irons will stick to your food. You will have to scrape off every chuck. There are humps and holes on the surface of a cast iron skillet which your food will slip into and then solidify around, creating a powerful grip. If you’re happy to avoid the bottom layer of food, you might think it’s all fine, but then it’s time to clean. You’ll use a lot of elbow grease to get all that gunk off!
This is all avoidable if you simply season the skillet beforehand! Seasoning turns the rough surface into a smooth landscape, stopping the food from bonding to the iron skillet!
How Does Seasoning Protect My Cast Iron?
When you heat the oil over the cast iron skillet, the metal and the oxygen start to combine and connect in a process called polymerization. You might recognize that term as a type of plastic and you’re not wrong! What happens is the oil becomes very hard, like plastic. It fills in the little holes and uneven surfaces to give you a flat, thick and strong surface. This surface, because it’s not metal but oil, is non-stick.
You want to do the coating with multiple thin layers instead of one thick layer. This is so that the oil cannot be removed.
So now you know the importance of seasoning, let’s have a look at the best oils to season your cast iron skillet with!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Kind Of Oil Should I Clean My Cast Iron Skillet With?
I would use vegetable oil for this. This is a cheap oil you can get anywhere and it shouldn’t mix with any of the seasoning oils you have used. Using a paper towel or a kitchen towel, dab a thin layer of the oil across the cast iron. Put it upside down on an oven rack and then bake it for one hour. This is to stop the oil from pooling and then seasoning (or breaking the seasoning) on the cast iron.
How Often Should I Season My Cast iron?
I recommend seasoning your cast iron at least twice a year. But you can do it as often as you like. If you only season the iron one a year or less, then it might start rusting. It is better to be overly cautious than under prepared when it comes to seasoning your cast iron.
The best oil to season your cast iron with, all depends on what you have in the cupboard, what you're happy to buy just for this process, and what temperature you’re happy to season with. My personal favorites are Grapeseed oils and Olive oils. I always have olive oil in my cupboard and I love the taste that it brings, so I’m happy to do my top up seasoning with that classic flavor. But when I have a new cast iron, or when I want to give my cast iron a little extra love, I search for some grapeseed oils to great the best seasoning.
Whichever one from my list makes your taste buds sing, give them a go. You can keep mixing up your seasons to get the reactions you want. The only oil you need to be super conscious about is the peanut oil, but that’s just because of the common allergies that some of your friends or family members might have.