The process of forging Barebones cast iron is slow and thoughtful. Each piece is created with meticulous artistry and craftsmanship, and then pre-seasoned with natural, organic oils before being shipped. By leaving the surface ever so raw and rugged, the oils are better absorbed, providing an exceptional cooking surface from the very first time. Unlike other cast iron, it isn’t necessary to wash or scrub Barebones cast iron before use: we don’t use any resins to cover imperfections.
For most cast iron, it is important to season your piece before cooking or baking. Though all Barebones cast iron comes pre-seasoned and ready to use, you may find that your Barebones cast iron needs to be reseasoned over time. Seasoning is a common practice that creates a smoother, non-stick cooking surface. Seasoning can help if you use your cast iron in less than ideal conditions (e.g. over an open flame and thrown in the back of your camper), accidentally left water in it to naturally dry, cooked with super high heat, or you just want to give it a good reset.
Why Do You Season a Cast Iron?
Cast iron is made from reducing large pieces of iron in a blast furnace. Cast Iron skillets and dutch ovens are typically a mixture of iron and carbon when finished. Cast iron naturally has a rough, bumpy, porous surface when first created. When heat is added to the mixture, these bumps and pores expand on the surface, which can create a less than ideal cooking experience. Seasoning helps to create a smooth cooking surface by using cooking oil to fill in the uneven aspects. Think of a lake-bed: often the ground is very uneven underneath, but the water on top looks completely flat and smooth.
Over time, as you continue to cook with your cast iron, the bumpy surface becomes completely covered by layers of fully cooked oils that bond to the surface (see the science below). This is a well seasoned cast iron.
What is Polymerization?
Over time the surface of cast iron gets smoother and smoother. Why? This is due to a process called Polymerization. As you cook, the long chains of fat molecules in cooking oils break down on the surface and turn into an entirely new chemical compound. This new chemical compound is actually a natural biopolymer that creates an extremely smooth, non-stick surface in your skillet or dutch oven.
How To Season Cast Iron
The best way to keep a cast iron seasoned and happy is to cook with it. Make it your “go-to” skillet and create a routine of utilizing it whenever possible. Every time you heat oil in your cast iron, polymerization occurs, adding a new, thin layer of non-stick surface to your skillet or dutch oven. These layers build and build until you have an incredibly smooth cast iron. This makes cooking a dream!
Our team has given many different techniques a try and found the steps below to make the most sense from both a practical and effective standpoint: no messy dripping oil and successful, long term results.
Ideal seasoning temperatures allow for polymerization to occur (oil bonding with iron) but not for the oil to smoke and ultimately turn into burnt carbon. A slow and steady cook time allows for the cast iron to heat evenly, and the oil to heat with it. Note: every stove is different. Watch your cast iron for smoke and turn down the oven if this occurs.
- Grab your cast iron and wipe away any dust or debris.
- Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
- Grab your cooking oil. We recommend using Sunflower, Grapeseed, or another oil with a high smoke point.
- Oil the interior of the cast iron. The idea here is to not let there be any excess oil. Pour a teaspoon or so in at a time, and use a paper towel to rub it in. (Don’t forget the interior walls of your skillet or dutch oven!) Remember, cast iron is porous. You should be able to rub quite a bit of oil into the surface. Do this a few times until the cast iron is well oiled, but not dripping.
- Put your cast iron in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the cast iron and wipe away any excess oil that has come to the surface. Note: cast iron will be hot, remove with care!
- Heat the oven up to 400 degrees.
- Put the cast iron back in for 1 hour and don’t open the oven.
- Take it out, let it cool, and start cooking.
How To Clean Cast Iron
Using cast iron helps to reduce water use: most days you can wipe excess oil and food bits out of your skillet or dutch oven with a paper towel or dedicated rag. (Oils are meant to keep at room temperature; A small amount in your skillet or dutch oven will not cause mold or other issues.) If you need a deeper clean or wish to remove stuck-on foods, follow the directions below:
- Scrub your cast iron with a brush, Stainless Steel Cleaning Mesh, or salt scrub under warm water. See below on when to use each cleaning tool.
- Brush: Dislodge food, gentle on cast iron.
- Cast Iron Salt Scrub: Dislodge food, more gentle than metal scrubber.
- Stainless Cleaning Mesh: More aggressive, but adds to smoothing over time.
- Dry the cast iron on the stove or flame on low heat for a few minutes. Heat until the water has evaporated but before the cast iron starts to smoke. This method helps to confirm that the cast iron is completely dry, reducing risk of rust spots.
- When the cast iron has cooled, lightly coat the interior surface of the cast iron with cooking oil, like olive or avocado, to maintain seasoning. A paper towel or dedicated rag works well here too.
- If storing for extended periods, cover with a towel to prevent dust from attaching to the oiled surface.
Why To Avoid Soap When Cleaning Cast Iron
Contrary to popular belief, occasionally using soap in your cast iron won’t ruin it, but it’s best to avoid it all together if you can. Over time soap can remove the oils that help create a smooth cooking surface, and soap actually does not clean as well as using a natural Salt Based Scrub. If you do decide to use soap, make sure to re-oil your cast iron and completely dry it. Leaving water droplets to naturally dry will cause rust spots to appear on the surface of the cast iron. Regardless of how you clean, we recommend putting the cast iron back on the stove over low heat for a few minutes until it dries.
Can Cast Iron Retain Cooking Odors?
As we’ve learned from seasoning, cast iron does have a porous surface and can occasionally retain odors more than stainless steel. We recommend steering clear of very smelly foods like fish if you are sensitive to smells. If you find that your cast iron is retaining odors, try a Cast Iron Scrub. Make sure to use a Cleaning Mesh to remove stuck-on foods that could smell over time.
But, Is Cast Iron Worth the Extra Cleaning Steps?
The short answer is...Yes!
- Cast iron is more natural than alternatives. Cast Iron was the original “non-stick” skillet and continues to be celebrated to this day for its use in the kitchen. While newer non-stick chemical treatments have been applied to pans in recent years, cast iron continues to be the most natural non-stick variety. Unlike other non-stick pans (think Teflon) cast iron won’t start to chip or peel over years of use. If you take care of your cast iron you can expect to pass it down to the next generation.
- You can cook at higher heat. Chemical non-stick coverings can start to break down and emit toxins when you hit 500-600 degrees. You won’t have that issue with cast iron cookware. This makes it excellent for searing meats and even deep-frying foods.
- Go straight from the stove to the oven. Cast Iron skillets and dutch ovens are meant to be used on both the stovetop and in the oven. The rugged pans won’t crack (or worse, melt!) when put from stovetop to oven, even at high temps.
- Bake all day. Try cornbread, frittatas, deep-dish pizza, and more. Cast Iron cooks food thoroughly and evenly in the oven.
- Extra iron. When you cook with cast iron a very small amount of digestible iron is deposited into food. This is an easy way to add more iron to your diet, which can be especially valuable for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles.
Looking for more cast iron inspo? Learn about our forging process or check out our blog for recipes featuring our cast iron skillets, dutch ovens, and more.