How To Season A Carbon Steel Pan

The maintenance and cleaning of carbon steel are very important and also one of the reasons more people don’t use this kind of pan.

If you have a cast-iron pan that you regularly use and take care of then a lot of this information will be familiar. If this is your first time, don’t get discouraged, after a few uses you’ll develop a routine that becomes second nature.

How To Season A Carbon Steel Pan

Seasoning is the process of adding a protective layer to your pan to protect against rust and makes your cookware more nonstick. That layer is made by bonding oil to your cookware in a hardened layer.

As you continue to cook foods with oil and fat on a seasoned pan, you can continue to add layers and durability to the protective layer.

Search the internet and you will find a wide range of techniques and opinions on the best way to season carbon steel cookware.

In a restaurant, it’s common that carbon steel pans get scrubbed with soap and abrasive sponges along with the rest of the cookware. That’s a big no-no at home, as you’ll be washing away your hard-earned coating.

Anyway, that leaves the cooks with the task of seasoning their pans after every wash. It’s tedious but you get pretty good and efficient at it.

This is the method that I’ve found works the best and is also the fastest. The big time saver comes because there’s no cool-down period in between each coat like some techniques call for.

  1. Scrub your pan with soap and hot water to get rid of any protective wax or oil (the only time you’ll be using soap on your pan).
  2. Dry your pan with a towel and place on the stove over medium-high heat.
  3. Turn on your hood and open the windows if you can. It’s gonna get a little smokey.
  4. When your pan is hot, turn off the heat and drizzle in a small amount of high heat cooking oil. Use a paper towel to coat the entire inside of the pan. You should be able to get most of the oil soaked up into the paper towel. Save that oily towel.
  5. Take a second clean paper towel and wipe down the interior again. You should have as thin a coating of oil as possible. Like there is almost nothing there.
  6. Return the pan to medium-high heat. After several minutes it will begin to smoke, that’s a good thing. 
  7. Once the smoke has mostly stopped, use your oily paper towel from step 4 and wipe the entire interior of the pan again. Be very careful as you do this as the towel can get hot.
  8. The new coat of oil will start smoking as your applying it. Continue to heat the pan until most of the smoke has dissipated again, and repeat the process 5 more times.
  9. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool.

A few notes about this process. You can certainly do more coats depending on how much time you have and how smoky your house gets. If you have a gas grill outside, that’s an ideal place to do this without setting off the fire alarm.

If you are doing this on a grill or a gas stove, a very light coat of oil on the exterior of the pan will add a layer of rust protection but it’s not necessary. Don’t do that if you’re using an electric range because it’s going to make a mess on your stove and create even more smoke than necessary.

Many people use flaxseed oil for the seasoning process. That works but can also be expensive and I rarely have it on hand. I prefer grapeseed oil because it’s what I regularly use in my kitchen, but vegetable or canola oil will work just as well.

YouTube video

The folks at Blanc Creatives have an excellent video that demonstrates exactly the process that I just described. 

When it comes time to clean your carbon steel pan avoid using soap as that will break down your seasoning layer. Instead, use hot water and a stiff-bristled brush. I like to keep a bamboo wok brush in the kitchen for this and my other cast iron cookware.

Another alternative is to use coarse salt and a towel to scrub off any stuck-on food. After any cleaning with water, dry the pan thoroughly and rub just a drop of oil on it before storage.

If seasoning still seems like a challenge and you’re just getting started with carbon steel, Lodge makes a pre-seasoned skillet that takes out some of the effort to get started. The textured bottom created by their factory seasoning process isn’t for everyone, but it certainly convenient to use out-of-the-box.

If you’re considering getting a new piece of carbon steel cookware, see our recommendations for best carbon steel skillet and woks before you do. It will save you time, hassle, and hopefully a few bucks too.

About the author

William is a classically trained chef, who spent years cooking in top NYC restaurants before bringing his talents home to Colorado. Now a stay-at-home dad, William has brought his passion for professional cooking home, where he continues to cook and bake for his wife and daughter.

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