Seasoning cast iron cookware is an essential part of owning this highly durable cookware. It creates a natural non-stick surface and even adds a bit of flavor to your food, and protects the surface against corrosion.
You can season cast iron cookware without an oven even though most seasoning processes for cast iron require baking the skillet or pot in the oven. Using a stovetop or grill is an alternative process that will give cast iron the same finish an easy-release nonstick surface and protect the iron from rust and corrosion.
Before looking at this method to season your cast iron without the oven, it’s important to understand what the seasoning process is, why it’s important and how to maintain it throughout the life of your cookware.
What Is Seasoning and Why Does Cast Iron Need It?
While many people believe that seasoning is about adding a layer of oil or fat to the surface of the cast iron pan or skillet to protect the metal from corrosion and create a non-stick surface, the actual process has a different name.
Seasoning cast iron is called ‘polymerization,’ which means adding layers of fat that bond to the metal surface by heating them and creating a layer of plastic.
Polymerization is the process of converting fat into plastic. This layer is essential for cast iron to prevent rust from exposure to high temperatures and water during the cooking process and moisture while in storage.
After several seasonings, the cast iron will build up a thick black layer like a skin that gives that beautiful non-stick surface for cooking anything from steak to eggs and everything in between.
These are the surface properties you want for your cast iron cookware.
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How to Season Your Cast Iron Cookware
The short answer for how to season a skillet in the oven. Heat the skillet until hot. Using mitts remove the pan from the heat, and rub oil 1 tablespoon of oil over all surfaces, inside and out including the handle. Return the skillet to medium heat for about 10 minutes. The oil will lightly smoke and oil dry out. If required repeat the process.
While many cast iron products come ‘pre-seasoned,’ it is always better to season your cookware properly to make sure it is properly seasoned. First, you need to wash your pan properly and then make sure it is completely dry.
You can use a little bit of soap, but only a little. Make sure the pot/skillet is completely dry and even wipe it again after it is dry to ensure you don’t trap any water or moisture between the oil or fat surface as this will lead to corrosion.
Using a scourer on the cooking surface only will rough up the surface a little giving the fat/oil something to bite on when under heat.
Once the piece is completely dry, you need to oil it completely, which means oiling the handle as well. Many people would season their cast iron with lard or any other cooking oil, and olive or flaxseed oils are also fine as they have low smoke points and are flavorless.
Now you need to cure it. Curing is essentially baking the layer onto the metal, and this is usually done by putting the skillet/pot in the oven to bake for a while at a high temperature and then removing it to cool.
If you don’t have an oven to cure your cast iron don’t worry as there is another way to cure it effectively.
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Curing Your Cast Iron Without an Oven
Curing requires heat to ‘burn’ the oil layer onto the cooking surface, and doing this over time and after cooking will provide an even seasoned layer on your cookware.
Step 1: Scour your cookware and add oil
Once you have cleaned and dried your pot/skillet, add a layer of oil to the surface using a paper towel or cloth rag. Remember that if your cookware is new and marked as pre-seasoned, you need to scrub this off to season it properly.
Step 2: Heat your burner or stove
Place your cast iron piece on the stove or burner and bring it to a smoking level. If you are inside, you may want to open the windows as there may be quite a bit of smoke in this process.
Once the pan is on the burner, move it around to create even heating until it smokes; then allow it to cool down to touch and wipe it out. Add another layer of oil and repeat this process three or four times.
If you acquire an oven at a later stage, you can re-season and re-cure the piece using the same steps as above, but then place your cookware to bake face down at around 375° F for about an hour and then let it cool down in the oven.
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Caring for Your Seasoned Cast Iron
Once seasoned, you need to use it often as seasoned cast iron but left in a cupboard for a long time can build up a gunky layer and even become a bit rancid, so if this happens, wash it and lightly re-oil it.
With cast iron, the more you use it, the better.
Once you’ve used your cast iron pan/skillet, make sure you clean it immediately after use if you can. You only need water to do this and don’t need any soap. The non-stick surface makes removing food easy, and even stubborn bits can be scrubbed or scraped off.
Related read How to clean your cast iron after cooking
Make sure that after washing it is completely dry and free from any moisture. Once it has air dried, give it another wipe to ensure it is absolutely dry before adding a light layer of oil and then storing it.
The oil layer must be enough to coat the surface and not pool on the cooking surface.
While you don’t always have to season your cookware after every use, doing this maintains the seasoning on the surface, and that slowly builds up over time and starts to add that cast iron flavor to your food.
This will also ensure that the risk of rust is reduced, and while rust can be removed, it will take a bit of elbow grease, and you may need to re-season it once done. Prevention is always better than cure.
Related read How often should cast iron be seasoned?
Storing Your Cast Iron Cookware
If you are going to be storing your cast iron with other cookware, remember that cast iron is very heady and can easily damage cookware made from lighter material. So either store all your cast iron cookware in its own cupboard or add paper towels to stop it from getting scratched.
Always look to store your cast iron with good airflow, as this will prevent moisture from building up on the cooking surface. If you live in a high humidity location, use a dry cupboard and ensure that the pot/skillet is dry before storing.
Related read How to store cast iron cookware
Hopefully, this article has given you some insights on how to effectively season cast iron without an oven. It’s always good practice to use the seasoned piece of cookware often so that its seasoning stays intact and doesn’t build up gunk or become rancid.
If it does happen, follow one of the suggestions above. Make sure your cast iron pot/skillet is completely dry before storing it away in a cupboard or shelf for later use. You can also store it face down like this as well which will help protect other cookware from scratches by the heavy material.
The more you use cast iron, the better; whether at home or professionally the benefits are endless! With a little care and proper seasoning and curing, even if you don’t have an oven, your cast iron will outlive you and most likely still be around in 100 years.
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