Monday, May 14, 2007

How to season a black iron / carbon steel pan



















I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much lately; I have indeed been cooking, but have been super-busy with work and uni and things like that.

Anyway.. I've just started a mini-culinary project. Nothing too exciting, unfortunately. I've recently bought a carbon steel pan (AKA black iron. I figured out after some long and painful searching on the internet that "black iron" and "carbon steel" are the same thing). I'm going to season the pan, and document the process on my blog. I've never seasoned a pan before (not even a wok; we have a stainless steel one at home), and I've heard that a properly seasoned pan is a joy to cook on, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I picked it up at a homeware store for a mere $15. It was covered in a non-toxic anti rusting oil, and paper. After bringing the shiny beauty home, I spent ages on the internet trying to figure out how to actually season the thing. Pretty much every website I found gave conflicting advice - some said to bake it in an oven, some said to heat it on the stove, some said to clean it with detergent, some said detergent would destroy the pan....

and so on.

After all of that, I figured that I'd just go back to my Asian roots, and season the pan like a wok. (Googling "How to Season a wok" proved much more productive than "How to season a black iron pan"). The point of seasoning, as far as I can tell, is to create layers of oil in the pan, which increase with each use, eventually forming a "shiny black patina" which is basically non-stick.

Based on my internet research (possibly inaccurate, but time will tell), here is how to season a pan.


How to Season a Black Iron / Carbon Steel Pan

1. Scrub the pan clean in warm soapy water, being careful to remove all the "anti-rust coating", and dry very thoroughly.

2. Coat all internal surfaces of the pan with vegetable oil, (I used a big wad of kitchen paper for ease), and pour a layer of oil to a depth of about half a centimetre in the bottom of the pan.

3. Place the pan over a medium heat and heat for about 10 minutes, until lightly smoking.

4. Let the pan cool down, pour out the oil, and wipe out the excess.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 twice more.

6. Your pan is now seasoned and ready for use. With repeated use, more layers will form in the pan, eventually turning black and becoming virtually non-stick.

7. There are various schools of thought on cleaning the pan - some say to simply wipe the pan out, or scrub gently with a nylon pan to remove any burnt-on food products. Some sources recommend using hot water and a light detergent; others say that simply heating water in the pan until it boils and then pouring it out is sufficient. I guess you should do what you feel comfortable with. It is also important never to leave the pan with any moisture in it, or it will rust. You can just place it on the heat until any water is evaporated, wipe a thin coating of oil on the pan, and the cleaning process is finished.

Here is my first attempt at seasoning... as you will see, the sides went a bit strange. I couldn't tell if that was supposed to happen, or if I just hadn't scrubbed the pan enough, and some anti-rust coating had remained.

















See? Looks a bit dodgy, I think. So I started again, this time scrubbing really hard, and then re-seasoned it.
















This time it looked much better, and most importantly, started smelling like a wok in a Chinese restaurant would.

Stay tuned for (hopefully) delicious adventures with fried foods!

15 comments:

Lisa said...

Nice!
A friend of my mom's always used her cast-iron skillet, and I remember her boiling a little water on the stove to clean it. Also, if you're cooking and using your oven, too, you can stick the cleaned skillet in the oven, which has been turned off but still warm, to make sure no moisture remains. Which is pretty much what you know already, but I just wanted to confirm I've seen this done!

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Because the anti-stick layer ends up being a layer of burnt oil, carbon, I reckon you should not use soap as it can affect the taste of the food. I just wipe with paper towel, or if it is gucky, i use a reserved nylon scourer (reserved from use with soap) . You never want it to be dry of oil on the surface so soap defeats the seasoning exercise anyway.
B

Eat to Live said...

What no one warned me when I seasoned my wok was that the smoke alarm would bleat continuously! It was exceedingly nerve-wracking.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I seem to be in about the same stage as you are, but in my case there was a sticker with the pan that said to fry up slivers of potato and potato skin in oil with some salt as the seasoning exercise. This seemed to work, with results similar to yours, but more evenly spread.
After that seasoning I started to use the pan regularly to fry up a chopped mix of onions, potatoes and other bits that I cook for breakfast, followed by eggs.
I used olive oil liberally, and cooked in stages (onions and friends first, removed them, re-oiled and then browned pre-boiled potatoes, and then after mixing the onions back in, would pull it all out, scrape the pan a bit and then re-oil again and cook the eggs).
The reason for the detail is that even in this dish, there were different results. The onions etc would leave the pan unchanged, but there would always be a burnt residue stuck to the bottom after the potatoes. So while the rim itself , which was not involved, got a clean, dark bronze all around, gradually the floor got not only black but a tad crusty in areas, though after maybe 10 cook-ups, it was still only partially blackened.
For cleaning, I did just what I had done in the past with an iron pan -- immediately filled with a shallow layer of hot water (which weakens even the heaviest fried layer, like deglazing), used a scraper to lift 98% of that fried residue off and out, rinsed again and dried with a paper towel, and then finally re-oiled with just a drop of oil spread around with another piece of paper towel.
This seemed to work very well, and no matter how hard the fried residue is at the bottom, it lifts that 98% off easily once a little hot water is added and I give it a good scrape -- though a textured surface would always remain, and the paper towels would always come up dirty, no matter how many rubs I gave it.
I don’t much like that 2% crusty residue as it still will come off and darken things like eggs, but at least this process would not remove the core browning/blackening, and the pan did not rust.
So everything seemed like it was moving forward.
However....while I was out the other day my pan got drafted for re-frying a heavily vinegared meat dish (adobo, if you know what that is), and the left-over amount was left there and refried yet again for the next meal (standard abodo procedure - it gets better with each re-frying).
As nice as the last abodo was....afterwards, the pan was totally changed. The browning remained up on the sides, but the floor was steel-looking again, even a bit like galvanized metal with a smaller pattern.
My assumption is that leaving such a heavily vinegared dish in the pan just lifted all the blackening out. Or maybe it was because of the time the dish spent in the pan. Or both.
Beyond that, though, I don't know now whether this puts me back to square one with the metal, or whether a base oil layer is still there, if thin and deep and therefore not visible.
My questions (if anyone has an answer):
Does the pan have to be brown/black to be seasoned, vs. my new galvanized look?
When my pan was dark, I couldn't get clean-looking eggs out of it. They always picked up some of that crusty brown/black at the bottom and looked like I had been at them with soy. Would this be the case with a properly blackened wok?
Are you supposed to scrape right down to just a ‘clean’ bronzed/black layer rather than leave some crust on? The rim is deeply bronzed, seemingly without the thin crusty bits, but the floor never gets that way. Either the color comes off in cooking, or there is fragile black crust rather than just discoloration.
Any knowledge someone might have on this would be appreciated.
-hkm

FWIW: That little nylon dish scraper I mentioned is brilliant. It looks like a tailor's marker - vaguely square, about 6 cm across and 0.5 cm thick, with rounded corners of various degree to scrape into a range of wall angles in different pans. It was meant for teflon (great for that, too -- better than those coarse pads), but works great for steel too once the residue is softened.

Anonymous said...

The acid dissolved one layer of your pan and you are looking at the inside new exposed metal. (that's why it is shinny)

Anonymous said...

Iron and steel are different. Steel actually an alloy made by adding carbon, chromium or other metals to iron. Iron is cast as molten liquid, is brittle and will break rather than dent. An iron skillet as thin as a steel one can be would be very fragile. Steel can be shaped into things like knives and car parts or washing machine cabinets.

endep said...

It's interesting that most of the comments here speak of oils being the major factor in the seasoning process but most allow a water rinse in the cleaning process. I think there is an old saying that sums the effect of this interaction. I would suggest a heated scrubbing with any cloth or pad, kosher salt and a bit of canola in the pan. This not only reinforces the seasoning layer but works as an excellent scrub that leaves a smooth finish.

and the best place to season a pan is the camp fire. makes sense, yeah

The Professor said...

I cook almost exclusively on cast iron and carbon steel pans. I have iron skillets that are nearly 100 years old that are in daily use. The best way to season a new pan is to build a big hardwood fire outside. Let the fire burn down into very hot coals. Coat your pan inside and out with lard or vegetable shortening, handle and all. Use lots of grease. Bury the pan completely in the coals, heaping them thickly over it. Let the fire burn out until completely cold. I use mesquite, so the job takes over night to cool completely.
Unearth your pan when it's cool. Hose and brush all the ash off of it. Don't scrub! Take the pan in and immediately dry it and place it on a warm burner to ensure it's completely dry. Rub it inside with a thin film of oil. It's ready for use.
Care:
The best way to clean a pan is while it's still warm from cooking. Sprinkle kosher salt into it and scrub with a wadded up paper towel.
In the event someone has burnt something in your pan or allowed the pan to get cold and crusty before cleaning it, heat some water in the bottom and scrub it with a nylon scubber without soap. Rinse and dry on the stove, wipe with oil. Banish whoever abused your pan from ever touching it again.
NEVER allow even a well seasoned pan to air dry.
ALWAYS wipe it with a little oil after cleaning.
Iron and steel pans will last forever if properly cared for and there is no better no-stick coating once the pan is mature. They do require extra care however.

Renata said...

I have been using both: carbon and cast iron all my life along with stainless steeel. Stainless obviously doesn't require seasoning as the other two metals do. After reading a number of posts, I thought I would like to add my comments based on over 30 years of experience. If your kitchen is equipped with a regular gas cooktop, it may take several weeks to build up that wonderful black glaze, however if you have a semi-professinal cooktop or better (basically I mean the number of BTU of the burners) then you may be able to speed up the process. Put the biggest or the hottest burner on, oil your wok with a decent coating of oil (I use olive oil) but try to avoid grape seed or walnut oil as they tend to have a high burning point which wil require a very high temperature to create the black coating. Turn any exhaust fan on or open a window, put a thick oven mitt on, get some paper towels ready and a pair of tongs. Heat until the pan smokes. Keep turning and tilting your wok and holding it in one position until you get a dark brown or almost black layer, keep rubbing more oil into the surface and justbe patient. My gas cooktop has a mighty 18,000 BTU center burner just for wok cooking and with the burner on full blast it took me almost 1 hour to black glaze a very large wok. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice I would avoid cooking anything too acid in the pan as this will lift the seasoning layer so avoid slow cooked tomato dishes especially when the pan is fairly new - expect the seasoning process to last longer than you think it could take months or years to get it perfect.

Anonymous said...

First of all, as one other person said here, the blogger is incorrect -- iron and steel are not the same material -- "black iron" might be cast iron, but it's not "carbon steel." As for Carbon steel(CS) like the pan shown, it is used for pans (such as fry pans, saute pans and woks by makers such as de Buyer) as well as CS knives (such as Sabatier). The easiest way to season a a new CS fry pan and maintain it is the de Buyer method (the short video is on YouTube) -- boiling potato peels in a new CS pan to "clean" manufacturer's coatings and dirt that protects a new CS pan before it's purchased and used. Actual CS pan seasoning is done over time -- I use just a little bacon grease (or lard) because it works better than vegetable oil. If you must use vegetable oil, avoid oils that have high temp burn points (such as grapeseed or peanut)-- those oils will take forever at very high temperatures to produce correct results and most people using them "quit" early and end up with a sticky, unevenly seasoned pan. Clean a CS pan while still warm as soon as you finishing cooking with it. You can use a drop or two of fat (or oil) and little kosher salt to clean off deposits, then some very hot water to rinse out the pan. Finish cleaning by wiping with paper towel and reheat the pan on a burner, dry, or in a warm oven to ensure the pan is completely dry before putting it away. Never use dish soap, never wash in dishwasher, never leave in sink, never leave the pan with anything in it and never use a CS pan to cook highly acidic foods.

Anonymous said...

To season a steel or cast iron pan - clean the pan well of any manufacturing residue wipe dry and put it in an oven at 200-250F. When the pan is up to temperature, take the pan out and coat all steel surfaces with beef suet and put back in the over for an hour. Lard will work too. Keep a little beef suet in the freezer and before cooking, warm the pan and wipe the cooking surface with the suet the first few times. If you have to use soap to clean the pan, re-season the interior on the stovetop with the suet and your ready to go again.

Unknown said...

Use detergent to clean the pan thoroughly and dry it on the stove. Then lightly coat the pan with oil and stick it to a 500F oven. Bake for half an hour. Done.

Unknown said...

Use detergent to clean the pan thoroughly and dry it on the stove. Then lightly coat the pan with oil and stick it to a 500F oven. Bake for half an hour. Done.

Rex. said...

In my experience, lightly coat the pan (inside, outside and handle if metal) with oil (I use olive), then put it in the oven at 250 deg C (highest my oven will go). Open house doors and windows (it will smoke!) and let bake for an hour. The pan is ready to use, but I suggest repeating this process every so often.

For cleaning, I use salt. This disinfects any remaining food particles. Then rinse in hot water and dry. Easy.

I use my pans daily, so do not bother coating them with oil in between uses. I do, however, apply some oil to the pan and heat it up before each use to help maintain the pan seasoning.