How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan

Writer: hoot & holler

One of the most important skills you can learn in the kitchen is how to season a carbon steel pan. Seasoning a pan might sound counterintuitive–aren’t you supposed to season the meat, not the pan? But in fact, a seasoned pan is the key to cooking your food perfectly and increasing your pan’s lifespan.

Why Should You Season a Carbon Steel Pan?

You’ve just bought a new pan from the store and can’t wait to try it out. You throw the pan on the stove and crack a few eggs. The eggs pop and sizzle and become crisp at the edges. But when it’s time to transfer the eggs to the plate, they stick to the bottom of the pan. You scrape against the bottom of the eggs and finally manage to tear them off the surface, leaving a blackened burned residue behind. You scrub the pan in the sink, but the reside won’t come off. What did you do wrong?

When you get a new carbon steel pan, before you do anything else, take a few minutes to season the pan over the stove. “Season the pan?” you say. “You mean, add herbs and spices?” Actually, seasoning the pan has nothing to do with flavor. As Serious Eats points out, seasoning a pan means burning hot oil into the surface. Deliberately burning oil in your pan might seem like a bizarre thing to do–aren’t you supposed to avoid burning anything in the kitchen? But burning a small amount of oil actually creates a protective barrier that increases the lifespan of your pan.

Some brands of pans come pre-burned from the factory, but most carbon steel pans have to be seasoned by the consumer. Fortunately, this gives you the perfect opportunity to learn more about seasoning and how to protect your pan for future use. When you season your pan, you’ll notice that it takes on that classic “rusted” look you see in professional kitchens. That’s a good thing, as it means your pan is coated with a protective film. So when you see a bare metallic pan in the store, know that you’ll have some work to do as soon as you bring it home!

What are the Benefits of Seasoning a Carbon Steel Pan?

Seasoning your carbon steel pan is essential to being successful in the kitchen. First off, seasoning your pan seals off the pores and gives you a non-stick surface. The first coating is the most important, but as you start using your pan, the oils you use while cooking will continue to build up and make the pan even more durable. If you’re imagining a crust of grease on your pan, don’t worry–this layer is so thin that you’ll barely even notice it. The heat turns the oil into a hard polymer that sticks to the pan like a layer of plastic. With a strong non-stick surface, you’ll be able to cook anything in your pan: eggs, omelettes, pancakes, crepes, and more.

Made In Cookware states that seasoning your pan also helps prevent rust and corrosion. If you’ve had issues with pans rusting in the past, it’s likely that they weren’t seasoned properly. Seasoning your pan creates a thin but durable layer that rivals even the strongest rust-free products on the market. You can even season the outside of the pan if you start to find rust gathering on the edges. This extends the lifespan of your pan and reduces the need to scrape off grime and rust every few months.

And finally, seasoning your pan ensures that your food will cook evenly. The non-slick surface keeps the food from burning or getting too hot on either side. Have you ever noticed that when you use a non-seasoned pan, your food cooks way too quickly and often ends up burning? A seasoned pan cooks the food evenly on all sides and even adds extra flavor.

How Do You Season a Carbon Steel Pan?

As this Cook Culture video shows us, seasoning your pan is a simple process that only takes a few minutes. To start, wash your pan off in the sink. The pan might be coated with a factory residue that keeps the pan from rusting before it’s bought by the consumer. This coating isn’t a replacement for actual seasoning, so make sure you wipe it off before you begin.

Once the pan is clean, turn on the stove and pour a little oil into the pan. Don’t overdo it–a thin layer is all you need to season your carbon steel pan. Let it heat up and swirl it around the edges of the pan. When the pan starts to take on a “rusted” color, you’ll know that the oil is treating the pan. Keep it burning for a few minutes, making sure the entire pan is coated in oil.

Afterwards, make sure you clean the inside of the pan. Don’t worry about wiping off the grease, as the heat has already solidified the protective layer. Dry the pan off with a towel, and you’re ready to go! You can start cooking any time you like.

Now that you know how to season a carbon steel pan, you’ll find that it’s much easier to cook your favorite foods to perfection. It’s simple, it doesn’t cost much, and anyone can do it, whether they’re an amateur cook or an experienced professional. And it’ll increase the lifespan of your pan by months or even years.