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How to Season Carbon-Steel Cookware

By Lisa McManus and Lan Lam Published

Don’t let a fear of seasoning hold you back from enjoying the huge benefits of cooking in a carbon-steel skillet or wok.

Just like cast iron, carbon steel needs to be seasoned—this is the process that polymerizes fats heated in the pan and bonds them to the cooking surface, forming a coating that protects against rust and helps food release more easily. The good news is that seasoning carbon steel is quick and easy. It takes just a single application of oil for a new pan to be slick enough for cooking—or to repair a chipped patina. The hardest part is that a new carbon-steel pan may not look very seasoned for a long time. Depending on how often you use your skillet or wok, the surface may look brown, blotchy, and streaky for months (instead of displaying the even black patina of an older pan). But trust us: With some fat added before cooking, the pan will still be nonstick, and it will cook food beautifully. 

INITIAL SEASONING

We recommend an initial seasoning even for pans that come preseasoned. First you’ll need to remove the new pan’s wax or grease coating (used to protect the metal from rusting in transit). Use very hot water, dish soap, and vigorous scrubbing with a bristle brush. Dry the pan and then put it over low heat to finish drying.

  • Add 1⁄3 cup oil, 2⁄3 cup salt, and the peels from two potatoes. (The salt will help scrub wax or grease from the surface, and the peels will regulate the heat, preventing spotty polymerization of the oil. You can also use one sliced onion instead of the peels.)

  • Cook over medium heat, occasionally moving the peels (or onion) around the pan and up the sides to the rim, for 8 to 10 minutes (if using an onion, cook for 15 minutes or until it turns very dark brown and almost burnt).

  • As you cook, you’ll notice the pan will gradually turn brown. Discard the contents, allow the pan to cool, and clean it with a sponge and hot soapy water. Dry the pan and return it to medium heat to finish drying. You are ready to cook. (Note: Adding cooking fat to the pan is still a must.) This method will work on any carbon-steel skillet or wok. If you experience sticking, repeat the method once.

ROUTINE MAINTENANCE

  • After you cook, rinse the pan with water, scrubbing gently with a soft-bristled brush or a sponge if necessary; avoid soap or abrasive scrubbers. Dry the pan thoroughly over a warm burner (but do not overheat, as that will weaken the seasoning and detach it from the expanding steel). Add ¼ teaspoon oil to the cleaned skillet or ½ teaspoon oil to the cleaned wok and, using a wad of paper towels held with tongs, spread evenly over the surface. Wipe away as much oil as possible with a paper towel (excess oil won’t fully polymerize and will lead to tackiness). Continue to heat the pan, wiping away any beaded oil that forms, until the pan smokes (indicating oil breakdown). Let the pan smoke for 2 minutes, wiping away beaded oil with a paper towel. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. (Note: If you are seasoning a wok, the sides will initially be less seasoned because they don’t get as hot as the bottom. With use, the upper portion will become more seasoned.)

RESEASONING

  • If the cooking surface feels bumpy or has tacky residue (caused by partially polymerized oil or food residue) or if the patina is chipped, scrub with a mixture of kosher salt and oil or a moderately abrasive sponge (it's also fine to use a little soap if the skillet or wok is tacky) until the patina feels even to the touch (the color does not need to be even). Repeat applying oil as directed in "Routine Maintanence" above.

Equipment Review Woks

After years of preferring nonstick skillets to woks for making stir-fries, we decided to take a fresh look at this traditional pan.

Equipment Review 12-Inch Carbon-Steel Skillets

What if one pan could do everything the best traditional stainless-steel, cast-iron, and nonstick pans can do—and, in some cases, even do it a little better?

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.