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How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan: 3 Methods Compared

Updated: Apr 2



Intro

Carbon steel pans are renowned for their heat retention, versatility, and durability. Key to unlocking their full potential is proper seasoning. Seasoning not only provides a natural non-stick surface but also guards the pan against rust. While a quick online search reveals countless 'best methods" for seasoning, the reality is that many approaches are effective. The real question is: which method resonates most with your cooking style and environment? We're going to talk about three tried-and-true options for initially seasoning a carbon steel pan.


What is Seasoning?

When we say seasoning, we aren't talking about salt and pepper. Seasoning is the layer that forms when oils and fats are heated in a pan, causing them to polymerize and form a natural, hardened surface. Both the layer itself, and the process of forming the layer are referred to as “seasoning.“ The true seasoning on your pan will come mostly from just cooking but we do an "initial seasoning" to reduce sticking in the beginning. These methods below are initial seasoning methods to get your seasoning started.


The Oil



When choosing an oil for seasoning your pan, it's essential to pick one with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. Try your best not to use olive oil or cheap avocado oil. Our top recommendations for oils suitable for seasoning your pan are: grapeseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or sunflower oil.


1. The Oven Method

Preferred for its consistency, this method is hard to mess up.





Materials:

  • High smoke point oil

  • Oven

  • Clean kitchen cloth or paper towels

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 °F.

  2. Clean the pan thoroughly with soap and hot water to remove the protective coating.

  3. Dry the pan by heating it up briefly on a burner for about 30 seconds after drying with a towel.

  4. Add approx. ¼ tsp of high smoke point oil to the cooking surface and coat only the inside of the pan if you have a Strata Carbon Clad pan. If you have a traditional solid carbon steel pan, you will want to coat the outside of the pan also.

  5. Take a clean towel and wipe down the surface again until it looks almost dry (I promise there is still oil on the pan).

  6. Place the pan upside down in the oven.

  7. After about 2-3 minutes remove the pan and give it a quick wipe to prevent oil beading, then return it to the oven.

  8. After an hour, turn off the oven and let the pan cool down in oven (15-20 min)

  9. The pan should now have a bronze tint. Minor streaks or oil beads indicate a little bit of excess oil, but as long as it's not tacky, it's good to go.


You now have your first layer of seasoning. For best results, repeat for a second coat, or start cooking! Something I like to do is used the oven method for a strong first layer, and than combine one of the other quicker methods below to add more layers.


Tip: When you start to cook for the first time It’s good to use extra oil or butter to help reduce sticking in the beginning. You can gradually start using less as your pan gets more seasoned. We suggest starting with less sensitive foods like sauteed veggies or fatty steak. This is not a requirement, but it helps to strengthen the seasoning.


2. Stovetop Method

Less ideal for electric or induction stove tops but its the quickest method.



Materials:

  • High smoke point oil

  • Stovetop

  • Clean kitchen cloth or paper towel

Steps:

  1. Clean the pan thoroughly with soap and hot water to remove the protective coating.

  2. Dry the pan by heating it up briefly on a burner for about 30 seconds after drying with a towel.

  3. Add approx. ¼ tsp of high smoke point oil to the cooking surface and coat only the inside of the pan if you have a Strata Carbon Clad pan. If you have a traditional solid carbon steel pan, you will want to coat the outside of the pan also.

  4. Take a clean towel and wipe down the surface again until it looks almost dry. I promise there is still oil on the pan.

  5. Heat the pan on medium.

  6. After about 1-2 minutes, wipe the pan one more time with a clean towel to prevent beading.

  7. For traditional solid carbon steel pans, rotate the pan, ensuring the sides heat more evenly.

  8. Leave the pan on for about 8-10 min on the stove top (traditional solid carbon steel pans may need a little extra time). Your pan may lightly smoke, if it’s smoking heavily, turn down the temperature a little.

  9. At this point turn of the burner and let the pan cool down on it's own.

  10. The pan should now have a bronze tint. Minor streaks or oil beads indicate excess oil, but as long as it's not tacky, it's good to go.


You now have your first layer of seasoning. For best results, repeat for a second coat, or start cooking! Since this is a pretty quick method, the first layers tends to be more "delicate" then the other methods.


This method also works well for "maintenance seasoning", which is when you add an extra layer between cooks to strengthen the overall seasoning. This would commonly be done if you cooked something acidic or harsh that may have pulled off a lot of seasoning all at once.


Tip: When you start to cook for the first time It’s good to use extra oil or butter to help reduce sticking in the beginning. You can gradually start using less as your pan gets more seasoned. We suggest starting with less sensitive foods like sauteed veggies or fatty steak. This is not a requirement, but it helps to strengthen the seasoning.


3. Potato Skins Method (Matfer Bourgeat Method)

Good for any stove type but requires more ingredients.


Note: This image above shows a pan that is already well seasoned before cooking the skins. Your pan will look much lighter.


Materials:

  • ½ to ⅔ cup of high smoke point oil (based on pan size)

  • Skins from 2 potatoes

  • ⅓ cup of salt

Steps:

  1. Clean the pan thoroughly.

  2. Heat the pan on the stovetop briefly to ensure it's completely dry.

  3. On medium heat, combine oil, potato skins, and salt.

  4. Stir in the pan until the skins turn golden brown (around 15 minutes). You're essentially "cooking" with the pan to seasoning it.

  5. The pan should begin to have a bronze tint. This method may appear more "uneven" than the other methods

  6. Discard the contents and wipe the pan with a towel and let the pan cool down on its own.


You now have your first layer of seasoning. For best results, repeat for a second coat, or start cooking! This method works well as a second layer after one of the other methods. It works fine on it's own too, but may look more uneven than the other methods.


Tip: When you start to cook for the first time It’s good to use extra oil or butter to help reduce sticking in the beginning. You can gradually start using less as your pan gets more seasoned. We suggest starting with less sensitive foods like sauteed veggies or fatty steak. This is not a requirement, but it helps to strengthen the seasoning.


Conclusion



No matter the initial seasoning method you choose, the real key to a perfect seasoning is to just keep cooking. In the beginning, you may notice the seasoning coming off or food sticking. Don't be discouraged, with patience and regular use, your pan's performance will only get better. Over time, it's normal to see dark spots or uneven coloring as it looses and regains seasoning. Carbon steel takes time to get used to but once you have a good seasoning, you'll wonder why you didn't switch to carbon steel sooner!

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