Cast iron skillets are one of the best cooking tools you can have in the kitchen. They'll last for generations, they retain heat exceptionally well, they're inexpensive, you don't have to worry about chemicals leaching from non-stick coatings, and they'll even slightly raise the iron content of your food, increasing their nutrition! But, they are sadly avoided by so many people because they are downright frustrating - unless they've been seasoned well!
So, what's the best oil for seasoning cast iron pans? We'll look into some of the most popular oils for seasoning cast iron below, with the pros and cons of each.
What Is Seasoning?
Before we get into the individual oils, let's talk about why you need to season cast iron. Cast iron cookware does not have a non-stick surface at all, and you need to create a non-stick surface by seasoning it, especially for a new cast-iron skillet. To do so, you use a process called polymerization. This essentially cooks a thin layer of cooking oil into the pores of the iron, binding them together. You need high temperatures for a prolonged period of polymerization, so you need to use an oil with a high smoke point.
Seasoning creates a strong, non-stick coating to keep your food from sticking. It also allows you to use less cooking fats and oils, making your meals lower in calories. And finally, since the seasoning absorbs into the pans and imparts a hint of flavor to your food, a well-seasoned pan will help your meals taste better!
After you have seasoned a cast iron pan, you may need to re-season your cast iron pan again down the road from cooking, cleaning with dish soap, and normal wear off.
What Cooking Oils Makes A Great Cast Iron Seasoning
High Smoke Point
The smoke point is when the oil starts to break down and will start to create smoke. Using a high smoke point oil is important as the most effective temperature to season a cast iron is between 400-500 degrees. If the temperature doesn't reach a smoke point, the fat will break down, and you won't get a polymerization.
High Concentration of Unsaturated Fat
Unsaturated fats polymerize better than saturated fat and produce a better coating on your cast iron. This type of fat can easily form a bond to the metal in cast iron that saturated fat cannot do.
Whatever oil you use to season cast iron skillets will add flavor to whatever you are cooking, so it's best to look for a neutral flavor oil as it is more versatile.
Organic, Unrefined, Cold-Pressed, And Extra Virgin
Many oils on the market are refined and highly processed, making them less nutritional, more heat-stable, and less expensive, but they can harm your health long term. When seasoning your cast iron, it's best to season it with health oil that's good for you. Look for oils that are organic, non-GMO, unrefined, cold-pressed, raw, and extra virgin when possible.
This factor, however, will also affect the smoking point of the oil. Some natural, unprocessed oil typically have lower smoking points than refined, highly processed oil, and some may have a much lower smoke point. This makes them a healthier oil, not always the ideal candidate for use as a cast-iron seasoning oil.
Now, you can season cast iron at 300-350 degrees if you use healthier oil options. You will need to place it in the oven for one to two hours instead of 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
Best Oils For Seasoning Cast Iron Pros And Cons
Let's determine which oil you should use for cast iron cooking.
Avocado oil will give you perhaps the toughest coat of seasoning and the best non-stick qualities possible. A thin coat of avocado oil on your cast iron skillet will make cooking with your pan absolutely enjoyable. It has high unsaturated fats, which help the oil polymer and oxidize well. It has an incredibly high smoke point of 520°F (refined). However, it is by far the most expensive seasoning oil on this list.
Unrefined avocado oil has an unusually high smoke point of 482°F, making avocado oil a great candidate for seasoning cast iron and a healthy option.
- Contain a high level of unsaturated fat.
- Even unrefined avocado oil has an incredibly high smoking point.
- More expensive than other types of oil.
Some users swear by peanut oil to season a cast-iron skillet. It certainly does have one of the highest smoke points of any oil at 450°F (refined). It's relatively inexpensive and makes a nice, hard surface. However, it has a strong smell, flavor of peanuts, and it's not allergen friendly. If you intend to use your cast iron pan for mostly stir-fry and Asian cooking, peanut oil would be a good choice to season your cast iron with!
- It is an affordable price compared to other types of oil.
- Unrefined peanut oil has a moderate smoke point of 320 °F, so you can still season your cast iron pan at lower heating.
- It has a strong peanut flavor that can impact the taste of your dishes.
- Not allergen friendly.
- Peanut oil contains 50% monounsaturated fat and a high amount of omega 6 fat, which can cause various health problems.
Let's follow up the best seasoning oil with the worst. Olive oil is an incredibly healthy oil, but it is meant to be enjoyed uncooked or in low-heat cooking. At too high of temperatures, it's actually harmful to your body. Olive oil's smoke point is exceptionally low, so it may not be the best to season cast iron skillets. You can use it to season cast iron if you don't take the temperature above 350°F, but you typically need a temperature of at least 450°F to season. Seasoning with olive oil will require multiple seasoning sessions, and you will likely be left with an uneven result.
- Soft enough flavor that won't compete with most dishes.
- The unrefined choice offers a moderate smoke point, so if you use this option, you will need to season it at a lower temperature.
Flaxseed oil has a very low smoke point than other oils on this list, making it not suitable for seasoning. Unrefined flaxseed oil has a smoking point of 225F. Not to mention, flaxseed oil is rather expensive.
Crisco is a genetically modified oil made of mostly saturated fats and trans fat. Crisco had its heyday, but as more information is learned about Crisco, many are opting to use natural animal fats instead.
- Crisco is very affordable compared to other oil.
- Highly processed and not a healthy option.
If you'd rather use fat than oil to season your cast iron pan, look into goose fat, deer fat, or bacon grease. While animal fat will give you slipshod results, multiple layers of lard will provide you with a shiny and smooth surface that can hardly be competed with, a very moderate smoking point of about 375°F. Animal fat also contains high levels of saturated fat that do not create optimal conditions for seasoning.
- Using animal fat is a great way to utilize fat without buying any oil.
- Depending on the animal fat, it can offer great flavor to your dish.
- Animal fats usually have a moderate smoke point, so you will need to season your cast iron at a lower temperature.
Coconut oil has enjoyed superstar status in recent years. While the health benefits of coconut oil are substantial, and it will lend a delicious flavor to your food, it's not the best oil to season cast iron cookware with because of its saturated fat content. High saturated fat lowers the polymerization required in the seasoning process - meaning that the seasoning won't harden well. And while refined coconut oil has a very high smoke point of 450°F, the virgin coconut oil you likely have on hand has a low smoke point of 350°F.
- Coconut oil has a delicious flavor that is best for cooking Thai cuisine.
- Coconut oil is delicious, but it has a distinctive flavor that is not for everyone.
- Expensive than other types of oil
- Coconut oil contains high saturated fat, which won't polymerize well.
- Virgin coconut oil has a moderate smoke point, so you will need to season your cast iron at a lower temperature.
Canola oil is recommended by many as one of the best soil for seasoning cast iron pans, and you won't find a much cheaper oil than this oil. It will get the job done in a pinch, although you will get a better result if you can source a better oil. You will need to layer multiple seasoning layers, as the first seasoning will be weak and bumpy. It breaks down more quickly than other cast iron seasoning oils, even after multiple seasonings. Still, with its low price, neutral flavor, and decently high smoke point, it's absolutely usable for seasoning your cast iron.
However, expeller press canola oil has a moderate smoke point of 375-450F, and unrefined canola oil has a smoke point of 225F. This makes canola unsuitable for seasoning unless you go with highly processed, refined canola oil.
- Very affordable.
- The neutral flavor won't compete with foods.
- The first season tends to be weak and will require you to do multiple layers.
- Unrefined canola oil has a smoke point of 225F.
Vegetable oils are very similar to canola oil, and the two are interchangeable. Vegetable oil (refined) has a relatively high smoke point of 400-450F, and it has a light taste, so it won't add flavor to anything you cook. The unrefined vegetable smoke point is unknown.
Vegetable oil has been considered unhealthy by many health-conscious individuals. The health effect will vary depending on what plants they are extracted from and how they are processed. Vegetable oils are typically refined and extracted using chemical solvents or an oil mill.
- Affordable than other types of oil.
- Very light taste and won't compete with whatever you are cooking.
- Highly refined and may not be the best for your health.
- The first layer of seasoning can be weak and require multiple sessions.
Safflower oil is rich in unsaturated fat, making it ideal for high heat cooking. Safflower oil has a high smoke point of around 510°F, and it has a neutral taste, so it is a great choice that doesn't have a pronounced flavor. However, unrefined safflower oil only has a smoke point of 225°F, and this makes unrefined safflower oil not the best candidate for seasoning cast iron.
- Safflower oil has a neutral taste and can be great for cooking.
- Unrefined safflower oil has a low smoke point.
Sunflower oil (refined) has a high smoking point of 510 degrees Fahrenheit, and it's relatively affordable. It has a very light taste, so it won't compete with anything you cook. However, sunflower oil is highly refined, so be sure to go with the cold-pressed "virgin" and "unrefined" options. Unrefined sunflower oil has a smoke point of 225F, making unrefined sunflower oil unsuitable for seasoning.
- Very light taste and makes it great for cooking.
- Unrefined sunflower oil has a low smoke point.
- Non-stick qualities aren't as strong as other options.
- The seasoning can be weak and will require multiple sessions.
While some would say, soybean oil is one of the best oil to season cast iron skillets as it has high smoking of 450 degrees Fahrenheit (refined). Soybean oils on the market are typically highly refined. According to a new study, soybean oil not only leads to obesity and diabetes but could also affect neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer's disease, anxiety, and depression.
- Neutral taste that makes it perfect for cooking.
- Highly refined type of oil.
- Unknown unrefined smoke point.
- Not a healthy option.
Grapeseed oil is a much more affordable option, and it has a neutral flavor, which some cooks prefer. Its smoke point sits at 420°F (refined) so that it can withstand most polymerization methods. However, unrefined grapeseed oil temperature is unknown, and it will be much less than refined.
- It has a mild flavor that works with most dishes.
- Relatively inexpensive.
- Cold-pressed and virgin varieties have a low smoke point. The exact temperature is unknown.
While ghee butter isn't an oil, it can be one of the best ingredients to season cast iron skillets. If you have never heard of ghee before, ghee is a type of clarified butter. It contains more fat as water and milk solids have been removed, and it is packed in nutrients with high saturated fat. With a high smoking point of 480F, ghee butter can be a great candidate to season cast iron.
- Rich and delicious in flavor that enhances food flavor very well.
- Very expensive compared to other options.
- High in saturated fat, it may not be the healthiest option.