Cast iron is a popular choice for use on the grill. Cast iron skillets, griddles, and pans can all stand up to the high temperatures associated with BBQing. However, if you don’t season your cast iron cookware, not only will it quickly become rusted, it will also be a nightmare to cook with causing all of your ingredients to stick. That’s why you need the best oil to season cast iron to make the most out of this hardwearing, highly popular cookware.
- 1 What is Seasoning on Cast Iron?
- 2 Cast Iron Polymerization
- 3 Best Oil to Season Cast Iron
- 4 Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Oil to Season Cast Iron
- 5 Popular Oils for Cast Iron Seasoning
- 6 How to Season Cast Iron
- 7 Cast Iron Old Wives’ Tales
- 7.1 Old Wives Tale 1: Never Cook Acidic Food Such as Tomatoes in Cast Iron
- 7.2 Old Wives Tale 2: Cleaning with Soap Ruins Cast Iron
- 7.3 Old Wives Tale 3: Bacon Fat or Lard is Best for Seasoning
- 7.4 Old Wives Tale 4: Cast Iron Will Heat Evenly
- 7.5 Old Wives Tale 5: Only Use Nonstick Utensils on Cast Iron
- 8 Final Thoughts
What is Seasoning on Cast Iron?
Seasoning on cast iron is a special protective coating. It prevents cast iron from becoming corroded, as well as creating a non-stick layer for easier cooking. While some cast-iron pans are sold pre-seasoned, you’ll often improve the quality of your pan as well as its lifespan by seasoning it again yourself.
Non-seasoned cast iron cookware will need to be seasoned upon purchase. Otherwise, your cookware will soon begin to rust and you’ll find that everything you cook in it sticks terribly. Seasoning your pans is very easy, all you need is the right type of oil for seasoning cast iron and some heat.
Want to know more? Check out our step-by-step guide towards the end of this article.
Cast Iron Polymerization
When your seasoning oil heats up to a high temperature above its smoke point, in the presence of oxygen a chemical reaction occurs known as polymerization. This bonds the oil to your cast iron pan’s surface on a molecular level, creating a slick, hardened surface that protects your pan and stops your food from sticking.
For effective polymerization to occur, you need to use an oil that is high in unsaturated fats as these fats bond better with your cookware for a layer of seasoning that is much harder and more resilient.
Best Oil to Season Cast Iron
Looking for the best oil to season your cast iron cookware? Look no further, we’ve selected five of the very best types of oil to protect your pans, griddles, and skillets.
Puritan’s Pride Organic Flaxseed Oil
Flaxseed oil is an increasingly popular choice to season cast iron BBQ skillets thanks in part to its low smoke point of around 225 degrees C. This 16 fluid ounce bottle of Puritan’s Pride Organic Flaxseed oil makes a good purchase, providing plenty enough oil for several layers of seasoning, plus you can also use the remainder for cooking at low temperatures, as well as a dietary supplement for extra Omega 3, 6, and 9 oils.
Cold-pressed and USDA-certified organic, this premium flaxseed oil for seasoning makes a better option for the environment too. Composed of 1.5g of saturated fat per 14g for a total of 10.7% saturated fat, this low level combined with high levels of unsaturated fats means that this oil is optimized for highly effective bonding to your skillet’s surface.
On the downside, like all flaxseed oils, this version can have a strong smell so you may want to choose a different type of oil for seasoning your cast iron pan if you are sensitive to odors. Make sure you store it in your refrigerator once opened to extend its usable lifespan.
Pompeian 100% Grapeseed Oil
Grapeseed oil is one of the very best oils around for seasoning cast iron. Pompeian Grapeseed Oil contains 100% grapeseed oil, so you can be sure that you’ll get a good layer of seasoning without any additives. What’s more, this particular brand is certified non-GMO, so you won’t need to have any concerns about using it to season your pans or to cook with when you’re done.
Thanks to its high smoke point, you can use the remainder of this 24 fluid ounce bottle of grapeseed oil for stir-frying, sautéeing, baking, and deep-frying. Its neutral flavor is imperceptible, so it won’t make your food taste or smell funny when used for seasoning or cooking.
Composed of almost 90% unsaturated fats, this seasoning oil bonds well to your pan, much better than other types with lower unsaturated fat contents. This is one of the main reasons that grapeseed oil is such a popular choice for seasoning cast iron skillets.
This oil is not cold pressed, so a solvent has been used for extraction. Although this won’t have any impact upon your pan’s seasoning, cold-pressed oils are generally preferable for consumption due to their higher levels of antioxidants and being a better choice for the environment.
Lodge 100% Canola Oil Seasoning Spray
If you are looking for a convenient way to season your cast iron pans and skillets, take a look at this Canola Oil Seasoning Spray from cast iron cookware specialists Lodge. Use it to season your cast iron cookware to protect it and enhance its finish. As it is so easy to use, it is no trouble to give your cast iron skillet or pan a quick wipe over with it after every BBQ.
Made from 100% canola oil, bottled in the USA using Canadian oil, this version contains no additives or propellants with its non-aerosol design. Just bear in mind that as it is only canola oil, you can pick up a regular bottle for much less, especially as this format contains just eight fluid ounces.
As canola oil is very low in saturated fat, its high unsaturated fat content makes it an exceptionally good choice for bonding to your cookware’s surface and creating a durable non-stick, protective layer. Canola oil has on average a saturated fat content of just 7%.
The adjustable spray settings allow you to alter the amount that comes out so you won’t overload your cookware. If you often forget to re-season your cast iron BBQ cookware, then picking up a bottle of this spray can help to remind you and make it easier to keep your equipment in prime condition.
Amazon Brand – Happy Belly Corn Oil
If you are looking for a low cost oil to season your cast iron cookware, this economical one-gallon (128 fl oz) bottle by Happy Belly could be the best type to suit your needs. Thanks to its high smoke point and mild taste, you can use it for everyday cooking, as well as seasoning your BBQ griddle, pans, and skillets, rather than spending the same amount on just eight ounces of oil.
Aside from being inexpensive and highly versatile, corn oil is also fairly low in saturated fat, making it a good choice for an effective polymerization. At just 14% saturated fats, it is not quite as good as some of the lower versions but is more than good enough to protect your cast iron cookware with a good film.
This particular corn oil is not certified organic or GMO-free, so if this is important to you for use when cooking, you may want to switch to another brand. However, for the money, this version is really hard to beat and as it’s corn oil it contains absolutely no trans fats, so you can season and cook with it on your grill.
All in all, a good value choice, this cheap corn oil for seasoning also makes a great oil for cooking with at your next BBQ, as well as day-to-day meals at home.
BetterBody Foods Refined Non-GMO Cooking Avocado Oil
Avocado oil isn’t just great for seasoning your BBQ cast iron griddle, it’s also delicious and healthy in your dips and salad dressings. This large format bottle of 33.8 fluid ounces will leave you plenty spare for your BBQ sides and dips recipes to accompany your wings and ribs.
With a typical saturated fat content of around 12%, avocado oil adheres well to your cast iron BBQ cookware providing excellent protection to prolong your cast iron skillet’s lifespan. This avocado oil is also non-GMO and as it is naturally refined, without chemicals or additives, it’s a better choice for your food and the planet.
While this avocado oil is a good buy, unfortunately, it does come with a rather large carbon footprint. The avocados are picked in Mexico then pressed into oil in Spain before being sent on to the USA. However, this has no impact on its smooth, subtle flavor and health benefits, nor its excellent seasoning properties.
On the whole, this is a good product for the money and a great oil for seasoning your cast iron cookware, as well as for use in your BBQ side dishes and general cooking.
Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Oil to Season Cast Iron
To make sure that you find the best oil to season your cast iron cookware, take a read through our buyer’s guide. We’ll let you know just what you need to keep an eye out for when choosing your seasoning oil.
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Most oils for seasoning your cookware aren’t that expensive. However, compared to large bottles of cheap vegetable oil, some can seem like an awful lot of money for the small quantity that you get.
Taking a ballpark figure of around $12, you can choose to pay for quantity or quality. Remember, you will only need a very small amount of oil to season a standard cast iron pan, typically just one tablespoon for the interior and another for the exterior. Obviously, you will want to build up a few layers of protection, but even so, a small eight fluid ounce bottle will more than suffice.
Alternatively, you may prefer to purchase an oil that you can mainly use for cooking, as well as seasoning your cast iron cookware. In this case, you can find plenty of decent oils for seasoning cast iron that are available in a larger format for cooking with the remainder.
While they may not be quite as good for seasoning, there are plenty of good quality, reasonably priced oils that will get the job done just fine and can also be used for your BBQ side dishes.
Cooking Oil Terms
To help you understand exactly what you are purchasing, here’s a quick guide to some of the most common terms that you will come across when choosing an oil for seasoning cast iron.
Cold Pressed Oil
Cold pressed oils are mechanically extracted as opposed to oils that are extracted using solvents.
As cold pressing produces lower yields, these oils tend to be more expensive. They do, however, retain their original taste, scent, and nutritional benefits as no heat or chemicals have been involved in the extraction process. Cold pressed oils are also higher in antioxidants, as well as vitamins and other micronutrients.
However, bear in mind that if you are using your oil to cook with rather than in cold dressings or sauces, the heat from your grill or stovetop will destroy a lot of the advantages of cold-pressed oils.
In other words, if you are going to be using the remainder of your oil unheated, go for a cold-pressed one. For frying, there will be little nutritional difference once you’ve heated up your cold-pressed oil.
Unrefined & Refined Oils
Unrefined oils have similar advantages to cold-pressed ones. Generally speaking, unrefined oils are filtered to remove any large particles, whereas refined oils have even tiny impurities removed using a heat process or chemicals. Much like cold-pressed oils, unrefined oils are often considered to be healthier, however, they can be more unstable, meaning they have a shorter shelf life, as well as potentially having a stronger smell.
Saturated Fats & Unsaturated Fats
When you’re looking for the best oil to season your cast iron pans, you’ll want to look out for oils with high levels of unsaturated fat and low levels of saturated fat. Why? Quite simply because unsaturated fat bonds better to the surface of the cast iron, polymerizing much more effectively for a better layer of protection.
Oils high in saturated fat, on the other hand, will fail to form strong bonds and will leave behind a sticky residue that with time will become rancid. This will also mean that your cast iron skillet will not be protected against rust corrosion and that all of your ingredients are likely to stick to your pan.
Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature, unlike saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats tend to be more stable than polyunsaturated fats, having only one double bond.
Polyunsaturated fats tend to be less stable, having multiple double bonds. However, they do create a long lasting coating when used for seasoning cast iron.
Unsaturated vs Saturated Fats
You’ll want to look for an oil with high levels of unsaturated fat and low levels of saturated fat.
Saturated fat struggles to bond well with the suravec of cast iron, so oils high in saturated fat won’t give you the same protective layer as oils that are high in unsaturated fat, leaving you with a sticky pan surface.
Oils that are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats will bond well with the cast iron for a smooth layer of protection that will stop your pan from corroding, as well as preventing your food from sticking.
Oil Smoke Point
Your oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which it starts to break down and polymerization occurs.
You should always check your oil’s smoke point before seasoning your cookware as if your temperature isn’t sufficiently high, your pan won’t get seasoned as the oil will not bond with the cast iron surface.
Obviously, lower smoke points are easier and faster to reach, however, they are less suitable for cooking oils, especially for use stir-frying, deep frying, or searing
Popular Oils for Cast Iron Seasoning
For our best oils for cast iron seasoning list we only picked oils with high unsaturated fats to ensure the most effective polymerization and protection for your cast iron cookware.
We also looked out for oils with low smoke points where possible. However, a lot of people still prefer to use more traditional alternative oils to season their cast iron pans.
Here are the most popular oils for cast iron seasoning.
A traditional favorite for seasoning cast iron cookware given its ready availability in the past, bacon fat is high in saturated fat making it less suitable than a lot of other oils, such as flaxseed and grapeseed.
It does, however, have quite a low smoking point of 325 degrees F. As there are plenty of better options out there, we don’t recommend using bacon fat for seasoning your cast iron BBQ skillet.
- Smoke point: 325℉
- Saturated fat: 39%
- Unsaturated fat: 55%
Just like bacon fat, lard is another popular traditional choice for seasoning. As any oil can be used to season a cast iron pan, lard will work. However, it is not the best type of oil for seasoning your cast iron cookware as it has high levels of saturated fat. At 374 degrees F its smoke point, however, is easily attainable.
- Smoke point: 374℉
- Saturated fat: 32%
- Unsaturated fat: 52%
Flaxseed oil has recently become extremely popular for seasoning cast iron cookware. Thanks to its exceptionally low levels of saturated fats and low smoke point, it polymerizes really well and you don’t have to heat up your oven to extremely high temperatures to get it to work.
All in all, flaxseed is one of the very best oils to choose for protecting your cast iron pans, however, it is more expensive than most and it’s low smoke point makes it less suitable for cooking with.
- Smoke point: 225℉
- Saturated fat: 10%
- Unsaturated fat: 86%
Grapeseed oil is another popular choice that also works well for seasoning your cast iron cookware. Like Flaxseed oil it is low in saturated fats, however, its higher smoke point makes it more versatile for use when cooking. It also costs less. For us, this makes grapeseed oil the best overall oil to both season and cook with when grilling.
- Smoke point: 421℉
- Saturated fat: 10%
- Unsaturated fat: 86%
Corn oil is a great choice for seasoning cast iron, so take a look at our recommendation above. High in unsaturated fats, with a high smoke point for cooking, corn oil is a good budget option that polymerizes almost as well as our favorites flaxseed and grapeseed oil.
- Smoke point: 449℉
- Saturated fat: 13%
- Unsaturated fat: 83%
With its low levels of saturated fats, olive oil is not a bad choice for seasoning cast iron. As most people have olive oil at home, it tends to get used a lot to season cast iron cookware, although other oils with even lower saturated fat contents would be a slightly better choice.
One thing to be aware of if you are thinking of using olive oil to season your BBQ skillet is that its smoke point can vary considerably from one variety to another. For this reason you should always make sure that you heat up your cast iron cookware to over 400 degrees F when using olive oil to season it.
- Smoke point: 300-400℉
- Saturated fat: 14%
- Unsaturated fat: 84%
A lot like olive oil, sunflower oil is a kitchen staple. It also works well to season cast iron, although once again it is not one of the very best varieties, it will however, still do a good job thanks to its fairly low levels of saturated fat. It has a fairly high smoke point, but you’ll easily be able to reach it on your grill.
- Smoke point: 450℉
- Saturated fat: 13%
- Unsaturated fat: 82%
Cheap Vegetable Oil
Cheap vegetable oil can be derived from various different sources, including sunflower, soybean, safflower, and corn. Some cheap vegetable oils can contain quite a lot of impurities which can interfere with polymerization. When possible, it’s best to use a high-quality oil with a clearly defined type.
- Smoke point: 400-450 ℉
- Saturated fat: 10-15%
- Unsaturated fat: 85-90%
Canola is another of our favorite oils for achieving a good layer of seasoning on your cast iron BBQ griddle. It has very low levels of saturated fats and high unsaturated fat levels to ensure a good polymerization. With its approximate smoke point of 400 degrees F, you can easily get your cast iron cookware hot enough on your grill to ensure a good level of protection.
- Smoke point: 400℉
- Saturated fat: 7%
- Unsaturated fat: 88%
Coconut oil is not that effective when it comes down to forming a bond with the surface of your cast iron cookware as it is so high in saturated fat. Saturated fats fail to form strong bonds and tend to leave a sticky residue that will go rancid with time. We really don’t recommend using coconut oil to season your cast iron pans.
- Smoke point: 350-400℉
- Saturated fat: 84%
- Unsaturated fat: 7%
With similar saturated and unsaturated fat levels to olive oil, avocado oil makes a reasonable choice. However, it does have a much higher smoke point of 520 degrees F. Like olive oil, it is also a good choice for use in your BBQ dips and dressings, plus you can use it on your grill for searing with less worries of it burning.
- Smoke point: 520℉
- Saturated fat: 12%
- Unsaturated fat: 85%
Ghee is another sort of oil that you’ll want to avoid when seasoning your cast iron pans. Made from clarified butter, it consists of over 50% saturated fat making it much less effective at bonding to the surface of your cookware. Even regular olive oil or vegetable oil would make a better option than ghee.
- Smoke point: 482℉
- Saturated fat: 56%
- Unsaturated fat: 29%
How to Season Cast Iron
Once you’ve decided on your oil, it’s time to take a look at just how you are going to season your cast iron correctly. Here’s our step-by-step guide to getting your cast iron BBQ skillet seasoned.
Step 1 – Preparation
Make sure that your cast iron cookware (pan, skillet, griddle, pizza pan…) is completely clean and free from any impurities. In order to create a strong bond, the surface will need to be thoroughly clean and even brand new unseasoned cast iron pans can actually have quite a bit of buildup.
Using rock salt or a light scrubbing pad, scrub your cast iron cookware until it’s completely clean. Use soapy water to rinse away any impurities, without putting your pan in to soak. Make sure that you thoroughly rinse your pan before placing it on your grill or in a hot oven to dry out.
Step 2 – Oil
Remove your dry pan and if necessary allow it to cool so you can easily handle it as you’ll be using your fingers for the next task. Pour a very small amount of oil into you pan, less than a teaspoon. The idea is that you want to create a very fine player that you can build up over time.
Using your fingertips spread the oil all over your pan. If you need more, you can add a little bit, however, you really don’t want to add too much. When you’ve completed the interior, coat the exterior in the same manner to ensure it will be protected against corrosion. Don’t forget to also coat the handle.
Step 3 – Heat
Make sure that your grill, oven, or stovetop is adequately heated up to over your oil’s smoke point.
While some people advocate putting their pan upside down in their oven to ensure any excess oil drips away, this can make a bit of a mess, so only do this if you’ve adequately protected your lower oven area. Place your oiled pan in or over your heat source and leave for at least thirty minutes until the surface has considerably darkened.
Once your oil reaches its smoke point it will, evidently, begin to smoke. You’ll want to open your windows and ensure that you have good ventilation. Also, you may wish to remove any soft furnishings that could retain the odor of smoke. If you are doing this outside in your kettle grill, you obviously won’t have this inconvenience.
Step 4 – Re-apply Oil & Reheat
Repeat the above steps, re-applying oil and reheating several times until you have built up a good layer of protection. Ideally, you’ll want to have a good four to six layers, however, if you don’t have the time to do it all in one sitting you can do more layers on another day.
Aim for at least two to completely seal your pan and try to add on a couple more before using it extensively if possible.
Cast Iron Old Wives’ Tales
There are plenty of old wives’ tales surrounding cast iron cookware. To make sure that you don’t get held back from making full use of your newly seasoned cast iron pans, we’re going to separate the facts from the fiction.
Old Wives Tale 1: Never Cook Acidic Food Such as Tomatoes in Cast Iron
Tomatoes and other acidic food can break down your cast iron seasoning and damage your pan. However, while this probably did happen pretty often back in the day when people regularly seasoned their cast iron with less suitable oils such as lard, when you use a highly effective oil for seasoning your cast iron cookware that is low in saturated fat, you can use it to cook tomatoes.
Of course, you won’t want to overdo it and use your cast iron pan for cooking acidic rich foods day long, day in and day out. However, the occasional tomato-based dish won’t do your adequately seasoned cast iron cookware any harm.
Old Wives Tale 2: Cleaning with Soap Ruins Cast Iron
Another old wives’ tale that does have some truth to it. Soak your seasoned cast iron cookware in soapy water, and yes, it will ruin your seasoning, meaning you’ll have to start again.
However, this does not mean that all soap is off limits. If your cast iron pan is well seasoned and needs a good clean out, simply give it a quick clean with a small squirt of mild dish soap before rinsing thoroughly.
Short contact times with mild dish soap won’t damage a well seasoned pan, as long as you don’t soak and are sure to rinse straight away.
Old Wives Tale 3: Bacon Fat or Lard is Best for Seasoning
As we covered earlier, bacon fat and lard are both high in saturated fat. Saturated fat fails to bond effectively with the surface of cast iron, so your seasoning will be much less effective than if you used an oil high in unsaturated fat.
Seasoning with oils high in saturated fat will leave you with a residue that will easily become rancid and disintegrate, leaving your pan exposed. Not convinced, give flaxseed or grapeseed oil a try.
Old Wives Tale 4: Cast Iron Will Heat Evenly
Unfortunately, cast iron does not distribute heat evenly. What it does do well is retain heat, so while it takes a while to heat up, it also takes quite some time to cook down. Compared to stainless steel pans, cast iron has a much less regular heat distribution across the surface of the pan.
Old Wives Tale 5: Only Use Nonstick Utensils on Cast Iron
We can see where this one is coming from. If you use lard or bacon to season your cast iron, you’re going to end up with a substandard, fragile seasoning that isn’t going to last. In this case, you’d probably be best using non-stick utensils or else you’ll risk removing all of your pan’s protection.
However, season your pan the smart way with an oil rich in unsaturated fat and you won’t need to use non-stick utensils. Sure, you will want to keep an eye on your seasoning and re-season every once in a while, but once you have seasoned your cast iron pan correctly, you can use any type of utensils that you want to.
Now that you know all that there is to know about seasoning your cast iron cookware, make sure that you pick one of the best oils from our top-rated selection. Looking for a highly popular oil for seasoning cast iron with a low smoke point? You can’t go wrong with Puritan’s Pride Organic Flaxseed Oil. Made from 100% certified organic flaxseed, this oil is a top choice.
Otherwise, if you are looking for another great seasoning oil that you can also use in your BBQ creations, check out the 100% Grapeseed Oil by Pompeian. With its high smoke point and almost 90% unsaturated fat content, this oil is an excellent choice for all-round use, as well as for seasoning your cast iron BBQ cookware.