Introducing a very easy and foolproof way to season your new carbon steel pan, so it will become nonstick and last a lifetime.
In my last post I laid out the benefits of a carbon steel pan and why I use it daily for Chinese cooking. Now that you’ve got your carbon steel pan, here are the steps you’ll need to take to season your new carbon steel pan before you start cooking with it.
Most carbon steel pans come unseasoned. You can see in the picture below: the new pan on the right has a shiny light grey color, showing the color of the metal that it’s made from. While my well-seasoned pan on the left is almost black.
Seasoning a pan is the process of creating epoxide layers on it. This means we use heat to transform thin layers of oil into solid polymer protective coatings that bind to the surface of the pan, which makes the pan nonstick.
Why season your carbon steel pan
- Seasoning creates a barrier between the metal and any water, preventing the pan from rusting
- It gives the pan a nonstick property with a safe and natural process, similar in effectiveness to the teflon coating that a nonstick pan provides.
- Once seasoned, a carbon steel pan will last forever if you take good care of it.
What oil to use
As a general rule, you should use a neutral oil with a medium smoking point.
Types of oil to use
Corn oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, canola oil
Oils to avoid
Butter, peanut oil, shortening, lard, avocado oil, olive oil, and flaxseed oil
Basically you want to avoid any oil that has a distinct taste and any oil with a high smoking point. There are many articles that recommend flaxseed oil, but a recent report indicates that it’s prone to flake off.
I’ve used various types of oil to season my pans and I’ve never noticed a significant difference. Simply use the neutral oil you have on hand.
How to season a new carbon steel pan
Remove the protective layer & dry it
New, unseasoned carbon steel pans come with a protective layer to prevent them from rusting. You can tell your pan is unseasoned if it has a silver metal color, instead of a pitch black hue. My pan had a coat of beeswax applied to it in the factory, and other pans might use different technology for protection prior to use.
When you purchase a new pan, check the instructions that came with the pan to see how to remove the coating. Usually you can run the pan under hot water and scrub off the coating using a sponge and some dish soap.
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned the pan, immediately dry it with paper towels and heat it for a couple of minutes on your stove until bone dry. This step is crucial to prevent your new pan from rusting.
Season the carbon steel pan
Seasoning a new carbon steel pan is actually easier than you think. Here is how:
- Before starting, open the window/door and turn on the ventilation, whichever helps with airflow.
- Drip a few drops of oil onto a few layers of folded paper towels. Wipe the pan thoroughly, so a very thin layer of oil coats the entire inside surface of the pan.
PS. It’s very important that the oil that coats your pan is super thin to ensure even seasoning. You should wipe off any excess oil if you accidentally add too much oil to your pan. It will produce a sticky uneven surface that will require cleanup later.
- Heat up your pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat until it starts to smoke. Continue heating the pan until you see a golden brown color start to appear. If you’re seasoning a large pan, you might see the surface form an uneven color. Move the pan around your stove so it will color evenly.
PS. Be careful not to burn your hands! The pan will become very hot during the process. You can use a pair of tongs to hold a few layers of paper towels to rub on the oil.
- Repeat the whole process a few times so the color of the pan turns darker. I usually repeat the process 3 to 4 times, until the surface turns to a dark brown. I will then use the pan for cooking to naturally build up the patina. If you want the pan to be non-stick as soon as possible, you can repeat the process even more times so the inside of the pan will become almost black.
- Some tutorials suggest wiping oil on the outside of the pan, as well. I find it unnecessary. I usually do not wash the wax coating from the exterior of the pan, as it will protect the pan well over time.
- It’s very important to wipe out the excess oil from the pan before heating it up. Otherwise the pan won’t season evenly, and even worse, the oil will form bumps caused by half-oxidized oil particles.
- If you’re using a taller pan (such as the Debuyer Country Chef pan, which is similar to a wok), the walls of the pan won’t become very dark unless you heat the sides directly over the flame. However I found that unnecessary. I usually let the walls season naturally over time by simply using the pan for stir-frying.
- Do NOT use the oven-baking method that’s suggested by some instructions. It produces so much smoke and the process is slower. It also melts the coating from the handle if you’re using a Debuyer-branded pan.
Now your new pan is ready and you can start cooking!
Pan performance immediately after seasoning
I fried an egg immediately after I seasoned my pan. The pan was still very hot, so I drizzled about 2 teaspoons of oil into it and cracked the egg on top. I let the egg cook without touching it until the bottom crisped up (very important, otherwise the egg might stick).
I had to use a spatula to gently scrape the edges of the egg, but you can see that the egg came off clear without sticking to the pan.
Different from a nonstick pan, the oil is fully absorbed by the pan and it will turn the pan darker (further seasoning). You can expect this until the pan is well seasoned. So be sure to use a bit more oil in your dish if your pan is newly seasoned.
Once you’ve seasoned your new pan, it’s important to take good care of it so it will last forever. In the next post, I will introduce how to wash, store, and cook with your carbon steel pan. Stay tuned!
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