The Best Oils for Seasoning Cast Iron

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It’s Christmas morning, and your spouse hands you a heavy gift wrapped in bright, festive paper (and way too much tape). You tear it open in anticipation and, much to your delight, it’s the cast-iron skillet you’d been hinting at (heavily) for months! You exchange hugs, and swear up and down you had no idea. 

Or maybe, your story goes a little something like this: you’re helping your mom in the kitchen, preparing a holiday feast for the fam.

“That reminds me,” she says, “I found this when I was doing my decluttering over Thanksgiving weekend, and I want you to have it.” She hands you a rusty, well-loved cast iron pan. She says it needs some TLC, but since it belonged to your grandmother, she couldn’t just toss it out.

However your cast iron cookware came into your possession, whether new or rich with family history, knowing the best oils for seasoning cast iron will set you up for years of delicious, lovingly-prepared meals and memory-making. 

So let’s jump in! By the end of this article, you’ll have all the info you need to go from cast-iron zero to hero. 

What Is “Seasoning” Cast Iron?

“Seasoning” might bring to mind images of going full Salt Bae with herbs and spices.

But when it’s in the context of cast iron, think of “seasoning” more like the phrase “seasoned professional”. Seasoning cast iron is essentially getting it prepared to do its job. 

Since cast iron skillets are so porous, they need a base layer of neutral fats to perform properly; we call this a “patina“. 

Essentially, seasoning cast iron is baking oil onto the surface of the pan. The oil changes from a liquid to a solid through a polymerization process. The resulting polymers form a nice bond with the cast iron, resulting in the slick surface home cooks have sworn by for generations.

Why Is Seasoning Cast Iron Important?

The importance of seasoning cast iron is twofold. First, seasoning a cast iron skillet takes cooking with it from nearly impossible to practically infallible. Cast iron with a nice patina is a whole new level of nonstick. Go ahead, try to get food to stick to it…I dare you.

A well-seasoned skillet will outperform any modern nonstick coating, hands down. Not to mention, it’s got time-tested safety that no non-stick cookware can touch. 

Second, seasoning your cast iron will also keep it from rusting. That’s why you can use cast iron for decades. Seasoning can even bring rusted cookware back from the dead. So don’t give up on that heirloom cast iron piece; just breathe new life into them with a little bit of oil and some time in the oven.

Oil being poured from a container into a cast iron skillet on a gas stovetop.

How To Season Cast Iron

The cast iron seasoning process is a labor of patience, not precision. While it takes some time to build up a good patina, you can repeat this process again and again until you finally get there.

And once you do, it’s oh-so-worth it.

Step 1

First, preheat your oven to 350 F. If you’ve got anything on your skillet, clean your pan – but not *too* much. Don’t go overboard. Use a light scrubber, a teeny tiny amount of dish soap, and gently remove any debris on the pan. Take care not to scratch or scuff the metal.

Cast iron can have a little dish soap, as a treat.

You can even buy a specialized scrub for cast iron to make this process totally goof-proof. If your skillet is brand new, you can skip the cleaning and just give it a quick wipe down to remove any dust. 

Step 2

Next, coat every nook and cranny of the pan with oil. You can either use a paper towel or an oil applicator made especially for the purpose.

I usually find a paper towel works just fine, as long as it’s a durable brand that won’t leave little bits behind. Anything that’s on the skillet during the next step bonds with the cast iron, so be on the lookout for any paper crumbles.

You’ll want the surface of the pan to feel kind of like how your skin feels after you put on lotion: moisturized and slightly slippery. What you DON’T want is globs of oil pooling in the skillet or dripping off. 

Step 3

Finally, place the skillet upside down in the preheated oven for about an hour. After it’s been an hour and you’ve let it cool, check for any missed spots and repeat the process

When it’s done, it should be shiny, slippery, to the touch, and dark in color. 

What Do the Best Oils for Cast Iron Seasoning Have in Common?

I know I just said ”oil” in step two above, but I should probably be a bit more specific. You can’t just use any old oil on your cast iron skillet and hope for the best.

There are several undisputed  qualities that make a good seasoning oil, so before you reach for that stick of butter (PLEASE don’t), take heed.

High Smoke Point

A good cast iron pan can accomplish a wide range of tasks: cornbread, steaks, pizza, fried chicken, and the list goes on. 

And to truly reap the benefits of cast iron, you’ll want your seasoning oil to be equally adaptable.

That’s why, whatever oil you decide to use, make sure it has a high smoke point. You’ll be pretty limited in what you can use your skillet for if you choose an oil that can’t withstand high temperatures.

And should you ever surpass its smoke point, any food made in it will take on the rancid flavor of the burnt oil. 

Low in Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are much less effective in bonding with cast iron than their unsaturated counterparts. An oil that’s high in unsaturated fats is the way to go for seasoning cast iron. 

Mild Flavor

Remember that little snapshot I gave you of cast iron’s limitless possibilities?

Well, the flavor of your seasoning oil can greatly hinder those.

You don’t want to miss out on the wonders of skillet chocolate chip cookie cakes or brownies because you seasoned your cast iron with toasted sesame oil. Pick an oil with a neutral flavor for seasoning, and keep your options open.  

Inexpensive

If you have unlimited funds, then by all means: season your cast iron with truffle oil (actually, don’t, because that’s kind of the OPPOSITE of “mild flavor”). 

But for the rest of us non-fancy pants folks, a seasoning oil should be relatively inexpensive. Cast iron is no snob. It doesn’t care if you use $50 a bottle olive oil or the leftover grease from last week’s brinner, so long as your seasoning oil checks all the other boxes. 

Detail of oil in a cast iron skillet on a gas stove.

The Best Oils for Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet: My Picks

Now that we’ve laid out what makes a good seasoning oil, let’s get to the meat and potatoes

Here are my favorite oils to keep my cast iron skillet slick and ready for anything.

Crisco for Seasoning Cast Iron

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. By far the most popular cast iron seasoning oil, a tub of good, old-fashioned Crisco is a great option.

Flavor mild enough for pie crusts and fried chicken alike: check. High smoke point (490 degrees!): check. Cheap and easy to find in any grocery store: check, and check. 

And because it’s solid, Crisco is a heck of a lot less messy than runnier options.

The only people I wouldn’t recommend it for are clean eaters. It’s definitely not getting any Health articles written about it, but hey….you’re seasoning a pan with it, not spreading it on your toast in the morning. 

Grape Seed Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron

If you look at cast iron cookware manufacturers’ recommendations, most of them recommend Grape Seed oil.

Grape Seed oil is a good contender for best seasoning oil. It has a pretty high smoke point (420 degrees F), mild flavor, and it’s relatively affordable. 

It’s widely considered to be healthier than Crisco, and it’s high in healthy omega fats. 

However, it’s still not as healthy as avocado oil, and there’s conflicting literature about grape seed oil having harmful effects on animals. If you have a pup that doubles as a live-action Roomba, I’d advise you to explore alternatives. 

Avocado Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron

Avocado oil is a little bit more on the pricy side, but it’s probably my favorite cast iron seasoning oil.

Not only does it have the highest smoke point of any of the options on this list at 520 degrees F, it’s also the healthiest by far. Plus, its mild flavor is something to be admired. 

The only downside of avocado oil is, like I mentioned, its price tag. However, I don’t mind shelling out a little bit more for it simply because it’s the closest thing that I’ve found to a perfect cast iron seasoning oil. Also, keep in mind you don’t use a lot of oil to season a cast iron skillet…at least, not if you’re doing it right.

Bacon Fat for Seasoning Cast Iron

Take it from a cast iron fanatic like me….bacon fat might be old school, but it’s got a lot of positive traits too. I know it’s not a healthy option, and to be honest, its smoke point is the lowest of any oil on this list.

But if you’re going for a “just like grandma used to make” vibe, there’s nothing better. After all, it’s what grandma probably used to season her cast iron. 

And if you eat bacon regularly, it’s free! I love an upcycling moment, and this is a great way to repurpose something instead of throwing it away. 

Is Crisco or Vegetable Oil Better for Seasoning Cast Iron?

In my opinion, Crisco is better for seasoning cast iron than vegetable oil. But my opinion is just that: my opinion. A lot of cast iron care products are made almost entirely of vegetable oil, and a lot of home cooks would disagree with me. 

The reason I prefer Crisco has less to do with its chemical properties and more to do with its consistency. To go back to that moisturizer analogy I used earlier, think of Crisco as a body butter, and vegetable oil like a dry oil. Body butter is a lot less messy, but it’s harder to saturate your skin with it than dry oil. The same is true of Crisco and vegetable oil. 

Personally, I prefer using a little more elbow grease while I apply the seasoning oil if it means less mess to clean up later. You may disagree, in which case, vegetable oil is still a great option. 

Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Good for Cast Iron Seasoning?

Extra virgin olive oil is okay for cast iron seasoning, but I would only recommend it if it’s all you have – and that’s only if it’s a light extra virgin olive oil. 

The issue with extra virgin olive oil is its low smoke point. Now, it might be better than the alternative, which is letting your cast iron rust because you have nothing else. But be warned: it breaks down and the flavor turns at relatively low temperatures. 

On the other hand, it’s easy to restore a cast iron pan by re-seasoning; it’s not as easy to get undesirable flavors out. Whether you want to take that chance is your call. 

What Oils Should Not Be Used on Cast Iron?

While the oils I mentioned above have more pros than cons, there are some oils that should absolutely not be used on cast iron.

1. Butter

You can’t use butter on its own for cooking in cast iron skillets, so you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be using it to season your cast iron skillet. 

It’s high in saturated fats, which will prevent polymerization. Aside from that, it has a low smoke point and tastes pretty bad when it burns. That flavor will be very difficult to get out. 

So, no matter how tempting it is to just use butter because it’s “better than nothing”, don’t. It’s better to season later and give your cast iron a little bit of extra care in any rusty spots than potentially damage your cast iron beyond all repair.

2. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is good for your cuticles and making paleo-friendly baked goods, but using it to season cast iron cookware is a big no-no. 

Its smoke point isn’t the issue so much as its level of saturated fats. You’ll have to season much more frequently than you would with other oils. 

However, if it’s between coconut oil or butter, I would choose the coconut oil every time. Your patina might not be as durable, but I’d rather have to re-season later than have everything I cook in my skillet taste bad for the rest of eternity. 

3. Sesame oil

As I mentioned above, sesame oil’s flavor would be a bit too much to give you the versatility that makes cast iron so magical. 

It also has a pretty low smoke point, though not as low as butter. 

If you don’t plan on cooking anything sweet in your cast iron, then it’s not the worst option. However, it’s far from the best. I’m going out on a limb here, but I would imagine if you have sesame oil in your pantry, you probably have another kind of oil. I would use that instead. 

Oil warming in a seasoned cast iron skillet.

The Best Oil for Cast Iron: Wrapping It All Up

Fortunately, even though the care and keeping of your cast iron collection isn’t always easy, finding an oil you can use to season it is. 

Between Crisco, vegetable oil, avocado oil, grape seed oil, and bacon grease, you’re bound to find an option that fits your budget and your preferences. It’s just a matter of weighing the pros and cons, and a little bit of trial and error.

About Author

TiaGoodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!