Unveiling the Distinctions: Seasoned vs. Unseasoned Cast Iron

Seasoned vs. unseasoned cast iron – What’s the difference?

Cast iron cookware has been a kitchen staple for centuries, known for its durability and excellent heat retention. When it comes to cast iron, there is often a debate over whether to use seasoned or unseasoned cookware. In this article, we will explore the key differences between seasoned and unseasoned cast iron and why seasoning is important.

What is cast iron seasoning?

Cast iron seasoning is the process of creating a protective coating on the surface of the cookware. This layer is formed by applying a thin layer of oil and heating it at high temperatures. The heat causes the oil to bond with the iron, creating a nonstick surface through a process called polymerization. Seasoning not only enhances the cooking experience, but also prevents rust and corrosion.

Difference between seasoned and unseasoned cast iron

When shopping for cast iron cookware, you may come across both seasoned and unseasoned options. Unseasoned cast iron has a distinctive matte gray finish, while seasoned cast iron has a smooth black patina. Manufacturers often sell pre-seasoned cast iron with a light protective coating. However, this seasoning is usually not sufficient for optimal cooking performance.
If you choose to cook with unseasoned cast iron, it may take longer to heat up and food is more likely to stick to the surface. To overcome this, you will need to preheat unseasoned cast iron on a medium flame for about 10-15 minutes before use. Seasoned cast iron, on the other hand, offers a smooth, nonstick surface that makes cooking and cleaning easier.

How to season cast iron

Seasoning your cast iron cookware properly is essential to its longevity and performance. Here is a step-by-step guide to seasoning cast iron:

  1. Wash the pan: Contrary to popular belief, it is safe to wash a cast iron skillet with mild soap and water. Use a minimal amount of soap to remove food particles and rust. Avoid using a dishwasher as it can damage the seasoning.
  2. Dry the skillet: Dry the skillet thoroughly to remove any moisture. You can use a paper towel or lint-free cloth to make sure it is completely dry.
  3. Apply oil: Choose a cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as canola, corn, or vegetable oil. Using a paper towel or lint-free cloth, apply a thin layer of oil to the entire surface of the pan, both inside and out. Avoid using too much oil, as it may leave a sticky residue.
  4. Heat in the oven: Preheat your oven to 450°F (232°C) and place the oiled cast iron skillet upside down on the center rack. This will prevent oil from collecting on the cooking surface. Place the skillet in the oven for about 30 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow the skillet to cool inside. Repeat this process several times for a thicker layer of seasoning.

Benefits of Seasoned Cast Iron

Seasoned cast iron offers several advantages that make it a popular choice among home cooks and professional chefs:

  1. Nonstick surface: The seasoning layer creates a natural nonstick surface that reduces the chance of food sticking to the pan.
  2. Improved cooking performance: Seasoned cast iron provides even heat distribution for better cooking results.
  3. Easy to clean: The non-stick surface makes cleaning a breeze. Simply wipe off food residue with a paper towel or, if necessary, rinse with water and mild soap.
  4. Rust and corrosion resistance: The seasoning layer acts as a barrier, protecting the cast iron from rust and corrosion caused by moisture and oxygen in the air.


In summary, the main difference between seasoned and unseasoned cast iron is the presence of a protective layer of seasoning. Seasoned cast iron provides a nonstick surface, improved cooking performance and easier cleaning. Proper seasoning of your cast iron cookware is critical to maintaining its durability and longevity. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can enjoy the benefits of seasoned cast iron and enhance your cooking experience.


What is the main difference between seasoned and unseasoned cast iron?

The main difference is the presence of a protective layer of seasoning. Seasoned cast iron has a smooth, non-stick surface, whereas unseasoned cast iron has a rougher texture.

Can I cook on unseasoned cast iron?

Yes, you can cook on unseasoned cast iron. However, more oil may be needed to prevent food from sticking to the surface. Pre-heating the unseasoned cast iron before use can also improve its cooking performance.

Why should I season my cast iron cookware?

Seasoning your cast iron cookware helps create a natural non-stick surface, improves heat retention, prevents rust and corrosion and makes it easier to clean. It also improves the overall cooking experience.

How often should I season my cast iron cookware?

It is recommended that you season your cast iron cookware regularly or when the seasoning starts to wear off. The frequency may vary depending on use, but a good rule of thumb is to season every few months or as needed.

Can I use soap to clean seasoned cast iron?

Yes, you can use mild soap and water to clean seasoned cast iron. Contrary to popular belief, using soap will not remove the seasoning. However, it’s important to avoid harsh scrubbing or abrasive cleaners that can damage the seasoning.

What type of oil should I use to season cast iron?

High smoke point oils such as rapeseed, corn or vegetable oil are commonly used for seasoning cast iron. These oils can withstand the high temperatures required for the seasoning process and help to create a durable non-stick coating.