If you’re a dedicated cook who loves to sear and roast meats and seafood, perhaps you’ve splurged on a carbon steel pan. Unlike its more common stainless cousin, carbon steel conducts heat well and can behave the same as a nonstick stillet. But to ensure a long life for your carbon steel, it’s important to care for it with occasional seasoning.
You may be asking, “Wait, what? I thought seasoning was only for cast iron!” Not quite. Though not porous like cast iron, carbon steel still benefits from a bonded coating of polymerized oil, a.k.a. “seasoning,” to maintain its nonstick qualities. Here are the three easy steps to give your carbon steel skillet the TLC it deserves.
Clean with care
Before you season your carbon steel pan, it’s very important that the pan be clean first. Similarly to cleaning cast iron, you want to minimize the amount of abrasion on you're using on the pan, so stick to a double-sided sponge or nylon scrubber — no steel wool here.
However, unlike cast iron, it’s okay — even encouraged — to soak your pan in warm water to remove any food debris that may be stuck to the surface of the pan. Don’t worry: Because carbon steel is not porous, there is no risk of water absorption damaging the pan. Keep the soap at bay, lest you risk stripping what seasoning is already on your pan. Use that sponge or nylon scrubber to clean the pan, then dry completely with a dish towel. You should clean your pan like this after every use.
Give it an oil coat
If you don’t need to season your skillet, simply wipe it with a light coating of vegetable oil on a paper towel and put it away. However, if you’re on a seasoning mission, it’s time to proceed to phase two.
Add heat to season
First, to create that thin layer of nonstick coating, your pan must be hot. You can do this either on the stovetop over medium heat or inside an oven set to 350 degrees. Once the pan starts to lightly smoke, pour a small amount of a neutral oil — vegetable, canola, or grapeseed, for example — on a paper towel and spread a thin layer on the bottom and sides of the skillet. Wipe thoroughly to prevent any pooling of oil.
If using the stovetop, leave the pan on medium heat for 15 minutes; if the oven is your preference, turn the skillet upside down and bake for one hour. Remove the hot skillet from the heat, lightly wipe again with oil, let the pan to cool and put away.
That's it! You're done.