Carbon steel cookware may come pre-seasoned, and these pans have a dark color. Some other steel pans have a silver color, which is the original color of carbon steel. This cookware is usually coated with a protective film to prevent rusting during shipping. This shipping sealant must be removed before seasoning.
A carbon steel pan that is not factory seasoned must be seasoned before its first use to develop a non-stick surface and prevent rusting.
Removing the Shipping Sealant
If your pan came with the manufacturer’s anti-rust coating (usually beeswax), you must remove it before seasoning it with oil.
Method No. 1: Use boiling soapy water to soften the temporary protective film, then use a brush or a gentle scrubber to remove the shipping sealant and wash the pan. Rinse with very hot water.
Method No. 2: Put the pan in the oven for one hour at 200F. Rinse with boiling water and wipe with paper towels several times.
Seasoning a Carbon Steel Pan
If your pan came unseasoned or has a factory seasoning you are not satisfied with, be prepared to invest time to do the job properly. Follow the directions and use gloves as the carbon steel handle will get very hot.
- Dry the pan with a paper or cloth towel, then place it on a heat source for 15-20 minutes to finish drying. Cookware without heat-sensitive handles can be placed in the oven. Heat-sensitive parts should be removed if possible. Seasoning in the oven gives more even seasoning and you can protect the handle (if it is made of carbon steel) from corrosion.
- Remove the pan from the heat source and place it on a rack or another heatproof surface.
- Use oven gloves while holding the pan and use tongs to hold the paper towel and put a light coating of oil over the interior of the pan. Flaxseed oil is most preferred among users, but sunflower, grapeseed, or canola oils will also work. Coat the entire interior, then use a new paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Oil should be evenly distributed over the surface in a thin layer. To prevent oxidation, cover the outside area too.
- Place the cookware onto the heat source on high heat until the oil starts to smoke. To heat the entire pan evenly use gloves and rotate the pan, keeping the sides in contact with the heat source for a while. To heat the entire pan at the same rate and achieve even color at the base and on the sides, many people prefer seasoning carbon steel pans in the oven. Just make sure there is no plastic or wooden handle or other temperature-sensitive parts.
- Remove the pan from the heat source and take a piece of paper towel to wipe off any excess oil. You will notice that the color of the interior has turned yellow or brown.
- Repeat the application of oil 3-4 times. After several cycles, the cooking surface will become more black/brown. If you notice areas with uneven discoloration, don’t worry, as the color will even out with use.
After the initial seasoning, you may experience sticking, but your pan keeps getting better with time and use. To improve the nonstick surface, repeat the oiling every 2-3 uses.
Over time and with regular cooking, less food will stick to the surface. The seasoning will also make your cookware easier to clean after each cook. Hot water and a paper towel are all that you will need to clean it.
- Let the pan cool before washing. Pour a little boiling water into it and use a non-scratch sponge to remove bits of the food. Don’t use soap. Usually, hot water and minimal scraping will be enough. Do not use abrasive cleansers or metal scrubbers on the inside of the pan as they will damage the seasoning. To remove stacked food, pour hot water into the pan and boil for a minute, then scrub the residue with a non-abrasive sponge.
- Rinse the pan with hot water and dry immediately with a clean cloth or paper towel.
- To finish drying, slightly heat the pan on the stove until all moisture has evaporated. You can also put cookware in the oven for a few minutes. Always heat-dry a carbon steel pan after contact with water.
- Put a thin coating of cooking oil inside and outside the pan and heat the pan to the smoking point. Always wipe the inside of the pan with a very thin layer of cooking oil before storing it.
- Store in a dry place.
Cleaning the Exterior
The exterior of your carbon steel cookware can get a layer of buildup over time. The outside buildup can cause uneven cooking. Unlike the inside of the pan, the outside surface can be scrubbed with a scouring pad, and you can use abrasive cleansers if needed to clean it.
Removing Carbon Build-Up
Over time you may notice a carbon build-up on the inside surface caused by successive heating. When this black carbon layer builds up, the pan can take longer or may heat up unevenly. Once this becomes a problem, you can scrape on all that gunk and old seasoning with a metal scrubber to get back down to the bare metal. Then, simply re-season your pan.
Removing Surface Rust
To prevent corrosion, make sure your pan is dry before you put it away.
If you see rust, use an abrasive sponge and hot water to scrub the rust off. Then, re-season the pan.
2 thoughts on “How to Clean and Season a Carbon Steel Pan”
I forgot to wash the carbon steel pan first and oiled it and put it into the oven. Realizing my mistake I started it over and boiled water in the pan then washed it with warm soapy water and THEN applied oil and put it into the oven. Am I ok or did I seal in the beeswax protective coat?
I believe that the beeswax coating was washed away by warm soapy water. The beeswax coating is completely edible and natural, but it could affect the quality of the new seasoning if not completely removed. If you need to start over, I read some helpful suggestions on this page: