How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan (7 Steps from the Seasoning Ninja)

Ahh the age old question – how to season a carbon steel pan. I learned about seasoning the hard way. I shopped around, got my carbon steel pan, cleaned it, and tried out my first noodles.

Yeah, you guessed right, the pre-seasoning started coming off, and I thought the wok was fake. So, I counted my losses and bought another carbon steel wok, and the results weren’t different 😭.

It’s after this last episode that I finally researched and came across the term’ seasoning,’ and since then, I’ve restored my two pans.

And become a self-acclaimed seasoning ninja😇.

Table of Contents

How to Season Carbon Steel Pan

Black Pan, Pan, Black, Cookware

Okay, the whole seasoning process wasn’t as easy as I made it sound in the introduction.

I went through several seasoning tutorials on YouTube, and most didn’t work for me.

So, here is a simple process that works even for seasoning newbies ( it worked for me).

Step 1: Confirm whether the pan is unseasoned.

When you receive your new carbon steel pan, the first thing you want to confirm is whether or not the pan is pre-seasoned or not.  This may seem obvious, but I was clueless and I know someone out there might be in the same boat.

Most manufacturers will mention if the carbon steel pan is pre-seasoned. But if they don’t mention it, you can tell through the appearance of the pan.

It will be black like the off-shelf pan if it’s pre-seasoned, but it will be metallic grey if it’s unseasoned.

If your new carbon steel pan is pre-seasoned, you can start cooking with the pan until it’s time to re-season it (more on this later).

Step 2: Clean the carbon steel pan

If your pan is unseasoned, the first thing you’ll need to do is clean it and remove the wax coating. As you may have read, carbon steel is prone to rust, so the company adds a coating to ensure it doesn’t rust while it’s in the warehouse.

Sponge on a sink, yello sponge, oraneg rubber, sink

It’s important to mention that all manufacturers use different technology to protect their cookware, so I won’t be discussing how to remove the coat.

Be sure to check the manual for the instructions on how to remove the coat.

To clean the pan, use warm water and a small amount of soap. A steel wool sponge worked for my first pan, but I used a scrub brush for my other pan (you can also use a pan scraper).

Step 3: Dry Your Pan

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually a crucial step. You’ll be shocked at how fast a wet carbon steel pan can attract rust now that you’ve removed the coating.

Simply give your pan a proper towel-dry and place it over the burner to get rid of the excess moisture.

Step 4: Heat Up Your Pan

This is where all the seasoning fun starts, and they’re two ways of doing it. You can heat your pan in the oven or on a gas stove.

Stove, Blue Flame

I prefer the gas stove method because I don’t like complicating my life😂. It takes 10 minutes at medium-high.

Alternatively, you can heat your carbon steel pan in the oven at 450°F for 10 minutes. Now, this is a very okay method, but it will only work if your pan is oven-friendly. For example, can the handle come off?

Also, after 10 minutes, the pan may still not be hot enough, so you may take a longer time if you follow this path.

Anyway, whatever method you use, ensure your pan is searing hot for the next step.

Step 5: Apply Oil on Your Pan (Very Sparingly)

Yeah, this isn’t the time to be generous. Also, for this process, you need to be careful.

I do this wearing oven mitts because a hot pan & hot oil are a recipe for disaster.

Olive Oil, Healthy, Oil

Apply a little oil on a paper towel or any old cloth you don’t mind getting rid of. Holding the pan using oven mitts, apply the first layer of oil inside and outside the pan.

To be even safer, you can use a tong to hold the cloth or the paper towel.

For this first seasoning, you want to use as little oil as possible; otherwise, you’ll end up with a sticky coating. If at some point you’re wondering whether you’re using too much oil, chances are you are. Ensure the pan is completely coated and dry it off until you can’t see any oil.

What is the best oil to season a carbon steel pan?

Well, any neutral oil that can burn at high temperatures is perfect for the job. This includes canola oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, refined sunflower oil, and soybean oil.

Avoid butter that mixes solids & water, olive oil since it has some sediments. Other oils you’ll want to avoid include avocado oil, flax-seed oil, vegetable shortening, lard, and peanut butter. They won’t give the desired seasoning results.

Step 6: Burn the Oiled Pan

Once the pan is completely coated,  burn the thin layer using the gas stove method or oven method. If you’re using the latter, ensure the oven temperature is high.

It’s advisable to add a baking sheet on the bottom rack and place the pan on it (this means the pan will be in the middle of the oven). The baking sheets help to catch excess oil drips.

For the gas stove method, use high heat and ensure you place the pan well such that all parts are well-heated. If you realize some of the pan parts aren’t getting heat, keep turning the pan, and remember to wear oven mitts ( I can’t stress this enough).

Now this session can take anywhere between 15-50 minutes based on the results you want.

But how do you know the seasoning is complete? When the smoking stops. Oh, I should’ve mentioned you need to do this in a ventilated room because where there is seasoning, there is smoke.

Expert tips

  • A well-ventilated kitchen is your best friend when it comes to seasoning a carbon steel pan as it helps in managing the smoke.
  • Remember to turn on the exhaust hood if you’re using the stovetop method
  • And if you’re using the oven, ensure you turn on the built-in extractor fans
  • Always use a neutral oil like vegetable oil to avoid excessive smoke

Step 7: Repeat!

Congratulations! You’ve unlocked the next level of seasoning steel!  Now that you’ve burned the first layer check it out to see how you did.

Did you do a good job?Are there bumpy parts? Is the thickness uniform? If the answer to the last two questions is no, welcome to the seasoning ninja club🎊.

But if you answered yes, do not despair.

You simply need to start over the whole process (that means undoing what you did & starting the seasoning) until you get it right. And it doesn’t have to be the same day.

Once you get this part right, it’s time to move to the last step, which is repeating the seasoning to get more layers.

To be on the safe side, I always go for at least 4 layers. You can do fewer or more layers – it all comes down to preference or how much you love the seasoning process.

Just ensure by the end of the process, the pan is dark brown.

After How Long Should I Season My Carbon Steel Pan?

There is no definite timeline on how often we should season our carbon steel pans because it all comes down to our usage.

For example, if you use a very harsh pan scrub brush, there is a chance your seasoning will come off faster than a person who uses a soft sponge to clean their pan.

Also, if you just season your pan and store it, the seasoning will come off fast (the more you use your seasoned pan, the better it gets). Wouldn’t it be good if this is how everything worked?

Lastly, how well you did your seasoning will depend on how fast you need to repeat the process. That’s why I love to do 4 layers.

Signs that your pan needs seasoning

Here are some signs that you need to season your pan.

  • The brown coating is no longer as uniform as it was after you did the seasoning.
  • The pan isn’t as smooth as it was, and you can feel some bumpy layer on the surface
  • Your pan is no longer non-sticky, and food is sticking at the bottom

Expert tip

There are very many maintenance tips for carbon steel cookware that I can give you, but for this case, this is the only one that matters.

Create space for your beloved wok or pan in your kitchen. Stop abusing it by piling stuff on it. This creates friction which removes the seasoning.

If you really have to place stuff on it, at least place a few paper towels in-between.

Cast Iron, Pan on a white towel

How to Season a Carbon Steel Pans (Final Words)

If you want to enjoy the Asian recipes, you’ll have to embrace seasoning since you’ll be using carbon steel cookware a lot. In fact, if you want to master Asian recipes, not only do you need a the best carbon steel pan, but you also need to invest in the best carbon steel wok you can afford – yes it makes a difference!

I know the process seems lengthy and stressful, especially if you do it wrong and have to start over.

But with time, you, too, will become a seasoning ninja and become a source of inspiration to others.

What is the most challenging part of seasoning your carbon steel pans?

Colin Matthews

Colin is a passionate chef by trade and a kitchen nerd on the side. Growing up in the kitchen, Colin has always had a passion for learning the absolute best way to cook a dish. He quickly realized most kitchens have duplicate cookware and small appliances and had to decide which ones were going to be the “keepers” – causing him to take a closer look at all his products.

As it turns out, small differences make a big impact on the experience. Whether it’s how hard you have to press a microwave button, to how long a cast iron skillet stays warm after you turn off the heat, these little difference changed everything.