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How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan

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The first thing you need to do when you get a shiny new carbon steel pan is to season it. Learn how to season a carbon steel pan on the stovetop and get important tips for maintaining your cookware.

Seasoned carbon steel pan on a wood cutting board.

Many people are intimidated by the idea of having to season a pan. It’s really so much simpler than most people think it will be!

If you’re new to the world of carbon steel cookware, you may be wondering what seasoning is? Also called a patina, it’s basically microscopic layers of fats that get fused with the metal of your pan, creating a naturally nonstick surface without the need for a synthetic coating like what you find on nonstick pans.

In addition to keeping food from sticking to your pan, this layer also protects it from moisture, so it won’t rust. Over time, this layer will become darker and darker – it’s supposed to! Every carbon steel pan has its own appearance thanks to this patina.

Don’t worry. It’s actually really easy to build a patina by seasoning your carbon steel pan the right way when you first get it. And if you don’t get it right the first time, that’s okay too because you can scrub it off and start over.

Once your carbon steel cookware is properly seasoned, you’re going to love cooking with it. The pans have the same even heating as cast iron pans. Plus carbon steel pans are so much easier to cook with than stainless steel pans, and they last a long time compared to any nonstick pan I’ve owned.

Supplies and Tools

By the Numbers: How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan

Follow these simple step-by-step instructions to learn the best way to season a new carbon steel pan using the stovetop method.

Step 1: Remove Handle Cover.

If your pan has a protective silicone sleeve on the handle, the first step is to remove it.

Blue silicone handle protector removed from MIsen pan.

Step 2: Clean Off Protective Coating.

Your new pan should have a protective coating on it when it arrives. My Misen pan came with a beeswax coating.

To remove the protective beeswax coating from a Misen carbon steel pan, clean it with very hot soapy water and scrub the inside, outside and bottom of the pan. You’ll be able to tell that the coating is gone when the pan feels smooth all over.

If you have a different brand of carbon steel cookware, follow the directions that came from the manufacturer for removing the initial coating.

Scrubbing beeswax coating off carbon steel pan.

Step 3: Dry Pan Well.

Use a kitchen towel to dry any remaining moisture from your pan before seasoning it. Carbon steel almost looks like stainless steel until you season it!

Drying a carbon steel pan with a kitchen towel.

Step 4: Measure Out Seasoning Wax.

The next step is to place your pan on your stovetop (electric or gas stove only – induction won’t work). Take out your seasoning wax and put about ¼ teaspoon on a folded-up paper towel.

Seasoning wax on a folded up paper towel.

Step 5: Apply Wax to Pan.

Using your paper towel, wipe the seasoning wax all over the surface of the pan. You want a nice, thin, even layer. The pan shouldn’t look greasy or shiny when you’re done. It should look dry.

Rubbing seasoning wax into carbon steel pan with paper towel.

Step 6: Evenly Heat Pan.

Turn your stove onto medium-high heat to begin heating the pan. As the pan heats up, continue using your paper towel to wipe the pan. You want to make sure you’re wiping up any excess seasoning so you keep a nice, smooth layer.

Carbon Steel Pan being heated with seasoning wax on it.

Look for the pan to smoke after a couple of minutes. Once that happens, turn the stove down to medium heat. You want a light smoke coming from the pan rather than a heavy one. Keep rubbing the pan with your paper towel.

You’ll want to move the pan around over the burner, turning it on its sides too, in order to make sure it’s evenly seasoned. As you do this, make sure you’re still wiping the pan. Any extra seasoning will scorch to the pan and make the patina uneven.

Carbon steel pan being seasoned on the stovetop.

The great thing about seasoning a carbon steel vs cast iron pan is that the metal will change colors throughout the process, so you can see how you’re doing. Make sure to apply more heat to areas that aren’t browning to get an even coating.

Don’t worry if you start wiping brown stuff up with the paper towel. That’s just excess seasoning that has started to build up on the pan.

Step 7: Allow Pan to Cool Then Repeat.

After you feel like the pan is evenly browned and it’s not really smoking anymore, turn off the heat then wipe the pan again with the paper towel. Allow the hot pan to cool to room temperature or until you can touch it, then repeat step 6 again. You’re going to want to season, then cool, the pan a total of 4-5 times to get a good base patina built.

A more fully seasoned carbon steel pan on the stovetop.

Step 8: Feel Your Pan’s Surface.

Use your hand to feel the inside of your pan to make sure it feels smooth. That’s more important than how it looks. As long as it feels smooth, you did a good job seasoning it. If it’s bumpy, sticky or uneven feeling, you may need to scrub off the excess wax until the pan is smooth and start over.

A hand feeling the cooking surface of a carbon steel skillet.

Step 8: Use Your Carbon Steel Pan.

Once your carbon steel pan is evenly seasoned, it’s time to use it! Make sure to use enough oil or butter in the pan when you’re first using it to help strengthen your initial seasoning. Over time, your seasoned pan will become nonstick if you maintain it properly.

Overhead view of seasoned carbon steel pan on a wood cutting board.

Tips for Maintaining Carbon Steel Cookware

Answers to all of your questions about maintaining your carbon steel cookware, from cleaning it to seasoning it and beyond.

1. Best seasoning wax?

I really like the carbon steel seasoning wax that I got with my pan from Misen. It’s a combination of soy oil, beeswax and coconut oil.

Open tin of carbon steel seasoning wax.

If you want to use a basic oil rather than a seasoning wax designed for carbon steel, choose a neutral oil with a high smoke point such as canola oil, corn, soybean oil, sunflower oil or vegetable oil. All you need is 4-5 drops of one of these oils instead of ¼ teaspoon of seasoning wax.

Avoid olive oil, butter, flaxseed oil and bacon as they don’t work very well and can cause burning and flaking.

2. Tips for building a stronger patina?

The patina or seasoning is what makes carbon steel non-stick. It takes time to build the perfect patina so that nothing sticks, but there are a couple of things you can do to improve it.

At first, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re using plenty of oil or butter in the pan when you cook with it. This will help the initial seasoning to become stronger, and eventually non-stick. Over time, you should be able to use less fat in the pan.

Additionally, it’s important to preheat your pan before adding any oil or food to it. This simple little trick will help keep your food from sticking too.

3. How to season carbon steel if you have an induction cooktop?

Induction cooktops do not work the same way as electric or gas ones, so you won’t be able to get it hot enough to season your pan on it. Instead, you’ll need to use the oven method.

4. How to season carbon steel cookware in the oven?

You’ll follow the same steps as above for preparing the pan. Instead of heating it on the stovetop, though, you’ll bake it in the oven at 400° F for a full hour. You’ll need to do this 3 separate times. It takes a lot longer to season carbon steel in the oven than on the stovetop, which is why I recommend using your stovetop.

5. Why does the seasoning look like that?

If your seasoning looks uneven at first, don’t worry. Mine looked a little streaky at first, but it has changed over time. It’s normal for it to change and become a dark brown over time.

If it’s flaking, it means that your base patina isn’t very strong. Just lightly scrub the areas that are flaking, then keep seasoning it. Over time, the flaking should stop.

5. How to wash carbon steel pans?

The most important thing to remember is that you do not use dish soap on your carbon steel pans and they don’t go in the dishwasher either. If you do this, you’ll remove the seasoning.

Instead, carefully wash it with a non-metal brush or sponge in hot water. Place the pan on the stove and heat it over low. When the pan is dry, rub a thin layer of oil all over the inside of it with a paper towel, making sure you wipe up any excess so the pan still looks dry. Once cool, you can store the pan in a dry place.

6. How to clean rusty spots?

If you don’t maintain a good layer of seasoning on your carbon steel skillet, it can rust. The good news is that the pan isn’t ruined. If that happens, use an abrasive sponge or steel wool to buff out the rust. Once it’s gone, you can re-season your skillet so it’s better protected.

7. Best carbon steel pans?

The first time I bought a carbon steel pan it was a new wok from Amazon. It was a highly rated item, but when it arrived, we could not get the protective coating removed! Then since only patches were removed, it rapidly started to rust.

I didn’t try carbon steel again until I received a 12” pan from Misen. The difference in quality is night and day. It was absolutely no trouble to remove the protective coating from the Misen pan as it’s just beeswax, and the seasoning process went smoothly.

Another great brand of carbon steel cookware if you can’t find what you want from Misen is Made In Cookware.

Seasoned carbon steel skillet.

How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan

Seasoning a new carbon steel pan is easy even if you’ve never seasoned a pan before. Follow this simple tutorial to get your new carbon steel cookware ready to use.
5 from 1 vote
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Tools

  • Gas or Electric Stovetop

Instructions

  • The first thing you need to do is remove the protective silicone sleeve from the handle, if applicable.
    Blue silicone handle protector removed from MIsen pan.
  • Wash your pan in hot water with soap and a non-metallic scrub brush or sponge to remove the protective layer.
    Scrubbing beeswax coating off carbon steel pan.
  • Dry your pan well with a clean towel.
    Drying a carbon steel pan with a kitchen towel.
  • Place your pan on the stovetop and measure out ¼ teaspoon of seasoning wax onto a paper towel.
    Seasoning wax on a folded up paper towel.
  • Rub the seasoning wax all over the pan in a thin, even layer until it looks dry rather than shiny or wet.
    Rubbing seasoning wax into carbon steel pan with paper towel.
  • Heat the pan over medium-high heat and continue using your paper towel to wipe the pan of any excess seasoning. Once the pan smokes, turn the heat down to medium and keep rubbing the pan with your paper towel.
    Carbon Steel Pan being heated with seasoning wax on it.
  • Make sure the pan is evenly seasoned by moving it around over the burner and making sure you get the sides of the pan too. Keep wiping the pan the whole time to make sure no excess oil scorches to the pan. It should be turning brown.
    Carbon steel pan being seasoned on the stovetop.
  • Turn off the heat when the pan is browned evenly and it’s not smoking as much. Wipe again with the paper towel then let it cool until you can touch it. Repeat the seasoning process a total of 4-5 times.
    A more fully seasoned carbon steel pan on the stovetop.
  • Rub the pan to make sure it’s smooth – this is how you know it’s seasoned well. If it’s bumpy, sticky or uneven, you may need to scrub it again and start over.
    A hand feeling the cooking surface of a carbon steel skillet.
  • After your carbon steel pan is seasoned evenly, you can use it in your kitchen.
    Overhead view of seasoned carbon steel pan on a wood cutting board.

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