The Best Way to Season a Carbon Steel Skillet Is … with Potato Skins

updated Feb 8, 2021
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Carbon steel skillet on countertop.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

If I had to choose between my carbon steel and cast iron skillets, I’d choose carbon steel. (Cue gasps, shock, and awe!) It has the heat-retaining powers of cast iron, but is lighter and easier to maneuver on the stovetop and lift into and out of the oven.

Like cast iron, carbon steel gets more nonstick the more you use it. Both types of skillets also require care to maintain their seasoning and prevent them from rusting. With carbon steel, you shouldn’t use a lot of soap or abrasive scrubbers (just softly scrub with a gentle brush or sponge as necessary). And, after cleaning, a carbon steel pan should be placed on a burner until it’s thoroughly dry and then rubbed with a bit of oil. Sounds kinda like cast iron, right?

However, unlike cast iron, which often comes pre-seasoned, a lot of carbon steel skillets arrive unseasoned. This might be a deterrent for some of you, and I get that. I do. But I’ve got the best way to season carbon steel — and it’s easy, too.

I first tried out this method when I tested a few sizes of carbon steel skillets for America’s Test Kitchen. When I had previously seasoned carbon steel skillets, I would apply a very thin layer of oil and heat the skillet until it smoked and let it do so for several minutes, continuing this oiling-smoking process until the skillet was a brownish-black (Serious Eats details the process here). Inevitably, my smoke alarm would go off. But ATK instructs you do to it an entirely different way. It works so well it’s now my go-to method — and it doesn’t set off your smoke alarm.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

First, you’ll have to remove the factory coating (either wax or grease) by giving the pan a very good scrub with hot water and dish soap. Then, place it over a burner to dry it thoroughly. For a 12- or 10-inch skillet (you can halve these amounts for an 8-inch skillet), you’ll need 1/3 cup of neutral oil, 2/3 cup salt (table salt is fine), and the peels of two potatoes. Add all of this to your skillet and cook — stirring occasionally and making sure to move the potato skin mixture up the sides of the skillet — for about 10 minutes. As the mixture cooks, the pan will begin to turn brown and will likely look splotchy: This is normal! It’s just the start of your seasoning. After 10 minutes, discard the mixture. I like to repeat this seasoning process through once more.

After you’re finished with your seasoning, gently wash the pan with hot soapy water. And place it over heat as described above, rubbing the surface with a little oil after it’s completely dry and using a paper towel to remove any excess.

If things are ever sticking, you can also use these instructions for re-seasoning your skillet. Peel some potatoes and grab the oil and salt: You know what to do.

Do you have a go-to way to season carbon steel? Let us know in the comments!