This Is the Best Fat for Seasoning Your Cast Iron Skillet (No, It’s Not Oil)

updated Mar 18, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you’re using a cast iron skillet on the regular (and I hope you are!), you already know how important it is to season the pan after each use. Although cast iron isn’t fussy — it’s actually a lot harder to “mess up” than you may think — it does require regular seasoning. When you season a cast iron pan, you accomplish two things: You keep it from rusting, and you help the pan maintain its natural nonstick quality.

It’s not hard to season cast iron: All you have to do is clean it, dry it, then swipe on a layer of fat and place the pan over low heat for a few minutes. This allows the fat to coat the surface and slowly seep into the layers of iron. Turn off the heat, and that’s it! It’s ready to go for your next cooking adventure.

But what fat is best for seasoning a cast iron pan? Survey says … ghee! (It’s me. I am the survey.) Some folks stand by neutral oils, like grapeseed. That’s a totally decent option, especially because grapeseed oil has a high smoke point. A smoke point, as a reminder, is the temperature at which fat will burn. The higher the smoke point, the hotter it can get; which explains the smoke alarm that went off that one time you tried to sear a steak in butter.

Ghee is clarified butter, which means that all of the butter’s easily-burnt milk solids were removed. What you’re left with is an ultra-rich-tasting fat that’s spreadable and excellent for cooking. The smoke point of ghee hovers right around 485˚F (butter is a modest 300-ish), which means it’s a stellar choice for a pan that’s great at getting ripping hot.

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

I went through a phase where I used bacon fat or lard to season my pans, but ultimately decided that’s not ideal. Not only is the smoke point lower, but it adds a distinctly savory flavor to the pans, which is not great if you’re using your skillet to make something sweet like a strawberry pie. My brief period of bacon-scented desserts proves that the seasoning layer definitely matters when it comes to flavor. That’s why, in my opinion, ghee is the best. It adds high-heat lubrication to the pan, just like grapeseed or canola oil. But unlike either of those, it also adds a rich, delicious, and all-around food-friendly flavor. 

Ghee isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely worth it. And don’t forget that a little goes a long way. Not only is ghee the best cast iron pan seasoning agent, but it’s also the only one I’ll use.

What your favorite way to season cast iron? Tell us about it in the comments!