Cowboy Kent Rollins tells us how to fix sticky cast iron

Originally published at: Cowboy Kent Rollins tells us how to fix sticky cast iron | Boing Boing


Sticky cast iron means you put too much oil on it when you added to the seasoning when you were cleaning it after use, or that you didn’t heat the pan up until the oil started to smoke.

At least in my experience, anyway…

After using my cast iron, I scrape out the big chunks, pour some hot water into it, bring that up to a nice boil, and then break out the heat and water proof gauntlets and scrub the pan with some chain mail. then I dump the hot water out, maybe rinse it with more hot water if needed, and put it back on the heat to evaporate the rest of the water off while I get the paper towels and oil ready.

Once the pan is bone dry, I put no about a tablespoon of oil on it, use the paper towel to wipe the pan down on the inside and outside, use a fresh towel to wipe off the excess, and then let the heat carbonize the oil. While I’m waiting, I’ll put the oil away, toss the towels, and get a wire rack in place on the unused burners of the stove. When the pan starts to smoke, I’ll turn the burner off, put the pan on the wire rack, and walk away for a couple hours and let it cool on it’s own.

So far that’s worked out pretty good for me.


uhoh… now you’ve done it (Sir Jason Sir). if you want an experimental model of shouty social imbroglio one could do worst than to start a “how ack-tuallly to season one’s cast iron” thread. (“Start upon a moonless night slow heating your pan to 417F…”)


I’ll second the stainless steel chainmail for scrubbing. I find paper towels leave lint that builds up, but maybe we just buy cheap @$$ paper towels. Could use an old face cloth or clean rag or corner of a dish towel that’ll be washed soon.

am surprised he used olive oil as the smoke point is so low. I’ve had success w canola, walnut oil or best of all home made ghee.

A neighbor brought me a cast iron skillet that was all rusted to hell. Before I’d try to burn it off in a campfire or maybe our home fire pit. But this time I fired up the Ooni pizza oven and ran that baby up to near 1000˚ F. Burned the rust right off. Seasoned it with about a half dozen super thin coats of oil (the inside surface was pretty damn pebbly to start). Once I could cook an egg on it and have it slide out easy peasy I gave it back to them.


I like Kent’s cooking videos. But he misses this. Insufficient heat is a big cause of this.

He also explicitly says not to “burn up the oil”, which is exactly what you need to do. With proper heat, too much oil should mostly burn off, and unevenness should work itself out over time. The temps he’s talking about won’t season a pan, and won’t require a reseason if used to clean one. Though if he’s seasoning with olive oil, he might be having problems. It’s not a great option.

In terms of too much oil after cleaning. Like I said unless you’ve really got a pool of oil going in there. Excess will burn off and even out with regular use. I find it’s more often insufficient cleaning. Food residue and cooking grease will build up on the pan, and if you’re not heating the thing up to smoking temps for searing. It won’t completely break down or burn off.

If you just hose the thing off, and apply more oil you’re not helping that. Sitting at room temp it’ll get sticky between uses.

You can use soap. And should at least occasionally. Wipe things down with a cloth/paper towel to remove excess oil at a minimum.

Iron does not have pores to open up. And this isn’t really how seasoning works, it’s not soaking into the metal at all. Though it will grip texture and imperfections, this is part of why carbon steel doesn’t take or hold a season as well as cast iron. It’s just a fuck ton smoother.

Hot metal can make it a bit easier to get a even, thin coat of oil. Since it makes the oil flow better. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting from cold. Generally I prefer it, and have been doing it all my life. Far as I know 4 generations have been doing it that way on the same set of pans.

From bare metal? Sounds rights.

I’ve been using safflower oil. Cheap as balls, very high smoke point, and it’s a drying oil like flax/linseed but not as extreme so it doesn’t chip long term the way flax/linseed can.

I also can’t stress the cheap part enough. It is literally the cheapest oil on the store shelves here.


Yep, I believe Adam Ragusea covered this in a video on cast iron pans. That process of burning basically polymerizes the oil.

Also, this is why it’s good to do some initial cooking of something fatty like bacon or whatever you’d use in its place for vegan dishes.


And Serious Eats. And Alton Brown. And the manufacturers.

I think the idea that you shouldn’t let it smoke comes from the way high heat for a good long time can remove the season. But this generally takes leaving an empty pan on a gas burner at high for a good 30 minutes or the self clean cycle of an oven to accomplish. It’s mostly something you’d be doing deliberately and involves heating things MUCH higher than the smoke point.

It’s something that was warned about a lot in discussions of cast iron for a while, and if you take it too generally you get the idea you can never let the things get all that hot at all.

I’m not sure I buy too much else Ragusea gets into with cast iron. He’s seems to have very much bought into the “it’s hard” mentality. He did a “why I don’t like cast iron” video a while back where he repeated a bunch of myths. Including the can’t use soap, and can’t get it too hot bits. Though curiously he seems to still publish videos cooking in cast iron.


for cleaning: Cast Iron Cleaning With Electrolysis - The Cast Iron Collector: Information for The Vintage Cookware Enthusiast
Seasoning requires one polymerizes the oil with heat.


Electrolysis is used for stripping pans as part of restoration. In particular because it removes serious rust pretty well. No one should be doing that for routine cleaning. It’s also not generally the sort of thing you’ll be getting into unless you are restoring a lot of pans.

For most people, if they need to take a pan to bare metal oven cleaner and a trash bag will strip things just fine.


Precisely. Which is why you should use a polymerizing oil and not something like olive oil for seasoning.

And people seem to be confusing seasoning with cooking. Taking any oil to its smoke point is dangerous as it denatures the oil and creates free radicals; not good to ingest.

The seasoning phase is distinct and should be done before cooking.

Yeah, that’s dumb. Even if it did, it seems like it would make it stick significantly worse.

Thanks for the tip! I put a ton of effort and smoking out the house into linseed oil just to see it flake away. I didn’t realize it was an inherent property and not me messing it up.

As others have said here, the key to cooking with cast iron, regardless of how well seasoned it is, is to heat it thoroughly first. Sure, it’s not always necessary, but I find it does get closer to Teflon-like slipperiness when well heated. And anytime you’re searing, it should be smoking-hot.


Yeah flax/linseed was the internet’s favorite thing for a bit there, forget where the first article on it was. But the whole theory was around it being a drying oil.

The idea being since it’ll dry to a hard, slick finish on it’s own and that’s what you’re after with seasoning a pan. Maybe it’ll work better. People raved about it initially. Until the season chipped down the line. It’ll give you a shiny, even, Instagram ready season with very few coats. But over time, as it builds up it’s prone to flaking. Seems like the hold up is true drying oils don’t bond well, build up very thick, and finish too hard.

Current wisdom is it’s good for a first or second coat on bare metal. To get a good starter coating. But it shouldn’t be used beyond that.

I believe Victoria currently uses flax/linseed on it’s pre-seasoned pans. Most other manufacturers don’t specify beyond “vegetable oil”.

Linseed is also a drying oil. And some forms of it can be used as a base for paints or a finish the way linseed is. But the food grade version only has very mild drying properties if at all. I started using it because of the very high smoke point, as I’ve found high heat oils do the job better. It’s possible that whatever mild drying factor is left has an impact. It does seem to give me very dark, shiny season right quick. Though I’ve found that most high heat oils do that. It’s definitely as durable as any other I’ve used.

The fears over that are fairly over blown. Especially since it’s rooted in free radicals. Since the 90’s poking free radicals with a stick has revealed that they’re not neccisarily the all out demon we thought they were, and there’s a shit ton of data showing too few free radicals running around can be bad as well. That’s been one of the major theories underpinning the close correlation between taking multi-vitamins and increased cancer risk.

More over no one has ever established any sort of real world risk, or correlation between smoking oil, or any of the related stuff, and actual health impacts. It was all bench science really. Free radicals do X in a petri dish, and Y has free radicals, so Y must be bad.

And really, oil begins to break down in this way well before it’s smoke point, and serious amounts of weird don’t happen till well above. Near flash over when most of the oil is straight up burning. Repeated heating, or holding at high temp (think deep frying) does a lot of the same stuff. And any food you brown or sear, the fats will undergo the same reactions. Making it functionally unavoidable.

It did lead to a bunch of bunk, including people advocating you never brown food ever. And I definitely think the idea contributes to fear around heating your cast iron, and bad advice around seasoning.

That depends very much on what you are doing. Any bit of cookware is going to stick less if it’s hot, and has oil in it. Even bare stainless steel can be as non-stick as cast iron if you heat it right and put enough fat in it.

But part of the point with seasoned cookware (carbon steel as well, and you can even season aluminum), is it’s pretty damn slick regardless of temperature.

What people sort of mistake here is that fresh seasoning is slicker than dry, old seasoning. It’s actually common practice with carbon steel to season the pan immediately before use, each time. Dump in a pool of oil, heat it to smoking. Dump it and wipe it out. Then let the pan cool and proceed. Partially because carbon steel doesn’t hold a season well, and partially because that fresh season will be far slicker.

There are plenty of things you want to cook in a fairly cool pan, or even start in a cold one. Duck breast for example renders out a lot better if you start it skin down in a cold pan. Same deal bacon. For the most part you don’t want to dump eggs into a searing a steak level hot pan. Baking in your cast iron is mostly likely going to involve temps well below what a stove brings to the table.

Thing is cast iron has a lot of thermal mass in it, and it’s not very good at soaking up or spreading out heat. And that’s why it’s usually important to take your time heating it up. Food can get jacked up in myriad ways if your start cooking at a temp too low, or with uneven heat.

Aluminum, and even multiply stainless heat up fast enough that you can just throw them on a burner at the appropriate setting and it’ll get there before it causes an issue. Cast Iron doesn’t, carbon steel it depends on how thick it is. Though it’s always a good idea to pre-heat any pan, unless you specifically need it to start cold.


Every time with the cast iron. For people who needed something else to needlessly obsess over and chose oregon trail cookery this time and don’t realize that it won’t melt in the presence of soap.

Like, they’re good for a couple things and okay for lots of things but not great at anything. If you’re a Jeremiah Johnson cosplayer and only have one cooking vessel, fine I guess. I’ll take Mauviel carbon steel or All-Clad Professional any day.


So you’re OK with functionally identical and just as old fashioned pans so long as they are $100?

Or is the lesson that we should be needlessly obsessed with brands?

Mauviel is cheap as shit on etsy. Pick your brand, whatever.

Thin, lightweight carbon steel pans are a world away from your gramma’s clunker.

Modern aluminum or copper core stainless pans are fantastic and don’t require a religion to keep clean.

But I’m glad you got to say something.

My solution:
Use normal washing up liquid and a scourer. If it’s still not clean, use a Brillo pad and some elbow grease.

(And “warming the pan to open the pores” wtf?!, Is you pan made of skin rather than iron? If it has holes in it, then it’s broken).


Not really I own both. Hell my great grandmother owned both. They heat a bit faster because they’re thinner. At the expense of heat retention. This makes them a bit more responsive. Otherwise they are pretty much the same.

More over the maintenance regime is identical to cast iron. And they’re actually harder to season, cause they’re slicker. So there’s more of it.

Which makes sense because it’s almost the same material, save for slightly less carbon in the mix.

It’s truly weird to shit on cast iron as old fashioned and maintenance heavy while singing the praises of carbon steel. It’s the same, it’s a wash.

“Thin, lightweight” carbon steel (1mm or less) is prone to warping from heat. Standard and heavy (2-3mm) are a hell of a lot like cast iron. They lose some searing power, but they’re a bit more responsive. Shapes are a bit better for tossing. They’re a bit slicker when freshly seasoned. That’s about the breath of it.

Sure. But they’re sticky. And don’t retain heat as well for searing. Which is good when you want that. But it makes them harder to clean. See I’ve got those too. Hell my other great grandmother had those.

Yeah but I don’t think you’re getting it.


… wait a minute. I thought that’s one reason why you used cast iron- once it’s heated up by soaking up a certain number of minutes preheating, it gives a fairly even heat over the entire surface. (including the handles…)

Personally, at this stage I’m resigned to my cast iron pans being left, unloved, in the cabinet, whilst spending money every couple years replacing the trashed non-stick T-Fal pans because the cooks in the house don’t grok the concept of ‘please don’t use a metal fork or knife on the nonstick’, despite being as subtle as a piano dropped off the top of the empire state building about it.

The dutch oven, though? it gets used for making potsticker soup. (don’t ask, I don’t know why they are being cooked that way, except they taste OK; Personally I like the ‘recommended’ method printed on the bags of the frozen ones we buy…)


Ask and Ye Shall Receive: The Cast Iron Cleaning Death Match thread


Not quite.

Once it soaks up that heat it holds onto it. Almost regardless of how much shit you throw in the pan. So the heat is “even” in the sense that it’s stable.

But iron and steel don’t conduct heat well. And aren’t as good at transferring it into things as aluminum or copper.

As a result cast iron heats up pretty unevenly. You see it when you first heat up a pan, it’ll be hot in the center and bare hand touchable cold towards the edge. For quite a while. It’s prone to hot and cold spots. If it isn’t centered on the burner, or is larger than the burner by too much some spots will remain colder practically forever.

This is exactly why a carbon steel wok works the way it does. Ripping hot at the bottom, cooler up the walls.

By contrast aluminum and multiply stainless heat up very evenly across the whole bottom. Pretty damn quick. They cool the same way when you change the burner temp.

The way around that with cast iron and carbon steel is to take your time heating them up. And move the pan around the burner to ensure it’s even.

You’d have to do that anyway. Non-stick surfaces break down over time. Being super careful will get you a couple more years maybe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one hold up for more than 5 years unless it’s lightly uses.

Wonton soup.


No, seriously- potstickers thrown into a dutch oven with a couple quarts of boiling water, chives, and IIRC sesame oil or some other flavored oil, as opposed to pan frying them to put some crisp on them and then steam cooking them the rest of the way. I kid thee not.

I mean, it works, but as the sole item for a dinner? nope. I usually bake some egg rolls at the same time.

When I cook potstickers, I do it according to the package after getting the rice cooker running, and time the egg rolls to finish around the same time as the potstickers. I might steam some broccoli at the same time for additional color to the meal.