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I've read plenty about how to restore and season cast iron, but I have no clue whether any of the old cast iron I've inherited could benefit from this.

Is healthy cast iron black? or should it be somewhat metallic looking (ie. a bit silvery, like steel). Does the black color come from even one seasoning process, or will it develop over time?

Is is smooth? or is it alright if there are some lumps in it's surface texture?

and finally: after seasoning, is the surface supposed to have a slight oily appearance or should it be totally dry? and will healthy cast iron leave a residue on a rag if I wipe it? Some of mine do, and I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

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+1 Great question. I've wondered this myself. –  calico-cat Jan 25 '11 at 9:45
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2 Answers 2

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Ideally it should be matte to just-slightly-shiny black and very smooth. This article has some terrific information on the ideal oil to use (flaxseed) and method for seasoning, with actual scientific grounding.

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That is an absolutely spectacular reference! Thank you very much. I'm going to give other people an opportunity to answer, but I will accept your answer in a day if I don't get anything better. –  Colin K Jan 25 '11 at 7:35
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That is article is way over the top and incorrect. Yes linseed or flaxseed oil is a great oil for cast iron (and Jade), but it just needs a quick high heat on the stove top. Not six, hour long session in the oven! Also cast iron has "pores" but they do not open when heated, in fact that's the beauty of cast iron, it does not change much when heated and cooled, hence it's ability to hold a undulating semi-matte surface and therefore be non stick! Cast iron has one of the lowest thermal expansion ratings for a kitchen safe metal, half that of stainless or aluminium –  TFD Jan 25 '11 at 21:26
    
@TFD The article you dismiss tries to back its arguments with some science. You, on the other hand, say it's incorrect and that a quick heat on the oven is enough. It would be nice if you were to elaborate if you want us to give your comment some weight. –  Michael Oct 31 '13 at 16:41
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Michael's answer is fabulous, but one other note: as long as the seasoning works and achieves the desired effect, it is good seasoning. I have a variety of shapes/sizes of cast iron that I love, and few of them have the delightful smooth seasoning that it is POSSIBLE to get.

I have seasoned pans with a variety of oils, both n the range and in the oven. The ones that work well: nice non-stick properties are generally smooth and semi-matte, but it varies.

The article reference had some great stuff in it, and the Chemistry involved is complex, but to have a good, useful pan is fairly straightforward.

I guess the point here for me is: tinker with it if you have the time/inclination, but if you have a decent seasoning, there is no need to undo it just for the sake of the 'right' technique...

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