Once you’ve cooked with a cast-iron skillet, it’s hard to imagine using any other pan to prepare your meals. But one day I pulled out my skillet and noticed that it had a sticky residue coating it. I asked myself, why is my cast iron skillet sticky? I had recently done a maintenance seasoning on it but didn’t think that could be the problem. And so I set out to find the answer.
Here’s what I found.
Why is My Cast Iron Skillet Sticky?
When asking, why is my cast iron sticky, the answers you find can be confusing. But here’s the reality: it’s something you inadvertently did. Cast iron skillets don’t become sticky on their own. It’s easy to make a seemingly innocent mistake that causes the stickiness.
When you first get a cast iron pan, you need to season it to make it nonstick and give it that smooth, glasslike surface. But one wrong step and you might find yourself asking, "why is my cast iron skillet sticky," too.
Also, as you use your pan, you should re-season it a couple of times a year. Doing so will ensure that your skillet stays smooth and keeps its nonstick surface intact. But here’s the deal: It’s easy to make a mistake during the seasoning process even if you’ve done it time and time again.
Ask me how I know.
3 Reasons Your Cast Iron Skillet Is Sticky
Let’s take a look at three things that may be the reason for your sticky cast iron.
1. Generosity will hurt you
When seasoning your pan, you will have to add oil to it so that it can fill the porous surface of the pan. That’s what gives it that smooth finish. But the amount of oil you add can be a problem. If you add too much oil, the surface of your skillet can become sticky.
You should aim for about a quarter-sized dollop of oil when seasoning your pan.
2. Don’t be so cold
In addition to the right amount of oil, you also need to use heat for baking the oil into the surface of the skillet. But what many people don’t realize is that if you start with a cold pan, add the oil, and then try to bake in the oil, the surface of the pan may become sticky. That’s because it takes heat to cause the oil to break down.
Instead, heat the skillet first on the stovetop or in the oven. Then once it’s hot, add the oil and bake it in. You should set your oven to at least 450 to 500 degrees to accomplish this.
3. The countdown
Finally, cast iron can get a sticky residue is that they didn’t bake in the oil for long enough. If you don’t leave the skillet in the oven for at least an hour, the heat won’t have time to do its job.
And that could result in a sticky skillet.
The Science Behind Cast Iron Seasoning
With all this talk of seasoning, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. After all, one writer says that 99 percent of people aren’t seasoning their cast iron skillets the right way.
It may help to understand the science.
To properly seal and season a cast-iron skillet, you need something to happen. For it to happen, you need to use a drying oil.
A drying oil can transform into a tough, hard film. The term is confusing because the oil doesn’t actually dry. In other words, it doesn’t lose its moisture through evaporation. Instead, it is transformed through a chemical process. That process is polymerization.
Polymerization occurs when heat causes free radicals in the oil to release. Once released, the free radicals form the hard film by crosslinking.
But for the process to work perfectly, you need the right oil.
What Oil Should I Use When Seasoning My Cast Iron Skillet?
You will likely hear a lot of different opinions about the oil you should use to season your cast iron skillet. Some people use olive oil, others use bacon fat, and still others swear by canola oil.
But here’s the deal: there is one oil that stands above the rest.
The science behind seasoning a cast iron skillet suggests that flaxseed oil is the best. Flaxseed oil is a drying oil, and that’s what makes it so ideal.
Linseed oil is what painters and sculptors use to give their art that hard, glossy surface. And since the food-grade equivalent to linseed oil is flaxseed oil, it makes it the perfect oil for your pan. When seasoning a cast-iron skillet, you want a hard surface that adheres to the skillet and isn’t sticky.
So, if you’re asking, why is my cast iron skillet sticky, it might be because you used the wrong oil when seasoning it.
It’s Time to Season Your Skillet
Now that you have the answer to your question, let’s talk about how to re-season it to bring it back to that perfect shiny, nonstick skillet.
Here are the steps you need to take.
1. Get rid of the gook
Your first step in the process is to strip off the sticky substance on your pan. Do this by washing it in hot water with steel wool and a little mild dish soap. Scrub the skillet until you take it down to the base layer. Do this for the entire pan, not only the inside of it.
Once you’ve scrubbed it clean, rinse it with hot water. Then, using the rough side of a sponge or a nonmetal scrubber, continue to clean the skillet until no more residue or dry patches remain on it.
Now, put the skillet on top of a stove burner on medium heat and allow it to sit there until all the water has evaporated.
Important! Remember, never allow a cast iron skillet to air dry because it will rust.
Alternatively, you can run the cast iron skillet through your oven’s self-cleaning cycle. Doing so will also strip it of the sticky residue.
2. Open up those pores
Your next step is to heat your oven to 200 degrees. Place the newly scrubbed skillet in the oven and let the heat open up the pores on the pan. It will take 15 to 20 minutes for the pores to open.
The reason you open the pores is to allow the oil to penetrate them and form a hard surface on your pan.
3. Ready, set, oil!
Now that the skillet is hot and its pores are open, it’s time to put the flaxseed oil to use. Pour about a tablespoon of the oil into your skillet and rub it into the pan with a paper towel. You may have to use tongs to rub in the oil because the pan will be very hot.
Discard that paper towel, and use another one to wipe away any excess oil. The oil should lightly cover the entire surface of the skillet. But remember, if you leave too much oil in the skillet, it could cause the surface to become sticky again.
4. The final step
Now it’s time to bake in the oil to create that hard, nonstick surface. To do this, place your freshly oiled pan in the oven upside down. Turn the heat on its highest setting — at least 450 degrees, but preferably higher. Leave the pan in the oven for at least an hour.
After an hour, turn off the oven. Leave the skillet in the oven to cool for at least two hours.
You may have to repeat this process up to five times if you don’t get the surface you want the first time. Each time, do the process the same way, except you should skip the first step. You will only need to strip the pan again if you develop another sticky residue on it.
Here’s a great video that visually shows you to season your cast iron skillet:
What if my pan is pre-seasoned?
Some pans come pre-seasoned, and if you have a pan that is, you can still follow the steps listed above. When you strip your skillet, it will take away any pre-seasoning and allow you to begin the seasoning process anew.
Answered: Why Is My Cast Iron Skillet Sticky?
Cast iron skillets are the best way to cook the foods you love. But every now and then we all do things that cause us to ask, why is my cast iron skillet sticky? Luckily, a sticky cast iron pan isn’t difficult to deal with. We hope you found the answer to your questions so that you can continue to use your favorite tool in the kitchen.
Have you ever asked, why is my cast iron skillet sticky? If you solved the problem a different way, please tell us about your experience in the comment section below!