Monday, September 24, 2012

How to season a pizza pan

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Bottom of a cutter pan after seasoning in a grill.

As of June 10, 2013, this is the blog's most popular post, which makes it clear to me that a lot of people out there want to know how to season pizza pans. If you find this post helpful, or if you find it very unhelpful, please let me know in a comment so I can do my best to help people who end up here in the future. Thanks.

Before you decide to season any of your pans, you need to understand why you should season your pan(s). I thought for many years that the purpose of seasoning a pan was to give the top of the pan a natural nonstick surface. Well, I was wrong. And if that's what you think, you're wrong too.

The reason you season a pizza pan is to make it dark on the bottom so the pan will absorb heat rather than reflect heat. It has nothing to do with creating a nonstick surface. So naturally, when you season a pizza pan, you want to season the bottom of the pan, not the top (although you won't do any harm by seasoning the top as well).

Many types of pan are available either in their natural metal condition or alternatively with a dark coating or anodized coating. Anodized or otherwise dark pans don't need to be seasoned because those kinds of pans are manufactured specifically to simulate seasoning on a pan.

So what is seasoning? My definition here will probably not be the best definition, but to me seasoning is a build-up of burned cooking oil on the bottom of a pan, which makes the pan darker than its original color. You do this to pans so they will attract heat rather than reflect heat.

Why season a pan? Because it's counterproductive to bake pizza in a pan that reflects heat instead of absorbing heat. Using a non-seasoned pan for pizza just wastes energy, leads to a considerably longer bake time, and usually ends up creating an inferior product.

So how do you season a pan? I'll get to that in just a minute.

Here are a couple pictures of a brand new unseasoned aluminum cutter pan. This kind of pan is used primarily for making pizzas similar to Pizza Hut thin & crispy, but it can also be used to make other types of pizza. For example, Pizza Hut also uses this kind of pan for their "hand-tossed traditional" style pizza (which is neither hand-tossed nor traditional).

The top of a brand new aluminum cutter pan, unseasoned.

The bottom of a brand new aluminum cutter pan, unseasoned.

How to season a pizza pan:

When you begin to season your pan, the first thing you should do is clean and dry the pan. After that, if you have a gas grill, go outside and start the grill, setting all the burners to high so it'll heat up quickly.

If you don't have a gas grill, you'll need to use your oven to season the pan. So preheat the oven to 400 degrees, or maybe even 450 or 500. (Honestly I don't know what works best in an oven because the first time I tried to do it this way I smoked up the house, and that was one too many times trying to do it that way.) Warning: If you season the pan in your oven, it will smoke up your house, and it will also take longer to season the pan. That's why I suggest using your grill.

The reason your oven or grill should be about 400 degrees is because 400 degrees is just a little hotter than the smoke point of most cooking oils, but not hot enough to vaporize the oil. Basically what you're doing here is turning the oil from sort of a liquid to a solid. Or maybe a better way of putting it is that you're burning the oil onto the pan. If you season your pan in an oven or grill that's too hot, you'll accomplish two things: First you'll season the pan, but then you'll also vaporize the new layer of seasoning, and you'll end up with a pan that looks just like new. (Now you know how to unseason a pan.)

Here are the steps you should take when seasoning your pan. (I've already given the first couple steps but I'll repeat them in an effort to make the list of steps complete):
  1. Wash and dry the pan.
  2. Preheat your grill or oven to a little over 400 degrees. Once the grill reaches 400, set all the burners to their lowest position.
  3. Drip a very small amount of cooking oil on the bottom of the pan, as pictured below. (I use canola oil, just because there's always canola oil available where I live.) You don't need much oil. In fact, you should use such a small amount of oil that you can barely coat the entire pan surface with oil.

  4. A small drop of canola oil on the bottom of the pan to begin the seasoning process.
    It's important not to put any more oil than this on your pan.

  5. Use your fingers to rub the oil into a very thin layer that covers the entire bottom of the pan, as well as the sides of the pan.
  6. Place your pan inside the grill with the oily side down and close the lid. (Or, if you're using your oven, place the pan in the oven with the oily side down and close the oven. You might want to open the kitchen windows, too, because there will be nasty smoke from the burning oil. You should probably do this when no one else is home.)
  7. Set a timer for at least 20 minutes but not more than 30 minutes. If you don't, there's a good chance you'll forget about the pan and end up leaving the grill burning for a couple hours. (I've forgotten about a pan in the grill more than once.)
  8. After your timer goes off, check the pan. If the bottom of the pan is dark and doesn't look wet, go ahead and turn off the heat. (I leave the pan in the grill until the grill cools down, but I don't suppose that really does anything, so go ahead and remove the pan if you want.) Here's a pic of my pan after seasoning for half an hour on the grill.

  9. Bottom of seasoned pan. A very small drop of oil did this, which demonstrates that
    it's important to put a ridiculously small amount of oil on the pan you'll be seasoning.

  10. If you want the pan to be darker (which is probably a good idea), repeat steps 2 through 7. Here's a pic of my pan after a second seasoning.

  11. Bottom of pan after second round of seasoning in the grill.
So there you go. Now you know how to season a pizza pan.

One more thing: Don't ever wash the pan after you've seasoned it (unless the cat took a shit on the top of it or something). If you wash a seasoned pan, you will remove little pieces of seasoning. So instead of washing the pan after normal usage, just wipe the top side after you use it. Or not, because you really don't need to do that.

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  1. glad a read this as was going to season in the house and doth fancy it being smoked out so will do in my gas BBQ.... what tickled me was the "don't need to wash the pan unless your cat takes a shit on it" lol cheers

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  3. Hi.

    Pizza pans heat by conduction and convection. They don't heat by radiation. That's the only way the color of the pan could affect heat transfer.