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14 Cast Iron Cooking Tips

June 11, 2020 5 min read

14 Cast Iron Cooking Tips

A cast iron skillet is of the ultimate cooking tools to have in your kitchen arsenal. Just ask your mother, who may have even gifted you her family heirloom cast-iron skillet when you first moved out on your own.

The grill-like quality makes cooking with cast iron on your stovetop is great for searing steaks, crisping bacon, and cooking burgers that could compete with any grill. These oven safe skillets like these are also perfect for making deep dish pizza, rich cornbread, or casseroles. 

Between its excellent heat retention, durability, and great price point, the benefits of cast iron aren't hard to find. But it needs to be used and maintained a little differently than a non-stick coated or stainless steel pan. 

If your mom didn't include a handwritten instruction booklet along with her gift you may be feeling a little lost and intimidated about how to care for the pan without ruining it.

Here are some tips on how to care for cast iron so that you can pass it on to your own children one day (if you can bear to part with it).

1. Season thoroughly

A well seasoned cast-iron skillet is the key to getting the best cooking results and ensuring that the food you are cooking doesn't stick to the pan.

Some pans will come preseasoned, but if it doesn't it is fairly easy to build up a good seasoning on your pan using some heat and oil.

How to season cast iron:

  1. To start, give your skillet a good scrub with soapy, warm water.
  2. Dry the pan thoroughly, add a small amount of vegetable oil or shortening to your pan, and rub it all over the inside and the outside of your pan. (Do not use olive oil, as it's smoke point is too low and it will burn.)
  3. Towel away any excess oil and place in your oven upside down on an upper rack, with a baking sheet or foil on the lower rack to catch any oil that drips off of the pan.
  4. Bake at 350°F for 1 hr. Turn off the oven and remove the skillet when cooled. Repeat (minus the initial scrub, which will disturb your seasoning) when necessary.

2. Re-season regularly

Once you've completed the initial seasoning, you're set up for cooking success. You will need to re-season your cast iron skillet, as it will wear away slowly over time and use. Re-season as you notice your pan losing its nonstick properties, or when it looks and feels less black, shiny, and smooth.

3. Preheat properly

One of the best things about cast iron is its heat retention, which lends well to grilling meats and slow, low cooking. Although it will hold heat for a very long time, the material does take a little longer to heat up than other pans.

In order to achieve an evenly heated surface, it's best to preheat a cast-iron skillet on a low to medium heat for about 10 min, turning occasionally.

If you put cold cast iron on a very hot burner you may run into a phenomenon called thermal shock. The sudden heating or cooling of iron can cause your pan to warp and crack. For the same reason, it's best to leave it to cool naturally instead of rinsing your piping hot skillet with cold tap water.

4. Cook on the stovetop, oven, or grill

Cast iron pots and cooking pans can be used on both your stovetop and in your oven or grill. With so many options, deciding what to cook will be the most difficult part.

Be careful with the handle! They are usually not covered so they get very hot.

Be sure to use a thick towel or oven mitt when handling your cast iron while cooking, or purchase a small silicone cover that you can slip over the handle of the pan.

5. Use stainless steel or wooden utensils

One of the nice things about working with iron is that it won't get scratched or ruined by stainless steel utensils - in fact, they work best.

You can also use wooden, bamboo, or silicone tools but generally the harder the tool, the better it works on this cookware to avoid sticking food.

6. Use it often

The more you use your iron cookware, the more polymerized oil molecules will become attached to your pan. These oils are what give your pan the best results, so get cooking!

7. Avoid acidic foods

Acidic foods will wear away your seasoning and leach some of the iron into your food. This isn't dangerous for your health, but it can leave an undesired metallic taste in food.

If you are cooking with tomato-based sauces, wine braised meats, vinegar bases, or lemon bases you might be better off choosing one of your other pans or pots for the job.

8. Avoid super high heat

Your cast iron can withstand heat - a lot of heat. A cast-iron skillet can withstand heats of up to 1500°F, which is much hotter than your oven could ever be. The seasoning will only burn off at about 800°F, so don't worry that you will damage your pan by cooking with high heat.

Cast iron can, however, easily get too hot for the dish that you're trying to cook. Start the pan at a lower heat setting than you'd usually use and increase slowly as you learn the nature of your pan. Keep an eye out for signs of extreme heat, like smoking.

If you have accidentally overheated the pan, turn the heat down and let it cool to the desired temperature before adding your ingredients and continuing.

9. Avoid the dishwasher

The #1 enemy of your cast-iron skillet is moisture - always wash it by hand. The dishwasher will strip your well-earned seasoning and does not get your cast iron as dry as it needs to be to prevent rusting.

10. Hand clean carefully

Never store your leftovers in the pan. Once the pan is cool, remove all leftover food and hand wash your pan. Don't pre-soak your pan, but you can submerge it in water while you wash.

Use a dishcloth or a cast iron scrubber, made of chain mail. Do not use steel wool or harsh scrubber pads on your pan as they will remove your well-earned seasoning.

11. Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaners

Cast iron is not made to withstand harsh chemicals and cleaners that can strip your seasoning and ruin the cast iron. Baking soda and vinegar seem natural enough but they will also agitate and remove seasoning on your pan.

Contrary to popular belief, you can use dish soap on cast iron. Dish soaps, preferably eco-friendly brands, are gentle enough to be used on your pan.

If you have some stubborn food debris stuck on the pan you can also use coarse salt mixed with a bit of hot water and rub with a towel to remove.

12. Remove all moisture

Remember what we said about moisture? Once you have cleaned your cast iron, you MUST thoroughly dry your pan. Take a clean, dry dishtowel to the entire pan including the inside, outside, and handle.

13. Store it properly

Once your cast iron is fully dry, rub a small amount of vegetable oil into your pan and heat on low for 20 minutes. After the pan is cooled, you can use a paper towel to remove any excess oil and store the pan in a clean, dry cupboard.

14. Watch out for flaking and rust

Flaking is a sign that your skillet is losing its seasoning. Use the coarse salt method to clean it, and re-season the pan.

If you notice some rusting on your pan it hasn't been getting dried properly and will require some restoration. This is the time you can use steel wool or a harsh scrubber to remove the rust and follow with the full seasoning treatment.

If you follow these simple tricks, it won't be long before you start to understand why people are so protective and defensive of these beloved, versatile pieces of cookware!

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