A cast iron skillet can be one of the hardest-working and most durable pieces of equipment in your kitchen as long as you learn how to use it and care for it properly. Some of the cast iron skillet knowhow may not be intuitive to you, so investing a little bit of time and effort in learning the ins and outs of cooking with cast iron will ensure your skillet has a long, happy life in your kitchen.
If you’re a cast iron skillet novice, the prospect of caring for this sturdy kitchen utensil may seem daunting. You may even wonder if cast iron skillets are safe to use. To that end, we’d like to dispel some of the most common myths about cast iron cookware, and instead give you the facts behind them.
Here are some of the most common misconceptions about cast iron.
Myths and truths about cast iron
A seasoned skillet can change the flavor of your food
You’ve probably heard that cast iron needs to be “seasoned” in order to develop the perfect non-stick surface. Seasoning happens over time when oil and fat from whatever you’ve cooked in your skillet turn into polymerized oil that bonds to the surface of the metal and prevents it from rusting. But many newcomers are thrown off by the term, wrongly associating it with seasoning that happens to food. Rest assured, although ghosts of dishes past will impart a nice patina to your cast iron skillet, they will not affect the flavor of your future dishes.
You can’t clean your cast iron skillet with soap
One of the most common misconceptions about cast iron skillets pertains to the cleaning process. True, you shouldn’t be throwing your cast iron skillet into the dishwasher or soaking it, but a small amount of dish soap and water is perfectly acceptable when cleaning your cast iron skillet. As long as your skillet is seasoned well, washing it this way won’t affect its integrity.
You can’t cook acidic foods in it
This one’s only half true. Ideally, your skillet is seasoned well enough so that whatever food you’re cooking in it is coming into contact with the seasoning layer, and not the iron itself. But because skillets are rarely seasoned perfectly, it’s wise to limit the amount of acidic foods you cook in it to quick skillet-sauces and deglazing, as opposed to slow-simmering tomato sauce in it for hours.
You shouldn’t use metal utensils with your cast iron skillet
Because seasoning is actually chemically bonded to the surface of your skillet, it’s highly unlikely that metal utensils can scrape it off. If you see some black flakes being released from your skillet, they are much more likely to be leftover carbonized bits of food from previous cooking.
You can OD on dietary iron by using a cast iron skillet
It’s true that cast iron skillets can leach a certain amount of dietary iron into your food, which could technically lead to too much iron consumption. However, this scenario is highly unlikely if your cast iron skillet is well-seasoned and you aren’t cooking acidic foods in it for extended periods of time.
Cast iron skillets only work on gas stoves
While they may take a little longer to heat up, cast iron skillets work well on electric stoves, too. On the other hand, some things you may have heard about cast iron are actually true. These are useful to keep in mind when using your skillet for the first time or with new foods.
Seasoning a cast iron skillet properly takes time
While some cast iron skillets now come pre-seasoned and ready to use out of the box, seasoning a new skillet before first use is highly advisable. But your seasoning journey doesn’t end there—this is a process you’ll need to repeat again and again, whether by using your skillet for cooking and baking or just re-seasoning it with oil every once in a while to boost its protective patina. Here’s the best way to season your skillet in the oven.
Your skillet will be as non-stick as you make it
Is cast iron the most non-stick material in the world? Absolutely not. It all depends on how well you’ve maintained the seasoning on your skillet. Also, don’t forget to preheat it really well before adding any food to it—a searing hot pan is much less likely to cause the food to stick.
Cast iron skillets don’t heat evenly
Cast iron doesn’t heat as evenly as, say, aluminum. Rather, your skillet is more likely to have a few “hot spots” in areas directly above the flames, while the rest of the skillet takes relatively longer to achieve the same temperature. In order to achieve even heat across the whole skillet, let it preheat really well over the burner for at least 10 minutes while you rotate it several times, or place it in a hot oven for 20 minutes (just remember to use potholders when taking it out).
You should never use your cast iron skillet for storing food
It may seem like a good idea to store your leftovers in your cast iron skillet for easy reheating. And while this is a genius kitchen hack when it comes to pots and skillets made of stainless steel, your leftovers will actually harm the cast iron and cause it to lose its seasoning.