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Table of Contents

  • Myths and truths about cast iron
  • What not to cook in a cast iron skillet
  • Best foods to cook with cast iron
  • How to cook safely while using cast iron

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.

What not to cook in a cast iron skillet

Cast iron skillets are tough as nails and true workhorses among your pans. They can be used on the stove or in the oven for searing, roasting, braising, and baking. But they also have their limitations and there are certain foods that should never be cooked in them. Read on to find out what not to cook in cast iron.

Sticky foods

A brand new skillet won’t be 100% non-stick, even if it comes pre-seasoned. So it’s best to avoid foods that are notorious for sticking to various surfaces, like eggs, bacon, etc. Once you’ve gotten some mileage on your skillet and you feel it’s been sufficiently seasoned, feel free to introduce those stickier foods.

Delicate foods

Sturdy cuts of meat can really benefit from the robust heat your cast iron skillet can provide. But a delicate white fish, like tilapia or branzino, may not fare as well in the intense heat, which means you’ll end up with a fishy mess that’s hard to scrape off your skillet. Reserve your skillet for foods that can take the heat.

Acidic foods

While deglazing your cast iron skillet with some wine is perfectly acceptable, you should limit the acidic foods you cook in cast iron. It’s best to not to use your cast iron skillet for long-simmered tomato sauces or jams.

Stinky foods

If you’ve just used your cast iron skillet to saute garlic or sear some shrimp, you may want to deodorize it before you use it for baking that cornbread. Foods with strong aromas can impart an odor on your cast iron skillet which can be neutralized by heating it over a medium flame for about 15 minutes.

Best foods to cook with cast iron

You’ll notice that the list of things you should never make in your cast iron skillet is much shorter than the following list of foods that can really benefit from cast iron’s unique properties. Here are some of the best things to make in cast iron skillets.

Frittata

As long as your skillet is seasoned well, frittatas, omelettes, Spanish tortillas and other eggy bakes are a perfect match for it, especially if they need to be started on the stove and finished in the oven.

Chicken

Whether you’re roasting it whole or going for braised skin-on thighs with some pan sauce, the cast iron skillet can easily adapt to the versatility of chicken.

Steak

When it comes to cooking steak, a cast iron pan can give your grill a run for its money. Because it gets very hot and retains heat for a long time, it’ll cook meat evenly and create that crusty sear that’s crucial to the flavor.

Pizza

Believe it or not, a cast iron skillet is an ingenious hack for those who don’t have a pizza stone handy. The skillet will create an audibly crispy crust that can handle a sea of toppings without getting soggy. And why stop there: try baking pita bread, naan, or any other flatbread in your skillet too.

Cornbread

Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside—that’s the kind of cornbread you’ll get if you use a cast iron skillet. Many swear that cornbread tastes best when made in cast iron because of the heat distribution which ensures even baking.

Hash Browns

Crispy potatoes aren’t always the easiest to achieve, but the cast iron surface will work in your favor here. Whether you’re making a potato veggie breakfast hash to accompany your eggs or frying them up as a side to your steak, you’ll get an unmatched crunchiness on your spuds.

How to cook safely while using cast iron

There are only a handful of rules you need to follow to use your cast iron skillet safely and effectively.

First and foremost, a cast iron skillet is only as good as its seasoning. And we really can’t stress this enough. Season it well and you’ll infinitely prolong its life while also making sure that no additional iron leaches into your food. By creating the chemical barrier of oil that binds to the iron, you’ll also make sure that soap and even acid can’t penetrate to your skillet’s core and make it rusty.

We recommend you season your new cast iron skillet before first use, and keep using it often and re-seasoning it sporadically for best results.

Another important rule is to clean your skillet after each use. Scrub off any old bits of food, then hand-wash with soap and water. A regular dish sponge will work well for this purpose. And no matter what you do, don’t soak your skillet in water or leave it wet for prolonged periods of time. While seasoning can protect it from getting rusty to an extent, it’s best not to take that chance.

But if your skillet does come down with a dreaded case of rusty patches, not all is lost. Strip down the rust using steel wool and proceed with several rounds of seasoning before using it again.