Using Metal Utensils with Cast Iron Cookware

In the broadest sense, learning to cook is about mastering a set of tools and the techniques they’re suited to. Every kitchen should have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, but opinions are divided on the best tools to use with cast iron cookware.

The old wisdom holds that wooden utensils are best, and that metal tools can chip seasoning and ruin a skillet. But like washing with soap, certain cast iron rules are made to be broken: a set of common metal kitchen tools are important sidekicks for cast iron cookery and even essential for keeping your skillets in top condition.

Cast iron seasoning is surprisingly sturdy, especially the well-earned layers achieved through regular cooking. Base coats are chemically bonded to the skillet itself, and cooking creates interlocking layers that produce non-stick performance. Flipping a grilled cheese isn’t going to harm that tough, resilient base. Unlike Teflon-based nonstick cookware, any tiny scrapes or scratches left behind aren’t a long term concern: seasoning that scuffs away is relatively weak, and will quickly be replaced as you continue cooking.

Here are the (metal) tools of the trade, and how to use them:

A Slotted Turner

Sometimes called a fish spatula, this lightweight tool is your best option for flipping or repositioning delicate proteins like fried eggs or fish fillets. Use it to gently slide under a piece of searing salmon, without scratching the cooking surface — or shredding the skin.

The slotted turner is also an important tool for your clean-up routine: use it to gently scrape food residue off the cooking surface before cleaning the pan. For dishes that tend to produce caramelized fond, the slotted turner is strong enough to scrape effectively without gouging seasoning.

A Smashing Implement

Certain dishes call for a sturdier spatula: for cast iron smash burgers and other dishes where your skillet acts as a substitute for a diner flat-top, a solid, non-slotted turner is the right tool for the job. Use your smashing implement to apply firm downward pressure on the burger, and to quickly scrape and flip when the burger patty is sufficiently crisped and ready to release from the cooking surface.

Chain Mail Scrubber

In some cases, it’s ok for a metal tool to be a little rough on seasoning. Cleaning with a chain main scrubber is a key step in the Field Method for cast iron maintenance, precisely because it can help remove and renew weaker patches of seasoning.

Start by using chain mail to knock stubborn food residue loose, and follow up by gently scuffing the cooking surface and side walls. This second step will dislodge bits of loose seasoning, creating a textured surface where new seasoning can adhere. Apply a dab of Field Seasoning Oil after cleaning with chain mail to build new seasoning every time you cook.

All-Purpose Tongs

Whether on the stovetop or over the campfire, a reliable set of tongs makes cooking larger proteins easy. Metal tongs give you a strong grip when it’s time to flip steaks, chops, or larger cuts, or transfer grilled items off the flame and into your skillet — see our reverse-seared pork chop recipe for a guide to this technique.

On the stovetop, a wide cast iron skillet is the best tool for searing large proteins — think legs of lamb, pork or beef tenderloins, and whole butterflied chickens. Getting an even, complete sear is an art of patience: sear hard, wait for the Maillard to work its magic, turn when it’s ready to release, and repeat. High heat and heavy proteins mean wooden spoons won’t cut it; get yourself a trusty pair of tongs.

Metal tools to avoid

Of course, there are a handful of tools and techniques you really should avoid. Highly abrasive cleaning tools like steel wool should never be used on cast iron; steel wool will remove baked-on food residue, sure, but it’s also likely to remove seasoning and even damage the underlying cast iron. You don’t want that.

Metal spatulas are fine if used for flipping and gentle scraping, but heavy spoons and spatulas can cause trouble if you aren’t careful. Don’t use a metal spatula to chop up food in the skillet, and avoid metal spoons for scooping food off the cooking surface or near the side walls — wooden tools are best options in both cases. Likewise, don’t use knives to carve a roast or slice cornbread while it’s still in the pan. Even a dull knife can scar seasoning with firm slicing pressure applied.