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Mistakes You’re Making With Your Cast-Iron Skillet

Everyone should own a cast iron skillet or dutch oven.  You can’t really call yourself a prepper without one, but what are some mistakes people make when cooking, cleaning, or storing cast iron cookware?

Cast iron can be tricky. Here are some things to avoid when you’re cooking with cast iron.

The cast-iron is the workhorse of many a dedicated home cook, and for good reason. Constructed in one seamless piece of metal, it’s tough, conducts heat efficiently and, when seasoned properly, has a nonstick surface. If fact, a properly seasoned skillet, will cook an egg as good as any high tech modern cookware. There’s almost nothing cast iron can’t do, but you have to treat your pan right.

What are some of the most common cast iron mistakes and how to fix them.

You don’t understand seasoning

It’s so easy to say, “Seasoning” without actually understanding the science and what actually it means. Seasoning refers to a layer of polymerized oil that has been baked onto the surface. Seasoning makes your skillet release food easily, clean up quickly and remain stain- and rust-free. Some cast-iron skillets come pre-seasoned, but that won’t last forever, so you’ll have to learn how to season cast iron properly. Seasoned cast iron will have a smooth, non-greasy, lacquered surface. An unseasoned skillet, for example, will have a grey or dull appearance, and will become shiny and closer to black in color when seasoned properly. Even if your skillet comes pre-seasoned, for best results right out of the box, consider seasoning it yourself before you use it.

Frying pan made of cast iron, various fresh vegetables and spices on a white wooden kitchen table.

You’re not seasoning the skillet right

If you’re just rubbing a layer of oil onto the surface of your skillet, you’re not seasoning. Seasoning involves a chemical reaction made possible through heat. Here is how to season your cast-iron skillet:

  • Apply a thin coat of any kind of vegetable oil to the entire pan (inside and outside and the handle too)
  • Place the pan inverted in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for an hour
  • Turn off oven and allow pan to cool inside the oven.

You’re not cleaning it correctly

How to clean your cast-iron skillet:

  • Immediately after cooking, rinse in warm water, sprinkle with a bit of baking soda, and scrub gently with a nylon brush. The baking soda neutralizes any flavors and odors from what you’ve just cooked, and has antibacterial properties.
  • Since water will cause cast-iron to rust, don’t soak your skillet (thanks to seasoning, you shouldn’t need to), and be sure to thoroughly dry it with a dishtowel.
  • To help maintain the existing seasoning for as long as possible, apply a thin coating of vegetable oil while the pan is still warm.

Hand pushing a sponge into a water-filled skillet

You never use soap

Think you can’t wash your cast iron with soap? Wrong! Cast iron can take almost anything you throw at it, even a little dish soap. Yes, if you take care of your skillet perfectly, you might never need to suds the skillet up. We all make mistakes, though, there may be a time you need to soap up to clean it up well or to help you if it gets rusted.

Do you have a rusty skillet? How to get it looking like new again?

You use harsh chemicals

While soap can be used on cast iron sparingly, there is no need for any harsh chemicals to clean your skillet ever— if it’s rusted, Never use oven cleaner or scouring powder.  Use baking soda, a towel and, if needed some dish soap. That’s it.

Seasoned cast iron skillet

You’re not re-seasoning

Season cast-iron once, and you’ve got a kitchen workhorse. Well you do for a while. Season cast-iron regularly, and you’ve got a kitchen workhorse for a lifetime. Every time you use your cast-iron cookware, you’re wearing some of the seasoning down, and eventually it won’t function as well. So season it again whenever you see dull spots is easy to do. It’s simple to season it whenever it’s out and your oven is on.

You’re not doing enough cast-iron cooking

While seasoning does wear down with use, the more you use your cast-iron cookware, the better it performs. Every time you use it, you’re also adding new molecules of polymerized oil. Over the long haul, your cast-iron will darken and grow shinier.

You get scared off by a bit of rust

One day, you will take your cast-iron skillet out of the cupboard, and there will be a spot of rust on it. Yes, it happens even to the most careful cast-iron caretakers. But don’t worry; it’s not going to hurt your cookware at all. You can take steel wool to it. Just be sure to wash and re-season before you use it again. Here are some more tips on dealing with, and preventing, rust.

You’re not preheating

Cast-iron performs best when heated gradually, so give it a few minutes to pre-heat before adding your food.

You’re overheating

Because cast-iron is so efficient at conducting heat, it can get hotter than what you may be used to with other cookware. So start with a lower heat setting as you get used to how incredibly efficient your cast iron skillet actually is. And if it gets too hot (you’ll know, but one sign is that it’s smoking), turn off the heat, let it cool down a bit, and then get back to cooking.

You’re using the wrong spatula

Technically, you can use any spatula (and any tool) on a cast-iron skillet. However, metal spatulas provide the best results, especially when cooking delicate food such as eggs.

You believe the myth that you can’t cook acidic foods (like tomato sauce)

It’s a total myth that you can’t cook acidic foods in your cast iron skillet. Some are under the impression that acidic foods can discolor cast-iron, but a baking soda scrub should eliminate any discoloring. Some people think that acidic foods cause iron molecules to leach out into your food, but that’s actually a good thing! Cast-iron cooking can add significant amounts of iron to your food and into your body.

So go ahead and try this chicken cacciatore recipe, which we affirmatively recommend that you cook in cast-iron.

You don’t realize how forgiving it is

So maybe as you’re reading this, you’re thinking about that cast-iron skillet you haven’t taken the best care of. Maybe you’ve made every single one of the mistakes listed above. That’s okay! Just scrub it down, re-season it, and start using it again. Cast-iron is forgiving like that. That’s why it will last forever…or at least until Thanksgiving…when you can try all of these holiday recipes tailor-made for your favorite skillet.

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