A couple years ago my mother-in-law gave me a cast iron skillet for Christmas. I watch a lot of cooking shows so I wanted a pan I could easily transfer from the stove top into the oven. I’d seen different recipes online for all of the really cool stuff you can do with a cast iron skillet.
I’d also seen all of the “How to Care For Your Cast Iron” blog posts and they were kind of scary. Don’t wash it with soap, don’t cook acidic foods, don’t use metal utensils on it, don’t let water sit in it or it will rust before your very eyes. Well, maybe not that last one but I did read you shouldn’t soak it.
This made me scared to really use my cast iron skillet. I was worried I would damage it somehow. So it really took me a long time to start using it and figuring out that you actually can do all of these things that the websites tell you not to do.
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I’m Going to Use the Word “Seasoning” a Lot
When you first get cookware made of cast iron you are told to season it. (You should still do this even if you buy it “pre-seasoned” off the shelf.)
Seasoning in regards to cast iron is NOT throwing a bunch of spices at it. It has nothing to do with spices and everything to do with creating and maintaining the magical non-stick coating.
There’s a bunch of science that happens when you season your pan. Wikipedia seems to have a pretty concise explanation if you want to check it out.
To learn more about seasoning cast iron pans specifically I recommend checking out the Lodge Cast Iron website, one of the major manufacturers of cast iron cookware in the U.S.
Washing/Soaking Your Cast Iron Skillet
Yes, you can wash your cast iron with soap. You should try to avoid it because you have to make sure you season it again. There are are a few cleaning methods to try.
- Boil the gunk out. Just pour in some water and heat it up, let it cool enough so you can handle it and scrub it out.
- Use a stiff brush, plastic scraper, or other non-metal scrubber.
- Pour some coarse salt into it and use a paper towel to scrub it out. This is one of my personal favorites.
You do want to make sure to dry your cast iron after cleaning it. A little water will leave some rust. Though it’s usually just on the surfaces that have less seasoning on them such as the bottom, sides, and handle. I don’t add any oil to season it after cleaning it. I’ve had no problems so far, but I almost always add oil when I’m cooking.
Using Metal Utensils With Your Cast Iron
You’re told not to do this because you can “chip away” at the seasoning. You have to chip pretty hard. Most cookware these days recommends against metal utensils because they can damage the non-stick surface. Since you can easily regain the non-stick surface though seasoning I wouldn’t worry too much about this one. Just use some common sense.
Cooking Acidic Foods In Your Cast Iron
Even brand websites such as Lodge say you should limit the amount of acidic foods you cook in your cast iron. This is because the acid in foods such as tomatoes can break down the seasoning more quickly. So you’ll just have to season your pan a little more often. I’ve read that it can cause some discoloration on your pan. This is absolutely nothing to worry about.
I cook tomatoes in mine all the time when I’m making tacos. I’ve never had any problem with it.
Why Cast Iron?
They are incredibly versatile and don’t contain any of the non-stick chemicals that other pans contain. Cast iron has stood the test of time. It’s been around thousands of years.
You can use your cast iron to sear meat and finish it in the oven. Just like a real chef. Other non-stick pans do not sear meat well.
You can use it like a regular skillet.
You can bake stuff in it. I probably use mine more for baking than anything else. I love to make bread and use it for pizza.
There are a ton of resources out there for different recipes to make in your cast iron.
The More You Use It
The more you use your cast iron the more comfortable you will be with it. The non-stick coating just gets better over time. I know I struggled with mine at first but I eventually got the hang of it. Almost nothing sticks in mine anymore unless I have the heat up too high.