Should I Oil the Food or My Cast Iron Pan When Cooking?

Are you wondering, “Should I oil the food or my cast iron skillet when cooking?”

It can be confusing, and I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way.

However, it’s good to know the pros and cons of each method so you can make an informed decision.

So, let’s get started.

Should I Oil the Food or My Cast Iron Skillet When Cooking?

I don’t think one way is better than the other, but there are a few minor differences. For example, if you oil the food, there will be less splatter when cooking. On the other hand, the oil isn’t added to the pan’s seasoning, which is essential for cast iron cookware. And one reason for adding oil to the pan.

Why You Need Oil When Cooking in Cast Iron

Before we get into whether it’s better to oil the food or put the oil in your cast iron skillet, it’s beneficial to know why you cook with oil in the first place.

There are four main reasons for cooking with oil:

  • It keeps your food from sticking
  • To build up the layer of seasoning, which in turn makes your pan nonstick
  • Your food will taste better
  • Speeds up the cooking process

Just a quick note on seasoning: seasoning is oil that has polymerized to the pan’s surface. It’s important for protecting your cast iron cookware from rust, in addition to making it nonstick.

So, keeping in mind the reasons we use oil, let’s look at why each side says their way is better.

RELATED > > > > > Keep Your Cast Iron Pan Seasoned – 4 Different Methods

The Case For Oiling the Food

I’ll be honest, I have not tried oiling my food before, mainly because oiling the pan has worked for me.

But I did find some of the reasons compelling.

Here they are:

  • Putting oil directly on the meat will ensure the outside crust cooks more evenly. I don’t know if I agree with this because my experience with putting the oil in the pan also cooks the outer crust evenly.
  • Oiling the food helps the seasoning stick better, like salt, pepper, herbs, and spices. This reason makes sense.
  • There is less chance for the oil to burn. I would say that is true, but I haven’t burned my oil yet, so I’m not sure how often that happens or if it matters.
  • The food is better coated. Maybe it is, but I don’t know if that means it cooks or tastes better. We shall see.
  • There is less oil splatter. I will see if this is true.
  • You use less oil. I will see if this is true.

The Case For Oiling the Pan

Oiling the pan is how I have always done it, but I am open to the other way if it works better.

Here are the reasons for putting the oil in the pan:

  • You want the oil hot when you add the food, so it’s not hot if the oil is on the food. True, but it will be the instant it touches the pan. So I don’t know if this reason is valid.
  • Having the oil in the pan will cook your food more evenly. I will see if this is true.
  • It’s less messy. If by messy, you mean having oily hands from mixing, this is true. But if you use a spoon or tongs, the only extra mess is if you dirty another utensil.
  • Putting oil in the pan first speeds up the cooking process. I will see if this is true.
  • Oiling the pan is better for adding another layer of seasoning to the cooking surface. I would say this is true.

My Experiment

So I decided to make two batches of roasted vegetables on the stovetop.

For each batch, I used one medium potato, one red onion, approximately one cup of green beans, and one tomato (I forgot I had red pepper).

I cut the vegetables and heated up the skillet.

In the first batch, I put the oil in the pan, and in the second batch, I coated the vegetables with oil. Everything else, I did the same.

The potatoes went in first because they take the longest to cook. After about five minutes, I added the green beans, and soon after, the onions. After another three minutes, I put in the tomatoes. 

I didn’t start stirring until I put in the green beans because potatoes are best left alone for a while.

After putting in the tomatoes, I sprinkled garlic powder, onion powder, and a bit of salt. I did a final stir, and they were done.

I thought both turned out pretty much the same, but I noticed a few minor differences while cooking.

What was different 

I said above, “I will see if this is true” a few times.

And here is what I found out: True or False? 

  1. Oiling the food means less splatter – True, as evidenced in the photos.
  2. Oiling the food uses less oil – It was hard to tell, but maybe.
  3. Having oil in the pan will cook your food more evenly – False, both ways were identical in my opinion.
  4. Putting oil in the pan cooks your food more quickly – False, the vegetables coated in oil cooked faster.

All in all, the differences were minor. The thing I noticed most was the lack of splatter when I coated the vegetables with oil rather than putting the oil in the pan. That was definitely a plus.

However, I also noticed how dry the pan looked where the vegetables weren’t sitting. I was used to there being oil (I thought it smelled different too). 

And that’s just it. I don’t think oiling the food allows any of the oil to cook into the pan’s surface.

Which is one of the reasons Lodge gives for adding oil to the pan. They say, “When cooking in cast iron, you should add a little oil to the pan before adding your food. This helps ensure the food doesn’t stick, and it helps build layers of seasoning.”

So, as you can see, adding oil to the pan has one significant advantage over oiling your food. But, ultimately, you can decide which way you think is better.

Vegetable Meal in Cast Iron Skillet

Final Thoughts

The question is, “Should I oil the food or my cast iron skillet when cooking?”

Hopefully, you have a better understanding now and can make an informed decision on what to do.

Those who say you should oil your food rather than the pan have several reasons they like their way better. For example, you will have less splatter, and you won’t use as much oil. In other words: less mess and more cost-effective.

However, those who say it’s better to put the oil in the pan have their own reasons. One huge advantage has to do with the pan’s seasoning.

I liked that there was less splatter when I oiled the food but didn’t like that there was no opportunity for the oil to cook into the pan.

How about you? What did you like or dislike about each way?

Let me know.

2 thoughts on “Should I Oil the Food or My Cast Iron Pan When Cooking?”

  1. I have never really considered whether it is better to put oil in the pan, or put the oil on the food, but if I am making a stir-fry meal, I always put to oil on the food itself. I started doing this because I like making a mix of soy sauce and oil, and there is far less of a mess when I mix the meat and veggies with the mix, than doing it in the pan. 

    I also use olive oil, which should not be heated as high as other cooking oils. After I have cleaned my cast iron cookware, I wipe oil on the surface to prevent rust forming and have found that these ways work for me. 

    • Hi, and thanks for your comment. I’m happy you have found what works for you. I think after my experiment, I will probably mix it up and sometimes add oil to the food instead of just the pan. 

      I really like your way of making stir fry because you’re right, the oil in the pan can make quite a splatter mess. I have a splatter screen which helps, but there’s still a mess when I’m done, lol.


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