Welcome to the ultimate guide to cast iron cooking, where twenty-five of the most common questions people ask about cast iron are answered.
Veteran or newbie, we all agree that cast iron can be a great way to cook. Your pans can last you a lifetime and still be passed down to the next generation better than when the pan was new.
That’s one reason people switch from nonstick to cast iron cookware.
Other reasons include the versatility, durability, and affordability of cast iron.
However, to get the most from your cookware, there are some specific rules you need to know.
Cooking with cast iron can be somewhat confusing and lead to many questions.
Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for in this guide.
Table of Contents
The Ultimate Guide to Cast Iron Cooking
Cooking in cast iron can be very rewarding. Once you figure out what works for you, don’t worry about what others do. The internet is full of conflicting advice. Cast iron is very durable, and your pans will last as long as you follow a few rules. When you are new to cast iron, though, it’s helpful to ask questions and read what others think. This guide is my attempt to help those who are still learning.
1. What Should You Not Cook in Cast Iron?
The primary reason for not cooking certain foods is that they might negatively affect the seasoning in your pan.
If your skillet is new with only the factory seasoning, avoid cooking acidic foods.
Acidic foods include tomatoes or tomato sauces, lemon and lemon juice, vinegar, and wine, to name a few.
The acid in these foods will eat away at the seasoning. And if it still needs to build up, you risk losing too much of it.
A well-seasoned skillet can certainly handle a little acidic cooking, though.
A secondary reason for not cooking certain foods is flavors that carry over.
For example, Southern Living says making brownies the day after you make fish will negatively affect the taste of the brownies.
I’ve also read this isn’t true if your skillet is well-seasoned and you’ve cleaned the pan properly. And I haven’t found it to be true for myself.
Some people say to avoid making foods that stick, such as fried eggs, other egg dishes, fish, pancakes, or bread. Even potatoes and cornbread are known to stick.
However, you can still make these foods.
But if your pan is newish, you might want to use more fat or oil when cooking.
RELATED > > > > > What Does a Well-Seasoned Skillet Look Like? – Here’s 6 Qualities
2. Is It Healthy to Cook in Cast Iron?
Yes, it is healthy to cook in cast iron.
Some have suggested that iron is unsafe to cook in, but that is only true for those with hemochromatosis. This disease causes the body to absorb too much iron from food.
However, I’m not convinced a person gets any iron from cooking with cast iron.
And that’s because cast iron is naturally seasoned, causing a barrier between the food and iron.
Still, I would probably stay away from it if I had this disease.
But for everyone else, I highly recommend cooking with cast iron.
The only other consideration would be for a vintage pan. Apparently, it was not uncommon to melt chemicals, such as mercury, in a cast iron pan.
So, if you buy or inherit an antique pan, consider testing it first if you don’t know how it was used.
Otherwise, cooking in cast iron is perfectly safe.
3. What Are the Best Foods to Make in Cast Iron?
Steak is one of the best foods to make in cast iron which is why I became interested in it. However, I soon learned that many other foods are also “best.” Here are 25 of my favorite:
- Seared Ribeye steak (or steak of your choice)
- Cornbread (I use a box of Jiffy in a 6.5-inch skillet)
- Fried eggs
- Chocolate chip skillet cookies
- Fruit cobbler with crumble topping
- Skillet brownies
- Pizza or Meat crust pizza
- Skillet meals such as Steak and veggies, Cheesy ham and potatoes, Sausage and beans, Chicken and biscuits, and Hashbrown skillet with pork
- Mac and cheese
- Fried potatoes or Hashbrowns
- Chicken potpie
- Grilled cheese
- Any meat such as chicken thighs, pork chops, brats, or burgers
- Roasted vegetables such as Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, or Zucchini
- Caramelized onions
- Fried chicken
- Homemade Hamburger Helper
- Fried Rice
- Stir Fry
4. Can You Put Butter or Use Cooking Spray in a Cast Iron Skillet?
Yes, you can put butter in a cast iron skillet. Keep in mind though it will burn at temperatures above 350°F (177°C). So, if you want to use butter, it’s better at medium to low temperatures.
When using butter, Lodge recommends heating your cast iron with a bit of oil first and adding butter right before you add your food.
Any fat or oil will work, and as to what is best, it’s really just preference.
Lodge says olive, sunflower, vegetable, and grapeseed are all good multi-purpose oils for cooking if you are looking for a recommendation. Just make sure the cooking temperature is below the oil’s smoke point.
I generally use grapeseed, avocado, vegetable, and olive oil when cooking. For bread, I even combine oils.
As for cooking spray (specifically Pam), I know people who use it, and it works for them.
I, on the other hand, don’t like it. I used canola cooking spray as my seasoning in-between uses when I first started cooking with cast iron. But I thought it left my pan feeling sticky instead of nonstick.
Plus, a little oil or fat is healthy and does a better job of adding to the natural seasoning.
5. Does Food Stick to Cast Iron? Particularly Eggs?
Sometimes food sticks to cast iron, but usually, it’s because you’re not using enough oil or your pan needs to be seasoned in the oven.
When I started cooking with cast iron, I made bacon and eggs. The bacon stuck but then released, but the eggs stuck entirely. I thought I had done something wrong.
So, I did a little research and discovered I needed to season my pan.
After seasoning, I still had some trouble. However, the more I cooked, the less the food stuck.
Now I know that a new pre-seasoned pan may just need a bit more oil when cooking in it.
Either way, cooking in the pan is the best way to build up the seasoning.
And once it’s built up enough, food should not stick.
In fact, the egg test is one way to determine if your pan is seasoned enough.
If you can make a fried egg using a little oil or fat without sticking, then other foods shouldn’t stick either.
If you still have problems, I wrote an article on why food might stick to cast iron.
RELATED > > > > > Why Does Food Stick to My Cast Iron Skillet? – 5 Reasons to Consider
Fried Eggs in a New Skillet Video
6. What Should I Cook First in My New Cast Iron Skillet?
If you are new to cast iron cooking, you may wonder what you should cook first.
I made bacon and eggs. But I probably would have made something else if I had asked this question first.
But I didn’t ruin my food or skillet even though the eggs stuck terribly.
Although I don’t recommend starting with bacon or eggs, there really isn’t the perfect food to cook first.
However, if you are trying to build up your seasoning by cooking foods that are less likely to stick, vegetables cooked in oil are an excellent place to start:
- Stir fry a variety of vegetables
- Caramelize onion
- Saute mushrooms
- Roast vegetables in the oven
- Fry baby potatoes in their skin
Remember, though, you might need to use more oil with a new pan.
RELATED > > > > > What Should I Cook First in My New Cast Iron Skillet?
7. What Should I Avoid Cooking in a New Cast Iron Skillet?
There are foods and cooking methods you might want to stay away from when your pan is new and the seasoning hasn’t yet built up.
You want to avoid damaging the initial seasoning on the pan or starting with foods that are notorious for sticking.
- Acidic foods – can damage the seasoning
- Sauces – can damage the seasoning, especially if acidic
- Deglazing – this method often uses wine (which is acidic)
- Bacon – generally has sugar in it, making it prone to stick or leave a sticky residue
- Eggs – high water content, making it likely to stick
However, you have not ruined your pan if the food sticks or the seasoning is damaged. Cast iron is durable and can usually be cleaned with hot water and a scraper, brush, or scrubby, using soap if necessary.
And seasoning your pan is something you are always doing anyway.
It’s good to avoid mistakes when possible, but don’t be afraid to cook in your pan because that’s the best way to build up the seasoning. And the seasoning is what will eventually make your pan nonstick.
8. Can You Boil Water in Cast Iron?
One question often asked is if it’s okay to boil water for pasta or hard-boiled eggs or if it ruins the seasoning?
Personally, I do these things in a stainless steel pot because it makes more sense to me.
However, if you’re asking if it’s okay, yes, as long as you understand that boiling water for an extended period can damage the seasoning.
A well-seasoned skillet with layers of polymerized oil should be able to handle boiling water occasionally.
But, your seasoning will suffer if you do it often or for long periods.
On the other hand, boiling water to soften stuck-on food is perfectly fine.
RELATED > > > > > Is It Okay to Boil Water in Seasoned Cast Iron?
Although most authority sites say boiling water in your cast iron is okay within reason, a few say it’s not ever a good idea.
Kent Rollins is one such authority. He did a video on his most requested tips, and the #1 concern was boiling water. So you might want to hear what he has to say as well.
Most Requested Cast Iron Tips Video
9. Can Cast Iron Go From the Refrigerator to the Oven?
I see two concerns with moving cast iron from the refrigerator to the oven.
One is the risk of thermal shock and causing the pan to crack. Any extreme temperature change can adversely affect cast iron.
Two is the time it will take for your food to get hot. Cast iron heats slowly, so putting a very cold pan in the oven will take much longer for the food to cook.
The best thing to do is to let the pan and food get up to room temperature or at least 30 minutes ahead of time. You can also turn the heat on after putting the cast iron in the oven, giving it even more time to get up to temperature.
10. Do Chefs Use Cast Iron Pans?
Yes, but they also use many other types of cookware, such as carbon steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
According to my research, carbon steel may be more popular in the professional kitchen because it has many of the valuable qualities of cast iron but weighs less. And can be moved around more quickly, which is often necessary.
However, cast iron may be favored in their homes.
In a restaurant, chefs move quickly and efficiently and use cookware that can handle high heat.
Where I worked in a high school kitchen, we used mainly stainless steel and aluminum.
But we weren’t frying eggs, searing steaks, or stir-frying for the students. And those are some of the reasons chefs will use cast iron in their kitchens.
11. Does Food Taste Better in Cast Iron?
Some would say yes, definitely.
Others would say it’s only psychological and not necessarily true.
Either way, plenty of people think food tastes better when cooked in cast iron. So, there is something unique about how cast iron cooks food.
My husband said tonight, “I don’t know why, but these mushrooms are really good.” Guess what? I made them in cast iron. And that’s what I told him.
It’s the Maillard reaction or the brown crust you get from cooking with oil or fat. I made steak, diced potatoes, and mushrooms, and they all were browned on the outside. I liked the potatoes best (I don’t like mushrooms, and I overcooked the steak).
My point is that browning gives the food a better flavor, and cast iron does it better than other types of cookware in my opinion.
Some say it’s cast iron’s ability to retain heat. And that is undoubtedly a benefit of cast iron.
So, whether it’s the Maillard reaction, the heat retention of cast iron, or merely psychological, I will continue saying that food tastes better in cast iron.
RELATED > > > > > Why Does Cast Iron Make Food Taste Better? – 4 Factors to Consider
12. What is the Best Way to Cook an Omelette in Cast Iron?
My first attempt at making an omelet in cast iron didn’t go as well as I hoped it would, but my husband gave me a tip on improving it.
He said I should heat and soften the veggies beforehand so they wouldn’t be cold and crunchy. I agreed.
I also forgot the cheese because I didn’t have all my ingredients ready.
And yet it still tasted okay. Cold, crunchy veggies and no cheese. Go figure.
Still, the omelets taste even better when the veggies get sauteed, and I remember the cheese.
I don’t know if my way is the best way to make an omelet, but it’s at least a way that works and tastes good.
- Preheat your cast iron, and add a little fat or oil. I add butter to a 10-inch skillet.
- Get out all your ingredients ahead of time. I have 5 eggs (for two omelets), bacon pieces, shredded cheddar, chopped broccoli, peppers, and mushrooms.
- Whisk your eggs to combine. I use a fork.
- Add the eggs when the skillet is hot and the butter is melted.
- Tilt to ensure all the spaces get filled in. I continuously move the uncooked parts across the top with a spatula until the eggs are mostly cooked.
- Once the eggs are cooked enough, start adding your ingredients. I start with the cheese, then add the bacon and all the veggies.
- Fold the omelet in half and take it out of the pan. Don’t put in too many ingredients and have them fall out when removing it (like I did).
You may want to add your ingredients sooner than I do. I like my eggs cooked with no runny left at all, and I prefer them browned on the outside.
13. Why Do Some People Not Wash Their Cast Iron Pans?
Some people don’t think washing their skillets after every use is necessary. Particularly if wiping or scraping the pan can clean out any leftover food particles.
Why can they say this?
Cooking gets your pan hot enough to kill any illness-inducing bacteria. Therefore water, soap, or kosher salt aren’t needed.
I’ve even heard of people who never clean their cast iron pans and don’t get sick.
It is safe as long as you follow the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart when cooking and wipe out your pan when finished.
However, one forum user talked about how he never used to clean his pan, but then he got tired of having his food taste like whatever he made the time before.
He used the example of his breakfast pancakes tasting like fish from the previous night.
Most of the time, I use hot water (and occasionally soap) to clean my pan, but I do get this reasoning.
Therefore, it’s a matter of preference.
14. Can You Use Soap on Cast Iron?
People answer this question in one of three ways:
1 – Never use soap. It will ruin your seasoning. While this used to be true when soap was made with lye, modern dish soap will not hurt the polymerized seasoning. Heat, not soap, will sanitize your pan.
2 – Use soap occasionally to clean particularly greasy pans. This is what most cast iron companies will say on their websites. While dish soap isn’t necessary most of the time, there will be times when it will better lift the oil and fat from the surface to wash it away.
3 – Always use soap. How else do you expect your pan to get clean? Although you could always use soap since it doesn’t hurt the polymerized seasoning, the soap itself doesn’t sanitize the pan. Group #1 is correct in saying the heat does that.
The truth is, it’s okay to use soap, but it isn’t necessary. Dish soap doesn’t have any chemicals in it that can harm your seasoning, but neither does it sanitize your cast iron.
Soap is good at lifting grease off the surface and making it easier to wash. However, sanitizing happens when you preheat your pan.
RELATED > > > > > How Does Cast Iron Get Clean Without Soap – 3 Views to Consider
15. Should You Wash Cast Iron After Every Use?
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You should do some form of cleaning after every use.
You might only need to wipe the skillet out with a dry cloth or paper towel if you made grilled cheese or bacon.
However, for more challenging, stuck-on foods, you may need a scraper, a scrub brush or chainmail, and maybe some soap or kosher salt.
As you can see, it all depends on how dirty the pan is.
As far as bacteria, heating your pan will kill it better than washing it. Most people use heat as part of their drying and/or preheating routine.
16. What is the Best Way to Dry Cast Iron?
I don’t know the best way, but you must thoroughly dry your cast iron skillet.
Here are three ways:
1 – Use a lint-free cloth or paper towel. I say lint-free because the pebbly surface of modern-day cast iron can easily transfer lint. I prefer this way because it’s the easiest and is sufficient.
2 – On the stovetop. Turn the burner on medium to medium-low and let it get bone dry. Many people do this in combination with the first way. I tried it for a while, but twice forgot to turn the burner off and had to reseason my pan.
3 – In the oven. I usually do this way when I use my oven for cooking.
The most important thing to remember is that cast iron doesn’t like water for long periods, so you never let it air-dry.
RELATED > > > > > Why Does Cast Iron Need to Be Dry? – 3 Reasons to Consider
17. Can You Clean a Cast Iron Pan With Onion?
This method seems a bit unusual, but I read about several people who caramelized onions to restore a pan that had baked on food.
A few times, food really stuck to my skillet. I used salt, a scraper, chainmail, and boiling water to loosen the food, but never onion.
For example, when I made rice in my cast iron skillet, boy, did it stick. It took a lot of work to get it clean again. However, I was unfamiliar with the onion method.
At Kitchn, the writer told of a time she forgot her sweet potatoes in the oven. And by the time she got to them, they were a stuck-on mess.
But she remembered her friend had told her about caramelizing onions to clean a cast iron pan, so she decided to try it. The results were amazing, she said.
However, she cautions this method does take a while. So, you might want to try another, faster cleaning method if you’re in a hurry.
18. Can I Use Steel Wool to Clean Cast Iron?
For regular cleaning, I would not use steel wool. It can damage the seasoning.
But if you do, use the finest 0000 grade.
For everyday cleaning, there are multiple ways to remove stuck-on food. Some of the most common are:
- Scraper and brush
- Coarse salt paste and soft scrubber
- Heat water to loosen the stuck-on food
- Hot pan under hot water and a wooden spatula or soft scrubber
However, if you’re removing rust or stripping a pan, then steel wool is okay. In that case, you are less concerned with the seasoning because you will reseason your pan in the oven anyway.
You will want to use a coarser grade of steel wool for stripping or removing rust.
Did you know that steel wool comes in grades? 0000 is the finest grade, and it goes up to 4, which is the coarsest. You can even get it in assorted sizes.
Easy Trick to Clean Cast Iron Video
19. How Do You Maintain Cast Iron?
The standard way of maintaining cast iron is to wash it by hand, dry it, and add a thin coat of oil to the cooking surface.
Everyone agrees that you have to wash cast iron by hand. But not everyone does it the same. After scraping or wiping out excess oil and food, use one of these four ways:
- Run the pan under hot water and clean it with a brush or scrubber (use soap if needed). This way works well for minimal cleaning.
- Add kosher salt, make a paste with water, and scrub it clean. This method is a favorite for more stuck-on residue.
- Heat your pan and run it under hot water. Clean with a scrubber or spatula (see video above).
- Use chainmail instead of a scrubber or brush for harder-to-remove residue.
Next is drying the pan. Most everyone dries one of three ways:
- With a paper towel or lint-free cloth
- Take it straight to the burner or oven and dry it with heat
- Combine the two ways, drying first with a towel and finishing with heat
Last is the oiling. This step is also controversial. Most will tell you it’s necessary to protect the iron. Still, others will say the iron doesn’t need protection if it is dry and has a layer of polymerized (baked-in) oil, which all pans need.
Seasoning is the barrier between the air and water and the iron; it’s what protects your pan from rust. Most pans come pre-seasoned with at least one layer of polymerized oil. Some pans will come with more, depending on the brand.
I don’t oil my pan every time. Yes, it’s an added barrier and can potentially polymerize the next time I cook. Still, I don’t think it’s necessary, especially since I cook with some type of fat.
You can decide what way works best for you.
RELATED > > > > > At What Temperature Does Oil Polymerize?
20. Does Vinegar Remove Rust From Cast Iron?
Yes, vinegar is an excellent way to remove rust from your cast iron pan.
However, if you only have a small amount of rust, you can simply wash it off with hot water and a scrubber. Use vinegar when there is lots of rust.
Vinegar will also remove the seasoning, but that’s okay since you’ll have to reseason the pan anyway.
Here are the steps:
- Fill a tub or the sink with equal parts water and white vinegar. There must be enough to submerge the pan.
- Put the pan in the vinegar solution, and let it sit for 30 minutes before checking. Continue checking every 30 minutes until the rust flakes off easily and the water is rust-colored. Don’t leave the pan in too long because the acidic properties of the vinegar can damage the iron.
- Scrub the pan with hot water and steel wool or scouring pad to remove all the rust. It’s possible after scrubbing that you’ll need to put it back in the vinegar solution to soak if some rust remains. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you are satisfied the rust is gone. Then wash the pan with soap and warm water.
- Dry it thoroughly with a lint-free towel, and add a thin layer of oil to the entire pan. Wipe most of it off.
- Reseason in the oven for one hour at 450°F. Let the pan cool in the oven.
21. Can You Ruin a Cast Iron Skillet?
Yes, but not typically from rust.
There are six possible ways to ruin a cast iron pan, but only one of the ways is it permanently destroyed. If your skillet:
- Breaks, there is no hope for it because cast iron is brittle. Dropping your pan or improper shipping are the two most common reasons for it to break. And it’s rarely worth the money to try and fix it.
- Warps, you can still use it. However, some people consider their pan ruined, especially if it’s a spinner. A spinner is a pan that doesn’t sit flat and spins while you’re trying to cook. Some continue to use a spinner for oven cooking only. You might also have a wobbly pan. A wobbly pan is only a problem on a glass top stove when your pan needs to sit flat.
- Cracks, it is only ruined if it leaks. Generally, cracks are hairline and undetectable. And in that case, it’s not ruined.
- Chips, you most likely can continue using it without any issues. Occasionally, a pan might chip along the lip or on the handle, neither of which affects cooking. However, a larger chip may make your pan unusable.
- Is pitted, it could be ruined, depending on how bad it is. Pitting as a result of rust and corrosion is rarely salvageable. But minor pitting from leaving an empty pan on the burner too long can easily be restored. Simply reseason your skillet in the oven and continue cooking with it. Eventually, the seasoning will fill in the pitting.
- Rusts, you can almost always fix it with some effort. In fact, people buy rusted cast iron cheaply to restore it. The pan is only ruined if it has heavily corroded and eaten away the iron. People often deal with minor rust in everyday use,
RELATED > > > > > Is Cast Iron Indestructible? – 6 Things to Consider
22. Why Does Enameled Cast Iron Cookware Have a Prop 65 Warning?
The Prop 65 warning started in California in 1986 to help citizens make informed decisions about what they were buying.
It’s officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.
Laws were passed saying that certain chemicals used in making a product that could potentially cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm must come with a warning.
However, companies aren’t required to say on the label which chemicals they use nor what kind of risk they pose.
Every year the list of chemicals is updated, and there are now over 900 chemicals listed on the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) website.
Over the years, many people think it has become a bureaucracy and lost much of its original intent.
Still, others say it’s necessary because people need to know if what they are buying has these risks.
Basically, any company that wants to do business in California must comply.
Whereas some companies have opted not to sell their products in California, others have put the label even on their products not sold in California.
Lodge, for example, has a Prop 65 label on its cast iron saying it has complied with California standards. Their glazed ceramic surfaces are US FDA certified for 188.8.131.52a leachability of lead and cadmium.
Not all cast iron will have the Prop 65 warning. Either that company doesn’t do business in California or doesn’t have any enamel cookware.
23. Can You Leave Food in Cast Iron Overnight?
I don’t recommend leaving food in cast iron overnight unless the pan is enameled. There are two risks associated with storing food in cast iron:
- The moisture in the food may ruin the seasoning
- The food may take on a metallic taste, especially if it’s acidic
One person asked if it would be okay to prepare a breakfast casserole in cast iron and leave it in the refrigerator overnight for baking the following morning.
While the risks are the same, some people say it would be okay if your pan is well-seasoned. A well-seasoned pan will have a strong layer of seasoning that would protect the food from taking on an iron taste and the iron from rusting due to any moisture in the food. However, your seasoning could still be affected.
Another caution for storing food in cast iron overnight in the refrigerator with the intent to bake it later is rapid temperature change. Always allow the cold iron to reach room temperature before putting it in a hot oven.
RELATED > > > > > Why Did My Cast Iron Pan Crack? – 5 Possible Reasons
24. Why Do I Get Black Flakes When I Wipe My Cast Iron?
Black flakes or residue on your cast iron pan are carbon deposits or build-up from leftover foods and oils. It is not harmful in any way, but it may be bothersome or unsightly.
Over time, as your seasoning is built-up and your pan becomes more nonstick, black flakes will be less of an issue. But while you are building that desired seasoning, there are several abrasives you can use with a bit of water to clean the residue.
- Coarse salt
- A stiff brush
A polycarbonate pan scraper, along with soap and water, may also work. According to Lodge Cast Iron, a little soap occasionally is fine for cleaning cast iron pans.
Or you can just not worry about it.
RELATED > > > > > What is the Black Residue on My Cast Iron Pan? – Plus 3 Ways to Clean It
25. Why Does My Towel Turn Brown When I Dry My Pan?
According to Lodge, the brown or black that appears on your towel when you dry it is residue from the seasoning.
It’s not harmful or concerning. It’s also not rust.
And as you continue using and taking care of your pan, you will start seeing less brown on your towel.
The brown coming from your pan often happens when you:
- Cook with liquids
- Boil water
- Use soap on newer cast iron
- Cook acidic or alkaline foods such as beans or tomatoes
As you build up the seasoning, it will be less and less.
I have noticed this to be true with my own pans.
I have covered many topics and answered a lot of questions in this post. It is the ultimate guide to cast iron cooking.
Cast iron can be daunting when you are first learning. But it is worth it because some foods taste better in cast iron.
The learning process will become habit in no time, and you will be glad you started. And you may even be able to help others who are nervous about cooking with cast iron.
I have also found cooking to be more enjoyable since I started cooking with cast iron.
What has been your experience with cast iron cooking?