8 Tips You Should Know About Cooking With Your Cast Iron Skillet

We debunk eight common myths about cast iron cooking.

Peach Cobbler

Alison Miksch

A cast iron skillet may be different from other pans in your cabinet because it has a set of rules that come with it. But cooking with cast iron doesn't need to be challenging. Whether your prized skillet is a yard sale find or a cherished memento from Memaw's kitchen, it's worth knowing about rust spots and seasoning. Tips about cooking with these desirable pans can be confusing, and there are a lot of myths about what you shouldn't do. Here, we debunk those myths and get to the truth about cooking with cast iron.

Never cook acidic foods in a cast iron skillet.

Acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, and wine can be cooked in a well-seasoned cast iron pan for short amounts of time. You can sauté cherry tomatoes in cast iron, but don't try making a long-simmering tomato sauce. If you recently purchased your skillet and it still needs to be "broken in," acidic ingredients can erode the seasoning and even make foods taste metallic.

You can't overseason a cast iron skillet.

Seasoning involves oil (it has nothing to do with salt, pepper, or other spices), and if you apply too much to the pan, it may develop a sticky film. A teaspoon of oil should be enough to coat the interior and exterior of a 10-inch skillet.

Never use metal utensils with cast iron.

Don't worry, you can use a metal spatula to flip burgers in your cast iron skillet. Unlike nonstick pans, cast iron cookware doesn't have a chemical coating that flakes off. If the pan's seasoning gets a little scraped, it can simply be seasoned again.

A rusty pan is ruined.

Cast iron is like a chalkboard—you can almost always wipe it clean and start fresh. Unless your pan is cracked or rusted all the way through, scrub off the rust with steel wool, rinse the pan, dry it, and reseason it.

A preseasoned skillet doesn't need to be seasoned.

While you can cook immediately with a preseasoned skillet, it will get the job done better after it acquires a few more layers of seasoning—achieved either through regular use (here's some recipe inspiration) or additional seasoning time in the oven.

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A cast iron skillet is best for grilled cheese.

Okay, this one is a trick. A cast iron skillet is great for making this popular sandwich, but two skillets are even better than one. Use a second skillet to weigh down the bread during the first half of the cooking process to toast it and fully melt the cheese.

Cast iron can replace nonstick.

While a well-seasoned cast iron pan has nonstick qualities, it's not a match for your nonstick pan. Eggs won't magically release and slide out of the pan and onto a plate. For one, cast iron pans aren't perfectly smooth and foods like eggs may get stuck. For the best results, make sure to keep your cast iron pan seasoned, and preheat the skillet for a few minutes before you add any food to it. This allows the pan to heat evenly and prevents most food from sticking. Add fat as needed.

Never use soap on a cast iron pan.

This is a common myth about cast iron. The truth is, you can clean your cast iron pan with soap. Older soaps used to contain lye that would strip a pan's seasoning. Today's dishwashing soaps are mild. They'll wash away food and the oil used to cook it in, but they won't wash away the pan's seasoning. Scrape any debris with a nylon scrubber, wash the pan with soap and water, dry as usual, and wipe with oil while the pan is still warm. That said, cast iron doesn't need to be washed with soap if you prefer the way your grandmother taught you. Wiping with a paper towel and heating the pan in a warm oven to dry kills any bacteria.

Things you shouldn't do.

There are some things you just cannot do with your cast iron pan. Do not soak it in water or let water sit in it. This may lead to rust. Clean the pan and dry it thoroughly after use. Don't use steel wool. Use a nylon scrubber or scraper for stubborn, stuck-on food. And don't put your cast iron in the dishwasher. This strips the seasoning from the pan and may lead to rust.

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