The Common Ingredient You Should Actually Avoid When Cooking in Your Cast-Iron Skillet

Be warned about this easy-to-stick staple. 

Fried Skillet Potatoes
Photo: Caitlin Bensel

Cast-iron skillets are lucky that they turn out such flavorful food, because the rules and stipulations that go along with using a cast-iron skillet would hardly be worth the trouble if we didn't get to celebrate with a slice of cornbread afterwards. Every step, from how you cook with a cast-iron skillet to how you clean a cast-iron skillet, is equally important to the well-being and success of it. That even goes for what you put in your cast-iron skillet.

There are the usual suspects, such as scrambled eggs (can turn brown!), tomato sauce (too acidic!), and flaky skin-on fish (will stick!), especially if you're working with a lesser-seasoned skillet. However, there is another ingredient that you might want to consider avoiding when cooking in your cast-iron skillet, and you might be unknowingly making the mistake since it's not always recognized as a no-no for cast-iron cooking. Any seasoned cook will warn you: Watch out for the minced garlic! It'll do you dirty—and your cast-iron, too.

Why Minced Garlic Is Bad for Cast-Iron

Garlic has never been totally off-limits for cast-iron skillets, but minced garlic in particular can pose a real problem when you're cooking in a cast-iron skillet unless you're doing so very carefully. Garlic easily burns and becomes bitter, and it'll stick to the cast-iron skillet like nobody's business, leaving you with a coating of burnt, black, crumbly mess on the bottom. Plus, cast-irons take on the flavoring of what gets cooked into the skillet. Not so ideal for that peach cobbler or pecan pie you were planning on making later!

This might be why when you're watching your favorite cooking show, you'll see whole garlic cloves way more often than you'll see minced garlic going into the cast-iron skillet when making cowboy steak, bone-in chicken, or pork chops. Minced garlic is more trouble than it is worth. Skip altogether, or replace with whole cloves if necessary.

How To Cook with Garlic in a Cast-Iron Skillet

Whenever cooking with garlic in a cast-iron skillet—particularly if you're risking it with minced—there are two very important things to heed. First, pay close attention to temperature. Garlic is finicky and will burn quickly. Keep the temperature low and slow. Second, be extra generous with the cooking oil. One way to help keep the garlic from burning and sticking to the bottom of the skillet is to coat the entire bottom of the skillet with a heavy pour of oil. That makes a huge difference in keeping the garlic from caramelizing into the skillet before you're able to stop cooking.

Together, these two tips are helpful, but not totally foolproof, for using minced garlic in a cast-iron recipe. Even then it's not guaranteed! Minced garlic is a tasty addition to many meals, but perhaps stick with the nonstick skillet next time. No burnt, stinky remnants here!

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