Cast Iron Skillet Tips
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The topic of using and cleaning a cast iron skillet has literally been in my drafts folder since 2018. Nothing like COVID-19 / Coronavirus / quarantine to bring out all the things you have wanted to do but haven’t!
What do you think of when you consider a cast iron skillet? For me it is skillet queso from Chili’s and / or a pizookie (pizza cookie) from BJ’s. No matter what you think of, you’re probably not considering all of its capabilities. Now, cast iron skillets can be a little tricky and intimidating, so I wanted to share some info on these heavy and clunky, but lovable pans.
WHICH CAST IRON SKILLET TO BUY
Not all cast iron skillets are created equal. I’m not really talking about the brand or the size, but rather the SEAL. Is there a seal / non-stick coating? Is it smooth and glossy or dull and scratchy? You want to buy an unsealed cast iron skillet, because buying a sealed version kind of defeats one the purposes of having a cast iron skillets, which I’ll dive into later. Lodge is a more budget friendly option (what we have) and Finex is a higher end option.
A lot of people tout cast iron skillets as being the least toxic of pans (they don’t have perfluorocarbons / PFCs, which have been linked to things like liver damage, cancer, etc), but they come with their own set of “cons”. They aren’t cleaned “normally” and take some getting used to. They “leach” iron into your food, even more so with acidic foods. This might be good for you, but it can also be bad if you have health issues related to high iron levels like hemochromatosis. Note that as the pan ages, less iron should be leaching.
Now, one might argue that most pans leach chemicals into your food anyway, so at least let it be iron and not some worse chemical, but to each their own. First time hearing about pans that are even labeled “stainless steel” as maybe being toxic? The Very Very Quite Contrary / Janny Organically Podcast did an episode on this a while back. Not a podcast person? Easy insight into learning how what we cook in / bake in matters is by watching The Devil We Know on Netflix. It’s about Teflon. These pans aren’t on the market anymore, but people still have them and we pretty much all have it in our blood.
BENEFITS OF A CAST IRON SKILLET
No harsh chemicals, so it is a true nontoxic skillet
Perfect for higher temps that are required for searing
Fortifies food with iron, which is great for those with low iron or those who don’t get enough through food
Made to last pretty much forever with proper care
HOW TO SEASON A CAST IRON SKILLET
This is kind of confusing, because you aren’t putting any seasoning on the pan. You are essentially just heating and oiling the pan! This helps most things not stick to it and keep it cooking well! You need to do this before using it for the first time and perform routine maintenance (which I list as step 5 in “how to clean a cast iron skillet”). If you are having trouble with meat or fish sticking to the pant, make sure your pans are “well seasoned”, as this is what helps it be more “non-stick”. Also, don’t be alarmed if your smoke alarm goes off while you’re doing this. We have only lived in apartments with no-so-great ventilation, so we have grown used to the alarm during this and the re-seasoning process.
Everyone has their own opinion on which oil is best to season with, but basically you want an unsaturated oil, so it won’t break down as quickly and really mold to the pan. A great option is grapeseed oil, but you can also use flaxseed, sunflower, or soybean oil too. Note these restrictions are for seasoning the pan. Feel free to use olive oil, avocado oil, butter, etc when cooking!
I love this article for how to properly season a cast iron skillet. I recommend steering clear of anyone telling you to use soap in this step!
HOW TO CLEAN A CAST IRON SKILLET
Wash / scrape off food (no soap, only hot water).
Lightly coat in salt (pulls out remaining moisture / stuff you couldn’t clean in the sink).
Rinse off with water.
Sometimes we will heat the pan on the stove for a quick second to evaporate the water and sometimes we skip this step and go straight to step 5. Its kind of like a mini seasoning.
Lightly coat with oil (very small amount, use a paper towel to spread it evenly).
That’s it! Because of the oil, be mindful where you store it / when you touch it. We keep ours on top of the fridge.
TIPS FOR USING A CAST IRON SKILLET
Use butter or oil - NOT non-stick spray
Read the recipe / recommendation, but if you’re baking, most of the time you need to pre-heat the pan in the oven before using it (ie with a pizza)
Always use a hot pad or even 2 - they get SO HOT
Clean it soon after you use it - don’t let it sit too long after it cools
NEVER PUT IT IN THE DISHWASHER
Some people say it is okay to use dish soap, but I would not recommend - it literally soaks up when you put in it
Buy the large boxes of salt - you will go through it quickly
WHAT IF MY CAST IRON SKILLET GETS RUSTY
If you let it sit with the salt too long, chance are you will see some rust! It’s not a big deal. You can usually scrub it off with more salt and a soft brush of some sort. Don’t use a harsh brush or something like steel wool. I’ve seen some people use a potato cut in half, as it doesn’t harm the pan.
If your skillet is really rusty, experts say to submerge it in an equal parts vinegar water mixture. You should let it sit, but check it every hour, because once it has eaten the rust off, it will start to breakdown the iron coating, which will ruin the pan. Once it is not rusted anymore, wash off the pan with water and prepare to season it again.
WHAT TO USE A CAST IRON SKILLET FOR
We most often use it for searing meat after we sous vide it, but there are so many other uses. Obviously you can cook in it, but you can basically use it for anything you would bake. We did our first cast iron pizza recently and it was DELICIOUS.
Crisping Veggies (fried okra?!)
Baking Pan Pizza (our new favorite)
Baking Pot Pies
Making your whole breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes!!)
Dips (yes, queso)
Browning Butter (TASTES SO GOOD)
Cookies (duh, pizookie)