Cast Iron Skillets: The Right and Wrong Way to Use Them

Cast iron skillets can either be your best friend in the kitchen—or your worst nightmare! If you take care of your cast iron, it’ll last multiple lifetimes.

Where to Buy a Cast Iron Skillet

You can pick up a brand-new, pre-seasoned skillet at pretty much any big box store. But if you really want to get a pan with some experience—not to mention snag a bargain—then keep an eye out for skillets at yard sales or thrift stores. Even if the pan has a few spots of rust, you can get it back to its former glory.

How to Get Even Heat

One of the downsides to cast iron is that it heats unevenly. If you put it on a gas burner, only the areas directly over the flame will get nice and hot. That means if you need to get an even heat—for searing steaks, among other tasks—you’ll need to preheat your skillet.

You can either heat your pan on the stove for about 10 minutes, turning it so that you don’t have hotspots. Alternately, you can heat it up in the oven. The good news is that once your skillet gets hot, it stays that way for longer than other metal cookware.

Is Cast Iron Non-Stick?

In a word, no. Not completely, anyway. There’s a reason why many modern pans have a special non-stick coating. The layer of seasoning you build up on your skillet over time will handle most tasks, but you’ll still sometimes get bits left behind. That’s life!

Always pre-heat, and always use enough fat in the pan when you cook. If you do those two things, you won’t have any major sticking disasters.

What Is Seasoning?

You hear the term “seasoning” a lot when talking about cast iron, but what is it? To get all science-y for a minute, seasoning is a layer of oil that’s been polymerized through repeated heating. Basically, the molecules in the oil get broken down under high heat and bond with the metal surface of your pan.

A new, unseasoned pan—or an older one in need of TLC—has to be seasoned before you use it. That process involves rubbing oil all over the pan, heating it, and then repeating the process until you get a thin layer of seasoning.

Can You Wash Cast Iron?

Yes! It’s a myth that you should never wash your cast iron skillet. Because that seasoning is baked in, you can’t actually remove it with a sponge and soapy water. However, you should never leave your skillet to soak. It’s also important to dry the pan right away after washing. Water plus iron equals rust.

A lot of chefs will re-season their pans after use. It’s not as hard as you might think! All you have to do is put your skillet on a hot stove, let the metal heat up, and then rub some oil in with a paper towel.