We have two cast iron skillets in our home — a big one and a small one — and I’ll admit that even as someone who feels comfortable around a kitchen, this one cooking tool has intimidated me for years. Something about how heavy they are combined with their special cleaning needs has always just turned me off.

Meanwhile, my husband wields the cast irons with ease, tossing them from the stovetop into the oven, out to the smoker grill and back.

I know there’s an untapped world of cooking adventures to be had if I’d just embrace the cast iron skillet — the image of buttermilk biscuits keeps coming to mind — so I’ve set out to answer all my own questions about the kitchen must-have.

featured image by Julia Gartland

photo by Kate LeSueur

Why cast iron?

It lasts a lifetime. There’s a reason that cast iron cookware has been popular since the late 19th Century — they’re made to last at least that long! These babies are virtually indestructible, and any rust that they collect can be easily removed.

It’s versatile. Use cast iron skillets over a campfire flame or in your home kitchen. Transfer it directly from your stovetop to your oven. The versatility of cast iron makes it perfect for searing steaks on the burner and  finishing it in the oven.

Steady heat. Cast iron is slow to heat, but it retains that heat and distributes it evenly throughout the pan. That’ll give you a more even cook than an aluminum pan.

It’s naturally non-stick. Below I’ll talk about seasoning your cast iron skillet, which not only acts as a method of preserving it, but also a natural non-stick coating. Way better than teflon!

photo by Molly Winters Culver

How to season it.

“Seasoning” your cast iron skillet is necessary to preserve its luster and maintain a non-stick coating, as well as keeping it rust-free. It’s easier than it sounds… here’s a step-by-step according to Southern Living:

  1. Scrub skillet well in hot soapy water.
  2. Dry thoroughly.
  3. Spread a thin layer of melted shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet.
  4. Place it upside down on a middle oven rack at 375°. (Place foil on a lower rack to catch drips.)
  5. Bake 1 hour; let cool in the oven.

Each time you heat oil in the pan to cook, that luster is reinforced. So seasoning can take place frequently, or just when your skillet needs a little pick-me-up.

photo by Kate Zimmerman Turpin

How to cook with it.

Cast iron skillets are ideal for cooking meats and baking, and because they can withstand high heat, you can deep fry in cast irons as well. Here are a few recipes to kick-start your cast iron adventures:

photo by Suruchi Avasti

How to maintain it.

After each time you use your cast iron, wash it with warm water, soap, and a sponge. The important thing is to make sure to dry it completely before storing it, as any moisture will create rust on the surface of the iron. Before storing it, give the pan another coat of oil, and if stacking multiple, place a paper towel between each.

4 comments
  1. 1
    DM | October 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    “After each time you use your cast iron, wash it with warm water, soap, and a sponge.”

    No.

    Simply heat until drop of water sizzle on the surface. Add water, clean with plastic or wood scraper/spatula. Apply oil. Done.

    Reply
  2. 2
    Ronald Macrae | October 10, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Anyone who uses cast iron regularly will tell you not to use soap… just use hot water and wipe dry then heat and wipe lightly with bacon grease. Clean and non stick forever.

    Reply
  3. 3
    James Powell | October 10, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I have several cast iron pans. The first thing my mother taught me about them? NO SOAP on her cast iron. Second, no scouring! If stuff sticks you’re not using enough oil. To clean, warm oil in the pan and let cool. Rewarm & wipe out with a towel. Any little bits that are stuck chip off with your thumb nail or a plastic tool. Repeat if necessary. The last thing she taught me? (Sorry vegetarians and vegans.) You cant make good cornbread using vegetable oil. It’s bacon grease. Secret to a nice crusty bottom on cornbread or biscuits in cast iron (And, really, is there any other way?) while the oven is heating heat the pan on top with oil in it. The pan is right when it gets that shimmery look to the oil or just beginning to lightly smoke. Your batter or biscuit should sizzle when they hit the pan.

    Reply
  4. 4
    Cindy Enright | October 11, 2019 at 6:16 am

    I have my Granny’s cast iron that she received as a wedding present in 1925. It has never seen a drop of soap. That was something she taught me at an early age, along with never using it to cook anything acidic. G.R.I.T.S( girls raised in the South), will tell you two things about their cast iron: 1. It ain’t just for frying chicken, making corn bread,biscuits or pineapple upside down cake. 2. If you’re lucky you’ll be the only grandchild and it will be your inheritance. My son tells me he can’t wait till it’s his. ?

    Reply
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