My mom sent me home with a cast iron skillet at some point. I stuck in the back of a cabinet and haven’t thought about since. Recently, I remembered its existence and thought I might give it a shot. But where to begin? How does this not already nonstick pan even work? Can’t I just use an already nonstick pan? The nice thing about a cast iron skillet is that it can go from stove top to oven giving you a lot of flexibility while preparing a dish. I first used this pan on a French toast dish that involved cooking up a yummy brown sugar topping on the stove top and then baking the egg-drenched bread in the oven. Instead of using multiple pans and making a mess, I was able to use just one! So it has it perks. But the necessary care for a cast iron skillet is different from your other pans.
Prior to using your cast iron skillet for the first time, you must season it. This does not mean spices! This means oil. Because this skillet does not come with a nonstick surface, you must create one. Simply coat the surface of the skillet with cooking oil or shortening, rubbing it in with a paper towel, and bake it in the oven at 350° F for an hour. Allow it to cool and then pat the surface dry with paper towels. The surface of the skillet should have a shiny black patina.
The seasoning will only improve as you continue to use your skillet. The seasoning will also act as a moisture barrier, helping to prevent rust. You may need to re-season your skillet if food begins to stick or rust appears.
After a typical use, you should be able to just rinse your skillet with hot water and no soap. Dry it immediately. Don’t fill the skillet with water and allow it to sit as this may lead to rusting. For burnt on food, trying scrubbing with coarse salt or other mild abrasive. Rub on a light layer of oil with a paper towel prior to storage.
If you need to ‘deep clean’ your skillet you may wash it with warm, soapy water and a stiff brush. In case of rust, you may also use steel wool. You’ll need to immediately dry and re-season your skillet if you do this deep clean. Keep in mind that you will be baking with your skillet in the oven at high temperatures which will protect you from yuckies. Do not put your skillet in the dishwasher.
Don’t worry too much about ruining the skillet, as you can always clean and re-season it. There is a reason there are still super-old cast iron skillets around. They are pretty tough.
You can use your cast iron skillet on any type of stove top, in any type of oven and even on a grill or campfire. If your skillet somehow fits in microwave, don’t put it in there! Be careful to lift, not slide, your skillet if you have a glass or ceramic cook top to prevent scratching. Be mindful of the handle, which will be hot, and grab it with an oven mitt or potholder. Medium heat is best. If cooking at higher temperatures gradually raise the heat and add oil before the food. Try to match the burner size to the pan size and don’t allow gas flames to come up the sides of the pan.
Cast iron is not so good at heating evenly quickly. To ensure your pan is hot everywhere, not just where the flames are, allow it to preheat on the burner for ten minutes or so and rotate it occasionally. You could also heat it in the oven for twenty minutes. I prefer wooden utensils, in general, and this is also true for my cast iron skillet. Fill the pan up to a third its capacity when deep frying. Don’t boil water in your skillet. As an added bonus, cooking in cast iron will increase the iron content of your food. The longer it cooks, the more iron it absorbs.
Be careful when cooking certain foods in your skillet. Use extra oil or butter when cooking with eggs or cheese, especially if your pan is new. Also be careful of acidic foods which may damage the seasoning. If there are any spots of bare metal, they may come in to contact with acidic ingredients and rust. Simmering tomato sauce for a while might not be a good idea, for example. Cast iron is great for searing steaks, frying potatoes, making hash or pan roasting chicken or veggies.
Cast iron skillet recipes:
Skillets aren’t the only thing you can get in cast iron. You can check out some of the options below.