The trusty cast iron skillet is a kitchenware staple that’s served us during the Pioneer days, countless conflicts, and every camping trip that was worth its while. For a cast iron to continue to serve us for many years, however, its owner must take care of it.
Cast iron is a resilient material, so maintenance on it really boils down to just two things: Seasoning and cleaning your cast iron skillet. Here’s how to do these things the right way!
Seasoning your skillet
1. Grease it up
Serious Eats explains that the seasoning process is actually pretty simple. All you need to do is pour a small amount of fat (typically, unsaturated oils like canola) into the skillet, and then thoroughly buff it until there’s no longer a greasy surface.
It’s also important to season the entire thing, handle and underside included. The oils you rub into the skillet will polymerize when you cook; in other words, they’ll basically fuse with the metal and create a highly utilitarian nonstick, protective coating.
2. Bake it
Once there’s a thin layer of oil on the surface of your pan, give it a double check to make sure there aren’t puddles of oil anywhere. Any excess oil will become sticky and could potentially damage the seasoning when it’s heated.
When the skillet is ready, Lodge Cast Iron advises you bake the skillet in the oven at the correct smoke point temperature for the oil you are using to season.
The best method is to turn your skillet upside down in the oven and bake for about an hour. You can put aluminum foil underneath to catch any oil drips.
Cleaning your cast iron
Once you’re finished cooking with your cast iron, try to clean it up as soon as possible. If you let a cast iron cool off with food scraps inside of it, they might cling to the pan or ruin your seasoning. Taste of Home suggests pouring a small amount of water into the skillet and allowing it to cool off before hand-washing in the sink.
Tools of the trade
For most jobs, a paper towel will do just fine. In the event that there’s some particularly stubborn food stuck to your pan, Cook’s Illustrated recommends the use of a nylon brush or other non-metal cleaning tool.
You can also use soap in your skillet if it looks like that might be necessary, but just remember to thoroughly rinse the skillet afterward. Finally, rubbing a little bit of oil back into the skillet’s interior will keep it in excellent condition for a lifetime.
Ready to start cooking? Keep reading for helpful tips and tricks for cooking in your cast iron skillet!
How To Cook In Cast Iron
Cast iron. It’s the workhorse of any good kitchen and the prize pony of any wood-fired oven. It’s the cookware that can handle (almost) anything, from scorching heat to simmering stews. All of this sounds great until you’ve come home with your new skillet to set it on your stovetop and realize you have no idea what you’re doing.
That’s okay. Everyone’s been there once, too. But most of them aren’t anymore, and here’s what they have to say.
Don’t be afraid to get hot
...because that’s exactly what a cast iron skillet is supposed to do. So, just how hot can cast iron get? A properly seasoned skillet thrives in heat well above 350 degrees, and shows its best cooking behaviors when it gets between 400 and 500 degrees, according to Cooking Issues’ Dave Arnold; but it can definitely get hotter than that.
Cast iron’s tendency to take and hold onto heat extremely well is what makes them so popular since you can add food into a very hot cast iron skillet without worrying about a subsequent temperature drop.
It’s all about the sear
Since cast iron can get very hot, and stay very hot, they’re ideal for cooking that requires a heavy sear without simultaneous burning. Nobody wants a mouth full of carbon. Using a cast iron for this purpose is also easy to do inside of a wood-fired oven since it is completely surrounded by heat.
The even, high temperature of a cast iron skillet in a wood oven makes it the ideal candidate for searing all kinds of foods. The Independent even lists it as a necessary piece of cookware for anyone that owns a wood-fired oven.
Take it slow on occasion
While searing is delicious, and a great deal of fun due to the violet sizzling it produces, a cast iron skillet’s versatility is not one that should be ignored. On occasion, Fine Cooking’s Joanna Pruess recommends using your skillet to braise or fry.
The long-lasting heat of a cast iron skillet can work in both directions, so if you need something to simmer at a low boil for a while, you can use a cast iron to do the job without constantly making sure the heat is on.
Things to avoid
Although a cast iron skillet is arguably one of the most durable and capable pieces of cookware you can find, there are a few things that aren’t ideal to cook in one. A few examples of what not to cook in cast iron include fish, due to their tendency to fall apart, and things with a lot of acids or aromas, according to Taste of Home.
A cast iron skillet tends to move flavors around in both directions. Because of this, acidic foods may end up being cut with either the flavors of the iron (not exactly appetizing) or the flavors inside the polymerized oil from what was cooked in it last. Conversely, highly aromatic foods might leave behind some memories that can leak into whatever you cook next.
10 Tips for Cast Iron Cooking
Congratulations! You’ve joined the elite ranks of cast iron cooks. You might find that using the newest addition to your culinary arsenal can be a bit tricky; a cast iron has some unique characteristics that are worth some attention.
It’s those unique characteristics that make cooking with one such a joy, however, so if you’re not scared of a little education, read on to find out how to make the most of your new skillet!
1. The reason for the season
“Seasoning” a cast iron skillet is a long-held tradition. A seasoned skillet has a layer of oil that sits inside the pan during cooking, imparting flavor to the food and keeping it from sticking during the cooking process. Properly seasoning a skillet is something you should always do if you want your skillet to last a long time.
To season your cast iron, rub the entire thing (handle and exterior included!) down with an oil of your choice using a soft rag until it has an obvious sheen, and there isn’t a noticeable puddle of oil somewhere. After this, turn your skillet upside down and place it inside of an oven heated to 350 degrees. Leave it there for an hour, and then switch your oven off and allow the skillet to cool inside.
2. Give it a soda scrub
Cleaning a cast iron is an undertaking that allows you to channel your inner Atomic Era spirit. Baking soda, the cultural icon, should be sprinkled into a cast iron immediately after you’re done cooking with it. A little warm water and a nylon brush are the tools you’ll need to then give the skillet a scrub until the flavors of the last dish are neutralized, and any bacteria hitching a ride are gone.
Water can cause rust, however, so once the skillet is clean, thoroughly dry it down with a rag. Afterward, rub a bit of oil back into the skillet with a rag while it’s still warm before putting it back away.
3. There’s nothing wrong with a little soap
Although a baking soda scrub usually does the job, there might be a few times where you need some more firepower to get a particularly painful stain, stuck food, or smell off the skillet. Some mild dish soap definitely won’t hurt your cast iron if it’s necessary; wash it with a little warm water, dry it, and re-apply some oil after you’re done, just like you would with baking soda.
4. Seasonal seasoning
A seasoned skillet will cook well for a long time, but much like anything gold, the season won’t eternally stay. If you’re noticing more stuck food, changing flavors, or other trouble cooking, it might be time to re-season your skillet. It’s the same process as the first time; a little oil everywhere, and a lot of heat for an hour.
Regularly seasoning your cast iron also ends up making your skillet healthier as you continue to do it; the layer of oil at the bottom will continue to impart more and more flavor and heat to the food if you make sure to replenish it.
5. Preheat like a pro
A cast iron skillet will do its best work when it’s already heated. The oil layer at the bottom will be ready to cook, and heating will be applied evenly to the food in the skillet. Give your cast iron a few minutes of heat before adding any food, and you’ll continue to see great results. We love heating our cast iron skillets (or melting butter) in the hot pizza oven before using them.
6. Rust is easily fixed
A single spot of rust spotted inside your skillet is not a death knell sign that you need to prepare for a trip to the junkyard. Even expertly maintained cast irons will rust over time. It’s made of metal, after all.
To care for spots of rust that might pop up in your skillet over time, start with a simple cleaning and then slowly escalate to more abrasive methods if it’s not doing the job. You could even use a bit of steel wool if it’s necessary; the most important thing to remember, however, is that you’ll need to re-season your skillet after an intensive cleanup job.
7. Keep the heat a bit lower
Cast irons are superconductive. They’ll pick up every last bit of heat they can, and so they’ll end up getting toasty relatively quickly. You’ll know if your cast iron is a touch overheated (you usually end up seeing smoke) as well. The solution is simply to cook at lower temperatures than you might be used to with some foods.
If you’ve overheated your skillet, you can also turn the heat off and allow it to cool back down. With that said, cast iron skillets are perfect for the wood-fired oven because they can handle higher temperatures better than most cookware!
8. Use a metal spatula
Spatula companies are under the impression they’re excellent marketers, for some reason. Regardless of what a plastic, rubber, wood, or another spatula might say on the package, none of them will do as well when cooking in a skillet than a metal one. The edges of a metal spatula allow you to get under frying foods, and they won’t be damaged by the high heat of a cast iron.
9. Try all kinds of foods
The more often you cook in a cast iron, the more oil polymers you’re adding to the bottom of the pan. Not only will this make your skillet cook better, you’ll also be adding to the flavor profile it can provide to your foods.
There’s also no reason to believe that your cast iron isn’t suitable for a given kind of food. One common misconception is that acidic food shouldn’t be cooked in a cast iron skillet. Not only is this an unwarranted concern, it’s also a bit limiting in terms of what you can do with your skillet, which is a perfect lead to the final point...
10. Your cast iron can handle a lot
Cast iron skillets are probably the most resilient pieces of cookware known to man. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake or trying something new!
Even if you’ve turned what was a delicious meal into a molten mess of charred carbon, you can always brush the error off and try again; and your skillet won’t be worse for wear at all.
Try A Cast Iron Peach Cobbler!
Wood fired oven dessert recipes, like the fig cobbler and peach cobblers below, are some of our favorite foods to make!
The best one of all is the peach cobbler baked in a cast iron skillet inside a wood burning pizza oven! This is an all-time favorite peach cobbler recipe and it's SO EASY to make.
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
- 1 cup milk
- 4 cups sliced peaches
- Make sure your wood-fired oven is heated to around 375 degrees.
- Melt butter in your cast iron skillet. Stir together flour and 1 cup sugar; add milk and mix well. Pour into the butter. I use a fork to blend the mixture into the butter. Add peaches that have been tossed with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar; do not stir.
- Put in your oven and bake for 40 minutes. Don't forget to turn it periodically so each side is done evenly. But, it's really hard to mess up this recipe so give it a whirl.
Here's what it looks like when your peach cobbler is almost ready!
When it's done, serve warm with vanilla ice cream for a treat you can't resist!
The peach cobbler in the video was cooked in a Lodge cast iron skillet in the Maximus Prime Pizza Oven which is a wood-fired oven.
Make any dish as savory and delicious as can be by finding the right recipes and ingredients. Click here for tons of great wood-fired recipes!
Want more ideas? Check out our 7 Days of Wood-Fired Oven Recipes ebook for more recipes that include cast-iron cooking! Use the code EBOOK5 to take $5 off the Recipe Book's price.
What will you try in your cast iron skillet?
Comment below to let us know your favorite recipes and tips for cooking with cast iron.