7 Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron

Revive the tradition of cooking with cast iron by following these simple guidelines to a successful meal.

by Lori Rice
PHOTO: Lori Rice

As beautiful as those skillets and pans are decorating your shelves, the true purpose for your cast iron is cooking and baking. If you’re used to modern pots and pans, incorporating this classic cookware may feel uncomfortable and even a little scary. Don’t be discouraged! Once you learn a few simple tips and tricks you will be ready to put every piece of your cast iron to good use.

1. Learn to Handle the Heat

Cast iron is slow to heat up, and as it does, there are often hot spots in the pan. The more you cook the better you will get at adjust cooking times and moving the food regularly to get the best results. Once hot, cast iron holds the heat very well and is slow to cool. This makes it great for dishes you want to keep warm while serving, but it also makes it easy to overcook foods. Just remember that when you remove the pan from the burner, some foods may continue to cook. Also keep in mind that cast iron handles get hot, too. Keep a dish towel around to wrap the handles before you grab hold.

2. Adjust Baking Temperature

When baking, cast iron produces nicely browned, caramelized edges. But because the pans hold heat so well, foods can easily over-bake, drying them out and burning the bottom. If you aren’t getting good results when baking, try reducing the oven temperature by about 25 degrees.

3. Season for a Non-Stick Surface

The seasoning that builds on the surface of your cast iron pan creates a non-stick surface that allows you to cook with ease. Also referred to as patina, the black shiny surface of well-seasoned cast iron is the result of oils seeping into the pan and reducing the rough texture. Newer cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, but whether your cookware is new or old, you can re-season it regularly to enhance the non-stick surface.

Preheat your oven to 350 to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat the inside of the pan with cooking oil or shortening and place the pan upside down in the oven. Place a baking sheet or piece of foil on the bottom shelf of the oven to catch any oil that drips. Leave the pan in the oven for one hour, turn off the heat and let sit until it’s cool.

4. Protect the Seasoning When You Clean

Using harsh detergents or scouring pads can remove the hard earned seasoning on your cast iron. Keep things simple when you clean: Use warm water and a sponge or natural brush. A short soak in warm water can also loosen stuck-on food. While traditionally soap was never recommended for cleaning cast iron, according to Lodge, the U.S. cast iron manufacturer, a little mild detergent is OK. But if your goal is to sanitize your pans, consider that sterile temperature is 212 degrees F and a cast iron pan reaches 400 degrees F on medium heat in four minutes. As a result, soap may not be necessary.

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5. Drying is Essential

Cast iron pans must be completely dry before storing to ensure that they don’t rust. After washing, dry your cast iron well with a clean dishtowel and consider drying the pan further in the oven or on the stovetop. Simply place the pan in a warm oven until completely dry, or set it over a low flame on the stove for about five minutes.

6. Cook Almost Anything

You can cook and bake just about everything in your cast iron, but there are a few exceptions. Avoid boiling water in cast iron, as it can promote rusting. Also be careful cooking with acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus juices. Tomatoes and tomato-based sauces can be cooked in older, highly seasoned cast iron, but avoid cooking them in cast iron that is newly seasoned. Acids strip seasoning from the pan and can cause foods to have an unpleasant, metallic taste.

7. Choose the Size Carefully

It’s easy to forget how heavy cast iron is until you start working with it regularly. The skillets and pans are heavy on their own, and once you fill them with food they may challenge your strength. Keep this in mind when choosing what size to use. The more you work with them, the better you will be at handling the weight and size. Don’t be afraid to ask for a little help when removing large items from the oven or when transferring ingredients from the stovetop. It’s worth saving yourself a quick slip of the hand that could cause a kitchen disaster.

To learn more about cast iron, see Hobby Farms stories including 8 Foods That Taste Better in Cast Iron, 3 Recipes that Flaunt Cast Iron’s Versatility, Clean and Refurbish Cast Iron, and 4 Cast Iron Kitchen Accessories.

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