6 Mistakes That Could Ruin Your Cast Iron Skillets
Keep your cast iron pans in tip-top shape by avoiding these no-nos.
Show it some TLC and your cast iron skillet can last a lifetime — or more. Many families have generations-old cast iron that's been crisping up fried chicken and caramelizing Brussels sprouts for 150 years.
But unlike your standard department store kitchen tools, cast iron requires a bit of special treatment. That does not mean it's extremely fussy; it just has a different set of care, cleaning, and cooking rules than something like a stainless steel or ceramic skillet.
Whether you're buying new or using mom's, steer clear of these common cast iron skillet mistakes and you'll set your pan on a plan to be passed down for decades.
1. You don't allow time for the pan to heat up.
While cast iron is prized for its ability to get — and stay — scorching hot, it has a tendency to get hot spots that can lead to uneven cooking and a less non-stick sear. To prevent this, first preheat your skillet in the oven whether you're baking, frying, or sautéing what you plan to cook in it.
Place the skillet in a room temperature oven, then turn it on to 400°F or so. Allow the oven and skillet to heat up together, and once the oven reaches the set temp, the skillet should be ready to move forward with the directions in your cast iron recipe. Slip on an oven mitt, carefully remove the skillet from the oven, and go forth on your merry menu way.
2. You use the same skillet for savory and sweet.
One of the magical qualities of cast iron is that it's just as extraordinary at searing salmon as it is at crisping up the edges of brownies. But its semi-porous surface means that if you cook both of those foods in the same skillet, you might end up with fish-scented baked goods.
If possible, invest in a separate pan for uber-fragrant foods (say, garlicky sauces, seafood, anything with funky fermented ingredients) and everything else. A quality Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet runs just $23 at Target, if you need to add another to your kitchen arsenal.
3. You don't clean the pan quickly enough.
For best and easiest results when cleaning your cast iron, tackle the tidy-up mission while the skillet is still warm from cooking your meal. (For a complete how-to, check out our step-by-step guide for cleaning cast iron.)
Rinse it with warm water, shake in some baking soda and/or salt, and gently dislodge any debris with a sponge, wash cloth, or nylon scrub brush. (Skip the steel wool.) The baking soda will help counteract any lingering flavors while acting as an antibacterial agent; the salt acts as a super-mild abrasive element; and the warm water helps lift up the particles left over from your meal.
4. You let your skillet soak.
Soaking your cast iron skillet in your sink is a recipe for rust, as is washing it in the dishwasher. Instead, clean it ASAP, even using simple soap and water if you must. As long as you rinse off all of the suds and dry the pan thoroughly and quickly after washing, the soap shouldn't harm your skillet's seasoned surface.
5. You don't re-season the skillet.
Speaking of seasoning, it's why so many home cooks prize grandma's cast iron skillet. Cast iron gets better and more non-stick with age and with repeated use, although modern cast iron skillets come handily pre-seasoned. For the uninitiated, seasoning refers to the oil that's baked onto the cast iron's surface that makes food not stick and helps keep the surface from staining.
Still, either vintage or new skillets are best served by a simple re-seasoning step after each use. After cooking, washing, and drying your skillet, place it back on a medium-high burner and add a tablespoon of neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola oil. Use a paper towel to evenly distribute the oil around the surface and interior sides of the skillet so each part is shiny. Once it starts to smoke just a bit, take the skillet off the heat, wipe it down once more with a clean paper towel, let it cool, and store until next time.
6. You store the skillet while it's still wet.
It bears repeating: Give that seasoned skillet one last wipe down before storing, if you can, since water is essentially iron's enemy number one — leading to rust, wear, and tear. While rust doesn't mean that you need to toss your skillet, it is a hassle to scrub, season, and re-season, so prevent damage before it happens by keeping your skillet dry.
If you don't have a hanging pot rack and you're worried about any scratching or scraping, layer a paper plate or kitchen towel between pans that you stack to store efficiently.
Listen to Allrecipes "Homemade" podcast to hear how Carla Hall broke her grandmother's cast iron skillet!