Cooking with Cast-Iron Cookware 101

Have you been told that using soap on your cast-iron pan will ruin it? What about just loading it with salt and oil until the pan seems smooth? Should you purchase some fancy chain-link sponge to scrub that pan clean? Are you worried that your food is sticking to your cast iron pans and dutch ovens? Well, let’s dive into it and find out!

What is Cast-Iron Cookware?

Well, the cookware is as the name says, made out of cast-iron. These pans are valued for their durability, ability to retain heat extremely well, and be used at very high temperatures, as well as their non-stick cooking (when seasoned properly). 

Some of the most popular cast-iron cookware includes, but is not limited to:

  • Frying Pans – Most people are familiar with this one
  • Dutch Ovens
  • Griddles – These have picked up in popularity due to Blackstone Griddles
  • Waffle Irons
  • Woks
Image Credit: Food and Wine Magazine

Okay So I just bought my first Cast-Iron Pan, what’s next?

First off, congratulations and welcome to the cast iron family. Typically, when you first purchase a cast iron pan, such as Lodge or Lancaster they may come with a sticker inside of the pan itself. The first thing that you need to do, is clean that pan! Washing these pans is slightly different than a typical non-stick or stainless-steel pan, and a full wash only needs to be done every few months, depending on usage. 

Washing your Cast-Iron

By using hot, soapy water, you are going to scrub off any factory residue and rust bits or dirt that was attached to that pan from transport, sitting on a store shelf, etc. 

After you give the pan a good scrub, make sure to fully rinse off any soap, and dry the pan completely. 

*It is important to note that this is an initial wash, and daily upkeep does NOT require this after every use.*

Seasoning your Cast-Iron

Seasoning is the cooked in layer of oil, or fat, that allows the cast iron to become non-stick. The seasoning also protects the pan from rusting and reduces interaction of food to the direct cooking surface.

The basic breakdown of seasoning a pan is to coat your clean and dry pan with a thin layer of oil, and bake it in. Then, repeat if necessary to achieve a thick layer of seasoning on your pan. I prefer to use flaxseed oil myself, after trying vegetable oil, olive oil and even butter. For a full breakdown on the science of cast iron seasoning, check out this post by Sheryl Canter.

Image Credit: Delish

Upkeep of that beautiful pan!

Below I’ll dive into how to cook with these pans, and some of my favorite things to cook in them, but understanding how to care for the pan should be understood first.

After cooking with your pan, depending on the amount of fat you used during cooking, and how well your pan is seasoned, there may not be much needed besides a warm water rinse and a very light scrape to remove anything that is stuck to the pan, dry that pan completely and add a light coat of oil.

If there is a lot of food stuck in there, pour some oil into the pan and add a few tablespoons of coarse kosher salt and use a folded paper towel to scrub this mixture around until your pan is clean. Then, rinse the pan and apply a light coat of oil.

Image Credit: Toria Vey

Cooking with your Cast-Iron

One of the first lessons in the kitchen that should be used across most methods is to always heat your pan prior to adding any oil or food to it. As cast-iron pans hold heat extremely well, you will want to heat your pan on low to medium heat for at least 5 to 10 minutes prior to adding anything to it. Once you are able to feel heat coming from the pan when hovering yor hand over it, add your oil of choice, and the oil should flow easily around the pan. The next tip that is critical for achieving that perfect sear that everyone loves, is to LEAVE YOUR FOOD ALONE! Once you add it to that hot oil, leave it be for a few minutes and don’t try to flip it if it doesn’t want to move. When your food is able to come away from the pan easily, that is when you know it’s ready to flip, or turn.

Utensil Note: Don’t be afraid to use metal utensils in cast-iron pans. Unlike a Teflon pan, metal won’t scrape the pan up, and a metal spatula will work a lot better. Do NOT use plastic utensils as they are more likely to melt and cause issues with your food, or pan.

Safety Note: Unlike typical pans, the handle of cast iron pans usually gets quite warm as well, and you may need to use a kitchen towel or oven mitt.

What Should I Cook?

Everything! Well, that’s actually up to you, but you can cook quite a bit in these pans, however I would try to avoid things with a lot of liquid, such as soups or broths, unless you are using a dutch oven!

My personal favorites to cook in a cast-iron pan are:

  • Steaks – Ribeye, NY Strip, Filets are my favorite
  • Chicken – Chicken Breast or Thighs come out fantastic
  • Vegetables – Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Onions, etc
  • Eggs – With a proper seasoning, your eggs can be cooked very easily without sticking to the pan.
JJ Johnson: One Pot

At the end of the Day..

The kitchen is your oyster, or whatever that saying is. Take your time, practice new techniques, and you’ll be having fun and eating delicious meals in no time. Hopefully you’ve learned something, and feel free to leave a comment or any tips that have worked for you! 

As always, I’d love to try out some recipes or if you have any questions about working in the kitchen, feel free to send me a note, and be sure to check out our other posts on Kitchen Fundamentals