What You Need to Know About Cast-Iron Skillet Cooking

In an age of multi-colored and teflon-coated non-stick and stainless-steel cookware, it can be a challenge to remember the tried and true beauty of an old-fashioned cast-iron skillet.  Often a necessity in many a grandmother’s kitchen, the cast-iron skillet is a “back-to-basics” item worthy of any family cookery.

Both economical and healthy, these rustic cooking supplies are easily purchased at thrift stores, antique markets and neighborhood garage sales. Also known for releasing small amounts of iron into food, cast-iron skillets provide healthy benefits for those with iron deficiencies. Lasting for years when well cared for, skillet cast-offs or newly purchased pans require nothing more than a little loving care for capable cooking use.

Here’s a look at everything you need to know about why to cook with cast-iron, how to season and clean your skillet and simple cast-iron recipes for your family table.

Seasoning Your Cast-Iron

If you purchase your pan at a kitchen-supply store, chances are it will be pre-seasoned. If that’s the case, simply follow the manufacturer’s directions for use. If you are the lucky recipient of your grandmother’s giveaway, you will need to season your skillet. Here’s how:

Preheat your oven to 300°F. Wash your pan with hot, soapy water and dry well. Spread a tablespoon of oil (canola or grapeseed) over the surface of the pan with a paper-towel or pastry brush. The pan should be evenly covered, with no excess oil lingering. Place the skillet in the oven to bake for approximately 1 hour. Turn off the heat and allow the cookware to cool in the oven. Your cookware is now ready for use.

Cooking with Cast-Iron

Their ability to withstand high temperatures makes these skillets a multitasking genius for the kitchen. Used for searing, baking, frying, roasting and sautéing, cast-iron can be transferred from stove-top to oven with little difficulty.

An even distributor of heat, these pans are perfect for browning veggies, making English muffins, grilling steak for fajitas and deep-frying homemade French fries. A few drops of oil with each use will eventually create a smooth, non-stick surface on the pan. Proper cleaning and drying will keep the skillet free of rust.

Cleaning Your Cast-Iron

If seasoned properly, your skillet will require nothing more than warm water, a scouring pad (no steel wool) and a little elbow grease for each cleaning. A few droplets of mild soap can be used for particularly encrusted food particles, but a paste made from 3 parts Sea salt to 1 part olive oil works just as well and preserves the seasoning.

Periodically treat your skillet to an oil treatment – warm the skillet over medium heat, wipe with oil and allow to cool. Your skillet, and your food, will thank you.

Simple Skillet Recipes for the Family Table

Cheddar and Tarragon Skillet Cornbread

  • 1 cup medium grain cornmeal
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  Heat a 10″ cast-iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and tarragon in a large bowl to blend.  In a separate bowl combine the milk, honey and egg.
  3. Remove the skillet from the oven and add the butter.  Swirl around the pan until melted.  Pour all the butter into the egg mixture.  Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture.  Do not over mix; the batter will be wet and runny.
  4. Pour the batter into the skillet.  Bake until the edges are browned and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Cool in skillet for 10 minutes.  Serve directly from the pan.

Frozen-Berry Crumble

  • 3 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter, cut into 1″cubes
  • 6 cups frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.  In a large bowl, combine the oats, 1/2 cup flour, pecans, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Add the butter and gently combine with mixture to create a mealy consistency.
  2. Place the berries in a 12″ skillet.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar, remaining flour and gently toss.  Cover with oat mixture and transfer to oven.
  3. Bake until fruit is bubbly and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool; serve as is or with vanilla ice cream.

Do your cupboards house a cast-iron skillet? Is it an essential kitchen tool for you?

About Jan

Jan Scott is a Canadian food writer, party planner, and mom of two active tween boys. She is the home cook and creative behind Family Bites, a blog inspired by the simple recipes and party ideas she’s put to the test on her family. Prior to making the transition to freelance writer, Jan spent five years as a party planner for a private catering company, but shifted to working from home in order to spend more time with her growing family.

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Comments

  1. The black skillet is the king of pots in my kitchen. There are two sizes, a 10 inch and a 6 inch. A girlfriend asked what’s the best brand of pots, I told to at least buy a black skillet.

  2. Toni Turbeville says:

    Cast iron reigns in my kitchen as well. I have a host of skillet sizes, a 5-quart dutch oven and many various cornbread pans. I even have a cast iron grill pan and a pizza pan!
    .-= Toni Turbeville’s last blog: RECIPE OF THE WEEK : Chicken Sausage Pizza =-.

  3. I use my cast iron everyday. Dutch ovens, deep skillet, shallow, big and small. I love my cast iron.! I am not sure where they came from, my husband had them when we married.

  4. I will have to buy me one of these soon! The only pan I use is a skillet. Omelets, stir-fries, etc. Makes sense to buy one!

  5. Great post, Jan! I love cast iron for it’s nonstick abilities. Frittatas are finally possible without a non-stick skillet. I think this is an essential in the kitchen.

  6. Vanessa says:

    Cast Iron Skillets are like black gold in my family. A few years ago my Grandmother decided to pass down about half of her cast iron skillets. One we deemed the ‘egg skillet’ as we all swear it is the best for eggs! I snagged this one and often have to protect it when Family is here to visit haha.

    She gave quite a few suggestions to when it came to keeping it usable. The biggest suggestion she gave those of us who gratefully received a skillet was once a year, when burning leaves or a brush pile, set your skillet on the outside of the fire. Not directly in it but enough that the edges of the fire touch it. I guess this could be considered an ‘old school’ method to clean it. Leave it out there till the fire is gone, bring it back (of course when it’s cooled or with a pot holder) and re-season it as normal.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for a great post! I’ve been looking into getting a cast iron skillet, but I’m wondering about the safety and effectiveness of using it with a glass top/ceramic stovetop. Do any of you have experience with this?

    • It is not recommended because of scratching. If the bottom of the pan is not smooth or is ridged, then the sensors will not work properly to sense that the pan is heated.

      • Jennifer, I’m afraid to say that Leah is right, but you could always try using enameled cast-iron. I’ve been told it works well with a glass/ceramic surface.

      • I have a glass top stove and always use my cast iron on it with no problems as of yet. My cast iron have smooth bottoms and I bought them for that reason. (Got them at a yard sale from a skillet collector – great prices and 100 years old!) I think that the issue of a few scratches is a real concern and if you have a ring on the bottom that will affect heating but… at this point, if my stove craters, I will buy a new one that I can use my skillets on!

    • FWIW, I’ve _never_ had problems with my cast iron on a flat-top range, and I use my 12in few times a week. As long as it stays in one place, and you don’t go sliding it across the top you’ll probably be ok.

      That said, it’s your stove ;-)

      • Jennifer says:

        Thanks for all of your input – sounds like it’s worth a look into the enameled cast iron. I miss the gas range from my old apartment… but not quite enough to replace the stove/oven that came with this house. :)

  8. I have a tendency to strip the manufacturer’s seasoning off and season it myself. I don’t like the taste that lingers with the seasoning that the manufacturer puts on it.

    I do love my cast iron though and am slowly adding to it. I have my eye on a cast iron waffle iron that can also be used over the campfire!

  9. I’ve been wanting a cast-iron skiller for a long time… now I want one more! :-)
    .-= Andrea’s last blog: Back to Work: First Day =-.

  10. I really should use my cast-iron skillet more often. I have one question: I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to cook certain things (mostly just tomatoes) in cast-iron because it absorbs too much iron. Is this true?
    .-= Heather’s last blog: Gardening Advice from Stephen King (sort of.) =-.

  11. Great post Jan!! Very interesting read.

  12. I have four of my husband’s grandmother’s iron skillets and use nothing else! He re-seasons them periodically and they are at least 60 years old. We have had them for at least 14 years. We bake in them, fry, stir-fry, and make spaghetti and stews in them! Two are shallow and two are deep like a dutch oven. I cannot imagine cooking without them. We do have a glass top stove and have been using our iron skillets for the 4 years we have owned the stove with no problems. We have also taken them on camping trips. Can you tell I love my iron skillets??!

  13. Oh thanks for the post. The teflon skillets we got as a wedding present are really becoming non-stick and I have been wanted a better, longer lasting alternative that is not laden with all the teflon chemicals. I have been wanting to get cast iron for a long time, this has really made me just want to go for it! Thanks!

  14. I LOVE cast iron! I got mine at Walmart for super cheap.

  15. I have my grandmothers cast iron skillet and I love it. These recipes look delicious. I can’t wait to try them.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Our Trip to Washington D.C. Part III =-.

  16. Emily @ The Pilot's Wife says:

    Let’s just say that someone did let their cast iron skillet get a little rusty. Is there any way to salvage it?
    .-= Emily @ The Pilot’s Wife’s last blog: Curls Like Us Winner =-.

    • I think so! Give the pan a good scrubbing using the sea salt and oil mixture above, specifically focusing on the rusty areas. Rinse and dry well and then re-season the pan as per the above instructions. It may take two or three re-seasonings, but your pan should be almost as good as new after that.

    • You can definitely salvage rusted cast iron. I’ve salvaged some pretty neglected pieces I’ve found at garage sales. I put it in the oven and run the self cleaning cycle to burn off the old crud. (no need to do this if it’s not really covered in gick.)
      When it comes out it will look like a big mound of rust, and you’ll think you’ve ruined it. Scrub all the loose rust off that you can with a scrub brush and running water. The piece may still look a little rusty, but the rust will only be small bits in the pores of the metal. Dry the cast iron in the oven to make sure it doesn’t rust more, then oil it and re-season it. It will look good as new.
      The best care instruction I could add to this post is to re-dry your cast iron on the stovetop or in the oven after you’ve washed it.

    • I actually have a rusty cast iron skillet myself. Inherited from the future mother-in-law. Took steel wool and fine sandpaper too it and couldn’t get everything off. THEN, I read about using a cut potato dipped in baking soda. Supposedly the oxalic acid in the potato loosens the rust and the baking soda scrapes it away.

      Gonna try it when I get home. I’ll let you know if it works!
      .-= Sarah’s last blog: Lazy Daisy Cake heals all wounds =-.

  17. I had a cast iron skillet when we were first married and I was petrified of it, but I hadn’t done much cooking yet. Now I’ve moved halfway across the world and I wish I had it back! Especially after looking at those recipes. My goodness my mouth is watering!

  18. We had a discussion about this not long ago and I’m still on the search for one. I should pick that search back up. I’m glad you write this though as I hadn’t thought about the possible damage a traditional cast-iron skillet could do to a glass/ceramic top stove!

  19. We have two of my husband’s grandfather’s cast iron skillets, and use them all the time on a ceramic top stove. But, we never wash them with water–we use apple cider vinegar, and then reseason with oil. My hubby says that you’re never supposed to use water, as it will make them rust. Is this true, or maybe just an old wives tale? And I’m sure you can salvage rusty skillets, though I’m not sure how…

    • Angie, you should never let water STAND in your cast iron. Washing with hot water is acceptable, but you must MUST dry it well when you are done. Allowing water droplets to stand in your pan will rust it.
      I love my cast iron. I have a double sided griddle that I LOVE… and three other pans. LOVE them!! My tip for large families (I have a family of five. I’m the only girl, so we’re talking 4 boy appetites.) Is to purchase a deep dutch oven type pan instead of a skillet if your budget is tight. Very affordable, and I can cook for 5 without worrying about spilling over the edges. PLUS, mine came with a lid, which is extra for most skillets. Also, I cook tomato in my pan with no problems. Once I’ve cleaned it, I place it on wed heat with oil and basically add a finish season to my cleaning.

  20. I’m sick of non-stick pans not lasting, so I think I’m finally ready to give cast iron a go. Thanks for the post, and the recipes.
    .-= Cook Clean Craft’s last blog: Sewing Myths Debunked =-.

  21. Jennifer B says:

    I finally got a cast iron skillet a little while back. We are trying to get away from teflon and other non/stick chemicals frequently found in cookware. I love it, use it at least 2 to 3 times a week on my glass top stove, no problems, yet, I even let it sit there for a while after it is cleaned before I put it away so I know it s totally dry!

  22. I bought a set of 3 somewhere for really cheap, and they were unseasoned so I seasoned them – but they smoked up my house while doing so ( my house is really old and I don’t have an exhaust fan). They still seem to steam up my kitchen whenever I cook with them on the stove top. Am I doing something wrong? or is that normal?

  23. OK, I love cast iron except I have one complaint. I can’t seem to make scrambled eggs without them sticking terribly! Any suggestions? I eat this pretty much every morning so it’s a big issue for me. :) I also have the same problem with my enamel cast iron and my stainless… ugh. Help?

    • I think cooking eggs was the hardest thing for me to figure out with my cast-iron and I realized that it all came down to the seasoning. Season, season, season or in other words, build up a layer of baked-on oil to create a non-stick surface on the pan. I think it also comes down to pre-heating the pan so it’s hot (but not too hot), adding the oil or butter, then the eggs. I hope this helps!

    • straymoose says:

      I’ve done a lot of reading on this and although I have not tried scrambled eggs yet, the general consensus is that most all foods should be at room temp before putting into a hot pan to reduce the chances of sticking. Also, scrambled eggs will most likely need the help of oil or butter no matter what.

  24. Is that a quiche? I would love to have the recipe!

  25. This a great read! I have a cast iron skillet and never knew how to make more than the basic things w/it.
    .-= Elizabeth Ashe’s last undefined: If you register your site for free at =-.

  26. Do you recommend cast iron for a “flat top” stove? I have heard controversy on this…some say its okay as long as its low heat otherwise the glass top could break. Is this true?

  27. I have inherited a dutch oven with the lid and the bail is even still on. The problem is it is rusted all over. How can i get the rust off the easiest way please.
    thanks!

    • Hi Sherrie…I think if you follow the cleaning and seasoning methods above that should help to remove the rust. I might suggest seasoning the skillet several times (just repeat the process over and over) until there is less rust and more smooth iron. I hope this helps.

  28. Cast Iron is fabulous, but no acid cooking – which means no fruit whatsoever… forget stripping away hte seasoning, it causes spoilage as the acid reacts with the metal ( iron) to form ferrous salts….

  29. I stole my mother-in laws skillet from the trash when she bought all new cookware. This skillet is probably 30 years old and has went to many camp-outs over the years, as well as serving countless dishes from the kitchen. the kids cannot understand why so many things taste so much better when cooked on it. If only it was a twenty inch skillet…….

  30. Patti Keil says:

    I LOVE cast iron…can’t figure out why some people would throw these things away! I have many pans in several sizes and shapes. Only pan in the world for making the best cornbread and fried potatoes! My step-mom HATES cast iron; we get into arguments (teasingly) about it all the time!! I wouldn’t trade mine for anything :)

  31. Shaz (feedingmykidsbetter) says:

    I think this will my next buy on my list!
    Shaz (feedingmykidsbetter)’s last post: baked honey mustard chicken nuggets

  32. Great information! Thinking about cast iron always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. That is the only pan she would use for her cornbread and I’ve never had cornbread that was as good as hers. I think the secret was in her pan, definitely need one of these for my home kitchen.

  33. Lisa D M says:

    I am a fairly new convert to cast iron, having spent years intimidated by the care issues. But, I swear on it now. Seriously. (The world needs a cast-iron blog or cookbook!)
    A few random responses to issues I read, as a new, but devoted convert.
    *Use lard (or saved bacon fat) not oil for seasoning/curing. It can withstand the higher temperature needed. Try 400′.
    *I use salt, liberally, once removing my food. Once cool, I scrub it up with a dry plastic scrubber, then rinse with water (controversial), wipe dry, then heat on the stove until DRY.
    *Never use dish soap. If you do, I have been advise that you should have it sandblasted and start allover again on seasoning.
    *Since I have switched to salt as my primary cleanser, I have had no problem with food sticking, esp eggs, and I have found that it is the easiest way to clean up egg mess.
    *tomatoes cooked in iron pans are a recommended way to get more iron into your system, which is an needed thing for many women, esp those of child-bearing age.

  34. A cast iron skillet is substantial, too. You will get a mini workout moving it around the kitchen!
    Billy @ Wagner Cast Iron’s last post: Dating Wagner Cast Iron

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