Cast Iron Skillets: Basic Tips and Practical Uses
Expert Advice

Image: Deposit Photos, bhofack2

Cast iron skillets are an incredibly versatile piece of cookware. There are so many ways to use your cast iron skillet. Cook, sear, caramelize, brown, sauté, roast vegetables, stir-fry, bake casseroles, bread, and even dessert. They can handle the heat on the stovetop, inside the oven, on the outdoor grill, and even over an open flame.

At the same time, cast iron cooking can be intimidating. Especially if you’ve had a bad experience in the past. If that’s the case, then It’s time to give your cast iron skillet another whirl.  Let’s break down some basic tips and practical uses you should know about cooking with cast iron.

Cast Iron Skillets: 3 Basic Tips   

1. Keep it Seasoned

Seasoning is the process in which layers of fat bond to the pan’s surface and form a slick coating. This step is key in making your skillet nonstick. Apply a thin layer of oil, wipe off any excess with a paper towel. On the stovetop, heat on high for 5 – 10 minutes to reach high enough temperature for skillet to begin smoking. When the skillet starts to look dry, apply another quick oil wipe. The longer the heat is turned up and smoking, the sturdier the seasoning. Allow skillet to cool. Make sure the oil is no longer slick to the touch, but fully baked onto the cast iron skillet.

Each time you cook an egg, grill a steak, or bake a pie, you’re adding layers of baked-on fat and oil that enhance your seasoning for a natural, easy-release finish that gets better over time. Always clean and oil your cookware after each use. Always re-season your cast iron skillet when food begins to stick, or the once shiny black color starts to turn dull.

2. Always Preheat

Cast-iron skillets do not heat as evenly as nonstick or stainless steel pans, but they have excellent heat retention. Once preheated, cast iron delivers quick, steady heat to whatever food you place on it.

Putting cold food in a cold cast-iron pan will make your food stick. So, it’s important to preheat your skillet on low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until evenly heated. Then add a little oil or fat before adding your food. These steps will help prevent your food from sticking, which will add extra time for cleaning your skillet. 

3. Keep it Clean

There is lots of controversy over using soap to clean cast iron. Its ok to use a small amount of soap. Large amounts can strip the seasoning, but you can easily re-season your pan as needed.

Wash the skillet soon after you’re done cooking, while it’s still warm. If it cools down too much, food will stick. The gentlest way to clean cast iron is to scrub it with salt and hot water. Use a non-metal scouring pad or tough side of a sponge for scrubbing. The salt works as an abrasive to scrub off food without damaging the seasoning. Do not soak cast iron in water. This will cause your pan to rust. If you need to remove stubborn stuck-on food, use a nylon scrubbing brush or a pan scraper, then rinse under warm water. Completely dry skillet on the stovetop or in a hot oven. This evaporates any excess moisture and prevent rusting.

If cast iron becomes rusted, just scour the surface with warm, soapy water and a metal scouring pad. Rinse and thoroughly hand dry. Re-season by applying a thin layer of cooking oil, both inside and outside. Place cookware on the top rack, upside down in the oven. Place aluminum foil or a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch any excess oil. Bake at 450-500°F for one hour. Cool and repeat as necessary. Your skillet should be glossy and smooth with the classic black patina finish.

Cast Iron Cooking: 5 Practical Uses   

1. Searing

Cast iron skillets are the perfect choice for searing steaks because of high heat retention and the even distribution of heat. After searing, go ahead and move the skillet directly into the oven to finish cooking. No need to transfer to another piece of cookware.

How about pan seared salmon? When the filet hits the pan, it develops a crisp outer texture with a flakey and juicy interior. Pan searing is a great option for cooking steak, seafood and veggies. it’s a quick and simple way to infuse your dish with flavor and texture. 

2. One-Pan Dinners

How about using your cast iron skillet for one-pan dinners? Put a sear or caramelized crust on just about anything, including vegetables. Cast iron skillets give roasted vegetables a golden-brown hue and a crunchy exterior, thanks to the consistent, evenly distributed high heat cast iron provides. There is no shortage of simple cast iron one-pan meal recipes thanks to the internet. And most importantly – cleanup will be such a breeze!

3. Baking

Did you know you can also use a cast iron skillet for baking? Cornbread is traditionally baked in cast iron in many parts of the country. Your cornbread will have a crispy crust that simply cannot be replicated with any other type of pan. If you are not a fan of cornbread, check out this easy skillet bread recipe!

Ever had a skillet cookie? Perfectly browned, crispy crust on the outside and soft in the middle. Served straight out of the oven. Try this Giant Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie recipe from Bon Appetit. Go ahead and get the Blue Bell ice cream ready!

What about baking a pie or cobbler? The options are endless! Once again, we recommend keeping the Blue Bell Ice cream on hand!

 4. Stir-Frying

You might not have considered using a cast iron skillet for stir-fry. Cast iron holds heat like a wok and retains heat without dropping temperature when you add cold foods. Cast iron works well when stir-frying beef dishes, but not for stir-frying noodle-based dishes. Noodles will stick!

5. Open Fire Cooking

Cast iron’s rugged durability means you can heat it over an open flame and not worry about damaging your cookware. You can even set cast iron directly on your coals. You’ll need heat-resistant cooking utensils and oven mitts on hand. So cast iron skillets are perfect for the next camping trip.

Make the most out of your kitchen workhorse and try out some of our favorite cast iron skillet recipes. From main entrees, appetizers, and dessert to breakfast casseroles, there is something for everyone! Your friends and family will thank you!

The more you cook with cast iron skillets, the more comfortable you will become. You might even decide to ditch your traditional nonstick pans. Get adventurous and try other cast iron pieces such as a Dutch oven or a griddle. Cast iron cookware will last a lifetime. Follow these cast iron skillet basics and your priceless pieces will last for generations to come.