This Is When to Throw Away a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron skillets have a reputation for being indestructible—but is there ever a time when you need to throw it out? Here's the scoop.

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Famously durable, these pans are often passed down through generations. With proper reseasoning care, years of frequent use can actually improve the pan’s “seasoning”—its natural nonstick coating. But sadly, cast iron skillets can indeed break. Here’s when to throw away a cast iron skillet.

Dealbreaker 1: A Wobbly Base

Warping can happen to all cookware, even cast iron; typically as a result of very high heat or temperature fluctuations. To test for an uneven base, set your cast iron pan on a burner and press down on the handle. If the pan wobbles, the base has warped. Slight unevenness likely won’t impact performance, though the pan will heat less evenly, so keep an eye on food and stir frequently. A dramatic wobble will make food heat very unevenly, and may actually cause food to splash or spill from the pan. In that case, it’s time to retire the pan.

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Dealbreaker 2: A Crack

If a crack appears in your cast iron pan, it’s time to ditch it. Even a hairline crack will expand and contract when heated and cooled, and ultimately the pan will split—a potentially dangerous situation if it happens during cooking! Plus, cracks are difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria and rust.

Here’s how to clean a cast iron skillet.

Dealbreaker 3: A Hole

Browsing at a vintage store? Avoid any cast iron pan with a hole in it. That often signifies that the pan was designated for a non-food use, like for holding motor oil or other harmful substances.

Probably Not a Dealbreaker: Rust

One of the most common problems with a cast iron pan is rust. If you buy a vintage pan with rust on it, or your pan gets rusty after use, it’s almost always fixable. Scrubbing a rusted cast iron with steel wool should remove all the rust; here’s a complete guide to scouring and re-seasoning.

If you find yourself in the market for a new pan, check out Taste of Home’s 12-inch cast iron skillet.

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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.