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.
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.