Test Kitchen Tips
10 Tiny Tweaks to Make When You’re Cooking With Cast Iron
Cooking with cast iron is different from using regular pots and pans. A professional chef chimes in to help you understand how to get the most out of your cast-iron meals.
Preheat the pan
Contrary to popular belief, cast-iron pans don’t heat evenly. However, they do retain their heat exceptionally well. You can keep the uneven heat from affecting your cooking if you take the time to preheat your cast-iron skillet before using it. Preheating also protects the material from cracking. Here’s why you shouldn’t skip this step when baking, too.
Wash it by hand
It’s totally a myth that you can’t use soap on a cast-iron pan, but it is true that you need to wash it by hand. Never put these pans in the dishwasher because the harsh cycles can strip them of their seasoning. Sometimes, a quick rinse with warm water will do the trick, but don’t be afraid to gently scrub cast iron with warm, soapy water when it needs it.
Dry it right away
Instead of letting cast iron drip-dry after washing, you need to dry it right away to prevent it from rusting. Simply pat dry with a clean dish towel and re-season it if it needs it. Are you handwashing your dishes correctly?
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Avoid soaking in water
Soaking cast iron in water will definitely cause it to rust. Luckily, if you’ve seasoned your cast iron properly, you won’t need to soak it at all during the cleaning process! You can remove stubborn bits of food by scrubbing it with coarse kosher salt while the pan is still warm. If your cast iron does happen to rust, we know of an easy way to restore it.
Season it from time to time
Although most cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, you’ll still want to re-season it from time to time to fortify the non-stick coating. The best way to season your cast-iron pan is to apply a thin coat of vegetable oil over the surface and place the pan, inverted, in a 350° oven for an hour.
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Let it cool
Really, you should never take any pan straight from the stovetop or oven into the sink. Pouring cold water onto a hot pan can cause it to warp, but it will definitely lead to a cracked cast-iron pan. Protect your investment by letting the pan cool before cleaning it. Next up: Learn about the 10 items in your kitchen that could be worth major money.
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Move it with care
Cast-iron pans are heavy, so be careful when you’re moving them around! Although they’re made from some heavy-duty materials, tossing these pans around can lead to chips and cracks. You’ll also want to take care when moving it around on an electric or glass cooktop, as the weight can shift the elements or damage the range’s surface. Bothered by the weight? Try a mini cast iron instead. You’ll be surprised by how versatile these babies are.
Avoid acidic ingredients
America’s Test Kitchen recently debunked the long-standing myth that you can’t cook acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) in your cast iron, but you still don’t really want to. It won’t harm your pans, but it can cause metallic flavors to seep into your food. If you’re going to cook a spaghetti bolognese, use an enameled cast iron pan instead.
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Be careful when using metal utensils
You don’t need to baby your cast iron like they have nonstick coatings, and you can absolutely use metal spatulas while cooking in one. Just take more care than you would as compared to stainless steel pans. It is possible to scrape off the seasoning. Confused about nonstick pans? Check out our buying guide what’s the right fit for you.
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Protect your hands (and your table, too!)
Cast iron handles get hot, and the bottom stays warm long after it leaves the oven. Make sure you’re using oven mitts when handling your cast iron, and always place them onto a trivet when bringing them to the table. Luckily, we know of a few cast-iron accessories that will help with this!