8 Cast Iron Sins You’ve Been Committing (and How to Fix Them)

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cast iron mistakes: cast iron skillet pizza
Katherine Gillen

It might weigh as much as a ton of bricks, but people are surprisingly precious with their cast iron. No metal utensils! Don’t cook tomato sauce in it! And god forbid a drop of dish soap would ever grace its surface. As it turns out, you don’t need to treat your skillet like a delicate flower—just follow a few easy guidelines and you’ll have that pan for decades to come. Here, eight cast iron mistakes you might be making—and how to fix them—so you can fry up some eggs (yep, really) and get on with your life.

Mistake #1: You’re Not Seasoning It Regularly

Seasoning is the be-all, end-all of cast iron. It’s essential for a slippery surface and what gives cast iron the ability to last for years without rusting. You should be doing this on a semi-regular basis and not just when you purchase a new cast iron pan. The process itself isn’t difficult, but it’s admittedly time consuming. You’ll need to buff a super-thin layer of neutral cooking oil onto the surface, then heat the pan for about an hour and repeat the process a few times until the surface is glossy, smooth and dry, and the oil has hardened and bonded to the metal. Any time the seasoning looks worn, add a new layer.

Mistake #2: You’re Not Washing It With Soap

FYI, cleaning your trusty cast iron skillet isn’t nearly as complicated as you’ve been led to believe. Naysayers will tell you that dish soap will remove the seasoning on your pan, but we can say from years of using this method that folks love to sensationalize. Soap is great at washing away grease and debris, but it’s not going to strip away the coating of seasoning that’s chemically bonded to your cast iron. Wondering how to best clean your cast iron? Here’s a guide.

Mistake #3: You’re Soaking It (Or Worse)

So you accidentally burned a few chicken thighs in your pan, and now there are crusted-on bits of skin that elbow grease won’t remove. NBD, you’ll just soak it, right? Well, no. Soaking a cast iron pan (or allowing it to remain wet, even for a short period of time) is a sure way to ruin the seasoning and cause it to rust. A better way to remove tough debris is to sprinkle the pan with coarse salt and use a soft sponge to gently scrub it away. Drying your pan ASAP will prevent the skillet from rusting, but if it does happen, don’t fret. Here’s how to salvage it.

Mistake #4: You’re Not Priming the Pan After You Use It

You’ve cooked your heart out and cleaned your cast iron—time to call it a night and stash that pan away. But before you do, consider taking out a little insurance policy on your skillet by priming it with oil for the next use. Think of this like a mini seasoning sesh: By giving the pan a thin coat of oil before storing it, you’ll protect it from wear and tear and ensure it’s ready to go the next time you want to use it. Just don’t overdo it with the oil or it will leave a sticky residue.

Mistake #5: You’re Still Avoiding Certain Foods

You’ve likely heard that cooking acidic foods in cast iron will cause an unwanted reaction with the metal—and this isn’t entirely untrue. But remember that layer of seasoning you painstakingly added? It’s protecting your pan from said reactions. You probably shouldn’t simmer a tomato sauce in cast iron for hours on end, but adding a splash of lemon to a pan sauce won’t hurt it.

Oh, and if it’s properly seasoned, you can even cook eggs in your cast iron pan. The trick is to use a medium-low heat and make sure it’s preheated beforehand (more on that in a sec).

Mistake #6: You’re Not Preheating It

Sure, cast iron might be great at retaining heat, but it takes a looong time to get there. If you don’t preheat your pan before using it, you’ll have a hard time cooking anything evenly or efficiently. Give the skillet a couple of minutes to get hot before you slap that chicken breast on its surface. You’ll be rewarded with a golden brown sear every time.

Mistake #7: You’re Avoiding Metal Utensils

Remember how we said your cast iron’s seasoning is more durable than you think? That applies to metal utensil use, too. With a nonstick pan, you’d avoid touching it with metal or anything abrasive to preserve the coating. But with well-seasoned cast iron, it’s very unlikely that you’d scrape off the surface with a metal spatula or spoon.

Mistake #8: You’re Storing Food in It

We love doing dishes, said no one ever. Life would be easy if we could make a batch of skillet macaroni and cheese and pop the leftovers straight into the fridge without transferring them to a storage container. But with cast iron, that’s asking for trouble. The moisture from your food will sit on the pan for far too long, plus, anything highly flavorful has the chance of imparting a funky taste into the pan. (And no one wants a skillet cookie that tastes like garlic.)


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...