There are so many benefits to cooking with cast iron – especially if you’re a prepper or homesteader. No matter how many different types of cookware litter your kitchen, there’s a good chance that cast iron is the most precious piece of equipment you own!
Unfortunately, there’s also a good chance that you’re committing one of many egregious mistakes that can be made when you are cooking with cast iron.
Here are some of the most common cast iron cooking mistakes you might be making – and why you should stop making them as soon as you can.
Not Seasoning Correctly – Or At All
The most common mistake that people make when using their cast iron pans is failing to season their pans correctly (or at all).
Just dabbing the surface of the pan with oil won’t do.
You need to apply a thin coat of oil to the pan, both the inside, outside, and even the handle, and then flip it upside down before putting it in the oven.
Bake it at 350 degrees for one hour. Turn off the oven, then let it cool.
Avoiding Acidic Foods
There’s a myth out there that acidic foods need to be avoided when it comes to cast iron cooking. That’s not the case.
Feel free to use your cast iron pans for chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmesan, or whatever else you might be craving. The key here is to keep the cooking time short, and if there’s any discoloration after cooking, just give the pan a quick scrub with baking soda.
Don’t worry about the conception that acidic foods will cause iron to leach into your food. It’s true that this happens – but it’s a good thing. Your body will benefit from the added iron in your diet!
Not Cleaning It Properly
A cast iron pan is a finicky beast when it comes to clean-up time, but you don’t have to be so afraid of cleaning it that you never do!
Cast iron, contrary to popular belief, can handle a little bit of soap.
While it’s better to clean the pan by rinsing with warm water and baking soda (and a quick scrub with a nylon brush) after each use, there are some messy situations in which only sudsy water will do.
Just remember that water causes cast iron to rust, so you should never soak it, or worse, put it in the dishwasher. Allow it to dry completely before you store it, too.
You should also avoid using harsh chemicals, like scouring powder or oven cleaner, to clean your pan. A bit of baking soda, salt, or mild dish soap are all you need.
Related: Baking Soda – 112 Uses (WWII Series)
Using It For Seafood
Okay, so you can use your cast iron pan for fish – but we don’t recommend it.
Fish and seafood produce lingering odors that can linger inside your cast iron pan long after Fish Fry Friday. You’ll notice the flavors in any dish you cook thereafter.
Now, if you have a pan that you want to dedicate exclusively to salmon or sole, that’s fine – just keep in mind that the fishy flavors will hang on for quite some time, no matter how well you clean or season your pan.
Overheating The Pan
Cast iron is great when it comes to conducting heat. In fact, it’s one of the most efficient materials you can use.
While it takes a while to heat up – again, preheating is essential – it can get too hot for certain types of food.
How will you know that your pan is too hot?
Don’t worry – you’ll notice the smoke!
Use a lower heat setting than you usually do for your favorite recipes to prevent overheating, and if you notice smoke, turn off the heat and let the pan cool a bit before you continue.
Seasoning Only Once
Seasoning is important – but it’s even more important that you don’t do it just once.
Try to make a habit of seasoning your pan on a regular basis. Remember that every time you use your pan, you’re wearing some of the seasoning down. Do this too many times, and the pan won’t cook as well as it used to.
Whenever you see dull spots, it’s time to reseason – but it doesn’t hurt to season each and every time you use your pan, either!
Saving Leftovers In It
We get it – you want to ditch the plastic storage containers when it comes to stashing leftovers.
However, keeping your leftovers in the cast iron pan is not a good idea, even if you stash it in the refrigerator.
Not only will it fail to keep your leftovers fresh, but any lingering moisture and acidity in your pan will cause the pan to rust prematurely.
Related: How to Can Your Leftover Turkey
Skipping the Pre-Heat Process
Preheating is an essential step when it comes to cast iron cooking, especially if you want the pan to heat up relatively evenly. Give it at least five minutes to warm up before you put food in the pan.
Using the Wrong Tools
There’s another myth when it comes to cast iron cooking – and that has to do with using metal tools in your pan. Go ahead and use the metal spatula.
It will actually work better when you’re trying to cook delicate foods that require a sturdy utensil, like eggs.
Throwing Out A Rusty Pan
…and if it does rust? Don’t panic.
While you should take great pains to prevent your cast iron pan from getting rusty, if it does happen to build up a bit of rust, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just going to require more elbow grease to get rid of it!
If your cast iron pan is looking a little rusty, just put it on a burner over low heat. Pour some vegetable oil into the pan, just enough to cover the bottom by about a quarter of an inch, then add a handful of salt. Scrub with a large bundle of paper towels. Rinse the pan under warm water and repeat until you’ve removed all lingering traces of rust.
Related: How To Restore A Cast Iron You Bought At Garage Sales
The Biggest Cast Iron Cooking Mistake? Not Using It Enough
Out of all of the mistakes you can make with cast iron, there is one mistake that reigns supreme – not using it enough.
That’s not just because cast iron is the best possible material to cook with (although that’s a big reason, for sure!). It’s also because the more often you use your cast iron cookware, the better it will perform. Every use will wear down your seasoning, but it will also add a new molecule of polymerized oil, which will help the pan develop a darker, shinier finish.
The result? A more attractive appearance, a hardier performance – and even better-tasting food.
So don’t leave that cast iron locked away in the cupboard just because you’re worried about making a mistake here or there. Instead, consider these tips and start cooking with cast iron tonight.
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Man I love my cast iron skillets.
Have some from my family. Very old passed down to me by my great grandma and grandma long ago. Mom just passed and got one of her really old skillet from her.
Was part of a very tiny inheritance. Sister stoled the rest. She is a thef and a demon…
I don’t let my wife cook with them. She dose not know how to use them. She says they suck, to hard to use and tells me I’m an a-hole because I bitch every time she misses with them…
Some are well over 150 yrs old or older.
If you buy one just make sure that it is not a cheap one. Only made in USA.
They sill cook better then anything I’ve ever cooked in. Sad no one wants them to use when I die. I have lids and pots and small to very large and deep for frying food. Flat top grill. You lay it down on the old wood stove and cook on it. Like a grill, but much older. Love all of them.
Yes I take very good care of them, just like I was thought to do so and my knifes that have been passed down to me.
Remember the love that was cooked in them way long ago is still there today. That’s why the food taste better cooked in them.
Take good care of them they will in return take good care of you and your family.
I’ll use them when your gone. I completely understand what you are saying!!!! People laugh at me when I talk about my pots and pans!!!
My husband melted a polyester towel to the inside of my best cast iron skillet. Any tips or tricks to get it off?
You will NEVER get the poison out of the pan! NEVER use it again!!!
I melted a plastic spatula in one of my pans. Even after putting it in the oven on the “clean” setting, the smell never came out. It got the melted plastic off, but once the chemicals are in the pores of the iron, it never comes out.
It’s just a planter now!
We bought some cast iron pans at the 127 World’s Longest Yard Sale. And boy, some were horribly rusted or had fused leftover food in them (!) My hubby took them to the barn and sandblasted them. They came out like brand new, never seasoned. That was my job and I slowly seasoned them with light layer of oil in a low oven. Took 3 times for some of them. But now? Great shape! Sandblasting should get rid of the towel easily. Just don’t wait to season them; even overnight they will be badly rusted.
Very well said….you are not alone.
I love my cast iron cookware, too! Don’t mess with them either. You just might get hit over the head with a frying pan. LOL Nothing cooks like cast iron. I do have a skillet dedicated to cornbread. That’s all that’s ever cooked did in it.
Wife and I have several that are 170 plus years old and we use them. Easily nice enough to be museum pieces. They were meant to be used and we do. Wife loves them. Our posnet (spider skillet) is so smooth, eggs slide out of it.
We also have some Finex made in Portland, OR that is excellent. These will all last 2 centuries or more if cared for and can be used on wood stoves, gas ranges, electric ranges, open fires etc. Most versatile, user friendly stuff out there.
I will send you our address and you can put us in your will, LOL, they would be loved!!!
Ya I guess I will have them melted down and make a cast iron pot to put my ashes in.
My kid says why cook, just go out and buy some food.
This is what I say. $:%%#:&*_&::##’:;;;;;;;#!=!-#&€££(&:-#; kiss my butt then…
Not to many have a love for cast iorn. Something you have to grow up with.
I love to read the post about how they got to have such a precious pices iorn…
Thanks to y’all. Keep your iron hot.
I buy them every time I find them at a Garage sale or Flea market Even though I have to clean them up Cast iron skillets is the only way to go.
I take care of my pans. A low rimmed pan has come down from a gr gr grandma that died before my grandma was married in 1898. Many of her things were given to my grandparents when they married.
I have 12qt Duchoven I bought at a fleamarket for $11. It needs cleaned up and reseasoned. I have a 10″ skillet I paid $1 for at a storage sale. It’s ready to be reseasoned. I have plenty but have a soft spot for good cast iron cookware. For just two of us I don’t need more, but if i see it cheap I’ll still pick it up.
I have an enaneled cast-iron 12″ skillet with ruined enamel inside. I plan to chip and sand it till its cleaned out inside. I’ll keep the pretty outside. A friend’s roof leaked into that skillet and regularly froze. A group of us spent a week repairing his home. A few months later the roof caught fire from hot ashes. If it doesn’t clean up to my liking it will be a wall decoration. I have the matching 10″ skillet. They were left in the ashes after his home burned down. He’s moved in with a grown son. Those I’ll keep. Others I pick up are often gifts to younger folks who’ll appreciate them. Often with an older scratch cooking cookbook.
All six of us love cast iron. My mom made the best food in them taught us how to cook in them and how to clean and season. We have one that has to weight a good five/ten pounds hard to lift doesn’t fit on just one burner or in the sink… I believe it was make for a camp fire to cook for lots of people… the food that comes out of that pan oh my
You can will them to me.
Years ago, my wife and I took a 6-week camping trip through Canada. My buddy and his “lady” stayed at our rural home while we were gone.
When we got back, the “lady” told me she had spent the better part of a day scrubbing those “grungy old black pans”.
Those cast iron skillets were from my grandmother and are now 120+ years old. They were all well seasoned and a joy to use. My wife realized I was in a killing mode and quickly stepped between us. Man…was I mad! I took me a long time to get them back in shape, but never back to the original condition.
Still the best way to cook.
Man I would of been so mad to. I know what you mean about the good old burnt crusty stuff that forms on the out side and in the skillet. I have some so thick with that on the out side that it looks like I sat it in a grease pit. But that is nothing but pure love from the cooks that new how to use and keep cast iron.
So sorry to hear that some one was so nice as to clean up all that old cast iron for you…
Hey did you invite them back to watch your place.
huskerbob, I feel sorry for you buddy.
Teach you kids how to use them and then pass them to them.
Good article, thanks, Rebekah! Five adults in this family and all five of us use cast iron almost daily. I grew up with it and have continued to use it to this day. Can’t beat it for braising and then slow cooking meats. A big cornpone turns out with a delicious thick crust on the bottom in a preheated cast iron skillet. One note I might add for cleaning. Cooking some rich foods, especially wild duck or seafood, will leave a bit of flavor in the iron which will not taste or smell very appetizing if you cook a cake in the same pan. I have always used hot water and soap after each use. After cooking strong foods I also will fill the pan or pot about half full with water and bring it to a slow boil for a few minutes, This will draw the oils and spics out of the iron which can be rinsed out with hot tap water before it cools, leaving it fresh and ready for the next dish. Make note though, after boiling you must dry the iron out completely in a hot oven or on the stove top burner, and do NOT forget to immediately season the pot well with a light rubbed on coating of corn oil. If you wait even a few minutes after drying to oil it down it will visibly begin to rust. If by chance you decide to purchase your first cast iron cookware, buy Lodge brand. Tried and true for the last 125 years. Le Creuset is also a good product but overpriced.
Use a product called evaporust, l get it at tractor supply co. Works great for the rust, and it is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Also visit the lodge website and sign up for their email alerts.You will have the opportunity to buy their items before they go on sale to anyone else. Lodge is the last of a dying breed,. USA and small family owned. Please support them all that you can. Also they usually have free shipping on orders over $49.00 that is great!!! When you consider the weight of cast iron, and remember that you are buying these as a once in a lifetime investment.
I hate to disagree. Lodge was good, many moons ago, but Lodge is junk now! Thin, very poor castings, and I’ve even seen some on the store shelves with voids in them. It’s nothing but enemy chinese substandard junk!
If you’re going to spend the money get used Wagner, or Griswold.
If they’re rusty & crusty, put them in the oven on the “Clean” setting. They’ll come out a nice virgin gray with a little bit of ash, which is easily removed. All ready for seasoning and constant use!
And NEVER use plastic utensils. If you forget and leave them in to melt, you will NEVER get the plastic poison out of the pan……………….It’s just a planter now!
Le Creuset is great! You can soften the impact at the cash register buy going to a factory store. Usually aground the Fall, you can also find them at some of the off price stores. I have about 10 pieces of Lodge and 6 pieces of LeCreuset and I love each piece! It is not recommended to use LeCreuset in outdoor settings such as on the bar-b-que or camp fire. Leave that to Lodge. But it’s a wonder in the oven or on the stove top, especially for a busy family, who needs to be rounded up at dinner time as the food stays nice and hot!
I am new at using cast iron. It was never used as I was growing up, so I have zero experience. I have some old cast iron pans that I got on ebay. They are lovely and smooth. I recently ordered a Lodge Dutch oven with a domed lid. The inside may be “pre-seasoned” but it is incredibly rough. What’s the deal? I was also gifted a lovely one with enamel inside, but that one is very rough also. Is there some way to remedy this? After seasoning them both several times there a nightmare to cook with. Help!
Lodge are rough because the factory does not mill them smooth like Griswold & Wagner do. I always buy used cast iron on Ebay from these two companies only. I never liked Lodge because of its roughness.
If the enameled pan is used, then it is rough because the enamel is coming off. If new, it is of poor quality if it is rough. Check out Le Creuset cookware to see what quality enameled cast iron should look like.
Also, don’t overheat cast iron. I rarely ever go above med. heat on my gas stove when using cast iron. Take your time, it’s not a microwave, dontchaknow.
Hope this helps.
See if you can find a shop that will use a small grinder with some 80 grit disc. Ask if they will grind it down and them smooth it up and then get a small can of lard. Not Crisco. But lard melt it down and let it cool and do it again that will give you a real good pan to use. But remember time and being used is the true way to get a perfectly seasoned pan or pot.
One more thing don’t grind to much.
This will help you if you do it and find someone that can do it with out messing it up.
Good luck. 🍳
For a pan my wife rusted, I used a bead blaster with very low pressure and it worked beautifully. Then season a few times. A better option is using a soft wire cup wheel. With gentle handling, it will polish and clean the pan. I believe sandpaper introduces the chemicals (glues & such) holding it together and embeds them in the pan. I won’t use anything I’m not willing to ingest.
Excellent review of the Iron Pan…. Pretty much the same information is applicable to Dutch Ovens as well. We have two that are cast iron and have treated them the same way as the skillets and get the same results though they aren’t used on the stovetop (legs you know).
I do take a bit of difference on the point of using them with acidic foods. Perhaps it’s just that I’m sensitive to the flavor iron imparts to the cooked food. And YES I don’t care for liver either as it has a profoundly metallic taste to me no matter how I cook it in a iron skillet or any other treated, aluminum, stainless or enameled cookware…
With respect to rehabbing crusty, rusty iron… We have a friend that haunts flea markets for old iron. He takes it home and rehabs it including preseasoning the articles, and then resells it at a substantial profit.
Thank YOU for the time and effort that you put into your site. It is among the best of its type that is out there.
For heavy duty cleaning of a rusted cast iron pot, you can buy a stainless steel scouring pad that looks like a square of chain mail. It does a very effective job of cleaning up rust or really caked on crud from a neglected c.i. pot or frying pan.
This was a good article and I hope lots of readers find it helpful.
I am going to print it out, laminate it and put it with my c.i. pots and pans so that when I go whoever gets them will have this valuable info to know how to take care of my treasures.
LCC – Gee, I just did the same thing! In the age of COVID we have to keep our affairs in order! My son keeps asking if I’d like to part with one, and I say no. First he has to learn how to cook. Then he needs to learn how to take good care of the cookware! Right now, his only interest is in the eating! Good thing that is usually the best place to start!
I have a leaven cast iron pans even a cast iron pot for cooking my beans in. I’ve been using his parents for over 50 years good. I can pick out any pain right now so I’ll take a little butter throw in an egg it will never stick. They are the best nonstick pans I have. In the family cooking they are my children I take very well care of them. You’re good to them they’ll be good to you.
Homemade buttermilk biscuits from scratch are fantastic when baked in a cast iron skillet. The crisp bottoms and tender inside are over-the-top delicious! My Aunt Gladys was famous in our family for her scratch biscuits. Lord, how I miss her amazing, Southern cooking! I believe she could cook an ole shoe and make it extra tasty! (don’t try that though!).
If stuff sticks to your pan, deglaze it. Pour a bit (1-2 oz) of cool liquid into hot pan and get after the stuck bits with a spatula. No more scrubbing off burnt bits. If the stuck bits are not burnt and you used something tasty like wine, stock, to deglaze, you’ve got a tasty pan sauce.
I used a deep iron fry pan for years, never washed it but wiped it out with a cloth or paper towel. It formed a crust on the exterior my mother-in-law wanted to take a knife to it and I was glad I saw it and stopped her..NO, NO that is supposed to be there! I made lots of chili with kidney beans and sometimes “eat-more” with noodles instead, I never used anything but meat grease to heat it for conditioning. Now I had a big oblong pan made from cast iron from the Standard Oil Refinery, It would hold a dozen trout or a big bunch of pancakes and scrambled eggs for all the folks on a fishing trip. It was always cleaned with sand from the creek.
My kids all grew up cooking with cast-iron and know how to clean or reseason it. A print out is a good idea. My younger grandson will be getting some of my cast-iron one of these days. The grown kids will all get some pieces.
When I want to cook fish or strong flavored foods like duck, I use some 1950s cast aluminum or heavy stainless steel. They dont pick up the scents or flavors. And are heavy and cook as well as the cast-iron. A 10″ cast-iron skillet is my cornbread pan. Sometimes it doubles as a cake pan for pineapple upside down cake.
Cast-iron feeds us nearly every meal. I enjoy the griddles, dutchovens, pots, skillets, and glad for matching lids for many pieces. I live cooking on an open fire and cast-iron is perfect for that.
Instead of seasoning in the oven. Use your gas grill.
No smoky house, and no angry spouse.
I’m going to have to try this one. I first seasoned the pans in the oven for hours & ended up with rusty pans and a pile of rust in the oven. I rubbed them down with vegggie oil inside & out. Later I tried the method of turning them upside down in the oven. What a mess, they came out of the oven all sticky & spottie! I have a glass top stove so I can’t season on it but gas grill soulnds great. Wish me luck! Thanks!
If you’re getting smoke from seasoning, then the heat is way too high and you’re burning the oils out of the pan. Use low to moderate heat to season. You want the oils to seep into the pores of the iron.
The only time I use high heat is when blackening seafood, always outside. I re-season afterward.
I also avoid the use of Pam type sprays. When they first came out, I used it in a well seasoned pan. After several uses, it seemed to make the skillet sticky and gummy. After cleaning with salt and baking soda utilizing a nylon scrubbing sponge, the pan was clean. Never used Pam again in my cast iron pans.
All my pans are well over 50 years old and I love them. The are an essential part of life in my book!
Vinegar is my rust killer secret garage sale rusty pans overnight vinagarzsoak bingo,handels,ect wrap in paper towel soak it withe vinagar,easy clean up in the morning season,good to go
The longer I use my pans, it seems the heavier they get. But when I use any other, feels like I’m cooking on tinfoil and no stability. I figure I’m over-seasoning them since I retired, that’s why they’re getting so heavy. (LOL)
Every year at Boy Scout Camp, we would take all the cast iron out of storage and burn them out on a nice low flaming fire. It worked every time. Then we would load them up in the Ranger’s pickup and take them to the dining hall kitchen to season them in the ovens. Unfortunately, someone got an Aluminum Dutch Oven for the Camp and as I was taking inventory of the Quartermaster Shop, one of the young staff members threw that on the fire, too. It was badly melted and the staff member called to other members to watch the thing melt! It turned into one shiny blob. Oh well, such is life. Boys will be boys.
I still do a burn out with my cast iron if they get grungy or rusty in storage. We got a really nice Griswold pan at a rummage for $5 because it was the epitome of grunge. It burned out perfectly and now we have a gorgeous pan to use out over the fire in our firepit.
Loved this article and all the replies – good stuff! I’m 67 years young and have been cooking on cast iron for over 50 years – and IMHO there’s nothing out there can hold a candle to it. I laugh at all the “info-mercials” on TV for “green-this” or “orange-that” space age non-stick fry pans – you just can’t beat an old, well-seasoned, well-used (and that was an important point brought out – if you got’em, use-em!) cast iron skillet for cooking. Nice to see there’s still a few of us out there that really appreciate them!
When I entered the family in 1968 my husband’s Aunt Laverna was the first person I knew who used cast iron cookware. She had just about everything they sold in cast iron. She always uses soapy water to wash them. They were immediately placed in the oven upside down to dry with the pilot light on for heat. Nothing ever stuck in them and the outside was not crusted. When our house burned down I was given a small skillet that had been used upside down to bake a small piecrust on. The outsid was dlick but the inside crusted over. We baked it inside the wood stove and she had me use a sandstone to scrub it out. Showed me how to season it and it was like a new one. I’m 72 and can no longer use cast iron cookware. Loved the flavor of foods cooked in them. Best fried potatoes and onions in the world.
I love this, I was raised on cast iron cooking!
I love this I was raised on cast iron cooking!
I have a question for everyone who buys used from eBay, etc. I have celiacs disease (an inability to handle gluten containing products) which makes me horribly ill. Does cast iron retain the gluten molecule after cooking something like french toast or pancakes.
Can anyone explain the logic regarding putting the pan upside down in the oven when seasoning?
I too am a lover of cast iron. I inherited some but have bought others new. The newer American made casts are good quality but contrary to the manufacturer they are not pre seasoned. At least not properly. With new stuff I found that the cooking surfaces need to be sanded smooth and then properly seasoned. Knocking down that gritty surface really makes the difference.
You flip the pan over so any excess oil doesn’t puddle in the pan. We always dry our seasoned pans upside down in a warm oven until everything is bone dry and ready to go into their favorite safe place until time to cook with them again.