Cooking With a Cast-Iron Skillet: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Cooking With a Cast-Iron Skillet: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

by Sue Jones
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What about soap? Both VanTrece and McLellan say to skip it, since harsh soap can cause the pan’s seasoning to break down. Besides, if you follow McLellan’s method of putting your pan in a 500-degree oven after cooking, “that will kill anything on it,” he says.

What can you not put on a cast-iron skillet?

Acidic foods like tomatoes are generally a no-go for cast iron, especially in the beginning. You might want to think twice about foods that can leave aggressive lingering flavors too.

“Acidic sauces like tomato sauces loosen the seasoned bond that give your skillet its non-stick qualities,” VanTrece says. Cooking highly acidic foods for a while in a young pan may also cause tiny amounts of iron to leach into your food, giving it a weird metallic taste. (The amount of iron is so small that it’s very unlikely to be harmful to your health, however.) The better seasoned the pan, the less both of these concerns should be an issue—but you’ll still want to avoid simmering a tomato sauce in cast iron, for instance.

Foods with a super assertive taste or smell, like fish, can potentially be problematic too. “Each time the skillet is heated, the pores at the surface open up and allow fat and flavors to enter in,” Baron explains. Sear something like salmon for dinner, for instance, and you might notice a lingering seafood taste when you use your pan to make a chocolate chip skillet cookie the next day. That doesn’t mean you can’t cook stuff like fish in cast iron though. It just might be worth investing in a separate skillet that you use only for seafood, Baron adds.

When it comes to cooking utensils to steer clear of, you might be wondering if can you use metal on cast iron. Despite what you may have heard, the answer is yes. Cast iron is a very durable metal, and proper seasoning protects the pan’s surface from scratches. Feel free to use spoons and spatulas made of any material.

Why does everything stick to my cast-iron skillet?

If you’re dealing with a crusty, stuck-on mess every time you cook with a cast-iron skillet, that’s a sure sign it doesn’t have enough seasoning on it.

No need for intense troubleshooting here, thankfully. Sometimes the sticking issue means a pan wasn’t properly seasoned from the start. In that case, McLellan recommends reseasoning it and continuing to cook with it, adding a little bit of oil when you cook to keep the food from sticking.

The solution is the same if your pan was non-stick and isn’t performing as well now. Chances are it lost some of its seasoning in a too-heavy cleaning session, so just season it again.

How do I make my cast-iron skillet better?

The quality of cast iron increases over time with regular cooking and proper maintenance. Use your pan to cook on the regular, clean it properly after each use, reseason it at least two or three times a year, and be patient.

“Cast-iron skillets get so much better with age,” says McLellan. The more you cook with and season them, the more the seasoning layer builds up, and the better they perform. (You don’t necessarily have to use your pan every single day, but try to make it your go-to at least a couple times a week.)

Again, when it comes to helping your cast iron live its best life, time and repetition are key. “Keep using it, keep seasoning it, and it will get better,” says McLellan.


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