5 Myths of Cast Iron Cookware

Maker Tour

Do you dare to cook a tomato in a cast iron skillet? Will you ruin your skillet forever, or have the metallic-tasting death of your dinner dish on your hands? When it comes to cast iron cookware, what's true, and what's an empty threat?

Cast iron-loving cooks are quite opinionated on the dos and don'ts of keeping cookware in tip-top shape. We turned to Lodge to answer some of our questions. Discover the truth behind cast iron myths!

Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager at Lodge, sat down with me during my recent visit to tackle a few of cast iron's top myths.

Get the recipe pictured above: Gnocchi Skillet with Chicken Sausage & Tomatoes

5 Myths of Cast Iron Cookware

Here are five myths Mark dispelled for us.

Myth #1: You should only use nonstick utensils, not metal, when cooking with cast iron.

Not the case. "You can certainly use metal utensils, or any other tool for cooking, on cast iron cookware," Mark said. "Any possible scrapes on the seasoning will be quickly replenished with oils from food." Any particles removed from the use of metal utensils is most likely old fats and oils, not the underlying seasoning.

Myth #2: You should never cook tomatoes and other acidic foods in cast iron.

A well-seasoned pan can handle acidic foods with impunity. Mark does caution, though, against jumping into menu plans with tomatoes while using a newly purchased Lodge product. "If the seasoning is very good, you can prepare dishes with tomatoes and other acidic foods, but it’s best to wait until your piece is well-seasoned." Recipes including very acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus juices, should not be cooked in seasoned cast iron until the cookware is highly seasoned. The high acidity of these foods will strip the seasoning and result in discoloration and metallic-tasting food.

Myth #3: Cast iron is ruined forever if it’s washed with soap.

This Southern golden rule is pretty controversial. Official word straight from a fourth-generation cast iron manufacturer: soap will not ruin your pan. To be fair, your mother/spouse/dear friend may harbor bad feelings regardless.

If you do use soap, mild detergent is recommended, and the more important step is to dry and oil your cast iron immediately. (See our instructions here for the best way to dry cast iron.) Do steer clear of using the dishwasher, strong detergents, and metal scouring pads, which can indeed remove seasoning.

→ How to clean cast iron: How To Clean a Cast Iron Skillet

Myth #4: Rusted cast iron is ruined.

Kelly busts this myth without a doubt. "Fear not, cast iron can never be ruined. There are numerous ways to restore cast iron cookware." Let your guilt go, drag out your grandmother’s forgotten skillet (or someone else’s you found at the flea market), and check out our post on restoring rusted cast iron. Lodge’s video on the same subject should get you inspired too.

→ Do you have the right tools? The Best Tools for Cleaning Cast Iron Cookware

Myth #5: Cooking in cast iron will give you your daily amount of nutritional iron.

Research has shown an increased level of iron in foods cooked in cast iron cookware — especially high-acid foods that encourage the leaching of iron out of the pan, like applesauce, eggs, and tomato-based recipes. The greater the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it, the more iron is transferred.

However, it's very hard to measure the actual quantities of iron being transferred to your food, and a well-seasoned pan is less reactive to the acid in food (hence the acid in tomatoes becoming less of an issue as a piece becomes well-seasoned). So if you are using a well-seasoned pan, the iron in the pan is going to cross over less.

If you want more iron in your diet, it's best not to count on the skillet for anything more than trace amounts and instead eat more high-iron foods, like liver!

Are there any myths we didn't mention? Anything else you want to know about cast iron and its benefits?

(Image credits: Faith Durand; Erika Tracy)