10 Things to Know About Your New Cast Iron Skillet

updated Dec 9, 2020
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

We strongly believe that a cast iron skillet is a Kitchn Essential for any home cook. Half workhorse and half badge of honor, it’s a classic piece that’s just as handy for dinner as it is breakfast. If you’ve just bought or been gifted your first cast iron, congrats!

Before you use it, read through these tips and no one will find out that you’re a rookie.

(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

1. It’s totally fine to use soap on it!

Many cast iron purists will argue that you should never use soap on the pan. Instead, they say to simply wipe it clean using water and maybe a soft scrub brush and some coarse salt. Here at Kitchn, we actually argue that soap is totally fine to use once in a while! And that you should definitely use soap to wash the pan before you use it the first time (you never know what happened to it before you got it!). Just be sure to read this first.

(Image credit: Gina Eykemans)

2. Seasoning cast iron isn’t that complicated.

Classic cast iron skillets need to be seasoned before you can use them. (This is what makes them nonstick!). But many cast iron skillets come “pre-seasoned” now, with the hardest part done for you. Beyond that, the key really is just using the pan. (The more you use it, the more the seasoning can build up.) And then oiling it after you wash it out. People are often intimated by the idea of seasoning cast iron, but it’s not that hard. Promise.

3. Cast iron can be used on all heat sources.

You can use a cast iron skillet on the stovetop (whether it’s electric, gas, or induction), oven, grill, or even over a campfire.

4. Cast iron holds in heat.

Cast iron doesn’t heat up incredibly quickly (you’ll want to pre-heat it for longer than you would with other pans), but once it does heat up, it gets hot and stays hot! This includes the handle, so be sure to wear an oven mitt! Once you’ve finished cooking, it will stay hot for a while. Use caution! And a trivet.

5. You should use caution when cooking with acidic foods.

Foods like tomatoes, citrus, or beans can be tough on a cast iron skillet if it’s not thoroughly seasoned, as the acid can strip off light seasoning and lead to discoloration and metallic-tasting food. This isn’t to say you can’t cook with acidic foods in your cast iron skillet, you just need to make sure your seasoning is built up well before you dump in that can of crushed tomatoes.

6. You should never let it soak.

Despite its tough exterior, cast iron is actually a porous surface susceptible to rust. This means you should never let it soak. And you need to make sure it’s dry before you store it.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

7. You should heat your pan slowly.

Your cast iron skillet will work best when it slowly heats up on a moderate heat and stays warm. Heating it up on too high a setting can make food stick or burn because the heat is conducted so efficiently.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Stack it carefully when you put it away.

If you’re stacking your cast iron skillet in a cabinet with other cookware, place a paper towel between it and other cookware to avoid ruining the finish.

(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

9. You can almost always save a rusty cast iron skillet.

Let’s say someone in your household didn’t read this story and you wake up one morning to find that your skillet has been soaking over night. And now it’s rusty. Don’t worry (or get too upset with anyone) — it can most likely be salvaged.

10. It should last forever.

With proper care, a cast iron skillet can last decades, and many believe that these skillets get better with age and natural seasoning.

Using Your Cast Iron Skillet

Did you just get a cast iron skillet over the holidays? What will be the first thing you make in it?