The 5 Biggest Things People Get Wrong About Cast Iron Cookware

updated Jul 30, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

There’s a lot of misinformation (and general strong opinions!) about cast iron cookware out there. Some people will tell you that you can’t cook tomatoes in a cast iron skillet (because your dinner will taste metallic, they’ll say). Some people will say you absolutely can not use soap to clean it (it will strip the seasoning, they’ll warn). And yet some people will say that tomatoes cook up just fine and you can absolutely use soap. Who is right? What can you not cook in cast iron? Can you use a metal spatula with cast iron?

We wanted to settle these debates (and more!) once and for all. So we consulted someone who’d really know: Mark Kelly, who spent his career as the public relations and advertising manager at Lodge.

Here are five myths Mark dispelled for us.

Myth #1: 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.

Related: How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Myth #2: 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 #3: Cast iron is ruined forever if it’s washed with soap.

This is probably the most controversial “rule” on this list. 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.

(Image credit: Erika Tracy)

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.

Read more: How To Restore a Rusty Cast Iron Skillet

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?