The 5 Best Lessons We Learned About Cast Iron In 2021

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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Brett Regot

You never stop learning when you have a cast iron skillet. You learn what works for you and your beloved pan. You learn how to clean it, how to season it, the best things to make in it, etc. We’ve sworn by cast iron skillets for decades and we’re still learning about it. These are the five biggest lessons we learned this year.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Grapeseed oil is great for seasoning.

The internet is overflowing with somewhat conflicting advice about the best stuff to use when seasoning a cast iron skillet. Some folks will say to use vegetable oil or canola oil. Others will say coconut oil. Or flaxseed oil, or lard! Or just cook up some bacon or fry some chicken in Crisco. Which is best? All of the above will work totally fine, but we seasoned five different cast iron skillets with five different oils and ended up loving the grapeseed oil. Not only is the price right, but it’s also a super-versatile cooking oil, which means you won’t end up wasting it.

It resulted in an incredibly smooth surface that was quite nonstick right from the get-go. And the grapeseed-seasoned skillet has only gotten darker with each use. Durable, cheap, versatile, easy to find at any grocery store. What’s not to love?

Read more: We Seasoned Cast Iron Skillets with 5 Different Oils and Have a New Favorite

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

2. Cast iron can handle acidic ingredients.

A lot of people will tell you that you can’t use cast iron skillets to cook acidic foods, like tomatoes or vinegar. One of our writers followed this rule faithfully for years, until she chatted with Stephen McClellan, the head cast iron fabricator for Smithey. He advised against cooking acidic or delicate items in new and under-seasoned pans, but gave the green light for well-seasoned, aged pans. If your pan has an even, quality seasoning, you can cook whatever you want in it.

Read more: The 5 Surprising Things I’ve Learned as a Pro Cook About Cast Iron Cookware

3. The perfect cast iron scrub brush does exist.

We tested a bunch of tools for cleaning cast iron and this came out on top as our favorite brush. Here’s why: The handle makes it comfortable to hold and keeps hands out of the hot water. The bristles are sturdy and stiff, so they easily scrape up stuck-on gunk. And because it’s narrow, it really fits into the corners of the pan. The bristles are arranged in little clusters, which make scrubbing grill pans even easier because the clusters can effectively get into the grooves. Plus, it has a plastic scraper at the end to chisel off the toughest stuff!

Read more: I Tried a Bunch of Scrubbers for My Cast Iron Skillet — And There Were 2 Clear Winners

4. Your cast iron skillet needs a lid.

Turns out, your cast iron skillet needs a friend. And that friend should be a lid. When steaming, a good lid will retain heat, ensuring things cook evenly. It’ll contain messes, too, making sure anything that’s simmering stays in the skillet and off the stovetop. And after cooking, it keeps things warm. A lid’s helpful for fried eggs, too, as covering them, even for a short while, prevents undercooked whites. 

Read more: Your Cast Iron Skillet Needs a Lid — Here’s Why, and Which One to Get

5. The best thing you can do for your cast iron skillet is use it!

Every time you use your cast iron skillet, you’ll be building on its seasoning, making it more nonstick and impervious to rust with each use. Those glossy, black, perfectly seasoned skillets of yesteryear? They’re that way because they were used every day for just about everything. The point? Don’t let it linger in the cupboard forever because you’re afraid to use it. Give it a good workout on a regular basis, and it’ll be more likely to remain in tip-top shape.

Read more: 5 Mistakes You’re Making When Storing Your Cast Iron Skillet

Did you learn any lessons about cast iron this year? Tell us in the comments below!