8 Cast Iron Tips from a Cook Who Officially Ditched All of Her Nonstick Pans

updated Aug 24, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

A few years ago, Kendra Marshall (a mom of three and former school teacher in Crawford, NY) made it her mission to quit Teflon for good, choosing to forgo all nonstick stuff for cast iron instead. But what started as a casual goal turned into something way bigger than a hobby.

These days, Kendra has a collection of 50 unique pieces of cast iron cookware (and counting) and her favorites are vintage finds — scoured from yard sales and second-hand stores — which she restores until they’re good as new. In addition to her bourgeoning collection, Kendra also has a growing fan-base over on her Instagram page, @EveryDayCastIron, where fellow fanatics follow along. Fun fact: Every single thing she makes for her family is cooked in cast iron. (If that’s not commitment, we don’t know what is.)

Because we don’t think there’s anyone in the world who loves cast iron more than Kendra (this is open to discussion, though), we thought we’d ask her to share her top tips for cooking with this “precious metal.”

1. Get the nonstick pans out of the kitchen.

Yes, as in physically remove them! If you keep nonstick pans around, you are more likely to reach for them out of habit or because you feel nervous about trying something new. If they aren’t there to use, you can skip the Maybe I should just use it one last time, just for this one thing, and go right to grabbing a skillet.

2. Don’t cheap out when it comes to a cast iron pan.

You are choosing a piece of cookware that you can use every day for your entire life, so don’t just grab the cheapest one you see. Even just a few years ago, it was difficult to find quality cast iron cookware that wasn’t just geared towards outdoor cooking. But today there are so many options, ranging from big names who have adapted their products to be more kitchen-friendly to smaller foundries across the country. Look for a pan that is lightweight enough for you to use comfortably on a daily basis with a smooth interior to really maximize its nonstick qualities.

Related: The Very Best Cast Iron Skillets You Can Buy

3. Don’t forget to preheat your cast iron.

There is misconception that cast iron is great at conducting heat. It’s true that cast iron is great at retaining heat once it gets hot, but iron is actually a poor heat conductor. This is why, when you first put a skillet on the stove, it will heat very unevenly. Set it over low heat for a good five minutes before you are ready to start cooking in order to give the heat time to spread.

4. Make sure your pan is super hot before trying to flip food.

Certain foods will be more or less likely to stick to the pan, depending on the temperature you cook them at. If you throw a piece of light, flaky fish in a skillet over low heat, it’d better be swimming in butter if you want a chance of flipping it in one piece. However, if your skillet is nice and hot, the fish will create its own thin crust after a minute or two, making flipping a breeze.

5. Don’t sweat the seasoning part.

The number-one reason most people tell me they don’t use their cast iron is because they say they don’t know how to take care of it. There are lots of different opinions out there regarding washing and caring for cast iron, but at the end of the day, soap and water aren’t going to hurt your skillet. (Just be sure to dry it immediately to prevent rust.) I prefer to dry mine on the stove over low heat to make sure that all the water has evaporated. If it’s looking a little dull and in need of some extra care, while it’s still warm, I wipe it down with a tiny bit of oil. Don’t overdo it.

6. Use it to make lasagna.

Don’t worry if a recipe specifies a specific pan like a baking sheet or a 9×13-inch baking dish: Most recipes can be easily modified to either fit in a single skillet (or two, if you need more room). If you want to be very precise, you can break out the high school math equations to figure out the equivalent size, but most of the time you can totally just wing it. Sometimes making a round version of something people are used to seeing in a different shape, like lasagna, makes it more memorable and special.

7. Use it on more than just your stovetop.

One thing I love about a cast iron skillet is its versatility. Once you commit, you can do pretty much anything in cast iron. Not only can your skillet stand up to the heat of your stovetop, but it also is great inside the oven, on the grill, and over a campfire!

8. Practice, practice, practice.

The more you cook with cast iron, the more comfortable you will become with figuring out the best temperatures and modifications for your own kitchen, stove, and recipes. Don’t let one bad memory of scrubbing stuck-on scrambled eggs stop you from ever cooking eggs in cast iron again. Once you take the leap and commit to using cast iron in place of nonstick pans, you will find yourself wondering why you never made the switch sooner.

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