I’ve been cooking with my cast iron skillet for about a year now. I must say that when I added this old fashioned pan alongside my sourdough starter, I kinda felt like my farmhouse kitchen took a step back in time! Those two items work quite well together. There’s nothing like sourdough pancakes or sourdough peanut butter crepes sizzling on the cast iron skillet in the morning. I even cook up a large batch of sourdough tortillas on the skillet once a week too!
As you can see, I use my cast iron quite a bit, but I’ll have to be honest…I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Cooking on this kind of surface is a learning curve!
I wanted to share a few of the mistakes I’ve made with my cast iron so that you may (hopefully) avoid some of them! At first it may seem as though these pans are much more work than other options, but trust me when I say that once you season them correctly and learn to wash them properly, they are very easy to manage.
Cooking with cast iron is a skill that must be learned through trial. Seasoning, washing, temperature regulation, cooking, baking…there’s a lot that goes into it all! I know from experience that it can seem quite overwhelming at first, but trust me when I say that it won’t always be like that! I made many, many mistakes as I learned to cook with cast iron, so I wanted to share them with you now. Hopefully you can learn from my experiences and avoid a few of these in the future. Read along if you’d like to know why I chose cast iron, the mistakes I’ve made with it, and a few tips for mastering these pans.
Why Cast Iron
- Many other ‘non-stick’ pans are covered in a coating full of a carcinogenic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid that will leech into the food during use and fill the air with toxic fumes. That’s not what I want! This health concern is what drew me towards cast iron because it is chemical free.
- I also heard a lot of testimonies raving about how much better food cooks on cast iron than other pans. I won’t pretend to understand all the science behind this point, but, after months of use, I must say it is true! Something about this cooking surface makes potatoes crispier, eggs more tasteful, meat juicier, and so on.
Cast Iron Mistakes to Avoid
You Don’t Understand the Seasoning Process
Each cast iron piece must go through a seasoning process in order to become a non-stick surface. This is a layer of polymerized oil that has been baked onto the surface. This seasoning releases food easily, makes clean up quick, and avoids rusting.
Some cast iron comes ‘pre-seasoned’, but I recommend going through the process anyway in order to gain experience and apply a better layer of seasoning.
Adding a layer of oil to your cast iron is not enough to gain a proper seasoning and will result in more headaches than anything! Seasoning involves a chemical reaction through high heat.
Here’s how to properly seasoning cast iron:
- Apply a thin layer of oil (I recommend coconut or olive oil) to the entire pan (inside, outside, and the handle too).
- Place the pan upside-down in a 400 degree oven for one hour.
- Turn the oven off, allow the pan to cool upside-down, and repeat the process 3-4 more times.
Seasoning the Skillet With too Much Oil
This is one of the first mistakes I made while I was preparing my skillet for use. Each cast iron item must go through a seasoning process in order to create the non-stick barrier. I won’t go into detail about this here, but the basic idea is that a layer of oil should be added all over the skillet and the whole thing baked at a very high temperature for an hour. This should be repeated 3-4 times.
Anyway, I soon found that spots on my skillet came out goopy and really sticky. On top of that, food still stuck to it even after the seasoning process! I did a bit of research into what I did wrong and found that I probably used too much oil when I seasoned the skillet.
Just cover the whole skillet in a light coat of oil. Enough to shine it up, but not enough to pool.
Not Allowing Time for the Pan to Heat Up
I used to turn the burner on and throw the food on the skillet while it was still cold. I obviously didn’t realize it at the time, but cast iron needs time to heat up before adding any food to it. This will prevent any cold spots and create a non-stick sear.
Simply turn the burner on and allow the skillet to warm before adding food. I usually wait about 5 minutes and throw the food on once I feel heat when I place my hand a few inches above the pan.
Not Cleaning the Pan Quickly Enough
Cast iron is a little tricky to clean once the pan has cooled with food residue still sitting on it. I made the mistake of not cleaning my skillet until after dinner was over and the pan was totally cool.
It is best and easiest to clean skillet while it is still warm. The food will simply wipe away if the pan is properly seasoned.
Soaking the Pan in Water
Cast iron is prone to rust, so keeping it out of water as much as possible is ideal! Just wipe away any residue while the pan is still hot and dry immediately. A well-seasoned pan shouldn’t need much scrubbing, but for stubborn spots use a little soap and sponge.
You Never Use Soap
I was told that cast iron and soap could never go together under any circumstances. And while I agree that proper care is important, I’ve also found that a little soap on spots that just won’t clean easily doesn’t hurt it at all.
Keep in mind that a lot of soap and scrubbing can rid your pan of the seasoning layer. Repeat the seasoning process if the cast iron appears dull after cleaning.
Cooking with your cast iron skillet wears down the layer of seasoning with each use, but re-seasoning helps build it back up. I like to do this by rubbing the inside down with a layer of oil after cooking and cleaning it out. Then I know it’ll be ready for the next meal!
You can also repeat the entire seasoning process every once in awhile, but I find that I prefer ‘seasoning’ it again after each use.
You’re Not Using the Pan Enough
Cast iron performs better with each use because the seasoning has a chance to build over time. I made the mistake of letting my skillet sit for awhile because I couldn’t master cooking with it.
Don’t become scared and give up on using these pans like I did. Keep working with them, re-season as many times as needed, and you’ll get it before you know it!
This metal is extremely efficient at conducting heat. It can become hotter then other pans you may be used to. Start with a lower temperature than you normally would in order to adjust to the heat level of cast iron. This may be a solution to your food sticking!