Tips for Cooking With Cast Iron

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Cast Iron Cooking

Matt and I were laughing the other day about all the useless kitchen items we put on our wedding registry seven years ago, before we knew any better. Before we knew the health risks related to certain cookware. Before we realized we actually had to store it all.

We joked about covert trips to Bed Bath & Beyond to appeal to young couples doing wedding registries; we would urge them not to register for things like Teflon cookware, stacks of aluminum cookie sheets, a slew of plastic storage containers, and a crock full of plastic serving tools.

In the past few years we have discovered the wonderful joy of cooking with cast iron, along with all the health benefits associated with avoiding other modern cookwares. We drastically reduced the amount of cookware in our kitchen when we finally shed the expensive wedding set of Teflon pots and pans, and fully embraced a “cast iron cookware system” of sorts.

There are tricks to cooking with cast iron that don’t apply to other types of cookware. These tips helped us make cast iron a convenient part of our kitchen routines. Switching to cast iron takes getting used to, but the benefits are worth it. No questionable chemical coatings, and excellent performance make cast iron one of the best cookware options.

9  Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron

1. You don’t need a ton of pots and pans

When we moved earlier this year, we were determined to get rid of as much as possible. We paid special attention to which pots and pans we used most frequently. We had a hunch we could get rid of a few of these bulky kitchen items, freeing up space in the smaller kitchen we were moving into. Sure enough, there were 3 pieces of cast iron cookware we used for about 90% of our cooking. We got rid of all the rest (Teflon-coated…yuck!), and now use those 3 pans for most of our cooking, searing, sautéing, boiling, frying, and reheating needs. (We don’t own a microwave, so these pans are being used constantly.)

Cast Iron Cooking 2

Our 3 cast iron pieces are all second-hand. We purchased the 10-inch skillet for $9 on Craigs List. Matt found the 5-quart dutch oven for $5 at an estate sale. We found an enamel-coated Le Creuset saucepan on eBay for $12 and it’s my favorite. Very retro, very charming, but the best part is the low-maintenance enamel coating. (The cost of these 3 second-hand pieces is a far cry from the $400 set of Teflon-coated Calphalon pots/pans on our wedding registry!)

Note: These tips apply mostly to regular cast iron, as it requires a little awareness for its care and use.

2. Use healthy fats liberally with cast iron.

Start with a seasoned pan. (Learn how to correctly season your cast iron here.) You are always working toward maintaining a non-stick surface on your cast iron. After seasoning, the best way to maintain a good season is to always use ample fat. Butter, lard, coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil all provide a great non-stick surface and are healthy fat options.

3. Use stainless steel, wood, or bamboo utensils.

Have you ever smelled a plastic spatula when using it with a hot pan? This can’t be good. Cast iron gets very hot, and you don’t want plastic chemicals leaching into your food, so don’t use them. Use only stainless steel, wood, or bamboo utensils. I love that I can go to town flipping pancakes with my stainless spatula without worrying about scratches or non-stick coatings.

4. Protect your hands.

Cast iron handles get hot, so be sure to protect your hands. Get into the habit of using a towel or pot holder when handling hot pans. You can also make (or purchase) handle covers to save your delicate hands. Another option is to look for cast iron pans with protective wooden (or others types of) handles built in.

5. Never wash cast iron with soap.

This one was really difficult for me when we first began using cast iron. I wanted to scrub and wash with suds. I thought it was disgusting to use a dish and not put it away sparkling clean. (I can thank years of convincing dish soap commercials for that.) Cast iron only needs to be wiped clean or rinsed. But keep the soap away, it will ruin all the hard work you’ve invested in seasoning your pans. We rarely even rinse them, we just keep cooking on them time after time; it makes for a great non-stick season.

6. Stuck-on food can be easily remedied.

If something sticks in your pan and makes a mess, you can scrape the remains. I normally use a little plastic scraper that came with my stoneware baking pans. For the occasional tough mess, you can fill with water (just enough to cover the stuck-on food) and let it sit while you’re eating. Food should come off easily if the pan is correctly seasoned.

7. Dry pans on the stovetop.

Remember, when it comes to cast iron: MOISTURE = RUST! Don’t worry about drying a wet pan with a towel, just place the pan back on a burner on low heat. Allow it to sit until all moisture evaporates from the inside, the outside, and even on handles. (As a bonus, this tip will save your kitchen towels from brown cast iron stains!) Allow pan to cool before handling again.

8. Always leave a little oil in your pan.

A light sheen in a cast iron pan is a good thing. It will improve the non-stick properties and prevent rust. After cleaning, drying, and allowing the pan to cool, coat the entire inside with a little coconut oil, ghee, or bacon grease. A tiny bit of fat goes a long way here.

9. Lift a few light weights before investing in cast iron.

Cast iron pans can be heavy! No joke. I have almost sprained a wrist or two trying to get my skillet cornbread out of the oven. (It’s definitely a two-handed job.)

Look for lighter-weight Griswold cast iron pans if you find other cast iron too heavy. This company isn’t in business anymore, but keep your eye on Craigs List or ebay. They’re collectibles now, so acquiring one of these antique, American-made gems might be difficult and/or pricey.

Final Thoughts

If your cast iron cookware is well taken care of it will last forever and can be passed down to the future generation of family hash slingers.

Now it’s your turn! If you have a few tips that make cast iron cooking a pleasure for you, share them with the community.


About Betsy Jabs

Betsy holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Counseling, and for nearly a decade worked as an elementary counselor. In 2011 she left her counseling career to pursue healthy living. She loves using DIY Natural as a way to educate people to depend on themselves to nourish their bodies and live happier healthier lives. Connect with Betsy on Facebookand Twitter.

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  1. Denise says

    I have a set I bought 24 years ago , they are so seasoned that I can wash them with soap & water .. I just have to be sure to dry them well with a hot flame on the stove top and very rarely I’ll all a little olive oil to the larger skillet .. I love my cast iron pans , they’ve outlasted most of my other cookwear .

  2. Russell Bell says

    Just subscribed to DIY Naturals. I’ve been using cast iron for about 30 years now. One 9 inch skillet, a 12 inch skillet and a 14 inch (12 pound) dutch oven. The nice thing is the older they get the better they get as opposed to a “non-stick” pan the older it gets the more “non-stick” surface you get to eat. The 12 inch I use to bake Chicago style deep dish pizza. And the cost savings is great.

  3. Cheryl says

    I too got rid of all my Teflon coated pans, aluminum pans, & Tupperware because I had breast cancer. When you have a serious health issue you start to really re-evaluate a lot of things. I am SOOOO glad you sent an email about using cast iron & how it works just as well ,if not better than Teflon, because it certainly is better for you than the chemicals they use for Teflon coating. I cannot use a microwave anymore either because my alternative Dr. gave me info on how bad it is for you. So now I’m eating better & using all glass, stainless steel, or cast iron in my kitchen. My health is doing good too & I did not have any chemo or radiation. I’m doing all natural supplements & a tonic & I feel good too!

  4. Frank riley says

    Here’s a very inexpensive way to invest in high quality cast iron pots and pans. Purchase at flea markets, yard sales, etc… Take them to a metal fab shop and have all the old gook sandblasted off them. Take home and season as if they were new– because they almost are.

  5. Rebecca says

    Oh, I have to say one more thing. My step mom, aged 63, was diagnosed almost a year ago with fronto temporal dementia. She was born and raised in a very small, poor town on the border (she is Mexican, and boy did I have some delicious food growing up!) They were very poor and cooked a lot with aluminum. I now will always wonder if this exposure to aluminum at a young age made her more susceptible to her brain atrophy and shrinkage. She was really into natural health and alternative medicine, and making things from scratch, what a blessing for me, as my mom died when I was a baby, and she was my stepmom from the time I was 3 years old. So now I am really the only one in a family with 9 kids, that is into natural “stuff”. I have her to thank for that.

    We moved halfway across the country earlier this year so that we could be closer to my parents and help my dad out in taking care of her.

    It is no easy task, even when it is only a couple days a week that I help out. But I do know of the association between heavy metal poisoning (aluminum) and Alzheimers Disease. While my mom doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, I wonder if that had any influence on her disease. I just want to warn others when I see them using cheapo cookware… they do NOT want to go through what my family is going through.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      My heart goes out to your family as you deal with the deterioration of your step mom’s health. It’s so scary to think that trying to cook at home and keep a family healthy with nutritious food might have actually contributed. When we found out about the dangers of aluminum we went on a rampage ridding our house of it.

  6. Rebecca says

    What about those people (mostly men) who are looking to avoid TOO MUCH iron? My dad is one of them. Some people say to just donate blood regularly but he is unable to donate blood because of a hepatitis outbreak (foodborne illness that happened when he was in Jr. high back in the late 50s).

    We have stainless steel and cast iron, but I do cook for my parents a lot.

    • Renee says

      Maybe just focus on enameled cast iron? Not quite the same, but an option.

      I don’t know statistics or anything, but it seems like it would also depend on what food you are cooking as to how much actually gets into what you eat. I know acidic stuff is going to have a higher concentration. Not sure on other things like bacon, eggs, etc.

    • Betsy Jabs says

      I was thinking enameled cast iron would be better also. Renee is right about the TYPES of food cooked on cast iron. Acidic foods with a higher moisture content will absorb more of the iron. A longer cooking time and frequent stirring will also increase the iron in your food…since it’s getting more exposure to the pan. Something like an egg that’s cooked for a short amount of time and only flipped once will absorb very little of the iron.

      Another thought…does he take any vitamin or mineral supplements? These are a common source of iron, and may actually deliver more iron than food. However, iron may be called things like ferrous sulfate and ferrous gluconate on the supplement labels. Something to watch for if he does take supplements.

  7. Cindy P. says

    I’m really enjoying that so many are returning to good “ole” fashioned cast iron. I am 54 and I grew up with my mom using it and her mother before her. My husband, children and I lived in Central America for many years as missionaries. We learned from Peace Corps workers and a medical guide that one way to get the “pobres” (poor people) to get more iron in their diet was to boil their beans with an old horse shoe!!. It really works! So cooking with cast iron will be putting back into your diet what your body really needs so don’t “sweat” a little rust!.