The Dos and Don’ts of Cooking in a Cast Iron Pan

Wary of cast iron? These tried-and-true cast iron cooking tips will change everything. You’ll learn the best things to cook in your cast iron pan and a short list of foods to avoid.

  • By Jess Dang
  • August 30, 2022

To cook or not to cook? That is a common question. What many people don’t know is that the answer is almost always, “To cook!” I know that cast iron scares a lot of people. And I get it. People are always throwing out warnings and advice, which leads home cooks around the world to see a red, blinking CAUTION sign above every cast iron pan they pass. And who doesn’t have at least one food-sticking fiasco seared into their memories?

However, the most used pan in my kitchen is actually a 10″ cast iron skillet. It has a permanent home on my stovetop because 1) I use it every day, and 2) I rarely wash it, so it just remains on the stove after cooking. Just yesterday, I fried an egg, seared tofu, and sautéed bok choy in it. Then today, I used it to make a frittata.

If you want to enjoy cooking all of those delicious foods and more in one solitary pan, I’m here to show you how. I’ve got plenty of simple but effective cast iron cooking tips that will help you create new and improved cast iron memories! So let’s get into the basics of what you need in a pan, what not to cook in cast iron, other helpful cooking tips, and more.

What You Need in a Cast Iron Pan

First things first — you need a good-quality, no-fuss cast iron pan if you want to enjoy good-quality, no-fuss cooking. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret … the first skillet I used didn’t live up to the hype. Everything stuck and burned and turned into a big mess.

Thankfully, I found a small business that repaired my relationship with cast iron. You see, back in the day, cast iron pans used to be super smooth. But modern pans are not made that way, which results in sticking and less-than-satisfactory cooking experiences. Luckily, the superb craftsperson Christy Olsen at Rock Island Cast Iron buys Lodge skillets and grinds them smooth to replicate nonsticking vintage pans (which are normally super pricey to buy). You can get varying sizes from him (yes, it’s a one-man show!) or even send in an unsmooth pan of your own to have him grind down. And if you need a little more convincing, just read reviews of these pans on Etsy!

If you’ve ever had trouble with cast iron before or just want to purchase one that works as well as vintage but without making your bank account sad, visit Rock Island Cast Iron and use code CKSMRTS10 to enjoy 10% OFF.

What Not to Cook in Cast Iron Pans

Although you can cook a wide variety of food in cast iron pans, there are a few ingredients not to cook in them, or at least to pay close attention to when you do.

  1. Acidic Foods and Liquids

If you’ve heard that you should avoid cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or lemons in cast iron, that is only partially true. Though acidic foods can affect your cast iron season, you can always easily reseason your pan. The bigger issue with acidic foods is that if you cook them for a long time, they can break apart your cast iron pan’s metal molecules. To avoid any iron leakage and a gross metallic taste in your food, all you need to do is avoid cooking sauces, soups, stews, and other long-cooking dishes that contain wine, vinegar, citrus juice, and/or tomatoes.

Yet, a short recipe with acidic ingredients is fine! Just immediately remove the meal from your cast iron skillet once you finish cooking instead of letting it sit.

  1. Wrist Protection

Another reason not to cook in your cast iron pan is if you’re a pancake aficionado or want to flip any other types of food without a spatula. If you know you’ll be doing flipping or a lot of shifting movement with the pan, definitely opt for a lighter skillet or wok so you don’t hurt your wrist.

Cast Iron Cooking Tips

Now that you know what not to cook in cast iron, it’s time to dive into some yummy cast iron cooking tips!

The Best Foods to Cook in Cast Iron Pans

One of the amazing things about cast iron pans is how versatile they are. You can cook almost anything in them. Here are some dishes that turn out great when you make them in cast iron:

  • Pan-seared veggies and proteins
  • Fatty foods like bacon
  • Burgers
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Pizza
  • Eggs (yes, you read that right!)
  • Potatoes
  • Cornbread and other breads

Things to Remember When Cooking in Cast Iron

Something super important to keep in mind is that you need to use oil in a cast iron skillet to prevent food from sticking. The potential exception to this rule is when your ingredient is already quite fatty, like bacon, and you place it in the pan before turning the heat on. In that case, the pan will slowly heat and melt the fat.

Another key thing to remember when cooking in cast iron is about temperature. You always want to raise burner temperatures slowly and avoid the highest heat setting. This will ensure that your pan heats evenly for safe cooking. It will also prevent warping or cracking.

Also, if you want to avoid damaging your pan or that gorgeous season, use a rounded-edged spatula (metal is fine as long as it is round!). Sharp corners aren’t a pan’s best friend, and a cast iron skillet is no exception.

Recipes to Cook in a Cast Iron Pan

If you want some specific ideas of delicious meals to cook in a cast iron pan, get a free 14-day trial of our meal plan service and try these 3 recipes. …

Pear and Fontina Grilled Cheese with Butternut Squash Soup

Adding fresh fruit to a grilled cheese sandwich makes it feel fancy while still being super easy. The butternut squash soup on the side brings a sense of comfort the whole family will love as they dip in.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon Butter and Spinach Risotto

Our cooking community gave this easy scallop recipe rave reviews! Our buttery caper sauce adds great flavor to the scallops, while the baked risotto cooks without any fuss.

Summer Vegetable Frittata with Butterhead Lettuce Salad

This frittata makes use of summer produce (though you can throw in any season’s veggies!) and is topped with creamy goat cheese. Enjoy with a crisp green salad with sweet plums on the side.

If you’ve been wary of cast iron in the past, I hope these cast iron cooking tips will empower you to try it again. 

Plus, if you want to learn more about the best surfaces to cook on when using a cast iron skillet, read about it in our Cooktops for Cast Iron article. You can also learn more about the best pots and pans for specific cooking needs if you listen to this podcast episode: What Are the Best Pots and Pans to Use? 

Stay tuned for more infographics and how-to articles by signing up for our weekly email below. Or sign up for a free 14-day trial of our meal plan service for a variety of other delicious and fresh meals to cook in your cast iron pan!


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