In the world of cast iron, folklore collides with fact. We’ve all dreamed of cooking on an open fire, skillet in hand, like chef Gill Meller. A quick peruse through his Instagram feed will have you lusting after outdoors cooking. But is it really that easy cooking with cast iron? That skillet that’s been sat in your kitchen for years, passed down from your great grandmother may seem unbreakable, but iron is far more brittle than its steel, aluminum or copper brothers and sisters; and all the blogs that say any trace amount of soap is the death of cast iron are totally wrong. Point is: when dealing with a new cast-iron skillet, it’s easy to be led astray. Here are three traps beginners routinely fall into, and how you can avoid them.
Not Preheating It
Don’t listen to your partner: always getting told off for cooking food too high on the stove? Now theres no excuse. When it comes to heat, cast iron is an excellent insulator but a terrible conductor. That means it stays hot but takes a long time to get there.
Pre-heat the skillet over the fire/range/electric stove (if you must) for five to ten minutes on medium-low, then adjust the burner to the appropriate heat level when you’re one minute out from wanting to cook. Doing so means two things: the surface temperature of the skillet will be high enough to immediately evaporate liquid from food and begin searing, and the pan won’t suffer dramatic drops in surface temperature when you put cold food in it. A proper pre-heat also helps to alleviate hot spots, though these can only be avoided to an extent when addressed on the stovetop. The best way to avoid excessing hotspots is preheating in the oven or on an induction burner.
You’re Using It for Literally Everything
A standard Google of “cast iron skillet egg test” brings together dozens of videos by boastful cast iron enthusiasts proud of their pan’s ability to cook an egg without tearing it to pieces. This should be enough evidence that some foods are better cooked by other means. For eggs, fish and other delicate, clingy foods, you’re better off with a decent non-stick pan. Made In makes a great premium option, while companies like T-Fal make cheaper options that work just as good.
If you’re stewing tomatoes or making a wine sauce, it’s wise to ride on the side of caution and go stainless steel — high-acid foods and liquids eat away at seasoning and leech iron into your meal – this is especially detrimental to new cast iron, as the seasoning will be thin out of the box.
Soaking It in Water
Can you use water, and even a little soap, to clean your cast-iron skillet? Yes, some bits won’t come off with just elbow grease. But the I-don’t-want-to-do-dishes excuse of “let it soak overnight” is destructive to the skillet. Exposure to water for an overly long period will eat away at all your hard-earned seasoning and there will be sad splotches of orange-red rust. After cleaning, it’s good practice to put the skillet back on the stove and let it heat dry over a burner until all moisture is evaporated.
Follow these simple steps and you too could be a cast iron pro!