Everything You Need to Know About Using a Cast Iron Skillet

When it comes to the kitchen, cast iron is king! These heavy-duty pans are more than just cookware; they are a staple that can elevate your cooking to a whole new level. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a novice in the kitchen, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know about using, seasoning, cleaning, and maintaining a cast iron skillet.

cast iron skillet on concrete countertop

What Is a Cast Iron Skillet?

A cast iron skillet is a heavy-duty, versatile, and durable cooking pan made from cast iron. It typically features a thick bottom and sidewalls with a handle. Cast iron skillets are known for their excellent heat retention and even distribution, making them ideal for a wide range of cooking techniques, including frying, searing, baking, and sautéing. They are prized for their natural non-stick properties when properly seasoned, and their ability to develop a seasoned patina over time that enhances their cooking performance. Cast iron skillets are definitely a kitchen staple, valued for their longevity and ability to add unique flavors to dishes. 

Why Choose Cast Iron?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of cast iron skillet use, let’s discuss why it’s worth having one in your kitchen.

  1. Non Toxic: One of my favorite reasons to use a cast iron skillet is that it is completely non toxic. Unlike the non stick alternatives, cast iron won’t leave toxic residues in your food!  
  2. Even Heating: Cast iron is renowned for its ability to distribute heat evenly across its surface. This means no hot spots, ensuring that your food cooks uniformly.
  3. Versatility: From searing steaks and frying chicken to baking cornbread and making stir-fries, cast iron skillets can do it all. They can seamlessly transition from stovetop to oven, making them incredibly versatile. There are so many different ways to use a cast iron! 
  4. Durability: A well-maintained cast iron skillet can last for generations. It’s nearly indestructible, unlike non-stick pans that wear out relatively quickly.
  5. Iron Infusion: Cooking in cast iron can increase the iron content in your food, making it a health-conscious choice for those at risk of iron deficiency.

What Does it Mean to Season Cast Iron?

Seasoning a cast iron skillet is the process of creating and maintaining a non-stick, rust-resistant surface on the pan. It involves applying a thin layer of cooking oil or fat to the skillet’s interior and heating it until the oil bonds with the iron, forming a natural, protective coating. This coating not only prevents food from sticking to the pan but also helps build a seasoned patina over time, enhancing the skillet’s performance. Regularly seasoning a cast iron skillet is essential for its care and longevity, ensuring it remains a versatile and reliable tool in the kitchen.

How do I Know if it’s Time to Season? 

If you have a brand new skillet, it is most likely pre seasoned and ready to cook with. However, if you are working with an older cast iron skillet and you notice any rusting, food sticking more than normal, or visual wear and tear it might be time to re-season. 

3 cast irons of different sizes: small, medium and large cast irons on a concrete countertop background

How to Season Cast Iron 

Properly seasoning your cast iron skillet is essential to create a non-stick surface and prevent rusting. Here’s how to do it:

Materials You’ll Need:

  • A cast iron skillet
  • coconut oil
  • Paper towels
  • Oven

Steps to season a cast iron skillet:

  1. Preheat the Oven: Start by preheating your oven to 350°F (175°C). Make sure your skillet is clean and dry.
  2. Apply Oil: Using a paper towel, coat the entire surface of the skillet, including the inside, outside, and handle, with a thin layer of coconut oil. Be sure to wipe off any excess oil; the pan should look shiny but not dripping.
  3. Bake It: Place the oiled skillet upside down in the oven, directly on the oven rack. This prevents any excess oil from pooling. Bake it for one hour.
  4. Cool Down: Turn off the oven and leave the skillet inside to cool down gradually. This slow cooling helps the oil bond to the cast iron, creating a slick, non-stick surface.
  5. Repeat as Necessary: Depending on the skillet’s condition, you may need to repeat this seasoning process a few times to achieve the desired level of non-stickiness.

How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet

Now that your cast iron skillet is seasoned and ready to go, it’s time to get cooking. Here are some tips for making the most of this versatile tool:

Heat Gradually: Cast iron retains heat exceptionally well, so it’s important to heat it gradually. Start with a low heat, and slowly increase the heat as needed. In general you can heat cast iron at a lower temperature than most non-stick pans. 

Use the Right Utensils: To avoid damaging the seasoning, opt for utensils made of wood, silicone, or nylon when cooking in your cast iron skillet. Metal utensils and even plastic spatulas can scrape off the seasoning.

Preheat Before Adding Food: Allow your skillet to preheat for a few minutes before adding food. This ensures even cooking and prevents sticking.

Oil, oil, oil: While cast iron skillets have a natural non-stick surface, adding a thin layer of oil like coconut oil or butter to the pan can enhance the flavor of your dishes and further prevent sticking. 

Avoid Acidic Foods: While cast iron is great for most cooking, acidic ingredients like tomatoes or tomato sauce can strip away the seasoning. If you need to cook acidic foods, consider a very well-seasoned cast iron skillet or an alternative pan.

Sear and Roast: Cast iron skillets are perfect for searing meats and then transferring them to the oven to finish cooking. The even heat distribution gives you a beautiful crust on your steaks and roasts.

steak cooking in a cast iron skillet

Fry to Perfection: Achieve crispy fried chicken, French fries, or tempura by deep frying in your cast iron skillet. Just make sure not to overcrowd the pan.

Bake with Ease: You can use your cast iron skillet to bake everything from cornbread and skillet cookies to quiches and deep-dish pizza. Just be mindful of the handle, which can get 

Cleaning Your Cast Iron Skillet

Caring for your cast iron skillet is crucial to maintain its seasoning and longevity. The good news is that t’s actually really easy! Here’s some simple steps to keep it clean:

Materials You’ll Need:

  • A sponge or stiff brush
  • Table salt (for stubborn residue)
  • Paper towels or a clean cloth

Steps to clean your cast iron skillet**:

  1. Cool Down First: Allow your skillet to cool down after cooking. Never subject it to rapid temperature changes, such as running cold water on a hot skillet.
  2. Scrape Off Residue: Using a sponge or stiff brush, remove any food residue from the bottom of the pan. For stubborn bits, add a sprinkle of coarse salt to act as an abrasive.
  3. Avoid Soap: Some people will use mild dish soap when cleaning their cast iron, but I choose to avoid it entirely. I think it can strip the cast iron of it’s seasoning and flavor
  4. Dry It Completely: After washing, use a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to dry the skillet thoroughly. Water left on the surface can cause rust. Even a little water! 
  5. Re-Season, If Needed: If you notice your skillet’s seasoning starting to fade, you can re-season it by repeating the seasoning process mentioned earlier.
  6. Store Properly: Store your cast iron skillet in a dry place, and consider placing a paper towel or cloth between nested pans to prevent moisture buildup. I like to leave my cast iron out on my stove top because I use it every single day. You could also hang it by your oven. 

**If you cooked something simple that didn’t leave much residue, you can just wipe it out with a paper towel. This will leave a little bit of oil residue to improve the seasoning without scrubbing it out. 

breakfast hash and over easy egg in a cast iron skillet

Maintaining Your Cast Iron Skillet

With proper care, your cast iron skillet can last a lifetime. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:

  • Regular Use: Use your skillet regularly to keep the seasoning in good shape. The more you use it, the better it becomes.
  • Re-Season as Necessary: Over time, the seasoning can wear off. If your skillet starts to stick or rust, it’s time to re-season it.
  • Rust Removal: If you notice rust, scrub it away with steel wool or a scrubbing pad. Then, re-season the skillet to prevent future rusting.
  • Avoid the Dishwasher: Never put your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. The harsh detergents and high heat can damage the seasoning.
  • Handle with Care: Be cautious when handling your cast iron skillet, especially when it’s hot. Always use an oven mitt or handle covers to protect your hands.

What size should I buy?

he best size for a cast iron skillet depends on your cooking needs and the size of your household. Here are some considerations to help you choose the right size:

  1. 10 to 12 Inches (25 to 30 cm): A 10-inch skillet is a versatile choice and an excellent starting point for most households. It’s suitable for cooking small to medium-sized meals, including omelets, pancakes, and steaks. A 12-inch skillet offers a bit more cooking space and is ideal for larger families or when you want to prepare multiple servings at once.
  2. 8 Inches (20 cm) or Smaller: Smaller skillets, like 8-inch ones, are perfect for single servings, small kitchens, or side dishes. They are easier to handle and store, making them a good choice for beginners or those with limited storage space.
  3. 15 Inches (38 cm) or Larger: These oversized skillets are great for cooking large meals or for gatherings. They’re typically used by experienced cooks or in commercial kitchens. Keep in mind that they can be heavy and challenging to handle.
  4. Combo Sets: Some cast iron sets come with multiple skillet sizes and additional pieces like a Dutch oven. These sets offer versatility and are an excellent choice if you want various cast iron cookware options.

In general, a 10- or 12-inch skillet is a good choice for most households. It provides enough space for a variety of cooking tasks while remaining manageable in terms of weight and storage. I love my lodge cast iron pan, I have the 12″ size, but I’m looking to buy a 15″ as my next purchase. 


Hopefully you feel confident in purchasing and using a cast iron skillet! They are easy to use, non-toxic, and will last for generations if cared for properly. They are versatile and great for so many delicious meals! 

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