How to Use a Cast Iron Skillet

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Are you afraid to pull out that cast iron skillet you got for Christmas? Many people are afraid of this kitchen tool because they have heard things about what you can do and can’t do with this pan. Plus we all know that it is not a wash-and-go piece of kitchen equipment, but if you leave that pan hidden away in the depths of your cabinet you will be missing out on one of the best tools you can have at your disposal.

So, in the article, we are going to try to demystify just how to use a cast iron skillet. My grandmother used to say to “begin with the end in mind,” (not exactly her words, but the sentiment is the same) so let’s start with how you clean a cast iron skillet.

How to Clean Your Cast Iron

Cleaning and maintaining the “seasoning” on your cast iron skillet is probably one of the most important things you need to understand when cooking with this skillet. Here are a few guidelines and tips that can help you maintain the integrity of your cast iron skillet:

  • Do not use abrasive detergents! You can, however, use a little soap on a sponge if you need to but make sure to only use the smallest amount possible
  • Absolutely do not use cleaning implements that are abrasive either! This means staying away from Brillo pads or any other brand of metal scouring pads. These can scratch the surface of your skillet as well as remove all the hard work you did while seasoning your skillet
  • The best way to keep your skillet crust-free and ready for the next use is to scour it with a towel and kosher salt while it is warm and then wipe it down with your chosen oil or fat. Try not to use water but if you need to do not soak it and  dry it immediately when done
  • Make sure you season your skillet! Many new models come pre-seasoned, but many experts say that you should still give it your own treatment just to ensure that you get the correct level of seasoning.  And once you have seasoned the skillet you should be good for quite a while unless you plan to store it for an extended time with no use or for some reason something happens to your seasoning as someone scours with an abrasive for example

How to Season a Skillet

  1. Clean the skillet thoroughly with hot soapy water (don’t soak!).
  2. Make sure that once you are done you get it completely dry.
  3. Take your chosen oil or fat (shortening, vegetable oil or flaxseed are all good choices) and coated the interior of the skillet with a thin layer.
  4. Turn the skillet upside down and place it in an oven that has been heated to 325-degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to put something underneath it to catch the drippings.
  5. Then let it stay in the oven for an hour and then turn the oven off and let the skillet completely cool while still in the oven.

These are the basics of maintaining the quality of your cast iron skillet, but how can you use that skillet? Let’s talk about all the ways you can cook delicious meals using this robust skillet.

How to Use Your Cast Iron Skillet

It gets super-hot and stays that way, so your cast iron skillet can be great for any meal or food that needs high heat. Sure, you can use those non-stick or aluminum pans to sear that steak but in order to get an even browning, your pan needs to have a steady heat across its surface and these types of pans just do not; that’s why cast iron is so great.  It gets hot and stays hot, but it also evenly distributes heat across its flat surface. This means things like steaks and meats that need a hard sear in preparation for other cooking executions are best suited to start their preparation in a cast iron skillet. You can also use your skillet like a wok and stir fry it up or even use it instead of that cookie sheet to roast vegetables. Things that are also good to cook in your cast iron skillet is anything fried (chicken, eggs or even French fries) or try making your cornbread in one and get a nice brown crust on the bottom.

There are many things you can cook in your skillet, but there are also some things that just don’t play well with it either.

How Not to Use Your Cast Iron Skillet

The cast iron skillet has some limitations and one of those is delicate fishes. Any fish that flakes easily like tilapia should not be cooked in this skillet. However thicker, meatier fish like salmon can be cooked in a cast iron skillet. One of cast iron’s biggest forms of Kryptonite is excessively acidic foods like tomatoes or wine sauces. The acidity can potentially react with the metal causing major issues with the skillet which can end up leaving a metal taste in foods cooked after the acid-heavy food. Deglazing with acids or simmering a red sauce are a definite no-no.

Final Thoughts

Cast iron skillets are great to have in your arsenal, but they do require some care and are not good for all food preparations. So, make sure that you take care of that cast iron and it will take care of you for years to come.

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