Cast-iron skillets have been beloved by many generations of cooks. They’re a kitchen workhorse and the stuff of lore, often passed down as heirlooms within families.
But all that legend sometimes leads to fear or confusion. Will I ruin the coveted seasoning? Should I only use it on a gas cooktop? Can I really not clean it with soap?
So how much do you know about taking care of your cast-iron skillet? Take our quiz to find out how to ensure it stays in the best shape for many years to come.
Question 1 of 7
You have to season cast iron before you use it.
Seasoning is what happens when fats are heated to a certain point that causes them to reorganize into something resembling a plastic coating and bond to the metal. That coating is smooth and slick, allowing for foods to easily release from the pan. There’s a reason cast iron is often called “the original nonstick cookware.”
Most of the cast iron you buy comes preseasoned. That means you can start cooking in it right away. At that point, the best thing you can do is use the pan as much as possible so the seasoning gets better over time. To maintain it, clean the pan after each use, return it to the burner over medium-low heat, and rub it down with oil and paper towels until it’s smooth and shiny with no visible residue. You can do your coat of maintenance oil in a 200-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, too.
Question 2 of 7
Some fats are better than others for seasoning.
Most experts generally prefer to season cast iron with unsaturated fats, Daniel Gritzer says on Serious Eats, as these oils are easier to spread than saturated options such as butter, shortening or lard. Plus, unsaturated fats tend to build up seasoning faster. Canola, corn, soybean, sunflower and flaxseed (be sure to get culinary-grade) are accessible and affordable. Olive oil isn’t the best pick since it’s more expensive and has a lower smoke point, meaning it is more likely to burn.
Question 3 of 7
You can’t use dish soap on cast iron.
Mild dish soap is not strong enough to damage the seasoning, though you can skip it if you prefer. Remove food debris with a brush or the scrubby side of a soft sponge. If you need to scrape up crusted-on food, a paste of kosher salt mixed with oil or water can do the job. Chain mail scrubbers are another option. Just don’t use harsh cleaners or abrasives such as Bar Keepers Friend, which can actually remove the seasoning.
Question 4 of 7
It’s okay to use cast iron to cook acidic foods.
A well-seasoned pan can stand up to acidic foods such as tomato sauce, to a certain extent. To protect the seasoning and prevent metallic flavors in your food, Cook’s Illustrated recommends limiting the cook time for acidic foods to 30 minutes and then removing the food immediately. J. Kenji López-Alt also suggests staying away from cooking liquid-based dishes in cast iron until the seasoning is well-established.
Question 5 of 7
You should not put your cast-iron skillet in a dishwasher.
Dishwasher detergents can be harsh enough to damage the seasoning. Plus, extended exposure to moisture can cause rust. Wash your cast-iron pans by hand. Avoid soaking them for any longer than a few minutes, if at all, and dry with a clean towel right away. Briefly returning the pan to the burner can quickly evaporate any remaining water.
Question 6 of 7
You can’t use your cast-iron skillet on a glass cooktop.
Stove manufacturers who don’t recommend cast iron are likely covering themselves in the event that consumers damage the glass and call for repairs or replacements. But you can safely use cast-iron cookware on your ceramic cooktop, whether it’s traditional electric or induction. The key things to remember are not to drag the cookware on the glass and, of course, not to drop it. Superficial scratches won’t affect the performance of the cooktop (or the skillet).
Question 7 of 7
Eventually you will have to replace your cast-iron skillet.
Cast iron can handle way more than you may realize. When we collected reader stories about their beloved pans, several people told us their skillets have survived house fires. Unless it has cracked or rusted all the way through, “there isn’t much that can ‘ruin’ a cast-iron skillet,” America’s Test Kitchen says.
There are a variety of strategies for stripping and reseasoning cast iron when needed. For small patches of rust, use steel wool to rub it down before reseasoning. Manufacturer Lodge’s preferred method is to rub the seasoning oil or melted vegetable shortening all over the pan and let it bake on the middle rack of the oven at 350 degrees for an hour, with a sheet of aluminum foil underneath to catch any drips. Repeat as necessary until the seasoning is where you want it to be.
If you have a truly abused skillet, you will need to strip the seasoning and do multiple rounds of restoring it. Strategies vary on how to strip seasoning, including using the self-cleaning feature of your oven. You’ll find plenty of guidance from experts online.