A few simple steps make cooking with cast iron simple. Today I am sharing my top tips and step by step instructions on how to cook with cast iron without sticking.
Last week I shared how to strip cast iron and re-season it to prepare your cast iron for use. While in my opinion this is the most important step to having functional cast iron that is easier to use than any other cookware, it is not the only step. Today I am sharing my top tips and step by step instructions on how to cook with cast iron without sticking.
There are a few key steps to do while cooking to prevent sticking and while different than a non stick pan, after using cast iron for a little while it will become second nature. The convenience and functionality of cast iron will make it all worth it and you will find it to be easier than any other.
My hope with this series of posts and videos is to show that cast iron is not as intimidating or difficult to use as some may think. Sure, there are differences that you may have to get used to and a little work up front to get the pans in good working order but the fact of it is that cast iron is just far superior than any nonstick you will have. A good cast iron pan can last years where in our house at least, we have had many nonstick pans come and go. The quality just is not there where it is with cast iron. On top of that, cast iron can be used in many different ways meaning one pan can do the job of any other pan in my kitchen. The work required to learn how to use cast iron and to develop the seasoning on my pans is worth this alone but the added health benefits are really what drove me to cast iron to begin with.
Like most things that I do, I find that the incredible amount of information available on the internet is overwhelming and mostly… not helpful. I hate to say that, but I have spent hours working on my cast iron, sourdough recipes, sourdough starter, sewing projects- you name it- just to realize I worked in circles and it was not manageable. Now I have learned to take all of the advice and how to’s lightly and find what works in my home. Simplifying everything and dropping some of the “rules” is the only way I can keep up with it all and I hope that by simplifying and sharing what you actually need to do, it will help someone.
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Is Cast Iron Good For Health?
Toxins from the chemicals making up the nonstick coating on pans can not only seep into the food you are cooking but also into the air in your home. For more specific information on health concerns of nonstick cookware, read this.
Cast iron does not have this same issue. There is a lot of science behind this question and I am no expert but science has proven time and time again that nonstick cookware can cause many illnesses including cancer. It is also said that using cast iron can help fight an iron deficiency.
Benefits Of Cast Iron
- Multifunctional- cast iron can be used on practically any cooking surface making one dish function like multiple.
- Longevity- Cast Iron pans can be passed down from generation to generation. They are sturdy and it would take a lot to ruin one. Usually the most they need is stripped and re-seasoned.
- Easy to obtain- There are quality cast iron skillets everywhere and they can be found at amazing prices. Many new pans can be found cheaper than non stick pan sets but even better, used ones can be found at thrift shops, garage sells, or antique stores for amazing prices. Or they are even gifted to you! Just recently I was given 3-4 skillets and a dutch oven for free! What a score. The dutch oven was in amazing shape and while the skillets were rusted a bit more, they will clean up very well.
- Healthier alternative- Now I kind of talked about this above but the terrible chemicals found in non stick pans are not an issue with cast iron. You can cater the seasoning to the oil of your choice. Some say you can even get iron from them in your food!
How Do You Cook Cast Iron For The First Time?
I think it is important to note that before cooking with cast iron for the first time either with a brand new pan (seasoned or unseasoned) or an old pan handed down to you, be sure to strip and season your cast iron. Not all pans need to be stripped but going through the seasoning process will not hurt and will only make your pan better. I shared all of the details on how to do this easily here. You can find a lot of information on the internet about this process but I found limited information for actually stripping the cast iron with more than just steel wool, why certain things happened during the process, and common troubleshooting tips that were just completely avoided. This made it difficult for me to learn how to actually season my pans perfectly and caused hours of work to accomplish nothing. In my post I shared any issues that I have had, specific oils to use how exactly how to accomplish a perfectly nonstick pan.
After properly seasoning your pan, you cook in the same way you would any other time because it is ready to work! I will share more below on how to cook in cast iron for the first time and everytime to make cast iron simple.
How Do You Keep Food From Sticking To A Cast Iron Skillet?
There are really just three main things you need to concern yourself with when using cast iron. The first is seasoning, which we have already talked about. A well seasoned pan will be a game changer so focus on that first. Other than a very simple upkeep and cleaning routine, this is one and done. The major work is finished, making cooking much easier.
The other two things to do are really very simple:
- Use plenty of fat while cooking- Not only is this good for you when the right fats are used but it also makes your food taste better. Win, win, and win.
- Preheat your pans- A preheated pan will be much easier to cook in, will decrease cooking time, and will yield a much better result.
These two things will come naturally as you begin cooking and they really are very simple. There are many other rules you could go by (which I will talk about below in the myths section) but these are the main two that actually matter.
Do You Put Oil In A Cast Iron Skillet When Cooking And What Kind Of Oil Do You Use On Cast Iron?
Like discussed above, you do put oil in a cast iron skillet when cooking. Or some kind of fat at least. For oil we use avocado mostly. I like to season my pans with coconut oil but I rarely cook with it. We also occasionally use olive oil. However, my favorite fat to use is butter for the flavor when I can. Lard is another great option when it is sourced locally and from a healthy animal.
What Should You Not Cook In Cast Iron?
Alright so remember when I mentioned that there are a million rules you could go by and they are all overwhelming so just simplify? Yes? Because I only said it like a thousand times? Well, I’m going to say it again. And again. And again. And again until people realize how simple any homesteading/homemaking task can be if they will just figure out what is actually important. This is one of those rules!
Many people say no tomatoes, no eggs, nothing acidic in cast iron. And while maybe this is true if you did it often and in large quantities (not the eggs, that’s just silly), the damage from cooking acidic foods in a well seasoned cast iron pan is so minimal. I have warmed coffee, cooked tomato sauce, seared tomatoes, and anything in between many times in my cast iron and guess what? The seasoning is fine. It’s great. I think sometimes we forget to question what people say just because of who they are and then rules like this come about but that’s a discussion for another day.
Now I’m not saying it couldn’t damage your cast iron. Especially if you cooked large amounts of tomato sauce daily or left coffee in your cast iron for long periods of time. In fact, one of the cast iron stripping methods I recommended previously involves soaking in vinegar to remove the old seasoning so yes, it can happen. But the likelihood that coffee heating up in a skillet for a few minutes or making tomato sauce for dinner will completely ruin your seasoning is not something I have had an issue with, even with repeat offenses.
I do keep stainless steel pots and pans to use when it is more convenient. And a lot of times I will reach for them for things like sauces over a cast iron pan solely for convenience.
Can You Ruin Cast Iron?
It would take a lot to ruin, as in destroy, a cast iron pan. They are strong and durable so damaging the actual pan would be difficult. The seasoning can definitely be ruined if they are not used properly but it can be fixed through stripping and re-seasoning. It also is difficult to do this when you get into the routine of using them. Usually if a mishap occurs, I can touch up rather than completely re-season it.
How To Cook With Cast Iron Without Sticking- Video
How To Cook With Cast Iron Without Sticking- Step By Step
Cooking in cast iron is just as simple as cooking in any other pan, especially once you are used to it.
The first step is to preheat your pan either in the oven or on the stove. I like to do this with either a very light oil coat applied prior to heating or no oil at all.
Once preheated enough that water sizzles in the pan, you will add your fat. Be sure to use plenty of fat as this is a big part of keeping food from sticking. I prefer to use butter but if this is not an option for what I am cooking, I will use avocado oil. Lard from a healthy source is also a great option.
Once the fat is heated, you can add your food. A common guide is to flip once. So place your food in the pan and allow it to cook fully before flipping. If you are cooking something like eggs, give it a second to set and you will see it starting to pull away from the pan. At this point, begin to stir constantly. If you are cooking meat, potatoes or something similar, allow for the food to cook. To check if it is ready to flip, lightly pull. If it feels stuck or does not lift easily, it is not ready. It will naturally pull away from the pan when it is ready. This is particularly true for searing meat.
Once the food is almost completely cooked, turn off your heat. The pan will continue to cook due to how well it holds heat so removing it from the heat early will help keep it from overcooking. The best example of this is eggs, again. Once the eggs have set but are still just a touch wet, remove from the heat and allow the heat held in the pan alone to finish cooking then remove from the pan as soon as they are done.
Resist the urge to scrape any stuck on food off or to force food out of the pan that is sticking. If it is early it just may not be finished cooking which will result in having to scrub the pan. If you do have something stick and it burns on, you don’t want this in your food anyway so leave it and scrub it out once the food is removed.
Cast Iron Cooking Myths
- Difficult to maintain- cast iron needs more up front work to prepare it for cooking but it is not difficult to maintain. You wipe it out, possibly occasionally scrub it and dry it. You can use any utensils unlike a normal non-stick pan and can cook pretty much anything in it.
- A new “pre-seasoned” skillet does not need to be seasoned- if anything, I would say it needs to be stripped and seasoned the most. They use some pretty nasty oils to season these skillets.
- No soap- it is not the best, but it will not ruin your pan. If I have a particularly bad food stuck on I may use a little. I have never had an issue.
- No eggs- this is sad. I cook eggs in cast iron regularly. Scrambled and fried. I hear this often and I do not understand why this myth is still around. Now, eggs can be tricky to keep from sticking which is why it is the basis of my explanation above.
- No acids- I understand where this one came from but in regular cooking, I do not see this to be an issue. Sure, eventually it can break down the seasoning but small exposures in normal cooking are not strong enough to ruin the seasoning. And with the care and maintenance I am also sharing, it will not be an issue.
- No metal utensils- this is also said to cause damage to the seasoning. I use metal utensils and scrape my pans at every use. I have never had any issues with this. Maybe in a really hot skillet if you are purposely digging into your seasoning but I found this unlikely.
Troubleshooting- How To Cook With Cast Iron Without Sticking
Why Does My Cast Iron Keep Sticking?
I would start with your seasoning. Make sure the seasoning is strong by looking for a smooth and shiny surface, almost like glass. If you are sure it is not the seasoning, your heat may be too high. While you do want a preheated skillet, too high of heat can scorch the food and cause it to stick. Lastly, your food just may not be ready! Food will naturally release once cooked in a well seasoned skillet. If you flip too early it may just stick.
You should note that while cast iron can be non-stick, it is not always. Just like with any pan, if the care is not put into it while cooking the food or it is a particularly sticky food, it can stick even with a good pan. I keep a stainless steel scrubber around for these instances.
My Cast Iron Keeps Rusting- Why?
Moisture was left on the pan. Even the smallest drops of water can leave rust. It is best practice to heat the pans after cleaning and oil them. This will eliminate this.
More Cast Iron- My Cast Iron Series:
More Cooking Basics:
- Cooking From Scratch The Simple Way
- How To Make A Sourdough Starter From Scratch
- How To Cook Dried Beans
More From Scratch Food:
- Sourdough Bread No Knead and Easy Recipe
- Creamy Pot Pie Soup
- Meatloaf with Brown Sugar and Butternut Squash
- Sourdough Pie Crust