I’ve loved and recommended using a cast iron skillet for years. Today, Tasha will tell you how to use one like a pro!
How to use a cast iron skillet like a pro
by Tasha Hackett
I didn’t know how to properly cook with a cast iron skillet until very recently.
Even though I have prepared food almost exclusively on my cast iron skillet, I continually burned food or the food stuck so badly I spent far too long scraping it off the bottom and reseasoning again.
I burned the pancakes on my cast iron again and I was sad. As I served my family I said, “I know it’s burned. Sorry. It is what it is. This is the last of the flour, I’m not making anything else. Sorry. Just eat it. I know it’s burned. Sorry. Don’t ask me why it keeps burning.”
I burned the zucchini patties and I was sad. “I don’t know why they’re burning! The bottom is burned before I can even flip them without it falling apart! I turned it down and they’re still burning.”
The scrambled eggs stuck to the bottom of the pan so badly I felt like I sacrificed two whole eggs to the cast iron gods.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who struggles with the cast iron skillet?
Figuring out how to use a cast iron skillet shouldn’t have taken me this long.
With all my struggles, you may be asking, “Why do you even use it if it causes so much trouble?” A few reasons.
Now that I know how to use a cast iron skillet, I love it even more.
Foremost, I like the simplicity of it. I use this one pan multiple times a day. I clean it after each meal and it lives on my stovetop. The nostalgia that this is the same type of pan the pioneers used hundreds of years ago speaks to my author soul. I don’t wear 1800’s dresses, or travel by horse or train or write letters with an inkwell, but by golly I can cook with the same pan! (In theory, except I was disproportionately burning everything.) Another main reason I like to use it is that I don’t trust modern technology when it comes to our health. Teflon is bad for you–correction, teflon is bad for you when heated. HA!
I know there are other non-stick pans out there today that claim to be non-toxic, but I haven’t had the time to look into them yet. (I’ve been far too busy wondering why I keep burning the Simple Tuna Patties.)
Here are my how-to tips for using your cast iron skillet:
- Start with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. Which I have. Many times. Keeping it well-seasoned was my problem. Seasoning a skillet is simple: Clean. Dry. Rub a teaspoon of vegetable oil or lard all over. Top, bottom, outside, underneath, and the handle. Bake upside down in a 350* oven for an hour. Let it cool in the oven before putting it away.
- Be patient. Let the pan preheat at a low temperature for up to five minutes before cooking on it. A drop of water should immediately sizzle and then you may add the oil. If the butter, oil, lard, etc., is smoking, that means your skillet is too hot. Heating a cast iron skillet/pot/pan on high heat right away, especially on an electric stove, causes the iron to expand and heat unevenly and can cause warping. This is one of the only things that will ruin your skillet.
- Preheat the oil. Do this after the pan is preheated. Again, if the oil smokes or burns, this is a bad sign. If the butter is burning, the pancakes will soon be burning. (You’d think I could have figured that out sooner.) On my gas stove, I do most of my cooking just above Low or directly between Low and Medium. On my stove, the butter burns at Medium. Once the pan is heated, if you turn the temperature down it will not immediately make a difference. One of the pan’s strengths is the ability to hold heat. Therefore, adjusting the temperature up and down while you’re cooking isn’t going to work well for your food or your taste buds. Or your family’s trust in your cooking abilities. Have patience while preheating, and you will quickly learn where to set the temperature and can leave it there.
Do the sizzle dance.
- The food should sizzle as soon as it touches the pan. Food that doesn’t sizzle means your pan wasn’t preheated enough and now your food is going to stick and then probably burn. (Preheat the skillet even if you are baking cornbread in the oven. The sizzle as you pour in the cornbread batter will create a delicious crust and keep the wet cornbread from sticking to the pan.)
- A properly seasoned cast iron skillet is easily cleaned with a wipe-down of a paper towel or hot water and plastic scraper. Boiling water in the pan, using soap, or not properly drying will cause your pan to rust and this is bad. If the pan rusts, you get to scrub it off with a steel brush and do the reseasoning thing again.
- Whenever dry spots appear on the pan, it’s time to reseason. If you use enough oil while cooking on the pan, you shouldn’t have to do the reseasoning thing more than a few times a year. If that. But… if you were anything like me and frequently burned the food and then had to scour it off with hot water, reseason it as often as necessary until you’ve perfected the patience that is required for preheating your pan.
And that’s how to use your cast iron!
I’m curious, how many of you have skillets passed down from your grandma? Years of history and thousands of meals prepared in a pan that is still in great use today? Amazing!
I love to invest in things that will last. Cast iron is just one of those things. Now that I know how to really use mine, I foresee some delicious pancakes in my family’s future.
Tasha Hackett, friend of Laura, is fueled by sunshine or chocolate, whichever is more readily available. Recently embarking on a paleo journey to combat some chronic inflammation, she is still finding ways to eat chocolate. Though she proudly sings every word of the Wee Sing Silly Songs albums and often pretends to be a ballerina while unloading the dishwasher, her favorite thing is writing with hope and humor to entertain and encourage women—specifically young moms. Most of her time is spent with four chatty children and an incredibly supportive husband. They give her the kind of love people write books about. Her debut novel, Bluebird on the Prairie, a heartwarming Historical Romance will release spring, 2021. You can connect with her at www.tashahackett.com or on Instagram @HackettAcademy.