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Cast Iron 101

Want to start using cast iron but don’t know where to start? Have you heard that cast iron is too hard to care for and is finicky and difficult? Boy are you in for a treat, because that is just plain wrong! Here’s your beginner guide to cast iron 101 with everything you will want to know.

a cast iron frying pan on a gas stove

Did you ever hope to use the BEST pan possible for any cooking job? Ever want a non stick surface that you don’t have to worry about flaking off in your food?

Look no further than reliable old fashioned Cast Iron 101.

Reasons To Use Cast Iron

  • Even Heating – Cast iron is heavy and fairly thick (as pans go) and once it is heated, you won’t find a better more evenly heated surface.
  • Non-Stick – If you treat your cast iron right, you’ll love it MORE than any non stick pan you have EVER owned!
  • FAST clean up – Cast iron cleans up quickly with just a few swishes in the sink. No scrubbing. No tired arms.
  • Iron is Something You NEED in Your Diet – what if some of the pan DID come off on your food? Did you ever hear a doctor say, “don’t get any iron in your diet”? No. You didn’t.

Choices in Cast Iron Cookware

You are IN LUCK because Cast Iron comes in a VARIETY of shapes, sizes and uses not to mention COLORS if you use an enamel coated cast iron! It’s cast iron 101!

Some years ago, I WON $250 in cast iron from Lodge brand. (I literally NEVER win anything, so this was a God send!). What a TREAT! Here’s what I bought with my gift certificate:

  • A Deep Chicken Frying Skillet with Lid
  • Grill Pan
  • Bacon Press
  • Dutch Oven
  • Baking Sheet
  • 10″ Frying Pan
  • Small Casserole
  • Sauce Warmer
  • Hot Pads and other small gift items.

Do you see what I’m getting at? For $250 I had MORE cast iron than I knew what to do with! It’s SUPER affordable!

Don’t get me wrong, depending on the brand, you could spend your entire inheritance on some cast iron, but no need!

There’s no lack of good quality, affordable cast iron out there and I’m going to help you figure it all out!

What Pieces of Cast Iron Do I Need?

Frankly, if you have never ever owned cast iron, just start with a simple 9-10″ kitchen sized skillet. Use it for all kinds of things!

You’ll find that it is perfect for any of the following:

  • Cooking Eggs
  • Bacon anyone?
  • How about breakfast sausage?
  • Hamburgers?
  • Grilled Cheese, oh yum! Perfect grilled cheese coming your way!
  • Fry up some french fries!
  • Asparagus is delightful!
  • Bananas foster with a flambe!

Then, get yourself a 5-6 Qt Dutch Oven! You can use it for:

  • soups
  • stews
  • stovetop to oven dishes
  • goulash
  • Lamb shank
  • ribs

Do you see where I’m going with this? Use your cast iron for just about anything EXCEPT...

What Foods Do I Avoid With Cast Iron?

Avoid cooking acidic foods (like tomatoes, orange juice dishes, tomato sauces, etc.) in your cast iron if you can. (No worries if you do, you WILL NOT ruin it, but you might have to season it if you do).

A photo of a rusty skillet on a table

Cast Iron 101

This is a skillet that I cooked spaghetti sauce in. You can see that the surface of the pan has lost its shine and is looking pretty ragged.

No problem, it just needs to be re-seasoned.

How Do I Clean My Cast Iron Skillet?

Many people say to NEVER wash cast iron, to instead just wipe it out.

That works fine if you always cook the same type of things in your cast iron.

However, sometimes flavors DO linger if you do this.

For example, I have a friend who makes the frozen perogies in a sauce in her cast iron. One time when I was over for dinner, she had obviously cooked something with maple syrup in it before using it for perogies. That wasn’t a good taste together.

Here’s How I Clean Mine:

  1. I start by wiping or scraping any scraps out of the pan after using it.
  2. Sometimes, if it is going to be a minute before I move on with cleaning the kitchen, I’ll rinse the pan first as well using a wire scrubby for any stuck on bits (but never ever use a scrubby on enamel coasted cast iron).
  3. Just like I wash any other dishes, I use a mild kitchen soap (like Blue Dawn or Meyers) and quickly but completely wash the pan out and rinse it well.
  4. I set it upside down or on its side on a towel beside the sink to dry.
  5. Then, I hang the pan up on a hook in the kitchen to keep it dry.

Is my way the right way? It’s what I’ve been doing for many years and I only have to season my pans about once per year. I use my cast iron every single day and it is the only thing I cook in unless I’m making a dish with acidic ingredients. (Then I use stainless).

What’s the Best Way To Store Cast Iron?

Store your cast iron they way you store any other pans. Either stack it in the cabinets or hang it by it’s hook.

I opt for hanging mine up.

Cast Iron is heavy and this keeps me from having to lift heavy pans off of the tops of other heavy pans.

Do NOT store cast iron where it will collect water or where water will sit in the pan.

Make sure the pan is completely air dried before putting it away.

pans hanging on the wall

Why Should I Use Cast Iron?

Personally, I think the question should be, why shouldn’t I use cast iron? The other options are far worse, in my opinion.

  • Cast Iron is heavy and the surface heats evenly
  • Once properly seasoned, the pan is the best non stick surface ever.
  • The surface will not flake off into your food the way that a non stick pan will.
  • It goes from stovetop to oven to table and always looks good.
  • Inexpensive for the quality of the cookware.
  • Comes in almost any size for any purpose.
  • You’ll NEVER have to buy more cookware. It lasts, literally, forever.

What Are the Negatives?

  • As I noted, it’s heavy. For someone my age who has weak wrists and thumbs, it can be a challenge to safely lift at times. Make sure to use significant and safe hot pads.
  • It does require seasoning infrequently. No worries, that isn’t hard to do and as long as you maintain a minimal amount of care then you only have to do this annually at most.
  • You can not wash cast iron in the dishwasher (again, you won’t ruin it, but you’ll have to re-season it).
  • No cooking acidic dishes (like spaghetti sauce) in your cast iron cookware (unless it is enamel coated). (You won’t mess it up, but you’ll have to re-season it).
  • I once dropped my biggest cast iron deep frying pan on my foot and that required a trip to the emergency room and weeks in a boot, so, that’s the worst thing I can think of in relation to cast iron.

If I’m Just Starting Out, What Is Best?

Personally, I recommend a 9-10″ skillet and a 6 quart enamel coated dutch oven. You should be able to purchase these two items new and great quality for less than $80 total.

Consider used cookware and you’ll spend a lot less! (Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist is an excellent place to start).

(The photos below are Amazon affiliate links, you can click the photo to go through to Amazon and compare prices. If you decide to purchase through this link, I do receive a commission. That commission does not change the price you pay at all. I thank you!).

Lodge

The 10.25″ Lodge Cast Iron Skillet and it includes a hot pad for the handle! So handy!

The Lodge 6qt Dutch Oven (it comes in a lot of colors, so pretty cooking away on your stove!).

I recommend Lodge Brand because it’s easy to find, the quality is reliable and affordable.

Crofton

That said, I personally have a few pieces of the Aldi brand cast iron (Crofton) and while the painted surfaces haven’t lasted as long as it should have, the cooking surface and the pan itself are perfect after about 15 years.

These pieces are offered seasonally and range in price from $10-$40.

Le Crueset

I’m fortunate enough to have a few pieces of Le Crueset Enamel Coated Cast Iron. (I got them in a grab bag at a Le Crueset scratch and dent sale). Anyway, they are just perfect, but I would never pay these prices for one.

You can expect prices to range from $150-$800.

Moving beyond the frying pan and dutch oven…

A frying pan and a dutch oven is what I would start out with and if you love those and get more adventurous then I would expand to the baking sheet and the flat frying pan next because both of those are a godsend in my own kitchen!

This baking sheet makes the most lovely roasted veggies and perfectly browned rolls.

This pan is terrific for frying eggs, bologna, bacon and other such low grease items.

Fancy pants perfection!

Finally, once you feel all fancy pants, this grill pan is wonderful too…

I use this one for bacon (perfect size), grilling breads where I want those beautiful grill marks, indoor grilled meats and I use it on the actual grill for veggies. Oh! Asparagus! It makes PERFECT grilled asparagus right on the stovetop!

What Kind Of Stove Do I Use?

You need the stove you’ve got! That’s the Cast Iron 101.

I’ve cooked with cast iron on the following surfaces and the following ways and you can too!

  • Glass top flat top stove.
  • Electric Stove with a Coil Eye
  • Gas Stove
  • Induction Stove (this one is a little tricky and I’ll address below)***.
  • Hot Plate
  • Camp Stove
  • Campfire
  • Oven
  • Toaster Oven

Cast Iron couldn’t be more versatile!

***Induction cooking: My cast iron pieces that are NOT enamel coated and that do NOT have a rim around the bottom edge of the pan are what work on the induction cooktop. The bottom must be flat. Try it before you buy it to be sure.

cast iron sauce pan with cheerwine barbecue sauce

What Kitchen Tools Are Best?

Cast Iron Frying Pan:

The good news is that you can use any tools with your plain cast iron frying pan! There are no worries about marring the surface.

That said, I usually use wooden spoons and metal turning spatulas.

If you can find these old fashioned spatulas, they are the STUFF for cast iron.

spatulas on a table

Enamel Coated Pan:

For the enamel coating, you want to use care and NOT scratch the enamel. For this reason, I stick with the following:

  • wooden spoons
  • wooden spatulas
  • Rubber spatulas
cast iron dutch oven with whisk

How Do I Remove The Scorched Brown Marks From My Enamel Coated Cast Iron?

This can be so tricky because you DO NOT want to scratch the enamel surface. So NO metal scrubbies on that surface!

The best product I’ve found to safely remove brown stains from enamel coated cookware without damaging the cookware is this Le Crueset cleaner.

I’ve used this on all of my enamel coasted cast iron and it works like a charm and doesn’t harm the cookware!

How Long Does Cast Iron Cookware Last?

Well, let’s see, I have at least 3 frying pans that I’ve been using for 35 years and I bought them used at estate and yard sales from someone who had no need for them any longer.

I’ve never had to throw out a cast iron cookware piece because it cracked, lost a handle or didn’t heat evenly anymore.

I’ve never had one to warp on the bottom.

I don’t know anyone who has either.

My mother has a cast iron frying pan that I hope to inherit one day that she has been cooking in since she married my dad 60+ years ago.

So, they last a long time.

Make sure you pick out one that you really like since you’ll probably have it for a while.

cast iron skillet with edges of crispy cornbread showing

Key Steps

  1. Wash your cast iron BRIEFLY in hot water using as little soap as possible. Rinse well. Don’t put cast iron in the dishwasher.
  2. Allow your cast iron to air dry very well before putting it away. Do not allow water to sit in your cast iron, turn it on the drying rack so that water drains out.
  3. Store it so that it stays dry.
  4. If you see any rusty places starting to develop or if the surface seems to want to stick to foods, it’s time to season the pan.

How To Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Seasoning a cast iron pan is SO EASY! It’s cast iron 101!

I have the full set of instructions with photos in my article “How To Season a Cast Iron Pan” but essentially, this is what you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Wash the pan and make sure it is completely dry.
  3. Apply a thin coat of crisco shortening.
  4. Turn the pan upside down on the middle rack in the oven and set a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below the pan. (the foil catches any dripping oil).
  5. Bake the pan for an hour.
  6. Turn the oven off and allow the pan to stay in the oven until the oven is cool.
Cast iron skillet with vegetable shortening smeared on it

What Dishes Can I Cook for Cast Iron 101?

Here are some great beginner recipes for cast iron for cast iron 101, I would start here…

How to Fry Bologna

Canned Biscuit Recipes

How to Cook Sausage Links

11 Cast Iron Recipes

Cast Iron Cooking Tips and Tricks

  • Buy good quality cast iron. It should feel fairly heavy in your hands, have a good balance when you hold it by the handle, have a hole in the handle for hanging. Look for brand names you can trust such as Lodge, Tramontina, Crofton or Le Crueset.
  • Remember that the cast iron you purchase today will likely last forever so buy something that is classic in color and design. Only buy something that you really do like. You’ll be looking at it a lot!
  • You’ll treat plain cast iron differently than enamel coated cast iron. Be super careful to avoid scratch the surface of the enamel coated cast iron. Be super careful of acidic foods in plain cast iron.
  • Always hand wash all of your cast iron. Never put it in the dishwasher.
  • Allow cast iron to air dry completely before putting it away.
  • Stack or hang cast iron in your kitchen, but whichever you do, make sure it stays dry. Remember that cast iron is heavy and it can be a real pain to move around if you stack it.
  • If your enamel coated cast iron becomes stained, clean it right away with the proper cleaner (recommended cleaner is listed above).
  • Supposing you decide to actually wash your cast iron in soapy water, do so quickly and use the mildest soap possible. Rinse well.
  • Season your cast iron about once per year or when you notice the surface is becoming dull or when foods seem to start sticking. There’s an article here at Loaves and Dishes about proper seasoning.
  • Avoid cooking acidic foods in your cast iron (its fine for enamel coated cast iron).

Did I Leave Something Out?

Want to know more or do you have more questions? If so, just leave them in the comment section below! I’ll be happy to answer whatever question you have.

Happy with the information you found here? Please leave a 5 STAR comment in the comment section below!

Here’s a quick recipe to get you started with your new cast iron!

cooked bacon on a table

How to Cook Bacon in a Cast Iron Pan

Just starting to use cast iron? There's nothing better to start with than learning how to cook bacon in a cast iron pan. Here's an easy way to do it!
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 7 minutes
Servings: 2 servings
Calories: 183kcal
Author: Wendi Spraker

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon

Instructions

  • Heat the pan over medium low heat on the stove top for 1 minute.
  • Cut the bacon in half so that it fits into the pan.
  • Lay 4 pieces of the bacon in the heated pan and allow to cook on one side for 4 minutes. Flip the bacon and cook for another 2 minutes on the other side. If you prefer your bacon more crispy, cook longer.
  • Remove the bacon to a plate with a paper towel on top to allow the bacon to drain. Repeat with the remaining 4 slices of bacon.

Notes

  • Preheat the pan first and keep the heat at medium low to low. 
  • The lower heat will help the bacon to become crispy throughout while cooking. 
  • If you turn the heat up too far, the bacon will burn in the middle and be raw on the ends. 
  • I always recommend to cut the bacon in half so that you have plenty of room to cook the bacon and to avoid uncooked ends. 
  • Be sure to save the bacon grease. Check out the post here at loaves and dishes about saving bacon grease! (It adds a ton of flavor to lots of dishes!).

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
How to Cook Bacon in a Cast Iron Pan
Amount Per Serving
Calories 183 Calories from Fat 153
% Daily Value*
Fat 17g26%
Saturated Fat 6g30%
Cholesterol 29mg10%
Sodium 291mg12%
Potassium 87mg2%
Carbohydrates 1g0%
Protein 6g12%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Tried this recipe?Mention @loavesanddishes or tag #loavesanddishes!

A Verse To Share…

So I looked up “cast iron” bible verses. I mean, I knew there wouldn’t be any with cast iron, but it’s always fun to look and see, right?

The entire passage is interesting and by my lay understanding, it basically says that it is smart to fear the Lord (in terms of doing what is right and believing as you should) and to shun evil.

What’s your interpretation?

Job 28:2

Iron is taken from the dust,
And copper is smelted from rock.

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Ann

Friday 6th of November 2020

Thanks for this great information! I had not heard about Le Creuset Cleaner; so I will definitely be checking this out. Thanks for all you do for us on your web site!! Blessing as you are a blessing to me and I know others feel the same.

Wendi Spraker

Saturday 7th of November 2020

That's so sweet Ann, Thank you. :)

Mary Alice

Sunday 25th of October 2020

Thanks Wendi! I didn’t even know they made cast iron sheet pans. Think I’m going to explore one. wondering who sells them. And no special oil needed to season any of it. And must consider storage...

Wendi Spraker

Sunday 25th of October 2020

Hi Mary Alice! I'm not sure where all you can get one, but if you click the photo of the one above, it will take you to the listing on Amazon for one. If you go to the Lodge website, you can also purchase there and sometimes there's a coupon available on that website!

Wendi J Spraker

Thursday 22nd of October 2020

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