5 Myths About Cast Iron

My wife spotted the rust first. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing to the sink. Someone had left the cast iron skillet — a potential family heirloom, mind you — in a puddle of dirty dish water. Someone had neglected it long enough that rust spots dotted the surface. Its lovingly seasoned sheen now looked dull, like the face of a faded starlet. Someone had a lot of explaining to do. OK, that someone was me. And I needed to fix it, pronto.

A quick Web search brought up a bushel of information — much of it contradictory. Never use soap! No, it’s OK to use some soap. Never boil water in it! No, boil water in it to loosen up caked-on bits. It’s unhealthy to cook with cast iron! No, it actually adds iron to your foods.


Here are five myths about using your cast iron pan that need to be dispelled.

1. Never, ever use soap: You’ve heard this one before, maybe from your nonna as she was handing down her precious pan on your wedding day. For the most part, you can ignore it. Unlike the harsh lye soap they used in the Little House on the Prairie, modern-day soap is gentle (it’s even soft on your hands!). If your pan is well-seasoned, a little soap and water won’t hurt it. I’ve always washed my cast iron skillet like any other dirty pan.

2. A new pan should always be seasoned: Actually, probably not. Most cast iron pans that you buy today, like a Lodge Logic, will arrive pre-seasoned. Yes, the pan will take on a lovely patina with years of home cooking. But like a Mac, you can use it out of the box. Just remember to get it nice and hot before throwing on the food, and add a little oil or fat to prevent sticking.

3. Never use metal utensils: A lot of folks warn you to use wooden spoons so you won’t damage the surface. Not true. Light scraping while cooking polishes the iron, allowing the seasoning to adhere better to the pan. It’s actually good practice to promote this process. Within reason, of course. Don’t go at it with a jackhammer.

4. Cast iron heats evenly: It’s true that a cast iron skillet gets hotter and stays hotter than an aluminum pan of the same size, but the heat isn’t distributed evenly. With a small burner, the edges of the pan will be cooler than the center. For a truly hot pan, put it in a hot oven first. But because cast iron skillets retain their heat longer, they’re great pans to bring from the oven to the table.

5. You should throw away a “ruined” cast iron pan: Cast iron is basically indestructible. Your home oven will never get hot enough to melt it. If you somehow strip off the seasoning or, ahem, let it sit and rust, you can simply reseason it. Here’s how: Wash it thoroughly with soap and hot water, and a brush. Rinse and dry completely. Brush inside and out with vegetable flaxseed oil, shortening or lard. And place in a very, very hot oven, like 500 degrees, for an hour. Allow to cool and wipe clean. (Find a much more detailed post on seasoning your pan here).

Now, fry up some of this.

52 Responses to “5 Myths About Cast Iron”
  1. Robert says:

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been using cast iron for years and I’ve never used soap. There’s really no need to. Put about 1 inch of water int eh skillet and heat on medium for about 1 minute. Scrape with a flat edge metal spatula and any stuck on food will come right off.

    Only flat edge spatulas should be used, not wooden or silicone. That’s reserved for enamel cast iron.

    And for seasoning the pan, use only vegetable shortening, lard, or Flaxseed oil. Liquid oil will leave a very sticky residue. You can cook in liquid oil, but not season the pan.

    How To Season Cast Iron Cookware

    Cast Iron Seasoning

    • Phat says:

      Robert: I’ve also read that flaxseed oil is the best for seasoning. I’ll add that to the post. And you’re right, you don’t need to use soap; your method sounds like it will do the job just fine.

    • David Thompson says:

      If you use oil to season, you need to wipe it out after it cools to avoid that sticky residue, and, worse, the oil can become rancid.

    • Barbara says:

      I have some 6″ cast iron skillets that are as old as me. My grandmother and mother always washed with hot water and soap, dry immediately. If you need scraping, I use the “stoneware scraper” from Pampered Chef or the equipvalent from Walmart, etc. Nice hard edge that is durable and usually has different corners to match whatever pot/pan you have.

  2. Page says:

    I have many cast iron pans & have cooked with them for many years. I clean them the way my mother did: scrub them with soap & water. Rinse well & put on a lit burner. When the water starts to disappear, wipe it out with a paper towel. Then, take it off the heat. I have never seasoned a new pan, wash it as described above, and I’ve never had anything stick to it. :-)

  3. Kristen says:

    For those of you pregnant or breastfeeding, cooking in cast iron also offers a great iron boost to your diet. Apparently cast iron pans leach iron into your food (duh), which is a really good thing for you and your little one. Another point about iron is that not all sources are created equal. For example, spinach and many other plant-based iron sources also have oxalic acid, which inhibits iron absorption. So Popeye, though well-intended, wasn’t telling the whole story. See Ruth Yaron’s classic “Super Baby Food” book for more on this and other mother-baby nutrient needs. Caveat: I’m not a doctor (at least not in the medical sense), so be sure to read up on the nutritional benefits yourself. Love, Phat’s wife and Jude’s mom

  4. David Thompson says:

    My father always distiguished between soap (rare in the kitchen these days) and detergents. Soap (think Ivory Snow, if it’s still sold) doesn’t seem to harm the seasoned surface nearly so much as detergents (which include nearly everything you use to wash clothes or dishes).

    Every steel skillet (if you have an aluminum skillet, throw it away) needs to be seasoned just like cast iron. The result is a non-stick surface, better than teflon, on which you can cook with very little added oil.
    If cooking leaves burnt particles or just black/brown scum, use plain steel wool (much cheaper at a hardware store) and hot water, and scour it all away. (SOS pads – with some sort of detergent in them – are the worst thing you can use). Then put a tablespoon or so of cooking oil (any kind, in my experience) in the skillet, put it on a low-medium hot burner (don’t want the oil to smoke), and leave it awhile (thirty minutes? an hour?). Allow it to cool, wipe the remaining oil out with a paper towel (it can become rancid), and throw it in the cabinet. If it makes you feel better, rinse it well with hot water before using it again.

    At first, you’ll have to use extra oil to keep food from sticking, but stay with it, and keep it out of the dishwater. I’ve never had much luck with the oven thing – the slow, repeated process works better.

  5. Paul Cush says:

    To get stubborn residue out, make a paste out of Kosher salt and flaxseed oil, then scrub with that paste and a paper towel. Wipe the pan out with a clean paper towel when finished and put the clean pan away.

  6. Russ says:

    I use mineral oil to wipe the pans with. It works and it doesnt go rancid!

    • Powell says:

      Never use mineral oil on cookware. Mineral oil (even if it is the special food-safe kind) is made from petroleum. It is like using motor oil on your cast iron.

  7. Concerned says:

    I would be concerned about using a pan that was “pre-seasoned”. Pre-seasoned with what? Whenever you get a cast iron pan, I’d recommend removing the seasoning and doing the seasoning yourself so you know what’s in it. Unless I trust the source (Like my Grandma or Aunt) I’d always strip the pan and season it from bare metal.

  8. Sharon Gibson says:

    Just for future reference, what’s the most effective way to completely strip seasoning from a cast iron pan?

    • Anonymous says:

      Oven cleaner! It works perfectly well, depending on the condition of your pan, you might have to repeat the process several times.

      • Phat says:

        Hmm… Not sure I would want to put oven cleaner directly on my pan, but if it works for you, kudos!

      • Sondra says:

        Holy chemicals! I don’t use Oven Cleaner in my oven! Use 1/3 part salt to 1 part Baking soda, and vinegar. Let sit overnight then spray more vinegar and scrub it up!
        For my pan, I sprinkle with table salt, let it sit awhile, then scrub with a paper towel. Always works. Then I rub coconut oil in before putting away. Coconut oil has a longer shelf life than other oils.

    • Phat says:

      I would try a steel-wool sponge and a lot of elbow grease. Good luck!

    • Anonymous says:

      The absolute best way is to put in in your oven on the self-cleaning cycle for four hours and then clean it very thoroughly with a heavy steel scrub brush, soap, and water. At this point you want to get the skillet down to bare metal as much as possible.

      Then it’s time to start seasoning it. I’ve developed a few ways over the years to perfectly season a skillet. It can take a few days but it’s worth it.

      I’ve been collecting and dealing in antique cast iron for a long time. There’s some terrible advice on here. Yikes!

    • Ruth says:

      If you put your cast iron in a hot oven – 500 degrees F and leave it for about an hour is will strip your pan. No chemicals needed.

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  10. Eric G says:

    I don’t wish to be contradictory for the sake of stirring up an argument. However, I need to disagree with the use of soap on any cast iron. Personally, I can not stand it when someone uses soap on cast iron. It leaves a flavor since the cast iron is a porous surface you will impart the taste of your soap into everything you cook. My recommendation is to use a few ice cubes in a pan if you have food stuck from cooking. This will loosen the material if the pan is really hot. For washing I recommend a slightly warm pan or cookware, plenty of running hot tap water, steel wool or stainless steel scrub pad (not SOS), and 1/4-1 cup of table salt as a scrubbing medium. Add a little hot water and scrub the salt around, rinse a little bit, add some more salt if needed. This will remove some of the patina but, it will keep the cooked in seasoning in place. Rinse well dry with a towel. I like to use Crisco (or bacon fat) and coat well with a paper towel inside and out. I then heat my cookware upside down in the oven for about 1 hour at 350 to 500 Fahrenheit. Make sure to line a bottom rack with aluminum foil to capture any drippings. Once cooked in good open door and let cast iron cool. If kitchen or area is too cool I will sometimes lower temperature over the next 2-3 hours on the oven to cool the cookware until ultimately the oven is off and the inside temps are just cooling down. This I have found prevents my seasoning from turning sticky.

    Like I said, this is a recommendation of my own. Not to go against your webpage but, it may help others.

    • baldylox says:

      You go a lot more overboard with it than I do, but I have to second the ‘no soap’ thing. There’s more bad cast iron advice in this article, especially if you are using a vintage or antique skillet, but I won’t dwell on that.

      The way I season and maintain my skillets is the real old-school way. Ice cubes are great if something is sticking to the skillet, but if something is sticking to the skillet then something is wrong.

      Nothing should stick to properly used and well-maintained cast iron. Nothing.

  11. Theresse says:

    I’ve always wondered what oils used for seasoning might go rancid. Or does heating the pan afterward on a high heat remove all the oil?

    I’d like to know which – of all the oils/fats is less likely to:

    - go rancid in storage (e.g. flax seed oil I think has a short shelf life compared to others)
    - go rancid on/in the pan if used for seasoning (if indeed this is a problem)
    - leave the pan feeling sticky

    Remove all those issues and surely there’s a #1 best oil left over! ;)

    • Erin B says:

      Heating the pan to between 450 – 500F after oiling polymerizes the oil so it won’t go sticky or rancid on the pan. Storage is a whole different issue. My flaxseed oil lives in my fridge and I haven’t had any problems yet.

  12. Will says:

    Hate to say this, but you are wrong on the soap issue, soap ruins the seasoning on good cast iron pans ie Erie, griswold, wagner. I dont know about lodge because its an abomination and doesnt deserve to be called cast iron. It cuts and lifts all that old cooked in fat and bacon grease. The only time you want to even contemplate using soap is to clean a new to you pan BEFORE seasoning.

  13. Wayne B says:

    I never use ANY chemical on my cast iron including dish soap, If the cast iron is bad shape I wash and scrub it with rock salt and water then heavy rinse, then throw it in a pit of hot coals (wood) let cool then using a dry coarse rag i clean/buff then cover with lard I then heat the cast iron up for an hour. A little tiny bit of rust doesn’t bother me and almost every time it is removed by the above.

    general cleaning: after I cook in the iron I put hot water in it and keep the cookware over heat while I eat afterwards I just wipe out re-lube re-heat cool and put away. Most of my life has been spent outdoors and cast iron always been a part of it.

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  16. sara says:

    I have a cast iron skillet and it rusted. I was told to use oven cleaner and have now forgotten it for a severly long time. .. is it safe to use?? If I wash it and season etc? is it a lost cause. Should I throw it away??

  17. Cj says:

    What about the fact that flax oil goes rancid very quickly?

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  25. Mike C says:

    it’s not true that cast iron pans are indestructible. firs, cast iron is brittle. if you were so crazy as to strike your cast iron pan with a hammer hard enough, it would probably shatter.

    but you’d have to be crazy to do that.

    however, if you leave your pan out on your back porch, or outside or in the basement long enough, with water in it, the inner surface will rust so badly that you won’t have a smooth surface any more, and eventually, it would rust all the way through.

    my comment about cast iron being brittle is theoretical, however, i have direct experience with badly rusted cast iron. i moved into a roommate situation and found two cast iron pans out in the backyard. both were rusted, one so badly that it was obvious that it couldn’t be salvaged..

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    My son put his boots in the cast iron wood stove to dry out!!
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    What can i do ?Oven cleaner? Heat up stove to soften?
    I have no idea what to do but we are cold because we can’t light up stove at moment which heats half of the house.

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