Pans_2                                                                                                                                 Photo by DTR

Cast iron: When properly maintained, cast iron pans are superlative cookware.  They are inexpensive, durable, and because they’re so dense, they’re slow to heat, but when they do get hot, they stay that way.  When they are properly “seasoned,” they are virtually as good as the fanciest non-stick sauté pan, better in fact, because they can take a beating.  They do react to acid and salt, however, so you wouldn’t want to salt food down in cast iron, and the acid in tomatoes will actually draw iron into a tomato sauce (iron is good for you but tomato is bad for the pan).

To season cast iron, pour a half-inch layer of oil into it, put it over high heat until the oil is very hot or put it into a 300 degree oven for an hour or so, then let it cool completely.  Pour off the oil and wipe it dry with a paper towel.  (If you make fried chicken or deep fry potatoes in your cast iron, it will season itself.)  Never use soap on it, only an abrasive (a copper scrub pad or some kosher salt), dry it with a paper towel, and if it needs it, rub some more oil into it.  It will stay seasoned and glossy indefinitely.  If you neglect it, it can be re-seasoned.  Even old and abused cast iron pans can be cleaned, seasoned and reborn as first-rate cookware.

Enameled cast iron is cast iron that has an enamel coating—and therefore is non-reactive to salt and acid and should not be “seasoned”—is also an excellent cooking material.  It can be used on the stove top or in the oven and is especially suited to braising because, while its surface is semi-non-stick, it still allows food to brown and the bottom develops a fond.
                                                                                              —From The Elements of Cooking

Some readers have asked me about cast iron cookware—I have the three pans above and I use them all the time, love them. I don’t think I paid more than $10 for any of them.   Great for any kind of cooking.  It’s what I roast chicken in, and bacon seems to taste better when fried on cast iron.  Turn them upside down and use them as a pizza stone.  They truly are some of the best cookware available from a practical standpoint, but also there’s something satisfying in cooking food in these elemental vessels, in this age of plastic handles, non-stick surfaces and marketing ploys.  Food looks great when it’s cooking in these things (see Moonstruck for one of the most memorable food shots in film).  Look for used pans in antique stores—all of my pans were found on travels through Amish country in central Ohio.  They’re easily brought back to gorgeous gleaming black life, they make great gifts, they last forever. Heavy expensive copper pans hanging in your kitchen intimidate.   The sight of cast iron inspires.


144 Wonderful responses to “Elements: Cast Iron”

  • Traci @ Soup of The Day

    Those are beautiful pans MR.

    My Grandmother used cast iron. I have such fond memories. It’s just always been part of our family, and I treat my cast iron pans like celebrities. My husband isn’t allowed to use or clean them. He knows… dont’ touch the cast iron. And, don’t touch the carbon steel knives!

    I remember my Grandma making Saturday morning breakfasts in the cast iron pans – pounds of sausage and bacon, then she’d fry the eggs in the fat. The edges of the whites would be super crispy. She put a ton of pepper on them, and they were just amazing.

  • Jen Blue

    You can’t do any canning on a smooth top either unless they have changed. My smooth top is about 6 years old and it says in the book to avoid cast iron and canning. I was finally going to learn how to can last summer and then found out that you can’t do it on these stoves. Hope this helps.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I found my mistake in seasoning my pan: never put enough oil in: so I poured about a 1/4-1/2 inch of oil and then set the oven as le mr. ruhlman says: this time I had enough oil to pour out and then scrub dry with paper towels while still hot….it is cold and not at all sticky. By Gosh I think I finally have a seasoned albeit shiny cast iron pan!

  • luis

    Jen I am looking into the smooth top limitations. My range works still and the thing I miss is the new dual elementt baking and the digital timing etc of modern ranges. Almost all ranges at the mega stores are smooth top anymore. Cast Iron heats up very hot and retains the heat. I am willing to bet you are right in thinking it can’t be used over that plastic top.

    BBQUSA tha book is here and cast iron rules…where does this guy find the time to fill up that many pages?? The recipes are all great. Also Garden Fresh Vegetable cookbook is in the house. This is a great book very well organized with lots of info about vegetables and lots of recipes by season. What I love about it is that I look up a recipe such as potato salad.. and I don’t need to go looking for sauces or ingredients.. all I need to do is get to my kitchen and start cooking. Everything is in the house for these books.

  • kim

    Jen and Luis-
    I have a smooth cooktop and I use cast iron on it as well as doing alot of canning on the cooktop. The key is to just not slide these heavy pans around or your smooth top will get scratched by any nicks in the pan. I use alot of regular cast iron skillets as well as large Le Creuset dutch ovens, no problem. I don’t use a pressure canner, but rather the water bath method. I have used a pressure cooker on the stove top as well. Hope this helps

  • luis

    Thank you Kim, most new ranges at the stores are smooth top with double element roasting and digital controls which I love. Alarms are very very important. The ones that don’t shut off are a must have. I tend to think I have seen u-tube cooking videos using cast iron on smooth tops…

    Guys I made basic potato salad for 2.5 lbs of potatoes. Only I used less than 1 lb of potatoes and less than half the mayo. Ok, the onions need to be cut back a bit too but I ended up with a nice vegetable salad. This is a great way to enjoy fresh cut vegetables.

  • luis

    Allright guys Kim, Jen this is from “Wise Geek”
    “”A smoothtop range is an oven range that lacks traditional range burners and is instead perfectly flat with the burners built directly into the top. There are several different makes and models and most major appliance manufacturers make a smoothtop range. A smoothtop range has both advantages and disadvantages that are determined only by personal preference in the kitchen.

    Many prefer the smoothtop range to traditional electric range burners for two reasons, with the primary reason being ease in cleaning. The smoothtop range is easier to clean than soaking drip pans and wiping off spilled food that has fallen beneath the drip pans and become burnt on to the surface of the range. Though many view this as an advantage, there may be just as many who find cleaning a smoothtop range an equal chore. A smoothtop range must be cleaned with special solvents that do not scratch the smoothtop surface. Foods spilled on a smoothtop range must be wiped up immediately to avoid permanent stains.

    Cleaning agents aren’t the only things that can scratch a smoothtop range surface. The cookware used on a smoothtop range must be carefully selected. CAST IRON is NOT suitable for use on a smoothtop range because it can so easily scratch the surface. For those who prefer to cook with CAST IRON, this makes the smoothtop range less than preferable. “”

    Kim it seems you need to be extremelly careful if you use cast iron on a smooth top. Not good….. Jen is right I am afraid.

  • kim

    I’ve read that remark a lot of places about the smoothtop ranges and cast iron cookware but as I previously said, I have been using cast iron cookware on my smoothtop range for years and have no scratches. The only way it would scratch your surface is if you shook the pan back and forth while it was sitting on your smoothtop.
    I have no issues with stains. I clean my cooktop with Barkeepers Friend (what I use to clean most other things in my house as well) or that new Scotch-Brite smooth cooktop cleaning pad (approx US $5.99 in stores).
    Look around and you will find others that also use cast iron on smoothtop ranges. There are quite a few people on the GardenWeb kitchen site that use cast iron on a smooth top as well. No issues.
    As with anything, be careful! I never slide pans or anything across my smooth cooktop.
    I have had this cooktop for years and it still looks brand new.

  • kim

    Im also wondering what kind of oil Michael is recommending here. It seems to me most liquid oils would go rancid on your pan. Anyone know what kind of oil he is referencing?

  • Kate in the NW

    Kim –
    I don’t know what MR uses, but I use canola or olive oil, bacon grease, butter, etc and have no problem at all with a rancid/stale flavor or odor, but I use the pans almost every day; 3-4 days at the outside. But I wipe them out (no soap!) thoroughly after each use so pretty much all that’s left on there is the seasoning (which I don’t think is capable of becoming rancid, it’s so carbonized) and the very thinnest layer of oil. The one time a pan did get a little funky (we were overseas for 2 months) I broke my soap rule – washed it well, then re-seasoned it – and it was fresh again no problem. It did stink a bit in the oven, but that burned off/went away quickly.
    Maybe I’m not terribly discerning about fresh oil. I never get any complaints, anyway. Things always taste good coming from the pan (unless I really screw up a recipe!).
    Hope that helps.

  • luis

    kim , I don’t know how much you follow this thread… but, I spent 3 or 4 days in hawks key a resort in Duck Key fl. Tha fam in a 3-bd condo… with a smothie….
    The fish that was caught and cooked… to die for. Yes, Iron chefs we cooked… our bad dingbats…
    Why we are supposed to sit through these crappy iron chefs were everything is crudo or tar tar.. is beyond me. Get those idiots out of our faces food net,. You suck and food net we are tired of your bs….. Nobody I know wants to eat any of your crap!. NOBODY!!!!!!

  • Messy

    My nifty new Lodge 10″ chef’s pan came today and mindful of the experience others have had with the factory seasoning process, I re-seasoned it based on some of the suggestions I’ve read here.

    Now I get to play! Does anyone have any suggestions as to what the maiden dish in the pan should be? I’ll try darn near anything at least once.

  • ruhlman

    messy, bread pork chops (flour, egg, panko) and shallow fry them (enough oil to come half way up their sides), don’t over cook! this results in a reinforcing of the seasoning of the pan and pork chops!

    and i use canola oil. lard is great. rancidity not a problem given all the high heat involved.

  • DivaKattGurl

    I own 3 of these beauties!!

    I inherited a little one from my mommy. The flat fajita and larger skillet I purchased on my own. I love the little one it makes the best scrambled eggs. I use them for everything… thanks for the heads up on the using of tomatoes, I did not know!!

    I have to tell you that I do use soap on them…OCD! But I will try Kosher salt and a copper scrubber as suggested.

    Thanks for sharing.


  • Maddux

    Great post. We have about 5 well loved cast irons in various sizes and shapes in our kitchen. We even have one in the shape of Texas that my husband found at a garage sale…

  • Messy

    Thank you Mr. Ruhlman!

    I happen to have some splendid pork chops in the freezer right this red hot minute. I’ve always used canola oil, a habit I picked up from my mother. I’m not sure if it’s because of it’s characteristics – neutral flavor, etc – or because I come from canola country, though.

    Either way, it’s always in the house.

  • Erin

    Cast iron is what I use 95% of the time, it makes life with an electric range much easier to bear.

  • luis

    Kim, I messed up my last post.. shoemaker me.
    My bad. I started to think of fish and the last iron chef really made me mad. What I really meant to say was the range we cooked in at Hawks Cay was a smooth top Kenmore.
    I loved it because of dual element roasting and alarm to let me know the oven was preheated and ready. Also a nice timer with a stay on alarm. From that experience I would probably use cast iron on it too.
    My new Typhoon 12 in carbon steel wok arrived and I have been seasoning it all day. It claims is safe for gas, ceramic, halogen, radiant rings and solid tops.
    I wouldn’t hesitate to use it on smooth top.
    I need to cook more with this wok but it may just be my new favorite because it is very light with a stay cool handle and heats up very very efficiently.
    But I don’t really think it beats my cast iron wok. To season it I have been oiling it and heating it up near the smoking point then I take it off the heat and swirl the oil around and let it cool down and wipe it clean. Over and over and over….First the laquer coating came off and now there is a dark patina forming inside the wok.

  • luis

    The carbon steel wok heats up to stir frying tmp in a minute or so…the cast iron wok takes considerably longer and then it maintains heat longer as well. It’s a trade off. I think for frying a lot of say chicken or eggrolls I would tend to use the cast iron but for whipping out a quick stir fry dinner I would reach for the carbon steel…
    Smooth top option for a new range is out of the question because stir frying requires a lot of swishing and sliding the pan around on the cook top. I guess my old beloved crappy range just got a new lease on life.

  • Deborah Dowd

    I have a large cast iron skillet and a small one, and I use them all the time. The large one is great for one-dish meals, pot pies, and makes excellent home fries.

  • luis

    The carbon steel wok really really stirs fry excellent and effortlessly. After seasoning it yesterday I made a stir fry for the rigatoni and whipped a really quick tomato sauce with no problems. Nothing stuck to it. Not a thing. I will have to reseason my cast iron wok but I think it will largelly be used for deep frying eggrolls and chicken and such.
    I am blown away with carb steel. Cleans with a mere wipe. Oh Joy!.

    On another blog update the Cuisinart Perkolator did not stand up to daily use. I replaced it with a Coleman 9 cup stove top. It’s a camping perk that is rugged and should last me a great long time and its small so I can tuck it away easily.

  • whopow75

    Iron – in small doses – is OK, but most folks get WAAAAY too much iron in their diet and it can lead to toxic results and heart attacks. So, yes, keep the acidic foods out of the cast iron pan and you should be OK. Works great for corn bread.

  • cybercita

    ok, that does it. you’ve all convinced me. i’m going go to buy myself a cheap lodge cast iron pan and retire the expensive le creuset frying pan that won’t hand over my fried eggs without a fight.

  • milo

    “most folks get WAAAAY too much iron in their diet and it can lead to toxic results and heart attacks”

    Where did you get that idea? If that was really a problem, why don’t we hear about it?

    And where is all that excess iron supposedly coming from? Most foods don’t have much iron.

  • luis

    Made eggroll filling in the ceramic glazed cast iron wok. Beautifull. Nothing stuck to that wok either. Perfect for that job. Mostly turkey burger meat with vegetables processed in the special attachement to the stick blender. Seasoning and herbs and spices with a touch of soy. Celery, ginger and wrap tomorrow and into the cast iron wok for a nice deep fry. hmmmm… hmmm… dipping sauce would be a nice touch….later.

  • matt_the_webguy

    Proud owner of two Lodge 6-qt. #12 outdoor Dutch Ovens. Learned how to use (and care for) them as a young Boy Scout. We were taught by an old, crotchety Scouter by the name of Gene (RIP Mean Gene).

    I’ve done everything from breakfast mix-ups, to cobblers, cakes, pies, blueberry sauce (big favorite, especially spooned over peach cobbler), bisquits, stews, lasagna, baked rice… and even fried up eggs and pancakes on the inverted lids.

    I’m glad to see a resurgence in D.O. cooking in Scouting, and elsewhere.

    I’m picking up a 12″ Lodge skillet next week, and hope to get a Pro Logic DO for indoor use (no feet or bail).

    Now it’s my turn to become the crotchety old Scouter, and pass along my knowledge.

  • luis

    This morning I deepfried eggrolls in the cast iron wok. Beautifull. It went fast and was neat. As nice or even nicer than using my old Presto deepfryer. Advantages, I’d say the wok uses less oil to deepfry than the deep frier.
    Also in this case the wok heats up to unlimited temp vs the deepfryer I have. Got to keep an eye on temp when deepfrying at least until I get more used to using the wok for deepfrying. Also the wok is much wider than the Presto deepfryer so I don’t crowd the wok and can easily do more pcs at the same time. Another blog..another bunch of new things learned.

  • B

    I’ve had a lodge 9″ skillet for a couple of years and it’s a miracle. The ability to go from cooktop to stove is like having a girlfriend who will — well, nevermind that.

    Mine gets used whenever I make chili, for browning the meat and onion. Last Christmas I roasted a duck in it, and it makes great burgers when I don’t want to fire up the grill. The versatility is amazing.

  • mary lynn

    I found 2 skillets at Salvation Army last week and bought them. They were petty “gunky” and so I thought I would put them in the oven to clean them up. The cycle had been on about 30 minutes when I heard this popping noise from the oven. I looked over and there were FLAMES inside the oven!!! I thought I was going to have to call the fire dept but luckily they went out over a few seconds. You should have seen all the ash inside the oven after it was over and it wasn’t from the oven itself!!! Now on to re-seasoning them. Loved this post.

  • bridge

    One has already stated that in So. Pittsburg, Tn you can guy cast iron Lodge products on the cheap. What they mean to tell you is that the Lodge factory is acutally there – and rumor has it, the only american made cast-iron left – and as a storefront they sell all their product, but ALSO have their blemish sales – so hence an outlet. All pans are $7.95, dutch oven’s for $16.95 – it’s a dream come true. What’s more is that So. Pittsburg is about 20 minutes SW of Chattanooga and hey! here’s a link to the google map, it’s worth the trip if anyone who likes to cook is remotely close to the ‘Noog:
    View Larger Map

  • Paul

    I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the granddaddy of all cast iron pans- Griswald pans. They are not made anymore so you can only get them in a resale situation (yard sale, antique store, etc.) I have 4 of them and use them frequently. In the restaurant setting I use them for seared tuna or sea scallops – really nice crust!!

  • milo

    “I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the granddaddy of all cast iron pans- Griswald pans.”

    Take a look, it has been mentioned many times on this post…did you miss it because you didn’t search the page for the correct spelling “griswOld”?

  • luis

    My Joyce Chen 12 in cast iron wok weighs approximatelly six lbs…(Same with my “classic collection” glazed cast iron wok. The Lodge cast iron wok I believe weighs 22 lbs. This is the problem with the lodge process. I think their utensils are really heavy. I don’t know if that is process related or intentional. I also have a 12 in grilling pan with the ridges that I use to broil/grill stuff. Very unwieldly heavy pan but it works to get the grill marks on veggies under the broiler. But I typically reach for the ligther steel versions of these…
    Anyway I found Hawain plantains at the Publix today. Big huge fat ones. Around here they are used to make those sweet big fried plaintain “Tostones”. It should be fun trying that tomorrow in the cast iron wok. I never knew why my tostones would never resemble the ones in restaurants until now.

  • Messy

    I finally got a chance to debut the new Lodge pan this weekend. There were squash blossoms at the farmers market, so I grabbed a bunch ($6.00 for a dozen blossoms?! Yeesh.)

    I stuffed them with a little goat cheese, dip them in tempura batter, fried them in about 3/4 inch of canola oil until they were nice and crunchy and dusted them with a little smoked paprika before I served them.

    They were gone so fast I almost didn’t get any. The pan, of course, performed perfectly.

  • kitchenbeard

    A few years ago I bought a preseasoned cast iron grill in NY. At the time I was catering for myself. For one client I had promised grilled chicken and had the grill pan on my home stove going full blast for about 3 hours. Near the end I noticed that some of the meat had grey matter on it and it eventually occurred to me that I had burned off the pre-seasoning on the grill. I had to throw out a good quarter of my finished product and restart with a different pan. As a result, I’m a little leery of the stuff now even tho I don’t cook professionally anymore. The grill in question is currently awaiting a blast in the self cleaniung cycle to be re-seasoned.

  • whopow75

    Way too much iron? Milo, a doctor at the University of Florida (Gainesville) has been researching the connection between excess iron in the western diet and its toxic results. There is lots of iron in red meat, some shellfish, chicken, etc. Women lose iron in the blood every month through menstruation, and women’s incidence of heart attacks is well below men’s until after menopause. There are numerous factors for this, but I think excess iron is one culprit – the male body has no normal way to get rid of it.
    We need a little iron in our diet but FDA standards are out of date as to how much we should get. I give blood now several times a year to reduce stored iron. Iron – and its excess, has yet to be studied over long periods of time to see this connection, but the Florida doctor’s papers on the topic were strong enough to convince me. I think you will start to see more notice of this in the year ahead.

  • foodgeek

    LOVE LOVE LOVE cast iron. I’ve got a range of pieces from yard sale Griswolds (not so cheap anymore!) to muffin tins still smoked black and crusty from my great grandmothers wood stove with a set of contemporary 5″ square Lodge pans thrown in to boot. I’ve even been known to put one on my grill (it too has cast iron grates, of course) close the lid and make smoky roasted pizzas, veggies or anything else that will fit.
    I was always taught the “salt and oil” method of cleaning. Rinse after with water and put on the stove to dry.
    I have one special 8″ pan that has had nothing but cornbread (yep i’m Southern) in since the 1930’s. It was a promo give away by a stove company! Never washed it, never will. It’s as smooth as glass and non-stick like you wouldn’t believe. It’s on its third generation of cooks in my family and headed for the fourth. Well cared for iron has become a family heirloom. Not only do the pans outlast us, but so do their stories and the memories of meals made and shared together.

  • racheld

    I think the reason Southerners fry so many things has most to do with all those black skillets, and the sure hands which wield them to such delicious effect—we all have several of the crusty-bottomed beauties, it seems, and they have a history of their own.

    They’re handed down from generation to generation with the reverence accorded Great-Grandmother’s parure, coveted and claimed and used with the accord they’re due.

    When you’re newly married and starting your own home, a gift of a cast-iron skillet is a lovely thing, indeed. But being made a present of a pre-blackened one, long-used by a generation or several of your family—that’s akin to a knighthood, a great inheritance, a special gift like no other, better than Great-Great-Grandpa’s gold watch-that-he-wore-to-Antietam or Aunt Lucille’s recipe box (well maybe sorta equal to that one).

    And when your forebears made their livings on the LAND, with trips to the far-off stores bringing home only the coffee and sugar, with perhaps a twist of precious tea on occasion, the homestuff was what you cooked—from your garden, from the hog lot, from the chicken-yard, from the woods which totally surrounded your homeplace. And when that whole family WORKED the land, from dawn til dusk, coming home dusty and plumb tard out, braising or baking any kind of meat (if you had it) took too much time before the needed sleep. Frying was the quickest way to cook a lot of things, and saved on fuel, besides.

    When the only staples left in your larder were lard and flour, you could still make those two old stand-bys—biscuits and gravy; it was just a bonus to be able to fry whatever you could catch, shoot or gather, in order to feed your family.

    That’s passed down, like history. Or a ready-blackened skillet.

  • kanani

    Ever drop one of those on your foot? I have. My mother used cast iron. I can’t imagine using anything else for fried chicken, or pork chops, even stir fy. When she died, the pans were still there –perfectly seasoned. Not sure, but I think a sibling snitched them.
    I’ve been loathe to buy cast iron because I move every 8 years. (This is the same excuse I use in argument against buying “real” furniture). Someday (maybe) I’ll settle down somewhere, but not now. I just found out I’m moving to Seattle.

  • dawn

    It’s what my family has always used for cooking and what I learned to cook with. These comments have brought back so many memories! My earliest food memories are of sitting in my great grandmother’s kitchen. She always had 2 cast iron skillets on the stove either frying up eggs, potatoes and some form of bacon she called “side meat” or else frying chicken for the mid-day meal. Every bit of food that came out of her kitchen was grown or raised by my great grandparents and they always knew what YOUR favorite food was. My peach pie was always cooling on the windowsill when I arrived. It didn’t matter what time of year it was since she canned her own peaches. She would be rolling out egg noodles on the kitchen table that she could slice into perfectly even strips with a paring knife. Green beans with salt pork would be boiling on the stove and those noodles were dropped into a pot of chicken broth bubbling away next to it. Boy, I wish I could cook like that! I still always break the first batch of fried eggs every time.

  • milo

    whopow75, the only things I could find about too much iron from researchers at that university said that people shouldn’t get more than 45 mg of iron per day. That’s almost three pounds of beef.

    I didn’t find anything saying that people came anywhere close to a risky amount from a normal diet, I wonder if you misread what you found or if you’re just a hypochondriac? Or since there doesn’t seem to be anything about this doctor’s research online, it’s likely it hasn’t been peer reviewed (maybe not even published?), meaning that other scientists don’t support it.

    Do you have a link to this research?

    Research done at universities (or done anywhere for that matter) has the possibility of being wrong. It’s really foolish to make changes in your lifestyle based on the research of one scientist – it really should be confirmed by other studies before you jump to conclusions.

    Back on topic, I’m re-seasoning my cast iron skillet and my wok today. The skillet looks OK, but so far it’s hard to tell if it really got much coating. The wok was tricky since it’s not flat, it got a ring of burned stuff around the pool of oil – I may have to wash it out and try it again.

  • kindageeky

    To the bleach nay-sayers, actually I’ve consulted with two pediatricians, a chef, and a chemical engineer on this one. Bleach in this proportion is not toxic whatsoever. Maybe you were thinking I said ammonia? As to the amount left on the pan, guessing I’d get more chlorine in my system through osmosis doing a few laps in the pool. This cleaning solution is actually recommended for use with things being touched / put in the mouth by infants and toddlers.

  • Nan

    I have several pieces of cast iron from all sizes of dutch ovens to a griddle. I recently inherited some cast iron from my mother in law that have wood handles. How do I season these without burning the handles? I usually season my new cast iron on the BBQ grill. It keeps the smell out of the house. Please let me know how I should season the pans with the wooden handles.

  • Chris Bates

    I have a cast iron skillet with lid that I purchased at an antique store in Nebraska. It looks like it has never been used but there is something rather unusual about it. It has a bright silver coating (almost looks like chrome) over everything except the inside of skillet. It also has dimples all on the outside of both pieces as a kind of decoration. My question is: has anyone else ever cooked in one like this and do I need to treat it any different than other cast iron? The tag says it was made by Chattanooga Iron but I cannot find anything online about that company.