10 things you need to know about cast iron skillets

21 Sep.,2022


personalized cast iron skillet

They're not as hard to work with as you may think

There’s a lot of lore surrounding cast iron skillets. People have strict rules about how they must be seasoned and how they should be cleaned. For instance, you should only clean your cast iron skillet with coarse salt and a lemon wedge during the waxing moon, but not on a Monday or while it’s raining lest it become haunted by the spirits of bad meals past and rust into oblivion.


Okay, maybe not as arbitrary as that, but still, a lot of the cast iron skillet advice varies from person to person and those hyper-personal rules that some cast iron skillet lovers swear by might not fit someone else’s lifestyle.

We get it – people who love cast iron skillets are really passionate about them and are so eager about you beginning your cast iron endeavors that they want to protect you from failure at all costs. But those rigorous guidelines can be so intimidating to beginners that they end up losing interest in cast iron skillets before they’ve even started.

Cast iron skillets are more accessible and approachable than they may seem though, and they’re a lot more forgiving than your friend who screams "don’t use soap" gives them credit for. Just ask Peter Huntley, the owner and imaginative designer behind Stargazer Cast Iron in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Huntley started using and collecting vintage cast iron skillets in 2013, and enjoyed it so much that he started designing his own. In 2015, he founded Stargazer Cast Iron.

Here are a few things you need to know about using and caring for cast iron skillets, according to Huntley.

1. Consider the design of your skillet

Cornmeal comes in more colors than just classic yellow! You can use blue cornmeal to make a colorful cast iron skillet cornbread — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani Palmisano

Cast iron skillets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all of which can impact how the skillet is used. When it came to designing Stargazer Cast Iron products, Huntley took a lot of the features he liked from his collection of vintage pieces and added them to his custom-made product.

"That surface finish is the gateway drug for a lot of people," says Huntley. "Our skillet has a smooth finish like a lot of the vintage ones used to have. And for me to that was one of the first things I was really excited about."

Another thing to consider when looking at the design of your skillet is the handle. Because cast iron retains a lot of heat, those handles can get really hot, even if it’s not directly over the stove burner.

"To get the handle to stay cooler, we put that fork in it and made it longer to dissipate the heat," Huntley explains, describing the unique shape of the Stargazer’s handle. He also added a larger helper handle, that little handle opposite of the long handle, to help lift up the skillet. Though the skillet is lighter than other cast iron skillets, it can still be quite heavy.

2. The seasoning is renewable

When it comes to rules regarding cast iron skillet care, seasoning is the most contentious issue. But Huntley says not to worry too much about it.

"I think people get overly hung up with what the rules are when it comes to seasoning," says Huntley, "but people just need to keep cooking with it. Most cast iron problems fix themselves, and anything that doesn’t can be fixed by re-seasoning. You warm it up, you coat it with oil, you heat it and it’s good to go again."

To season your skillet, all you have to do is coat it with a thin layer of oil and heat it hot enough and long enough to fully smoke it off. The key here is to make sure that the oil is no longer slick to the touch, but fully baked onto the cast iron skillet. The scientific term for this process is called polymerization.

"There’s a misconception that just wiping the oil on the skillet is seasoning," says Huntley, "but I think unless you fully heated it, unless the oil is polymerized and hardened, it’s not seasoned on there. It’s just going to wipe back off again."

3. There are a multitude of oils you can use to season your skillet

It’s relatively easy to season your cast iron skillet, but what kind of oil should you use? When developing the Stargazer cast iron skillet, Huntley experimented with about 15 different kinds of oils and at the end, he didn’t notice that big of a difference in each oil’s performance.

He does, however, recommend using a vegetable-based oil or any oil with a high smoke point. "We use canola, grapeseed, and sunflower oils at our facility. Any of those are fine," says Huntley. "Some people are all about flaxseed oil as well."

4. Yes, you can use soap

Another hot topic with cast iron skillets is cleaning. There are plenty of people in the cast iron community who swear off using soap, which, sure, that’s fine, you do you. But soap isn’t going to destroy your cast iron skillet or your seasoning.

According to Huntley, you can use a little dollop of soap to clean your skillet and, if you feel the need, you can always re-season. Just be sure to dry it off immediately after cleaning to prevent your skillet from rusting. With that said, your cast iron skillet isn’t something that you want to leave soaking in the sink.

"If you left it underwater for days, you still wouldn’t destroy it," says Huntley, "but you may see some markings from rust." Even then, Huntley says, with a little bit of work, you can bring your cast iron skillet back to life.

When it comes to soap usage, we may not all agree. But there is one thing we will all agree on, and that’s never putting your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher. The dishwashing detergents may strip away your built-up seasoning, making it easier for rust to form.

5. Acidic foods won’t ruin it

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There’s always a question of what you should and shouldn’t cook in your cast iron skillet. There are some in the community who believe that acidic foods like tomatoes, lemons or wine can ruin your cast iron skillet.

"If you cook with acidic ingredients, yeah, it’s going to deteriorate your seasoning to some degree," says Huntley, "but the seasoning is constantly coming and going. That’s the magical thing about cast iron skillets, its seasoning is renewable."

6. Don’t skip preheating

Preheating is one of the most overlooked steps in cooking. You wouldn’t throw a roast into a cold oven, so why would you put a steak in a cold skillet? If you grew up cooking with aluminum cookware, you didn’t have to worry as much because they tend to heat up quickly. But because of their weight, cast iron skillets can take a little bit of time to heat up. Huntley recommends heating up your skillet 10-15 minutes before you put anything in it.

7. Cast iron skillets are great for cooking more than just meats

Thanks to the heat retention and the way cast iron skillets radiate heat, they’re great for browning and searing meats. But you can cook more than just animal proteins in a cast iron skillet. Huntley, who is a vegetarian, loves the way cast iron skillets caramelize marinated tempeh strips and sauté vegetables.

"Cast iron skillets are great for anything you’re frying or cooking or sautéing in oil," Huntley explains. "It’s great with meats, but cast iron is just as good at browning meats as it is browning potatoes and Brussels sprouts."

8. Cast iron skillets are also great for baking

Cast iron skillets make baking and serving apple galettes easy — Photo courtesy of Kae Lani Palmisano

Yes! This same skillet we recommend for searing your meats and sautéing your vegetables does exceptionally well with baking for all the same reasons – heat retention and heat radiation. Cast iron skillets can evenly bake and brown a wide range of baked goods.

You can make breads, brownies, cookies and cakes all in a cast iron skillet. You can even make pies – cast iron skillets are perfect for baking evenly flaky pie crusts.

9. Cast iron skillets are incredibly versatile

You can cook, sear, caramelize, brown, sauté, make game day dips and snacks, cook casseroles, and even bake with a cast iron skillet. You can even use the cast iron skillet as a stylish dish in which to serve your meal. Don’t limit your cast iron skillet to one use because you’re afraid of losing the seasoning.

"You can really bring it back from anything," says Huntley. "Even if the seasoning gets stripped off. The material is really durable. It is really difficult to total a cast iron skillet."

10. Skillets are a gateway into the world of cast iron cookware

Most people discover the wonderful world of cast iron through skillets, but there are other ways to use cast iron in the kitchen. Cast iron Dutch ovens, with their taller walls and lids, are perfect for baking homemade sourdough bread. If you really enjoy grilling and searing meats, try a cast iron grill pan.

There are even cast iron roasters perfect for braising short ribs, or roasting a full chicken with vegetables. In Huntley’s collection of cast iron, he has a vintage cast iron waffle iron.

"Really anything you want to hold a lot of heat," says Huntley, "the heat retention has added value."