Even though cast iron skillets can seem like the holy grail of kitchen appliances what with all their marvelous qualities, these kitchen wizards still have a few limitations that all cast iron skillet owners should be aware of.
Some of these guidelines for what not to cook in a cast iron skillet can be overlooked for owners of enamel coated skillets while others should be followed regardless of the style of skillet. And, even despite these minimal limitations, the cast iron skillet is extremely diverse.
Because cast iron skillets are so durable, they can often be passed onto future generations when they’re properly cared for. Follow these simple rules to get the most use out of your cast iron skillet!
What Not to Cook in a Cast Iron Skillet
Avoid Cooking Strong-Smelling Foods in the Same Pan with Desserts
Cast iron skillets can retain the leftover smell/flavor of recently cooked dishes, so think carefully about the foods you cook in the pan. Fish, garlic, onions, chilies, some cheeses, and other pungent foods can leave behind a flavor that seeps into other dishes cooked in the same pan.
But, don’t despair if you cook a smelly food in your favorite cast iron skillet. Most cast iron skillets can be heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes (or more) in order to remove the left-behind smell residue.
If you plan to regularly use your cast iron skillet for smelly foods as well as for non-smelly foods (i.e. cookies), consider investing in two or more skillets to cover all your cooking needs. Most cast iron skillets are relatively affordable, so this is a realistic possibility for many home cooks.
Don’t Cook Sticky Foods in a Poorly-Seasoned Skillet
This rule applies particularly to new cast iron skillets, but it can be true even for older skillets too. Because new cast iron skillets usually take a few uses to become adequately seasoned (and thus nonstick), cooking sticky foods in a brand new skillet can result in catastrophe.
With enamel coated cast iron skillets, cooking sticky foods shouldn’t be a problem! The coating on these pans is nonstick from the beginning and the pans usually don’t require any seasoning or re-seasoning, so it isn’t an issue to use an enamel coated skillet to cook sticky foods.
Examples of sticky problem foods include rice, pancakes, sugary fruit syrups, and high-sugar desserts. Of course, after the cast iron skillet has been properly seasoned after multiple uses, it’s perfectly acceptable to cook these foods successfully and to achieve delicious results.
Avoid Cooking Eggs in a New Skillet
Cooking eggs in a brand new cast iron skillet is risky because of the afore-mentioned issues with cooking sticky foods. Eggs can stick to pans and leave behind hard-to-remove residue that interferes with future cooking projects. Plus, they have a particular flavor that can be left behind.
While frying or poaching eggs in a well-seasoned skillet can be a great way to cook eggs, using a new skillet for this project is sometimes disastrous. Cast iron skillets are durable and can often be cleaned up after a sticky-food-situation, but it’s best to avoid cooking these foods at first.
Because eggs are sticky and can cause problems with a cast iron skillet, this means that omelets, scrambled eggs, frittatas, and of course, fried eggs are out of the question. But later, after the skillet has been seasoned, it’s definitely acceptable to cook eggs in a skillet.
Some skillet experts recommend a few months of use with fatty meats like bacon before attempting to cook eggs or other sticky foods in a cast iron skillet. Look up specific instructions for cooking these foods to get the best results.
Stay Away from Acidic Foods
Acidic foods are a major no-no for cooking in a cast iron skillet. This is another rule that can be overlooked for owners of an enamel coated skillet, but acid is notorious for causing issues in bare cast iron skillets, even when they’re properly seasoned.
Tomato sauces and other tomato-heavy dishes are a no-go in a cast iron skillet. Vinegar and lemon based sauces are also out of the question. Think twice before adding lemon juice, wine, or vinegar to skillet dishes! If possible, take the food out of the skillet before adding acids.
It’s common knowledge that acidic foods can leach the iron out of a cast iron skillet, thus resulting in metallic-tasting foods and potentially ruined dishes. So, this is a rule to follow carefully. Not all foods will cause this problem, but some specific foods will be problematic.
Another super important thing to keep in mind in regard to acidic foods is that acids can rapidly break down the seasoning in a cast iron skillet. Try to avoid adding acids to your skillet so that you don’t accidentally destroy the work that goes into a perfectly seasoned skillet.
Be Careful with Delicate Fish
Some types of fish are more delicate than others and may have trouble withstanding the heat of a cast iron skillet. Cast iron skillets heat to very high temperatures, and some types of fish might fall apart in these conditions, leaving behind a messy and disappointing situation.
The kinds of fish that don’t do well in a cast iron skillet include tilapia, flounder, and other flaky white fish meats. Salmon and other sturdier fish meats are often fine, but they may also cause problems in some cases, especially when it comes to sticking and flipping.
As a general rule it’s best to cook fish in a non-stick stainless steel pan. Besides the difficulty of cooking fish in a cast iron skillet, it can also be occasionally difficult to remove the residual fish flavor from the skillet (which isn’t so good for baking a skillet cookie afterwards).
Get a Dedicated Skillet for Breads and Pastries
Breads and pastries can have a tendency to stick to a cast iron skillet under the wrong circumstances, even when it’s well-seasoned. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be careful when baking these foods in a non-enamel coated skillet.
Another good reason to be careful with pastries and bread has to do with the possibility that the flavor and smell of previously cooked foods may interfere with the flavor of the bread or dessert. If you’re planning to bake breads and pastries, consider having a skillet just for these foods.
Before baking bread or a pastry item in a cast iron skillet, you should always preheat the pan. Although this may seem confusing to people new to skillet cooking, it’s absolutely vital to heat the pan before placing cold or room temperature foods on the cooking surface.
Breads that are baked in a cast iron skillet that hasn’t been preheated will stick like super glue. Although it’s usually possible to salvage the skillet, the work involved is often time consuming and the bread is likely to be inedible. So, always preheat your skillet before cooking!
Don’t Put Cold Foods in a Cold Pan
One major rule of cooking with a cast iron skillet is to never add cold foods to a cold pan. Always make sure to allow the skillet to get hot before adding any food or else you’ll have a sticky mess on your hands to clean up afterwards.
To prevent food from sticking (even in a well-seasoned pan), allow the cast iron skillet to heat completely before adding any food. Then, make sure that the food is at room temperature before adding it. This will ensure that the pan maintains its non-stick status.
Cast iron skillets are incredibly versatile cookware pieces, but just like any kitchen appliance, they have their weaknesses. There are some very specific foods that shouldn’t be cooked in a regular cast iron skillet, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that this list is extremely short.
An enamel coated cast iron skillet can handle most of these situations with ease. Always consider the manufacturer’s guidelines for using the skillet, but for people who want to make desserts, eggs, or tomato sauce in their skillet, an enamel coated skillet is the way to go.
Despite the very few exceptions, cast iron skillets are perfect for many cooking situations, and definitely a must-have for any kitchen. Read the rules and consider the “danger zones”, then get cooking! Cast iron skillets are very durable, so fear not and cook on.