5 Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron

Loaded Beef Nachos

What We Discovered in the Test Kitchen:

  • Use a pan that’s the correct size for your recipe. Some recipes in this book call for a 10-inch skillet and others use a 12-inch skillet. Cooking a recipe in a larger or smaller skillet can cause problems, so check the requirements of each recipe. We recommend buying both a 10-inch and a 12-inch pan so you can make every recipe in the book.
  • Scale the burner size to your pan. The skillet will heat more evenly if it’s properly matched to the size of the heating element on your stove. This applies to both gas and electric stoves.
  • Protect your hands. Since cast iron retains heat extremely well, the handle of your skillet will stay very, very hot for quite a while after cooking. Always use a towel or potholder when taking a skillet out of the oven or moving it on the stovetop, and consider leaving the towel or potholder on the handle to remind yourself not to grab the bare metal.
  • Lift responsibly. Cast iron is heavy, and while we try to minimize the time spent lifting or moving the skillet in our recipes, you will sometimes have to pick it up to transfer the pan from stove to oven or from cooking to serving. To make this easier, look for a skillet that has a helper handle opposite the pan handle. Be sure to protect your hands when using the helper handle as you do with the pan handle; use a towel, potholder, or silicone cover.
  • Use a vegetable- or plant-based oil to season your skillet. While it’s fine to cook with animal fats in your cast iron, fats that are more unsaturated are better for seasoning. The more unsaturated the oil, the more readily it will oxidize and polymerize. Oils such as canola, sunflower, soybean, and corn are highly unsaturated. We have found that flaxseed oil, which is especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids, forms a particularly durable seasoning layer.