Con Poulos

Your favorite pan can handle a lot, we promise.

Max Bonem
May 11, 2017

Everyone seems to agree that cast iron cookware is wonderful, and everyone seems to believe they know best about how it should be used and cared for. To be blunt, many of these people are wrong. Here are 9 of the biggest misconceptions about cast iron, disproved.

All cast iron is of the same quality, regardless of when it was produced.

Cast iron hasn’t changed all that much over the past 150 years, but one thing about it is different today. Cast iron produced before the 1950’s possesses a satiny, super-smooth finish that is well-suited for being nonstick. Modern cast iron, on the other hand, has a slightly bumpier surface. During the 1950s, manufacturers looking to speed up production began skipping the final step in the manufacturing process, which sanded the pan's surfaces down to a signature smoothness. While the older models can be more nonstick, modern versions come close.

You can't cook acidic foods in cast iron.

The question here isn’t so much if you should or shouldn’t cook any acidic foods in cast iron, but for how long it’s okay to do so. You shouldn’t cook a tomato sauce from start to finish in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven, but deglazing a cast iron pan with wine or vinegar is just fine. As long as your pan is seasoned, the acid will simply come into contact with seasoning layer. And even if there are bare spots, brief contact with acid is completely fine.

Miniature cast iron pans were once given away as samples by salesmen.

Nope. The tiny cast iron pans you'll find on Etsy were produced for kids, both to be used as toys and to actually cook with. In retrospect, this sounds rather dangerous. However, parents in the first half of the 20th century seemed much more chill with kids simply figuring things out as they went, even if that meant handling hot cast iron with their bare hands.

The best way to clean cast iron is to burn it in a fire.

Back in the day, when cowboys lugged cast iron around to use to cook around campfires, this technique might have seemed reasonable. These days, doing this would be crazy. While throwing a recently used cast iron pan into a fire will burn off any food remnants, the extreme heat can also damage the pan itself by either warping it or changing the texture of the cooking surface, not to mention burning off the seasoning. Again, a little soap and water will be fine in most cases.

You should never use soap on cast iron.

The oldest and silliest misconception of them all is that you should not use soap to clean cast iron, which is just not true. Again, as long as your pan is well-seasoned, feel free to use soap and water to clean your pan after each use. The key is to not scrape off any of the seasoning by using an overly abrasive scrubber. If you do, just re-season your cast iron and try to be a little more careful the next time you make a frittata or cornbread.

Cast iron seasoning affects the flavor of your food.

This one is silly, but also quite understandable. To a kitchen novice, hearing that a pan is “seasoned” might make them think that said-seasoning will actually change the flavor of their food. However, cast iron seasoning simply refers to the polymerized and carbonized cooking fats that create the corrosion-resistant, non-stick coating in the pan itself.

Flaxseed oil is the best oil to season your cast iron pan. 

This misconception is particularly strange, as flaxseed oil doesn't do well when it's heated. It's true that this oil produces an aesthetically pleasing finish when used for cast iron seasoning, it’s also prone to flake off much more easily than other fats. Vegetable oil works perfectly due to its cheap cost and high smoking point. As with everything else cast iron-related, it’s best to keep things simple when choosing which oil to use for seasoning.

Cooking in cast iron provides a significant amount of dietary iron.

If you for some reason cooked something super-acidic in an unseasoned cast iron pan, then you could end up with significant added iron in your food. You're unlikely to get much if you're using your well-seasoned cast iron pan correctly.

Cast iron pans heat evenly.

This is 100-percent false. If you place a cast iron pan on the stove, it’s going to take at least 10 minutes to heat thoroughly and even then, the majority of the heat will be concentrated over the stove's flame or heating element. The best way to achieve uniform heating throughout the pan is to continuously rotate the pan while heating it on the stovetop or place the pan in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. If you try that hack, don’t forget to use a potholder because that pan is going to be extremely hot once you pull it out of the oven.