When I got my first iron skillet in my 20’s, there was quite a learning curve. Teflon and stainless steel were all the rage during my formative cooking years. So I didn’t get all the basics of cast iron skillets until I was in college and had to learn on my own.
For several years I tried all the kitchen gadgets of skillets and finally just had to throw them all out once I discovered my love of the iron skillet. My iron skillet has replaced the following dishes and gadgets: Panini press, Indoor grill, Titanium and ceramic wok, Multiple stainless steel skillets of various sizes, Teflon skillets, Ceramic skillet, Electric griddle, and Several baking dishes.
My cooking life was forever changed when iron skillets came into the picture and I figured out how to cook with them properly. I’ll put my tips and tricks at the end so you don’t have to go through the learning curve like I did. Here are the many reasons that I advocate the use of iron skillets. They are a great homesteading survival tool and is probably the only dish I would take if I had to pick just one to take with me.
- You can use a metal fork or spatula.
This is by far one of my top favorite reasons for preferring iron skillets. Plastics are not the best thing to be heating and then putting in contact with your food (source). I despise using plastic when it is heated. So I was relieved when I got my very own iron skillet in my 20s and was able to replace all of the plastic utensils with metal ones that won’t break down or leach chemicals into my food
- You can cut on it.
Pizza, steak, or just about anything can be cut on it to see if it is done or break the food into smaller pieces for serving.
- You will never have to buy another skillet again.
They last forever (pretty much). Try not to drop them too many times and don’t put cold water in them when they are hot. If it cracks, you should throw them away. I’ve only ever seen one Dutch oven cracked and I have no idea how that happened as it wasn’t mine. We’ve been pretty tough on our iron skillets, especially during camping trips, but they’ve made it through safely.
- They can be handed down in the family.
I have seem many cast iron pans that are from the early 1900’s and I am certain there are older one than this. What a great tradition to pass on the iron cooking sets that have been in the family for generations. If your family didn’t have this tradition, I suggest you start it. Buy yourself a set or at least one iron skillet to start. Once you have mastered it, buy them as a housewarming or wedding gift so the rest of your family and friends can enjoy them along with you.
- Non toxic.
I don’t mean to get all crunchy on you, but my families health and safety are of utmost importance to me as I am sure your family’s is to you. Teflon specifically has been known to cause death in birds (canary in the coal mine sound familiar?) and flu like symptoms in humans when heated to high temperatures, but the surprising part is that this independent organization (The Environmental Working Group) tested the Teflon pans on regular stoves and found that the fumes started at lower temperature, found on an ordinary stove, than were reported previously by the makers of Teflon. I have a hard time trusting companies that don’t announce and clean up their messes until lawsuits happen.
- They can still be used if left out in poor conditions.
If you see an iron skillet or other iron cookware for a good price at a garage or yard sale, snatch it up! As long as there are no cracks in it, it’s fixable. I’ve seen a completely rusted out iron skillet made new again (it was mine that I let soak for days on accident). They can be refinished by stipping it down and re-seasoning it. I even a pretty rough looking Dutch oven that I was able to refinish and re-season to make it look new again.
- Adds iron to your diet
Iron skillets are made out of iron and with some people being anemic, some doctors are recommending the use of iron skillets to increase iron in the diet. Iron is an essential nutrient to life. So why not add a little more to cover the bases without adding anything extra to your meal?
- Nonstick with proper seasoning…and I don’t mean the salt and pepper flavoring type.
Seasoning refers to the layers of cooked on oil that has been baked on over time. This can be done by wiping a thin layer over it and baking it for an hour or by using it regularly after the initial seasoning. All you have to do is use oil every time you cook and don’t wash with soap or other cleaner.
- Easy cleaning.
Use the spatula to trash any left overs. Clean out all the grease into the trash (apparently cities are having a difficult time with all the grease that gets washed down the drains). Then just use hot water and the metal mesh to scrape it clean in the sink. Dry it on the stove top and leave it there to cool. If it looks dry, you can put a teaspoon of oil in the pan and spread it around with a paper towel, but I usually just use more oil the next time I cook with it.
- No soap needed.
Save your money on dish soap! It’s not needed at all. See above and tips at the bottom of this article on how to clean your iron skillet.
- Even severely burnt dishes are easy to clean off.
No more soaking and scrubbing for hours and trying to find some secret remedy for how to get burnt chicken or Alfredo sauce off the bottom of your pan. You just scrape it with a spatula (or a knife in extreme and rare cases) and then scrub with the metal mesh as usual.
- Costs are comparable to other skillet options.
I have also picked up some good finds at garage sales and free sites like Freecycle. Even if they are in poor condition, so long as there are no cracks, you can strip them down and re-season them and they will work just as well as a new iron skillet. Although the new iron skillets price point is very similar to other skillets available.
- They can be used on a camp fire.
Iron skillets can be placed directly on the coals for cooking.
- They can be used on the stove top and in the oven.
This will help you save a dish, because you won’t have to put the skillet contents into an oven safe dish.
- It heats the food more evenly.
You need to preheat the iron skillet at your desired temperature for at least 10 minutes, which is something that I wish I’d known at the beginning when I first started with my iron skillet.
- It can be heated to the highest oven temperatures.
You probably can’t do that with other skillets, especially Teflon.
- You can leave them out.
They look like they belong on the stove top and that is exactly where they should stay after you clean them out and heat them to dry them off.
- Skillet pizza.
If you have never had skillet pizza, then you will not understand why this deserves a number on the list all to itself. Once you try your own skillet pizza, it will be hard to buy another store bought or delivery pizza again.
- Can be used as a weapon.
Hot or cold, these things are heavy and can very easily be used as a weapon. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that iron skillet swinging at my head. They are also readily available in a pinch in case of a home invasion, because I tend to leave mine on the counter of stove top since we use them more than any of our other kitchen items.
- Cooking all in one pan.
Who really wants to wash a bunch of pots and pans? You don’t have to with the iron skillet. There are ample amounts of recipes that can be cooked in just that one pan either all at the same time or by cooking one item at a time, depending on the recipe. Foods can also be seared or sauted in the iron skillet and then places in the oven for baking. This way you aren’t dirtying another dish to transfer it from the stove top to the oven.
Tips and tricks for cooking in an iron skillet
- Preheat the iron skillet with oil.
I use to start my food in the iron skillet the second I turned it on. It cooks more evenly if you let it heat up for 10 minutes at the preferred temperature you want it at.
- Use more oil.
This was probably the biggest hurdle I had. I was afraid to use too much oil and fry everything. So I would just do a few drops, but you need more! I could easily use 2-3 tablespoons just to start out heating the pan and sometimes have to add more as I am cooking, if I am sauteing, for example.
- Use a metal spatula and don’t be afraid to scrape.
I came from the Teflon era, remember? So of course I was afraid to ruin the iron skillet by scraping it too hard. I promise you that you will not ruin your iron skillet no matter how hard you scrape and scrub.
Tips for Cleaning and care of your iron skillet
- Don’t use soap.
Generally, you don’t want to use dish soap, because you are trying to build up a layer of oil called seasoning. In some cases you can use dish soap, but I would suggest not to. Hot, hot water and a metal mesh scrubber like this one works wonders. Whatever you do, do NOT use other chemicals to clean it like bleach. If you must use soap (I think I have used soap once a year on my skillets), just use a gentle dish soap like dawn.
- Use a metal mesh and kitchen glove.
Yes, your hands will get greasy. Don’t use a scrubber or brush on the iron skillet. Not only is this more time consuming, but you will ruin any sponge or brush with black crud once use it on the iron skillet. Save your time and your sponges/brushes and buy a dedicated metal mesh cleaning scrubber like this one (click here).
- Never leave it wet.
Always put it on the stove when you are done and heat it until the water is gone. If your pan is newer or looks a little dry, you can add some oil and spread it around with a paper towel. If after a meal, there is some really stuck on stuff, you can leave water in it for 30 minutes or so to soak, but there is a better way to clean it than to potentially leave the water in it too long and cause it to rust. You can put water in it and boil the water for a few minutes and then scrub it with the metal mesh once it is softened, but don’t boil it for too long as it is not made for boiling water.
- Try not to drop them too many times.
Preferably never. You don’t want it to crack. Although cracking cast iron is hard to do.
Sometimes the iron skillet will get rusty or maybe you bought a used one that was neglected. There are many iron skillet seasoning guides online. Just be sure to bake on plenty of layers of oil as seasoning before your first use as it will be less likely to stick that way.