6 cast iron pan myths busted, and the 1 thing you should never do

Cast iron pans are inexpensive and one of the best searing powerhouses you can own. Whip it out for your indoor meat-cooking needs, like a steak or roasted chicken with vegetables. It’s also perfect for anything that would benefit from a crust, like cornbread, potato hashes, or a pan pizza. But there are a lot of myths out there about how to properly care for your cast-iron pan. We turned to J. Kenji López-Alt, the author of the cookbook, “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science,” to help us bust a few common myths about the mighty cast-iron pan.

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Al Roker makes the perfect cast-iron steak

Play Video - 2:33

Al Roker makes the perfect cast-iron steak

Play Video - 2:33

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Myth 1: You can’t use soap in cast-iron pan

If you’re like me, you’ve never had so much as a drop of soap hit the cast-iron pan because lore says that it will damage the seasoning. That’s nonsense, according to Lopez-Alt. “The same way we can use soap inside a Tupperware container without taking the plastic away, you can use it on a cast-iron pan without removing the seasoning,” he says. Don’t go overboard with the soap, of course. But if the pan is dirty and needs a scrub with soap to remove grime, go for it. “The main point is that you don’t always need to, but if you have to use soap sometimes, it won’t ruin your cast-iron pan,” he says.

Myth 2: You can soak a cast-iron pan that has caked-on food

More damaging to a cast-iron pan than any amount of soap you use is having water soak in it for a long period of time. To get crusted-on bits of food off the pan, pour in a generous about of kosher salt into the pan and use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe the salt around the pan and dislodge food scraps. Don’t allow a lot of time to go by between cleaning the pan and re-seasoning it. Do the cleaning and re-seasoning at the same time when dinner is finished.

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Myth 3: Seasoning a pan at the beginning is a whole lot of work

An emphasis is always placed on correctly seasoning a brand new cast-iron pan. “My advice for seasoning is to just cook the things you normally cook,” says López-Alt. “Don’t take all these extra steps to season your pan—just sauté in it.” To re-season after cooking, rinse with water (and soap, if necessary) before placing on high heat on the stovetop so the water evaporates. Then, carefully rub it down entirely (handle and bottom of the pan included!) with whatever oil that’s on hand using a paper towel.

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Myth 4: Cast iron pans heat evenly, so you don’t need to warm up the pan as long

Cast-iron pans have gained the inaccurate reputation of heating evenly. To combat uneven heating, López-Alt says to preheat a cast-iron pan much longer than other pans you own, around 10 minutes, moving it around the burner in the process. On the upside, the cast-iron will hold more energy than an aluminum pan and the temperature won’t drop when you add food. What does this really mean? A perfectly seared steak can be mastered thanks to the fact that a cast-iron pan both radiates more heat and stays hotter throughout the cooking process than other pans in your arsenal.

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Myth 5: Metal utensils are a no-no

Using a metal spatula to flip eggs or a metal scraper for hamburgers is fine as long as you aren’t really deliberately scraping it. López-Alt says the seasoning is resilient and can handle the tiny nudges from metal utensils.

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Myth 6: Handle your cast-iron pan with kid gloves

As a whole, we’re being far too sensitive toward the mighty cast-iron pan. “Go to an antique store, and you’ll see cast-iron pans that are 100 years old,” says López-Alt. “It’s not a delicate flower but rather as tough of a material as you can get.” There are only two ways to really screw up a cast-iron pan. 1) Not rubbing it down with oil before storing it after use and 2) Getting it very hot and then dumping water into it which can form cracks.

This article was originally published on October 26, 2015.