Getting Started: Troubleshooting for Beginners
Cast iron cooking is simple, but it can take some getting used to! Our most common questions from beginners are outlined and answered below. Just remember - pans with synthetic coatings always get worse over time, but cast iron skillets get better with use!
My food is sticking.
Are you pre-heating your skillet? Cast iron is fantastic at holding heat, but is a relatively poor conductor, meaning that heat applied to the bottom of a skillet doesn’t immediately distribute itself throughout the material. To avoid getting hotspots in the cook surface it is important to match the diameter of your cookware to a proportionally sized burner or flame. Pre-heat the pan on low for several minutes before adjusting the temperature to your recipe.
Is your food wet or cold? When possible, bring your ingredients to room temperature before cooking for a better nonstick experience. Proteins should be patted dry before cooking.
Are you using oil? It is true that cast iron develops an increasingly non-stick surface over time, but some form of cooking oil is still required for cooking, especially at first. As you break in a new skillet, you may need to use more oil (or butter, ghee, schmaltz etc.) than you may be used to. Over time, you will see that you need progressively less as your seasoning builds.
Is the skillet too hot? As we mentioned above, cast iron is great at holding onto heat. Always start heat low and increase it as needed. Otherwise, the skillet is going to be hotter than you intended.
I’m getting black specks in my food!
Did you re-season your skillet in the oven recently?
No. Your skillet is dirty. People worry about damaging seasoning during normal cleaning, but sometimes that results in skillets being a little grimier than they should be. True seasoning that is bonded to your skillet will not wash off. The black specks you are seeing in your food are small bits of carbon, or to put it less delicately, old, burned oils. Give your skillet a good washing after use and get anything loose off before storage.
Yes. We almost never recommend a full oven seasoning as it isn’t necessary in most cases. If you recently re-seasoned your skillet and are now seeing black residue in your food, the seasoning didn’t take. Seasoning that is applied in a thick layer will not bond properly and will start to flake off. In this case, we recommend scrubbing off anything that is loose and continuing to cook with the skillet.
My skillet is stinky.
If you cooked fish or something similarly odiferous, the food may have left oils behind that didn’t get cleaned off. In this case, we recommend washing the skillet with soap thoroughly, then drying. If that doesn’t work, or if you’d rather not use soap, heating the skillet in the oven at 400°F for ten minutes will neutralize any lingering smells. We always recommend rubbing a small amount of cooking oil back into the cook surface after cleaning to protect your skillet from ambient moisture and that is especially true after dry-heating a pan in the oven or using soap, as these cleaning methods are more stripping than the typical run under the tap.
What’s the deal with soap and cast iron, anyway?
The principles of cast iron care are organized around protecting the seasoning that is adhered to the pan. True seasoning is adhered to the skillet and will not wash off. It can, however, be scraped off. If you don’t feel like your skillet is getting clean enough for your comfort, by all means, use soap. Scraping the surface of the skillet is more likely to mess up your cook surface. Do not use Barkeepers Friend, Comet or steel wool on cast iron.
What do I do if food gets super stuck to the cook surface?
It happens! We recommend starting with the gentlest cleaning method first and escalating as needed. You do not want to soak the skillet in water to loosen the food, as you might do with another kind of pan. This may cause your skillet to rust. You might try simmering the baked-on food in oil on the stovetop to loosen it. If that alone does not do the trick, add coarse salt until it’s in a paste-like consistency and scrub it with a paper towel (being careful not to burn yourself).
If you accidentally scratch the skillet during an intense clean, don’t worry about it. Continue to cook on the skillet as you normally would and the seasoning will recover over time.
Still have questions?