We love cooking with cast iron! It’s versatile, hard wearing and allows us to get really creative with what we cook both outdoors and indoors.
If you've just bought a cast iron pan and aren't sure what to do with it, this article should help. We’ve answered some of the questions you’ve sent us, along with the ones we had when we first started cooking with cast iron.
What are the benefits of cooking with cast iron?
You can use it with almost every cooking appliance
A good cast iron pan is a must have if you want to cook anything other than pizza in your wood fired oven and they’re great to make your BBQs more interesting than sausages and burgers.
Not just for outdoor cooking through, cast iron skillets and griddles can be used in your home oven or on your hob whether it’s gas, electric or induction.
It retains heat
Cast Iron is best cookware for retaining heat. It may take longer to heat up than say, stainless steel or copper, but once hot, it will stay that way for ages. This is great when you want to cook at a consistent temperature.
It’s non-stick (if you season it properly!)
When seasoned properly, your cast iron will have a smooth, non-stick cooking surface which offers massive versatility in what you can cook
It keeps getting better
As we said above, you should season your cast iron to give it a protective coating before using it. Once you start using it, the more you cook on it with oil or oily foods, the more seasoned it will become and the better it will perform
It’s hardwearing and will last a lifetime
Cast iron is generally hard wearing, and difficult to bend or break (as long as you don’t throw it on the floor!). When properly seasoned regularly, it will last for years – there’s a reason you still see antique cast iron pans being passed down the generations!
It looks good on photos
Love it or hate it, we’re living in a world of social media. If you’re planning on posting pictures of your cookery creations, they will look much cooler in a cast iron pan than a stainless steel one!
The Golden Rule of Cooking with Cast Iron
Cast iron needs to be properly seasoned to perform well. Make sure you season your cast iron skillet or griddle before you use it for the first time, and then a couple of times a year to maintain it
What is seasoning?
Seasoning means baking oil onto the surface of your cast iron, which then creates a permanent, protective coating via a process called polymerization.
Seasoning smooths the surface of your cast iron, making it non-stick (if done properly!) and protecting your skillet from rust.
Why do I need to season my cast iron?
Cast iron, as the name suggests, is iron that has been melted and poured into a mould (or cast) and solidified. When exposed to moisture, iron will rust quite quickly which is not ideal for an appliance you want to cook on and wash! Seasoning gives your cast iron a protective coating which prevents rust and, if done right, can make the pan non-stick.
Most cast iron comes pre-seasoned, but we’d still recommend seasoning it yourself at home so you’re sure it’s ready to use, and re-seasoning a couple of times a year.
How to season a cast iron pan
There are two methods to season your cast iron – on the hob or in the oven. If your pan or skillet is 100% cast iron, we’d recommend using the oven method so it heats more evenly. If it contains any wood, for example, a wooden handle, you’ll need to season it on the hob.
The first few steps are the same for both methods:
- You first need a food safe oil. Some people prefer butter or animal fat but you can use any food grade oil with a smoke point above 250C/480F. Rapeseed oil works well, but don’t try it with olive oil!
- Give your cast iron a good clean with warm water, and then dry it properly. It’s important that there isn’t any surface water left when you start seasoning, so it may even be worth putting it on a very low heat on the hob for a few minutes to make sure it’s 100% dry.
- Using a dry cloth or piece of kitchen towel, rub your cast iron all over with the oil then buff to the point where it doesn’t look greasy.
Then if you’re using the oven:
- Preheat your oven to 250C
- Put the oiled pan upside down in the preheated oven with a baking tray or piece of foil underneath (to catch any oil drips) and leave for 30 minutes. A bit of smoke is normal, so make sure the kitchen is well ventilated.
- Remove the pan from the oven and cover it with oil again then buff until it looks matte. Be careful, the pan will be very hot!
- Put it back in the oven for another 30 mins and repeat the process 3-4 times
- Let the pan cool and you’re ready to start cooking!
If you’re doing it on the hob
- The hob method will create some smoke so make sure you have a good extractor fan and the room is well ventilated
- Heat the oiled pan on the highest setting until it starts smoking.
- When the smoke starts dying down, turn off the hob, cover the pan with oil again then buff until it looks matte. Be careful, the pan will be very hot!
- Switch the Hob back on and repeat 3-4 times or until the pan is very dark brown/black
- Let the pan cool and you’re ready to start cooking!
What should I cook in a cast iron pan?
Cast iron is so versatile that you can cook almost anything in it, sweet or savoury! Here are a few of our favourite ways to use it
Steak is what most people think of when they think of cast iron, probably because it’s the best way to cook your steak! The high temperature sears and browns the outside without over cooking the inside, so you can get that perfect rare, juicy steak every time
Anything you’d use a roasting tray for is better in cast iron! Roast potatoes, chicken and even veg all go to another level when cooked in a wood fired oven in a cast iron pan. Check out this vegetable lasagne we made, roasting the veg in the cast iron skillet first then assembling the lasagne and using it as a roasting tray.
Cast iron is brilliant for baking due to its ability to retain a consistent and even temperature throughout the whole pan. This list of Insanely Good Recipes does exactly what it says on the tin, I haven’t yet found anything more delicious than a deep-dish skillet Brookie!
Just a word of warning though – as cast iron is porous, it can absorb small amounts of food, so it’s best not to use it to cook a dessert the day after you’ve made a steak. Make sure you re-season before switching from savoury to sweet, or even better, buy two skillets and use one for each!
For more cast iron cooking inspiration, check out our social media
What should I not cook in a cast iron pan?
Cast iron is great, but it can’t do everything! Acidity can start to break down the seasoned layer and damage your pan, so slow cooked tomato-based sauces are generally not a good idea, and we’d avoid a long cook with anything braised using wine or vinegar. If you do use those ingredients, make sure you re-season afterwards to restore the protective layer
As the cast iron is quite porous, it can take on smells from your food. We wouldn’t say don’t ever cook with fish or garlic in it, but make sure you give it a good clean afterwards, and possibly re-season if needed.
How do I clean my cast iron?
For most cooks, you can clean your cast iron with just warm water and a firm brush. Some information out there will tell you never to use soap or washing up liquid on it, but small amounts are generally ok, although you won’t normally need it. Make sure you dry it properly with a towel afterwards, don’t leave it to air dry
To avoid damaging the seasoned layer, you should avoid using a metal scourer and never leave it to soak! If you do have baked on food that’s difficult to remove, rubbing it with some salt should get it off.
Cast iron is porous compared to other cooking metals, so it might take on the smells of some food. If you can’t get rid of these through cleaning, try re-seasoning your pan.
Can cast iron go in the dishwasher?
In a word – no!
Your dishwasher detergent is likely to contain chemicals which will damage the seasoning and cause it to rust
Which is the best cast iron to use?
We truly believe that Emba is revolutionising cast iron, both in terms of performance and sustainability.
Manufactured in the UK from 100% recycled materials, Emba cast iron is eco-friendly by design and also by its longevity - you'll never need to buy another set! Designed and engineered with the aim of avoiding common issues with traditional cast iron, some of the improvements include:
- Extra thick base for even heat distribution and retention
- Thinner sides to reduce weight
- Ergonomically designed handle to improve ease of holding
- Lipped edge to avoid dripping
- Heat / smoke ring to aid even heating & stability when used indoors