Is There Anything You Shouldn't Cook in Your Cast-Iron Skillet? Experts Weigh In

While there's nothing that's technically off limits, the pros say you should be careful with acidic foods, like tomato or wine sauce, which can corrode the seasoning if left in the pan for too long.

cast iron skillet on marble surface
Photo: kerdkanno / Getty Images

If you're an avid cook, you know that one of the best tools to have in your kitchen is a cast-iron skillet. From creating the perfect sear on a steak to baking a Dutch baby, this old-school pan is a marvel. Lauded by all kinds of cooks for their natural non-stick finish and ability to retain heat, a well-seasoned and well-cared for cast-iron skillet lasts for years and can be passed down from generation to generation. But for all that the pan can do, it begs the question—is there anything your cast-iron skillet shouldn't be exposed to? It's long been believed that there are certain foods that you shouldn't cook on this type of pan, we consulted several food professionals for insight on this cooking conundrum.

Here, we're referring to a seasoned cast-iron skillet, which you can buy already seasoned or season yourself by rubbing with cooking oil and baking the cookware upside down in the oven for one hour at 450 degrees. As you use the pan, the seasoning continues to build up over time. This technique forms an easy-release cooking surface that aids in rust prevention. "There are two types of cast-iron pans: seasoned and not," says Ronna Welsh, cooking teacher and author of The Nimble Cook. "While both are made from a potentially reactive metal, in my experience, they do not react to all food the same." According to Welsh, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet can be used interchangeably with a non-cast iron one. She notes that a newly purchased unseasoned cast-iron skillet can't withstand contact with hot, acidic foods, as it will pick up the taste of the metal itself.

Even the patina on a well-seasoned cast iron pan can degrade when it meet very acidic foods. "In general, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan will stand up to almost anything you throw at it, including acidic foods like tomatoes," says Will Copenhaver, vice president of sales and marketing for Smithey. "That said, acids over an extended period of time can start to break down the top layer of seasoning, so if you're slow-simmering a tomato or wine sauce for multiple hours you may want to think about using a different vessel."

Our editorial director of food, Sarah Carey, says she cooks almost everything in her cast-iron skillet, but if it's something acidic she tends to remove it quickly. "For instance, I will make something acidic like a lemon chicken in my cast iron, but don't let it sit in there too long as acidic foods will start to corrode the seasoning," she says. "I do think the better the seasoning on your pan the safer you are."

If you do use your pan to cook something acidic and notice the seasoning has worn a bit, it can easily be re-seasoned. Copenhaver says to use just a little heat and oil once you've cleaned and dried the pan and it'll "be back in cooking shape in no time." Or you can try Carey's method and simply fry a batch of fried chicken or chicken fingers to re-oil the pan. She does note that flavors tend to stay in cast iron, which is why some people, including Carey, tend to avoid cooking fish in this type of pan because they're worried the oils will impart a fish flavor on future dishes. If this is a concern, Copenhaver says to just "hit the pan with a splash of dish soap after cooking fish and then rinse and dry thoroughly and it's good to go."

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