How To: Cast Iron Skillet Non-Stick and Lasts a Lifetime

cast iron cookware in a nutshell:

cast iron skillet pans 49er

1) use a good cast iron skillet with a glassy-smooth cooking surface (Griswold or Wagner). The new cast iron with the rough cooking surface is gonna be frustrating (Lodge Logic).

2) keep it dry!

Using water short term (minutes, not hours) has its uses. When the time comes to put the cast iron cookware away, give it a few seconds on a hot stove, just to make sure all the water is out.

3) use a little oil or grease

4) a little smoke is a good thing

5) too much heat on an empty cast iron skillet can ruin the surface or even crack the skillet

6) clean cast iron immediately after each use leaving a very thin layer of oil/grease

7) avoid soap!

There is a myth about how you should never use soap on cast iron. Details on that below. The reality is that you can use soap on cast iron, but it is better if you didn't.

8) use a stainless steel spatula with a perfectly flat edge and rounded corners.

9) seasoning cast iron is nice, but you probably don't need to worry about it.

cast iron cookware details

A lovely homage to a cast iron skillet:

cast iron pans

      Do you have a black iron skillet? You are a southern mountain girl, I can't imagine you would not. Put it on the kitchen table. Turn on the overhead lights.

      Look into the skillet, Clarice. Lean over it and look down. If this were your mother's skillet, and it well may be, it would hold among its molecules the vibrations of all the conversations ever held in its presence. All the exchanges, the petty irritations, the deadly revelations, the flat announcements of disaster, the grunts and poetry of love.

      Sit down at the table, Clarice. Look into the skillet. If it is well cured, it's a black pool, isn't it? It's like looking down a well. Your detailed reflection is not at the bottom, but you loom there, don't you? The light behind you, there you are in a blackface, with a corona like your hair on fire.

      We are elaborations of carbon, Clarice. You and the skillet and Daddy dead in the ground, cold as the skillet. It's all still there. Listen.

          -- Hannibal Lector sends a letter to Clarice Starling in "Hannibal" by Thomas Harris

Cooking with cast iron is one of those things where I failed utterly and repeatedly until I finally reached out to people for help. While the mighty internet had lots of advice, my eggs still stuck! I needed the collective wisdom of dozens of people to just be able to fry an egg without a big cleanup job. I can now get that egg to slide off a cast iron skillet every time. This article is my feeble attempt to relay what I have learned so far. I should mention that at the time of this writing, I have updated this page more than a hundred times.

I want to emphasize that getting stuff to slide right off of cast iron is easy - once you get the hang of it. A little knowledge and a little practice will give you a cast iron skillet that will last a lifetime and will never poison you.

why use cast iron?

There are many things that drive me to use cast iron:

    teflon is toxic

    I'm convinced that "non stick" surfaces, such as teflon, are toxic. Newer products come out that sound better, but I cannot help but think that folks just have not yet learned how toxic the new surfaces are. At the time of this writing, I feel comfortable cooking with cast iron, some steels, and glass. I avoid all chemically treated cooking surfaces, aluminum and copper.

    Cooking with cast iron helps folks get more iron in their diet to build more red blood cells. Doctor's recommend that those with anemia cook with cast iron.

    lawton emerson mcdaniel

    Many of my happiest memories involving cooking, involved cast iron. I remember my grandad cooking almost everything we ate in a cast iron skillet. My grandad was a really great guy, so I find I like to do a lot of stuff that he liked to do. For a long time he was a professional mountain guide - how cool is that? And when he took me with him, the cast iron skillet would come with us!

    Using cast iron is a skill from a simpler time.

    Cast iron can last hundreds of years. Many moderm skillets/griddles last only a few months to a few years.

start with a good piece of cast iron cookware

I bought a brand spanking new "Lodge Logic" cast iron skillet at some department store. After seasoning it, I used lots of oil ... sometimes food stuck to it, sometimes it didn't. I gave google a big workout and I found lots of internet forums to ask lots of questions. The most common feedback was to take a close look at the cooking surface of this new skillet. It's rough. Apparently, long ago, there were two grades of a cast iron skillet one could purchase. The first is where molten iron is poured into a mold and that's it. The second is where they take the first and machine out the cooking surface to make it much smoother. But that machining process usually doubles the price.

Today's new cast iron cookware is all the first kind. The surface is rough. I shopped around for a long time to try and find something new with a machined surface. The closest thing I found was a griddle made from sheet steel.

Many of the experienced cast iron folk recommended buying a heavily used skillet. The most popular brand being "Griswold" - a company that went out of business in the 1950's. Not only were these skillets machined, but if they were heavily used, their cooking surface would be downright glassy!

I bought a Griswold number 10 cast iron skillet for $20 plus shipping on ebay. This was a huge improvement over the Lodge cast iron skillet. I have to mention that I tried to buy a Griswold cast iron skillet for a friend a few months ago and the price was more like $50! But I easily found other old (Wagner) cast iron skillets for $15.

Time passed and I thought "Why not take the Lodge cast iron skillet with the rough surface and grind it down myself?" I bought a bunch of sandpaper designed for use with metal and figured 20 minutes with my different power sanders and some elbow grease should make it right as rain! Three hours later I had burned through way too much sandpaper and the results were so-so. It was a messy, icky experience that left me numb and wobbly with a ringing in my ears for a few days. The skillet worked okay for a few weeks and then cracked.

I think a person could buy a new cast iron skillet, follow all of the advice on this page and if used twice a day for six months it would probably be just as good as an old skillet. The most important ingredient would include the use of a stainless steel spatula with a flat edge: as it is used over and over, it will take the "peaks" off as the "valleys" fill with "seasoning"(more on the spatula and the "seasoning" below). It's just that the first few months will have more frustration than if you started off with a great cast iron skillet.

My impression is that general consensus to get the best cast iron skillet is to buy a Griswold cast iron skillet from ebay (try for a number 10 cast iron skillet for about $40 plus shipping). The other techniques are just too much work or add too much frustration. I've bought cast iron cookware with a lot of crusty stuff that I managed to get off with a fire. And I've bought cast iron cookware that was seriously pitted that seems to work okay - although I far prefer the cast iron that is not pitted. I see ads mentioning "no warp" or "not warped" or "level" and am grateful that I have yet to encounter this sort of thing. There are people that collect Griswold cast iron cookware, so there are sometimes pieces that have something interesting going on that sell for something like $500!

This might be a good time to point out that I picked up a Wagner cast iron skillet for a dollar at a yard sale a couple of years ago. It seems like the iron is a little thinner, but it works great! It might not be widely considered the best cast iron skillet, but it is widely considered to be far better than the "lodge logic" stuff found in stores today. A Wagner cast iron skillet usually runs a lot cheaper than Griswold on ebay.

cast iron griswold skillet emblem cast iron griswold skillet emblem griswold cast iron griddle emblem wagner cast iron skillet emblem

cast iron seasoning

"Seasoning" cast iron is the act of creating a hard layer of petrified oil/grease on cast iron or steel. Maintaining a good cast iron seasoning is the most important aspect of keeping stuff from sticking to cast iron cookware. Each time you cook with oil/grease and don't have to scrub the cookware afterward, you probably add another layer. Scrubbing, scratching or soaking the cookware in water probably removes many layers. Some layers of cast iron seasoning are better than others. What makes better layers probably has to do with what kind of oil/grease was used, what temperature created the layer and how thick the oil/grease was when it was put on. A well seasoned cast iron skillet will have dozens of very thin, very hard layers. So many that the cast iron skillet will appear to be black instead of the silvery gray of the raw cast iron.

I think the best way to season a cast iron skillet is to use it. In the beginning, you might use a little more oil/grease than you would normally use - just to make sure that you don't have to scrub afterward. Once you have some seasoning layers built up, you can use less oil/grease. That's it! All of your cast iron seasoning needs are taken care of by just simply using the cast iron cookware.

And most folks are gonna be unsatisfied with that.

Most folks believe that "seasoning" cast iron means that you put some oil/grease on the cookware and bake it. Cast iron seasoning recipes include varying temperatures from 100 degrees to 550 degrees. And processes from an hour to several days!

Okay, okay, okay .... to please the masses that need some sort of oven based ritual .... If I was gonna try this sort of bake style seasoning again, I would:

  • Put on a thin coat of oil/grease all over the cast iron skillet. Inside and outside.
  • Put foil under the skillet to catch any dripping oil.
  • Turn your fan on, because this is gonna smoke!
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
  • Wipe out as much grease as you can with a paper towel.
  • Bake for another 45 minutes, then turn the oven off, leaving the door closed.
  • After an hour or more, remove from oven.

The nice thing about the oven approach is that you get a layer of seasoning all over the cast iron skillet all at once.

I became a bit obsessed with understanding this stuff and was getting more confused by the minute until this fella Alan straightened me out in a forum: "What you want is a layer of heavily polymerized fat which typically includes a fair bit of carbon black bound up with it." So it is polymerized fat which is hard and slick. The carbon is the black stuff. A couple of chemistry savvy friends explained to me that "polymerized" means that the substance re-arranged its molecules to be in a different state (I hope I have that right). In this case, slick liquid oil becomes slick, rock hard solid oil. Apparently, this is very similar to how paint works.

This is the beginning of my education. It turns out that there are an infinite number of kinds of seasoning layers. It depends on the type of oil, the quantity of oil, the temperature, the duration of the heat. Some have lots of carbon, some not so much. Some make a glassy layer and some make a "sticky" layer that turns squirmy slick when heated. Some stick to the cast iron skillet better than others.

The oil/grease will often go through a sticky phase before becoming a seasoning layer. If you have too much oil/grease, you might never get past the sticky phase! The moral of the story is that thin layers are best.

I once tried to do a thick seasoning layer. It came right off as gross black stuff all over my food.

One time I watched a fella seasoning a commercial steel griddle by patiently pushing some oil around the hot surface. In the beginning, it started to get yellow blotches. By the time it started to get brown blotches, the fella started to make pancakes. The more pancakes he made, the more seasoned the surface became. I think variations of this are the best approaches.

If you bought used cast iron, chances are that it is already seasoned with years of hearty use. You probably don't need to worry about seasoning it.

An interesting thing about seasoning: It is usually quite mottled, or spotty, or spider-web-ish. Once in a long while I can get one consistent/contiguous/plain layer - but I have yet to be able to repeat it when I want to. I wish I knew the secret here.

I bought this little cast iron skillet brand spanking new. It was gray. I did not season it in an oven. All I did was start using it. And I took pictures. This first picture is after using it two or three times. You can see how some layers of oil are darker than others. And mottled.

cast iron skillet seasoning start

A little more use. See how the seasoning coloring is starting to get darker overall.

cast iron skillet seasoning part 2

Still more. After this it will have so many seasoning layers it will just look black.

cast iron skillet seasoning almost black

A close up so you can see how some layers are more mottled than others and some layers are blacker than others.

cast iron skillet seasoning closeup

I feel really comfortable with my current philosophies on seasoning cast iron. While back a blogger named Sheryl contacted me and appears to have embraced my stuff and taken it a bit further. Here is the discussion in the forums about cast iron: polymerizing oils and a better seasoning and here is her related blog entry chemistry of cast iron. I have to admit that I'm having a hard time getting it all to fit in my head. I would really like to have more discussion of it, and ... well .... you know ... try to get it in my head!

removing the seasoning layer from cast iron

There are three reasons I know of for why you might want to do this:

    Your cast iron skillet has crusty blobs on it. I suspect that this comes from not using the right kind of spatula. I once got a griddle over ebay that arrived with a big crusty blob on one side of the cooking surface.

    You have a brand new cast iron skillet from the factory. Modern cast iron skillets have a layer of gick on it that the manufacturer has decided to label as "seasoning". I suspect that the stuff on that cast iron skillet has a lot more to do with marketing, shipping and profit margins than what you or I would want to eat. I think you really want to get that gick off. It's pretty common advice on the forums that you should get that gick off.

    There is rust on the cast iron skillet.

While I have read of many ways to do this, the technique I use is to toss it in the fire. I have a stove for wood heat. When the fire gets to the point of being just coals, I toss the cast iron skillet on the top. The next morning I fish it out. All of the crusty or rusty stuff is turned to ash. I brush the ash off with my hand, then dribble a little oil on it and wipe that all over the cast iron with a paper towel. Then I start using it.

I got a fascinating e-mail from "Shannon in NC" telling me about how you can start a cast iron skillet over by using a self cleaning oven. I've heard of this about a half dozen times in the past. I've also heard of some people saying they tried this and their skillet cracked. Since this is the most complete information I have seen on this topic, I'm posting it here:

      I stumbled on to your info about cast iron cookware and wanted to let you know my experience with the self cleaning oven method. There isn't another method in the world that can beat it! I have used oven cleaner (yuck), sandpaper, even a drill powered rotary wire brush and NOTHING even comes close to how clean a self cleaning oven gets it.

      Out of curiousity, I had called my oven manufacturer last month wanting to know exactly how hot it gets and was told around 900-950 degs during the (roughly) 3 hr cycle. It reduces everything to ash which is easily wiped off. However, when you first open the door, don't be alarmed if the pieces look terrible. The ash residue is rusty looking and can be quite thick, but after a good washing the piece looks almost brand new. If you want to take a piece back down to the bare metal and start over with the seasoning process, this is the way to go. It even loosens rusted areas. You can scrub them with steel scrubbies beforehand if you want to cut down on the smoke or you can put the pans in as is and let them smoke a lot - but either way they will turn out the same. Spotless.

      Since leaving the racks in the oven will turn them dark and change the finish on them, I take them out. Be sure and remove any aluminum foil as it can melt or burn in the high heat. The pans need to be placed on something, not sitting directly on the bottom of the oven, so you could stand some bricks up on end and put the pans on those, one brick per pan. I wouldn't trust anything that says it's oven safe, though, because "oven safe" items are only safe up to 500 or 550 degs, not the 900-950 during the cleaning cycle. What ever you use to prop the pans up must be dry - this is extremely important. Any trapped moisture in a brick can change to steam and explode in high temps! If you aren't sure if it's dry, leave it in the oven set on the lowest setting with the door cracked for a few hrs to be certain. This cannot be stressed enough. Personally, I use the kiln posts for my ceramic kiln (I am a part time potter), but I doubt many people would want to buy a special post just for cleaning cast iron cookware. The posts are really cheap, though; less than a dollar each. If you did a lot of restorations it would be worth it.

I replied asking for permission to put this here and got one more tidbit of useful information:

      I was thinking of other items that could be used to set the cast iron cookware on while going through the self cleaning cycle and ceramic coffee cups came to mind. As a potter, I do know that the temps reached in the cleaning cycle can not harm a ceramic item in any way and would be something almost everyone would have available to them already. Using a coffee cup would also help avoid the dangers of trapped moisture.

Here is a cast iron skillet that just finished going for a ride in a self cleaning oven. This skillet had become covered in layers of petrified gunk - both inside and outside the pan. And all that gunk is now ash. (Thanks to Jocelyn Campbell (seattle eco events) for the pic)

cast iron skillet in oven - gick turned to ash

I bought a Griswold cast iron griddle that had never been used. Here you can see how it is gray it is when cast iron has never been seasoned. At the time I took this picture, the griddle was probably at least 70 years old.

brand new griswold cast iron griddle

Here you can see how the griddle surface has been machined to something much smoother. The cast iron cookware offered in stores today doesn't do this. That is just one reason why the really old cast iron cookware is superior.

closeup of a brand new griswold cast iron griddle

My video of taking the crud off of an old cast iron skillet and then putting on a fresh seasoning layer:

which oil or grease to use on cast iron cookware?

I think that any edible fat will probably work fine. Oil, lard, shortening, animal fat, butter, etc. I'm still doing a lot of experimenting and asking around. Lately, I've been favoring the use of bacon grease - the kind that is saved after frying bacon. I think a big part of this is that it is solid at room temp. Somehow, I think that that makes it harder and slicker as a seasoning.

I tried olive oil exclusively for a few months. If the cast iron skillet needed scrubbing, it seems that the scrubbing would take off some seasoning! I could see fresh cast iron (silver color - not black!).

Some people swear by shortening (Crisco). But I've heard some scary things about shortening, so I avoid it myself. I have used "organic shortening" which is actually palm oil. I've researched it pretty thoroughly and I like it!

Here's a great quote I found at

      I inherited my mom's fifty year old cast iron, and for a few years I always used crisco on them. I had pretty good results, most of the time, but once in awhile something would stick.

      Last year I finally made some lard and we have been using it ever since on all of our cast iron- it is so much better than crisco. (I won't even address the use of veggie oils here, lol).

      Our pans have a beautiful, deep black finish that is a hundred times better than any non-stick finish you could buy. It also helps that we use the pans frequently. I'll never go back to crisco.

My obsessive searching for information on this led me to this page which compares many different oils for their different strengths and weaknesses. Of note is "Grape Seed Oil" where they make the following comment "One caution: it's a fast drying oil so you want to clean up splatter right away because cleaning will be a lot harder in a few days. On the other hand, this makes it very good for seasoning bare steel and cast iron cookware." - this is the only oil where they even mention cast iron.

So I tried grape seed oil for a couple of months. Everything started to get a gummy residue on it. I have switched back to bacon squeezins, palm oil and sunflower oil. I'm looking around for organic lard (since I'm not raising pigs right now).

let's fry some eggs

frying eggs on a cast iron griddle eggs (omelette) on a cast iron griddle eggs came off the cast iron griddle cleaning the cast iron griddle

For most folks, this is the big test. When I first started tinkering with cast iron, I thought "I just season the skillet and then the eggs won't stick!" When the eggs stuck I figured I must have seasoned it wrong. So I reseasoned that skillet about a dozen times and sometimes my eggs would stick and sometimes they wouldn't. I started looking for more information on the internet. The gold mine was forums. People offered tons of advice. I'm pretty sure that I currently use all of the advice I was ever given. At times I try to skip some of the advice only to discover that every little bit helps.

1) Cast iron skillet history.

    a) the more seasoning, the better!

    b) oil/grease has been used regularly. I don't use oil/grease for pancakes, but there is a tiny bit of oil in the pancake batter. I think it somehow comes out of the pancakes as they are cooked.

    c) no soap or scrubbing for the last several uses. Sometimes something happens and you need to scrub. And the next time you try to use it, it just doesn't seem as slippery.

    d) used recently (a few days without use and it starts to get kinda sticky).

2) Use oil/grease. It doesn't have to be a lot. One teaspoon should be plenty. Try to spread it around evenly.

3) Preheat. Maybe about three minutes? I've found that medium, or a little lower than medium is the right temperature for almost everything. Somebody told me that if you flick a little water on the surface, that if the water dances, the cast iron skillet is ready! I usually wait until I see a little smoke.

4) Add spices before the eggs. If you are using a little salt and pepper, sprinkle that on the cooking surface before the eggs.

My video of frying eggs on cast iron. First, I fry a single egg on a cast iron griddle. Then, I do a six egg scramble in a cast iron skillet. This is my first ever digital movie. The sound has lots of pops and it took me a really long time to edit it. It's pretty boring, but the important thing is that it gives you a really good idea of how slippery good cast iron should be - and how easy the cleanup is.

cast iron skillet cleanup

Sponges and dishrags create homes for festering gick and they have very little ability to remove something that was afixed with high heat. I find that scrubbies (proper name is "non-scratch scour pad") have just the right amount of scrubbing power to take off baked on stuff while minimizing harm to the seasoning layer. I used to use the green plastic stuff, but have now moved on to more natural solutions.

non-scratch scour pad

buy from

Made from agave fiber and recycled materials. Seems to work just as well as the old green scrubbies.

non-scratch scour pad made of agave

buy from

Here is an agave fiber washcloth. In case you want something less scratchy than a scouring pad.

This is something that will be completely different from other pans. With other pans, you generally want to leave a sterile surface. While you can do that sort of thing with cast iron cookware, it is better if you don't. Leaving a little oil and salt behind is a good thing. If you try to wipe at the surface of cast iron cookware with a paper towel afterward, you might get a slight brown or black residue - that's fine. That's oil and browned oil on its way to becoming part of the cast iron seasoning.

Most of the time, everything slides right out and there is no cleanup. Sometimes, I'll use a paper towel to mop up a bit of excess oil/grease and take out any leftover food bits. As long as the skillet looks clean with a thin film of oil on it, it's ready to be put away!

Sometimes something sticks to the cast iron and a bit more cleaning is required. The first thing that rolls through my mind in this case is to figure out why it stuck and see if there is a way to prevent that in the future.

The mission here is to try and get the yucky stuff out and leave as much of the seasoning on the skillet as possible. It is possible to scrub the seasoning off of the cast iron. So, try the gentler approaches first.

For any cast iron skillet I have cooked anything with, this is the complete list of things I have ever done to clean a skillet. The gentlest (best) approaches are at the top.

    Do nothing: You have served the food and the cast iron skillet looks plenty clean. There is an oily/greasy residue and that is perfect! Try to shoot for this kind of clean up every time!

    Wipe with a paper towel: Sometimes this is all that is needed. If this works, you're all done!

    A little salt: If there is just a little bit of something sticking, and a paper towel alone doesn't do the trick, put a little salt on the little bit of sticky stuff. The salt usually gives just the right amount of abrasion to remove the sticky stuff without scratching the seasoning off of the cookware. If this works, you're all done!

    Boil water: Put a quarter inch of water in the cast iron skillet and boil the water in the skillet. About 80% of the time, whatever was stuck just lets go. You could use the flat edged stainless steel spatula for a little help - being careful to try and leave the seasoning on the cast iron. Pour out the water and then wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. Follow the instructions below for "Drying a clean, wet skillet."

    Scrub: First do the boiling water trick - complete with the spatula treatment. Drain the water. If there is still food stuck, use a plastic scrubby thing. I like the kind that is a green rectangle about a quarter of an inch thick. Using a metal scrubby thing is going to take the seasoning off of the skillet. I think that any kind of scrubbing is going to take off some seasoning - so the trick it to take off all the food bits and leave as much seasoning as possible. Follow the instructions below for "Drying a clean, wet skillet."

drying a clean, wet cast iron skillet

If you ever use any water, make sure that you thoroughly dry out the skillet right away. Otherwise you will get rust!

It is really important that you use heat to dry the skillet. A towel just isn't going to get it dry enough.

I place the skillet on the stove and turn it to high. When the visible water is all gone, I turn the heat off.

Keep your full attention on the skillet while the heat is on! I've had people over for dinner that insisted on "helping me" by cleaning my cast iron. I would mention drying by heat, and they would turn the heat on and get busy with something else. Suddenly the kitchen is full of smoke and the seasoning is all gone! This has happened three times now! This is also a great way to crack a skillet. So I say it again: Keep your full attention on the skillet while the heat is on!

drying a clean, wet cast iron skillet

There is moisture in the air that can rust your skillet. A thin layer of oil/grease will keep your skillet safe from this. Since most forms of cleanup leave some oil/grease all over the skillet, then you really don't have to do anything here. What's there is just fine. If you did some cleanup that leaves the skillet looking pretty dry - with no oil/grease layer, put a few drops of oil on the skillet and spread it around super-thin with a paper towel.


    soak cast iron in water

    wash cast iron in a dish washer

    leave cast iron outside

    leave food in cast iron

Avoid using soap on cast iron cookware

About half of the people that use cast iron are sworn to never let soap touch it. This concern comes from folks that tried to make soap in cast iron containers. All soap is made using lye. The lye will destroy the seasoning layer. Lye is a really nasty substance and the only reason I have never tinkered with making soap. Once the soap is made, there is no more lye danger. You can even use soap on your skin. Lye on your skin will probably take your skin off. The bottom line is that soap and detergent used on cast iron will not harm the seasoning layer.

So use soap if you want. Most people don't. I don't. Since the mission is to try to not hurt the season layers, and to try to leave a thin layer of oil/grease behind, there isn't much value in soap. One could say that soap helps to remove bits of food smaller than you can see. I think there is some truth to that. Of course the residual oil will help to preserve that food. And the future fry will kill anything funky that might have grown on that food. And the food is so small that it cannot be seen, so it really isn't too much of a problem to begin with. I think this is a case where the upside (preserving the season and the oil layer) has more value than the down side (removing 0.001% more food).

My cast iron clean up video

I start with a cast iron skillet with some pretty petrified gunk on it. Boil some water and it pretty much lets go. I then show proper drying and then adding a layer of organic shortening for a seasoning layer.

the right kind of spatula

This is sometimes called a "pancake flipper."

It has to be metal. Some folks will get concerned that the metal will scratch the surface and ruin the skillet, and their thinking is spot on, but the wacky thing is that in this case, we want it to scratch the skillet. But not just any scratching. We want just the right kind of scratching. Because with just the right kind of scratching, the surface of the skillet will get better and better. Smoother and slicker. Flatter. Bumps of fused on gick will be scraped off and any pits will be slowly filled in with seasoning.

As I travel and people show me their cast iron, I sometimes see a piece that has big black tumors on the cooking surface. And then I put on my Sherlock Holmes deer stalker cap and deduce "You use a plastic spatula, don't you?" - Gasp! "How did you know!" .... At some point something kinda stuck to the skillet. The plastic is not able to scrape it off. And then other little bits got stuck to the first bit. As time passed, this bump got bigger and bigger. If a metal spatula were used, the first little bit would not have been more than a few minutes old before it got scraped off. These skillets with the big tumors are going to have to have all the seasoning removed and started over.

cast iron skillet plastic spatula

This is the super closeup of the cast iron skillet of my mind showing the original lumpiness of the raw cast iron, followed by layers of seasoning and the occasional bit of stuck on something-or-nuther. The idea in this pic is that a plastic spatula is used. So the surface is never scratched and lumps and stuff just do their lumpy thing.

cast iron skillet stainless steel spatula

Now we start with a similar cast iron surface and the only thing we change is that we use a stainless steel spatula with a flat edge. A scratchy edge. But just the right kind of scratchy. As time passes, the peaks of lumpy seasoning get scratched off and the cast iron pits get filled in with seasoning. The cooking surface gets smoother and smoother. Unlike teflon, years of regular cast iron use makes for a better cooking surface.

So now you can see the value of avoiding plastic, or anything other than metal spatulas. Stainless steel is all that I use. I have seen some steel spatulas that rust. Yuck! I have seen spatulas that have some sort of chrome-ish covering - you really need to avoid that - that stuff flakes off into your food! Yuck again! Stick with solid stainless steel.

Now for a bit of focus on the shape. There is the edge of the spatula that will contact the surface of the skillet, and there are the corners of the spatula that will contact the edge of the skillet.

    Spatula edge: Nearly all metal spatulas have a slightly rounded edge - those will scratch the surface of our cast iron in a bad way. The surface will end up uneven as the scratches accumulate over the years. With a flat edge, the surface will become flatter. This can be a bit challenging to find, but don't compromise on this point! A perfectly flat edge will make you much happier in the long run.

    Spatula corner: The rounded corners are important because the inside edges of the skillet are rounded. I have a spatula now that is good except that the corners used to be really sharp - not rounded. With years of use, they are starting to get rounded, so where did those little bits of stainless steel go? I musta eaten them! Hmmmmm ..... maybe I should take it out to the shop and grind the corners a little .... the point is that they still are not round enough. I finally found another spatula that came with rounded corners - I like that much better.

    wood handle: With a wood handle, you can rest your drippy spatula in the pan and the handle won't melt or get hot.

    stainless steel spatula edges and rounded corners stainless steel spatula resting in a cast iron skillet

Here are the two stainless steel spatulas that I have now. The one on the bottom is the one with the rounded corners.

stainless steel spatulas

gimmie gimmie gimmie!

This is the one I like far more than any other spatula I have encountered.
stainless steel spatula with flat edge and rounded corners
stainless steel spatula with flat edge and rounded corners at amazon

care of wood handles

I have a lot to say about this - take a look at my article on care of wood handles in the kitchen.

bacon squeezins in a grease keeper

When cooking bacon, I like to save the grease, then use the grease later for eggs, or corn bread, or whatever. This is the way my grandad did it. He had a little metal container that had a sort of filter at the top. Without the filter, sticky, chunky bits end up in your grease and leads to cleaning hassles. I found a similar contraption that I like much better than the one my grandad had. Mostly becase it is stainless steel and I think my grandad's was aluminum. But this one also uses a screen for a filter instead of a .... well ... pan-like thing with a bunch of holes in it. See the picture below.

If you use the grease regularly, you can keep it on the counter - just a little ways away from the stove. Otherwise, you should probably keep it in the fridge.

I've heard of folks using a canning jar for this. Storing grease in glass sounds smart to me - but I wonder if all the little bacon bits might somehow not keep well. Some people use a tin can - but I cannot help but think this is a bad idea: The can might leach something into the grease. The jar is far better than the can.

These are hard to find. I would say that only about 1 in 20 kitchen stores will carry even one grease keeper, and even then it is something I wouldn't want.

stainless steel grease keeper

My first stainless steel grease keeper. The metal seems a bit flimsy but this one is the only one with a proper pour spout. so if I pour the grease in and want to use some right away, pouring is the way to fly. I like the mesh screen better than the "holes" approach in all the others - but it doesn't really seem to gain much of anything. An aesthetic thing, I guess. I would take the lid off and set it on the counter upside down - to keep the bits of grease off the counter. And when spooning out grease, I would put the filter on the upside down lid. (amazon)

ceramic grease keeper

My ceramic grease keeper. I gave away my stainless steel grease keeper as a gift and thought this would be better. I was wrong. This ceramic grease keeper needs two hands to move anywhere. And it's heavy. Opening the fridge with one hand and putting this in the fridge with the other hand doesn't work. The only thing it has going for it is that it is mighty purty. (amazon)

stainless steel grease keeper

My third stainless steel grease keeper (my second is no longer available - which if fine, because the lid was too tight). Of all of the grease keepers that I have ever tried, I like this one the best. I got it for free from When filling it, the lid never touches the counter. When scooping out grease, I set the lid and the filter on the counter upside down. The filter slides out easily, unlike my second stainless steel grease keeper. I wish it had a spout though. (amazon) (pantryparatus)


I would like to see an invention where you can buy just the lid and filter with a handle and pour spout to go on a mason jar.

cast iron bits and bobs

cast iron cookware and tomatoes

Note that tomatoes, tomato sauces and other acidic foods eat away at the seasoning. I would generally avoid cooking these in cast iron.

cast iron cookware and bacon

Some bacons leave petrified goo on the skillet. This is actually sugar that is used to cure the bacon. The heat causes it to come out and turn into a sort of caramel/candy. Some people call it "bacon brownies" and they fight over who gets to eat it. Frying this kind of bacon almost always leads to needing to boil some water in the skillet to get it all out.

the cast iron griddle

This is a #8 rectangular griswold cast iron griddle. It does fit nicely over two burners on a conventional stove - although I'm not sure if that was the intent. The space beween the two burners does get significantly cooler.

I used this a lot for about a year and then moved to using two round griddles instead. A friend went on and on about how much he liked the rectangular griddle, so I gave it to him. He was proud of how he never used soap on his cast iron and always wanted to chide me on several of my cast iron practices. He took that beautiful griddle and left it in the rain for the next year. I shoulda sold it on ebay.

find the cast iron griddles on ebay

rectangular cast iron griddle - griswold #8

cast iron waffle iron

A magnificent test for those that have mastered getting their eggs to not stick to cast iron: get your waffles to not stick to a cast iron waffle iron.

This is a #8 griswold cast iron waffle iron. I bought it off ebay. It arrived covered in rust and cobwebs. I burned off the rust and covered it with sunflower oil. I made pancake batter with a little extra oil the first time. There was a small amount of sticking, but it quickly passed. I bought an oil sprayer and kept it full of sunflower oil. The whole thing worked out much better than I expected.

The idea is that there are two halves that make the griddle. And these two halves rest on a raised "chimney" which channels even heat to whichever half is currently facing down. When the two halves are together, you can grab the handles and rotated the two halves together so a different half can face the heat.

find the cast iron waffle irons on ebay

griswold cast iron waffle iron

cast iron skillet handle mitt

One thing about cast iron skillets is that they have a hot handle. But a very sturdy handle! Not that floppy crap that is screwed on that seems to always manage to get loosey goosey and store bits of gunk where the screws go.

The mitts that look like a mitten are way too small for my freaky big hands. And the rest seem to get filthy really fast. Plus, they seem to disappear and I find myself on a hat pad hunting expedition right when I need to be moving the pan!

These handle mitts are just the ticket. I leave them on all the time - including when I'm cooking. They stay clean and I never have to go looking for them. And they work better for my freaky big hands than any other kind of oven mitt.

buy on (

cast iron skillet mitt
cast iron skillet mitts

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