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Cooking in Cast Iron

I'm new to cast iron, having just recently lifted a skillet from my mom. I've seasoned it and baked in it a few times, but I'm wondering about cooking certain types of foods. I know that you shouldn't cook tomatoes in cast iron, but what about adding certain types of seasonings like soy sauce or vinegar? Will those ruin the seasoning on the pan?

I've got other cookware to choose from, but i'd like to be able to play with my new skillet more.

Thanks!

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  1. No acids. They will pit the iron and ruin any finish that you have developed. I would stay away from high-salt foods as well like soy sauce.

    1. great. it's a good thing i also took a nice old wok from my mom :). i think it probably needs some sort of seasoning too, but i don't know what material it is. it's definitely pre-nonstick.

      1. OK, I've said this before, but it bears repeating. In the context of cast iron, "seasoning" just means cooked-on grease. Anything that threatens that coating is bad for cast iron.

        High-acid foods like tomatoes and vinegar will strip the seasoning. Long, slow simmers and braises will also. Soaps, detergents and abrasives are bad as well.

        Over time, with proper care the seasoning gets harder, thicker and smoother. So freshly-seasoned cast iron is more vulnerable to threats than something that's been in steady use for, say, 20 years. It's perfectly possible to make soups and stews in a well seasoned pot --in generations past that was done all the time-- but if making soups and stews is your aim, you'd probably do better to choose a different pot.

        I've not heard that salt is a threat. In fact, the recommended method for scrubbing cast iron, on those rare occasions when it needs it, is to put some oil and a bit of salt in the pan, and rub with a paper towel.

        1. I think the "threat" when using high-acid foods is the taste of iron that you will impart in your whole dish should you cook with acids. The pan/skillet can be re-seasoned but your dish will have to be thrown away! Your wok is probably a high carbon steel if it's lasted for a while. If it has a nice browny-black center/bottom you're in good shape. High, high, high heat is recommended for cooking in a wok. It's best to open your windows and flip on the vent fan when using it inside! Have fun, and enjoy your newly acquired cookware!

          8 Replies
          1. re: HaagenDazs

            Well, yes and no. If the seasoning holds up, there won't be a taste of iron, because the food won't be exposed to metal. Trust me, I've done this successfully. The iron taste indicates that the seasoning has been stripped.

            Again, I think this is a poor use of cast iron; other tools are better suited for the task, and there's no good reason to risk it. But it's possible, with a very well seasoned pot.

            1. re: PDXpat

              Yep, you're right. Didn't think of it that way.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                Interesting, I didn't know that and I have been cooking my tomato sauce in my newer iron skillet. I haven't seen any pitting and I haven't tasted any iron.

                1. re: Missmoo

                  I'm with you. I make tomato sauce all the time in a cast iron skillet, with no ill effects on either taste or the pan. Having said that, it's well seasoned.

                  1. re: andreas

                    We used to make tomato sauce in my grandma's old cast iron all the time, never even thought about it, never had any problems.

                    1. re: andreas

                      I think "well seasoned" is a requirement for cooking acidic food in a cast iron pan. I received my big skillet 50 years ago, and it was old then. It was my only pan for a few years, and I cooked everything in it. It's still in good shape, too.

                  2. re: HaagenDazs

                    Ages ago, every houshold had a black iron kettle hanging over the hearth, and pretty much everything was cooked (meaning boiled to death) in that cauldron. On the other hand, those cauldrons had been in use for many years, even generations.

                    My own collection of cast iron skillets are mostly Griswolds made between 1897-1920, and handed down to me from my Mother. They've been in fairly regular use for generations, and have a coating that's as black as coal, and as hard, smooth and glossy as enamel.

                    My point is that it takes, quite literally, many years of steady use to thoroughly season cast iron. I don't wish to risk starting that process over. I also don't advise people who are still learning how to use their cast iron to engage in "risky behaviors". THe pan the OP lifted from his mother may be perfectly well seasoned, and may be able to stand up to long-simmered tomato sauce. But it would be a shame to strip of a generation of patina in a few minutes because the OP didn't know better. Best to proceed with caution until the OP and the pan are better aquainted with each other.

                    Until then, my advice would be to stick with dry heat methods such as frying bacon, chops and burgers, pan-broiling steaks, or baking cornbread. These are, not coincidentally, the very techniques where cast iron has a big advantage over other cookware. As time and confidence build up, the OP will find out what he and his pan are comfortable doing.

                2. re: HaagenDazs

                  This is really interesting. Last year, I once braised some short ribs in my cast iron pot and found that it had imparted a pretty strong metallic or iron taste to the dish. Others did not notice it as much but I recognized it and did not care for it.

                3. Well, I used the wok to make some Sichuan peppercorn shrimp. I think it is exactly what you said, a high carbon steel wok I'll save the cast iron skillet for other foods, like bacon and eggs and fun stuff like that.