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A freakin' fire in my cast iron pan.....

So I bought this fairly cheap -- ok, VERY cheap ($27) square, pre-seasoned (!) cast iron pan from Lodge something or the other at the Gourmet Chef outlet in Tannersville.

I was really psyched to cook my Delmonico's on it tonight, and got it nice and hot on my high burner (ceramic top), like smoking hot.

I then poured a bit of grapeseed oil on it, and it immediately caught on fire. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I thought grapeseed oil had a fairly high smoke point.

Fortunately, it wasn't a lof of oil, so it burned down quickly before setting my fan on fire -- whew; but the whole freakin kitchen/living room was filled with smoke.

And when I threw the steaks on a bit later, it was still so hot that I basically started burning them.

I nixed the whole cast iron pan idea and finished them under the broiler.

So, ummm. I guess I'm totally clueless when it comes to cast iron pan, as this is my first. Yes, I am a cast iron virgin.

The point of getting the pan in the first place was to get the really high heat you want to sear your steaks right, and I am not sure how to do this without burning oil or burning the steaks.

Did I use the wrong oil? Do I need to work with a lower heat after all?


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  1. I never use my cast iron above more than a medium flame. It is plenty high to get a good sear. Glad you didn't end up with a serious kitchen accident!

    1. If the grapeseed oil caught fire you were above the smoke point.
      I have a well seasoned cast iron grill skillet with those grill ridges. I pre-heat it on high and if the steak seems to have enough fat content I'll just throw it on and no problem getting a good sear. If it doeesn't have enough fat I'll spray the steak with some of that Pam like stuff and then put it in the pan. Never a flame up or fire.

      1. You should never preheat a cast iron skillet and then pour in the oil. You put the oil into the cold pan and heat it gradually. If I remember correctly, Grape seed oil has a smoking point of about 420 degrees, that's the "smoking" point, not the "flash" point. I believe it's flash point is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 degrees; haven't verified that but I'll live with the 600 degree figure for the moment.
        Your problem was in the cockpit, not in the cast iron pan.

        6 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            i know this threads a bit old but could you elaborate - so when cooking on cast iron do you never put oil in a pan or do you only put it on in the beginning to a cold pan?

            1. re: pie22

              it's safer to put a little oil in the pan in the beginning, or just have the meat brushed with some oil. either way, the CI gets really, really, really hot, so it's good to keep an eye on it.

              1. re: pie22

                If you are doing something over very high heat, like searing a steak, I wouldn't put any oil in the pan. If you want to, you can lightly oil the steak directly.

                1. re: ESNY

                  Ditto on that, brush oil on the food, safer than adding oil to a very hot pan, especially CI, although I've seen freakin' fires in other very hot sauté pans as well. I routinely add oil or clarified butter to hot sauté pans, but never superheated CI. That action can lead to flash and flame point issues.

          2. Now THAT's what I call a hot pan. Nothin' wrong with that. But don't be pouring oil in there. Can you say "grease fire"? I thought you could.

            Seriously, your pan was probably 600F or better. Perfect for searing, bad for frying. The burning you observed on the steaks likely had something to do with carbonized oil adhering to them. But you could drop a steak in and it wouldn't burn. The reason? Thermal mass. The steak will cause the temperature of the skillet to plummet.

            When you're doing high-heat applications like this, if you think you need oil, massage a little into the surface of the steak before laying it in the pan. Better crust, fewer flames.

            8 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              Thank you, once again, for 'splainin' stuff to me! NO more oil in the pan, perhaps just to medium (on the burner), and on the steaks go.

              I should also mention that the pan seems to be/have warped in the process, so I probly just got my stingy-ass money's worth....

              1. re: linguafood

                Actually, nothing stingy about it. Cast iron is very affordable. Doesn't mean it ain't good. For the record, I have no problem going up to medium-high when preheating my cast-iron skillet for steaks----but never put oil in the pan if you do so.

                1. re: linguafood

                  Odd that it would warp. I've been known to heat my cast iron pans until they glow red and have never had a problem. Or maybe it's just that a ceramic top accentuates the lack of absolute flatness. If it's minor, and if it bothers you, you can always sand the bottom a little to flatten it out.

                  PS - a $27 cast iron skillet doesn't qualify as cheap. At least not in the pejorative sense. Use it and abuse it, and odds are it'll still be serviceable for your grandkids.

                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Ah, see. I have no idea what a quality cast iron pan should cost. Given how freaking expensive most good pots and pans are (the ones that don't warp on immediate contact with heat, for example haha), I thought with $27 I just got what I paid for, so to speak.

                    No grandkids foreseeable. But the pan will get some good use of it now. Better, more informed use I hope '-)

                    1. re: linguafood

                      $27 is plenty to pay for a cast iron pan. Throwing more money at cast iron is a waste - unless, I guess, it makes you feel better. You probably got a good pan; and I find it not all that likely that it would have warped.

                      1. re: linguafood

                        Quality cast-iron pans can be purchased for $1-2 at estate sales. $15, if you want to get it brand new. Your $27 pan is for the pre-seasoning, not for the pan.

                        1. re: Indirect Heat

                          I've rarely had problems like this, and I tend to use either canola or olive (!!!) oil with a cast iron pan that has been preheated to the 6.5/10 on my old apt's POS coil stove. I'd pour the oil in before preheating then throw on the steak (NY strip or Ribeye!!). Works for me. Things sometimes get smoky, but that's par the course. I actually find that OO works fine for me, especially if you blend some with canola. I'll happily use the same pan to make eggs the next morning, just heat it up and melt some butter, add your eggs and scramble....it is usually VERY nonstick. I love cast iron, just remember to "preheat", keep it seasoned, don't leave food on it, and to "oil" it before storing/after cleaning it.

                          Also I've never actually seen a cast iron pan for sale that isn't pre seasoned yet, unless it was enameled. That said $27 is a little pricey (not by that much though) for a cast iron saute or fry at an outlet unless it was 13"+ with lid. I got a small one at Ikea for 9 bucks (yes, preseasoned), and you can get lodge pans at TJX/similar for 14-20 bucks.

                          1. re: Indirect Heat

                            Yeah at a garage sale I snagged two for 50¢ each. One is a classic square ridged fry pan, the other a 9" regular fry pan. I had to clean rust off and season them again but I prefer the old American stuff to a new import from (most likely) China. Whoever invented the ridged fry pan should get a Nobel Prize in Physics

                            A greasy meat like bacon is the best for seasoning cast iron

                  2. Obviously your pan was too hot.

                    I don't oil the pan but oil the steaks.


                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Davwud

                      I agree with point 2 but not 1. In my opinion the pan was the right temp for a nicely seared steak. Just don't put oil in it. I lightly oil the steaks directly and then put in a naked pan. Did you burn the steaks or were they getting really seared? There is a big difference. I put my pan over medium high/ high heat for at least 5 minutes and then cook for about 3 min per side for a 1 inch thick steak cooked rare/medium rare.

                      1. re: ESNY

                        Well, they were pretty much smoking when I put them on, and they were charred more than seared. I took them off soon enough as to not burn them completely, and the broiler actually finished them off nicely...

                        But thanks all for the tips! I had considered oiling the steaks, and might do so in the future.

                        1. re: linguafood

                          I'm guessing its the oil that burned and then stuck to the steak rather than the heat of the pan. I get my pan ripping hot before cooking and its never burns plus some top steakhouses use 1800 deg broilers to cook their steaks without burning it.

                    2. Just a head's up on another flammable event. Never pour liquor into a pan over the flame either. Always add off heat.

                      1. One more heads up -- Google image search for "grease fire"



                        1 Reply
                        1. re: blue room

                          How to prevent the aforementioned Google images from happening:


                        2. If I'm using an iron pan to sear steaks I may rub the steak with oil but never add oil to the pan. Somewhere I read about just putting a thin layer of salt in the iron pan then add the steak when hot........mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

                          1. I use my cast iron all the time on the grill and in the oven but I was told to never use it on a ceramic flattop. I used to use it on ring burners but was told it could crack the flat top.Not sure if it is true or not but the scared me out of doing it!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: LaLa

                              I use my cast iron all the time on my ceramic flat top and have never had a problem!

                              1. re: LaLa

                                Well, I try to not slam it on the surface too hard. I don't want to scratch or crack it, but so far, that has been the least of my problems.

                                1. re: LaLa

                                  My ceramic Amana cooktop is old but the manual includes mention of using it for cast iron pans. I think the recommendations against using CI on ceramic are to do with potentially scratching the ceramic. I've used my CI on it for 30 yrs now, and counting (knock wood).

                                  Never use high heat on a CI pan. It's not necessary - the pan will get plenty hot on med to med-high. I was a kid when I forgot mom's CI pan on the electric coil stove which I'd turned onto high to dry the pan after washing. It was literally glowing red hot when I found it - good thing I got it safely outside without starting a fire.

                                  1. re: greygarious

                                    >>"Never use high heat on a CI pan. It's not necessary"<<

                                    For most applications you're right. But there are times when you want the pan to be really, really hot. Why not make the most of its versatility?

                                2. Didn't you get a chorus of screams from every smoke detector in the place?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Sharuf

                                    Haha! Thankfully, our smoke detector is NOT in the kitchen (where, admittedly, it would probably make the most sense, but it would also go off quite often.... what can I say, I like my pans hot); and I had closed the kitchen door in anticipation.

                                    I hate, hate, HATE the smoke detector noise. I have a Rainman moment whenever that thing goes off '-D

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      Our house has evil collaborative smoke detectors...a cook's worst enemy (or best friend). Set one off and you set them all off. No kitchen door either :/

                                      1. re: DukeOfSuffolk

                                        Our house is the same way. And we discovered doing some basement remodeling that dust can set them off too. Hours later. In the middle of the night.

                                        1. re: DukeOfSuffolk

                                          Put a cheap disposable shower cap over the smoke detector and you're good to go.

                                    2. The Frugal Gourmet's oft-repeated mantra was "hot pan - cold oil - foods won't stick". I don't know if he applied it to cast iron cooking. It's like touch-typing - I don't consciously think about what I'm doing, For searing, I turn on the heat and add just a film of oil a minute or so later, when the pan is warmed up but not fully preheated. On my cooktop electric stove, CI heats up a lot faster and hotter than my other pans.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        I don't fully understand that "hot pan-cold oil-foods won't stick" mantra; the "foods won't stick" part seems misleading. What you really want is a hot pan and hot oil to avoid sticking. First of all, if you put a thin film of oil into a hot pan, by the time you get your steak or chop or whatever into the pan, the oil's going to be hot. Perhaps it was the Jeff Smith's choice of wording; he obviously did not mean to imply that the oil should be "cold" rather, added to the pan right before sautéing, where the oil spreads out to a thin film and heats up very quickly. That action can lead to flash and flame point issues, especially with very well heated cast iron. I admit that, while adding the oil after the pan has heated up, is a safe indicator for not burning oil, it's a technique that works some of the time, but doesn't always hold.

                                        Either method, adding oil and heating the pan, provided you don't overheat, scorch or burn the oil, or adding oil after heating the pan, until you see the convective oil dance, does not cause food to stick. Lack of heat and quantity of fat, not allowing caramelization to occur before turning the food product, and the quality of the seasoning or type of finish on the pan can result in stickage.