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Jun 23, 2011 05:05 PM

How do you preheat a Cast Iron Skillet? Can you use the "water test" as with Stainless?

Hey Chowhounders,

I'm considering getting a cast iron skillet. I just made the switch from teflon to stainless and am thinking about going for cast iron.

I'm sure many of you have seen the videos here, particularly the first one in the blog post.

Is the process for preheating cast iron similar? Would you get a similar mercury ball / "Leidenfrost effect"? Is that even what you want when preheating cast iron?

If it makes a difference, I think I would just go with a Lodge chef's skillet, with the rounded sides.

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  1. I do use water test for my cookware regardless of the materials, that is including carbon steel, cast iron ... etc. I don't test exactly the same way. I test based on the sound of the water droplets -- how it sizzles.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Yeah, I think you're overthinking it. Water still sizzles in cast iron. However, it does heat up more slowly. And, if you're new to cooking in a cast iron skillet, rememeber that the handle will heat up, so use a towel or potholder to grab it. You'll remember after the first time you grab that handle without one!

    2. Harold McGee has an interesting article on heat and pan materials. Toward the end he talks about heating oil in a pan (as is often recommended for stainless steel)

      1. Check this link for more videos in that series.

        The last one in the series addresses different pan types. It says CI is too porous for the mercury ball effect to work. I do use drops of water to test a CI pan temperature for cooking pancakes, but the drops dance across the surface then evaporate, which I believe indicates a hot enough pan for pancakes, but too low for chicken.

        IME a well seasoned CI pan is much less prone to sticking than SS or anodized Al, so pre-heating is more necessary for browning than to avoid sticking.

          1. I look for water balls when I heat up my iron skillet. I heat my pan on med heat until a drop of water balls as soon as it hits the surface of my pan. I've been putting my hand palm down above the skillet to get a feel for how the heat radiates off the pan, and I think in a while I'll be able to tell this without a drop of water. Which is what cooking is. You just try stuff. Luckily, you have this entire site of cooks to give you plenty of advice as you learn how to use a new CI pan.

            I love my CI pans. Using them has become a pleasure I never had in previous years of cooking.

            A Lodge skillet is a modest investment, which could last you a lifetime, with proper care. If all those old grannies in the 1800s who cooked on wood stoves can use an iron skillet, you can too!