Using Cast Iron Cookware in Every Day Cooking So You’re Ready for Emergencies

Some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Chances are, you have a cast iron dutch oven and a couple of cast iron skillets among your preparedness gear. You’ve chosen it, most likely, due to its ability to use over an open fire and its durability and ruggedness. However, if you’re not cooking with your cast iron every day, why not? Let’s talk about the many ways to use cast iron, so when an emergency arises, experience is on your side.

image: two drumsticks with thighs cooking in a cast iron pan

Types of Cast Iron Cookware

Do you think dutch ovens and cast iron skillets are your only choices?

Far from it!

Some of these, especially #6 and #9, can even be appreciated by college students and recent grads.

  1. Grill pan, complete with ribbed bottom for grilling meat
  2. Reversible two-burner grill /griddle, perfect for pancakes or meat
  3. Tortilla press
  4. Grill press, great to use with a grill pan
  5. Wok
  6. Pizza pan (reheats delivery pizza better than in a microwave)
  7. Loaf pan
  8. Saucepot
  9. Mini-skillet, perfect for a single egg (or buy the slightly larger square one for grilled cheese)
  10. Muffin pan

A skillet is an indispensable piece to me, though. It’s multi-purpose. For example, we don’t use a pizza pan. Instead, we place a skillet in the oven upside down and place the pizza on the pan’s bottom (now top). Works great.

Or, if you have two different size skillets, you can heat a smaller one and set it atop a sandwich cooking in the larger one. Voila’! Panini!

Basically, I would rather have one piece that performs many functions than one that can only do one thing.

Why Cast Iron Has Fallen Out of Favor

Even though your grandparents probably used their cast iron every day, it’s fallen out of favor in contemporary times for a few reasons:

  • It’s heavy. Some of the bigger items can be difficult to manipulate.
  • There is a general society increase in a phobia of germs. For example, since you don’t wash cast iron with soap, many people are uncomfortable with simply rinsing out the pan.
  • Some are leery of the seasoning process, where a thin layer of fat is burned into the iron. In truth, seasoned cast iron is probably far better for you than non-stick pans, so popular today.

Seasoning Cast Iron

The first thing to keep in mind is that, like any iron, cast iron can rust. Whether you have a new skillet from Lodge or a Griswold heirloom, all cast iron rust when not taken care of properly. (Lodge cast iron is still proudly Made in the USA.)

To keep it from rusting, it needs to be seasoned well and kept seasoned. There are several ways to do this, and in a home environment, it’s pretty easy. However, if you were using it outside on an extended basis, it would need greater care, as it would be exposed to the harshness of the weather (rain, humidity, temperature changes that cause condensation, etc.).

How to Season

Seasoning cast iron involves coating with a layer of fat or shortening and heating until it blackens and smokes. There are differences in methods. The takeaway is there are multiple ways to season properly. Choose the one that works best for you. My process is simple:

Seasoning a new pan

If you’re starting with an unseasoned pan, you’ll want to cover the entire pan with a light coating of oil or grease. Flaxseed oil, bacon grease, etc., and even Crisco shortening, which I find works very well, can be used for seasoning.

Place the cookware in a 400-degree oven for about an hour. Expect a lot of smoke when you season in the oven, so plan accordingly.

Repeat this process two or three times.

Seasoning a seasoned pan

Wait, what?

Yes.

To keep the pan well-seasoned, season it two or three times a year, either in the oven or on the stovetop. This involves heating the pan for longer, applying two or three coats of Crisco, and letting it come to a good smoke.

How to Clean Seasoned Cast Iron

When used every day, the care for your cast iron is pretty simple.

  1. After cooking, wipe out the pan with a paper towel.
  2. If needed, use hot water, a brush, nylon scraper, or chainmail-type scrubber, and scrub out the pan. Don’t be afraid to scrub any food stuck to the pan, as any seasoned coating worn off is easily replaced. Another method is to use coarse salt and a sponge and clean while still hot.
  3. Once cleaned, you can dry it with a towel or put the pan back on the stove and heat the pan, which causes the water to evaporate.
  4. If drying on the stovetop, give it a light coat of oil, grease, or shortening. The heat opens the pores of the iron and is an ideal time to lightly season the pan.
  5. Once coated, continue heating until there’s a good amount of smoke. The smoke lets you know the fat is turning into carbon, which is the “season” in seasoning.

This “light-duty” seasoning is usually all that’s needed with everyday home use. You don’t need to season the pan every time you use it, though you could if you wanted to. We find that seasoning the pan every 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time used is generally enough to keep a good seasoning.

To Soap or Not To Soap?

We can’t move on from here without addressing the great cast iron controversy. Most of us have heard or been told: DO NOT wash cast iron with soap. Ever. If you do, you will have to re-season it. Then you hear from an outlier who uses soap on cast iron and has done so for years without harming the seasoning.

So which is it?

Well, the seasoning occurs through polymerization, which happens when the oil bonds with the hot porous metal to form a smoother surface. Soap isn’t going to remove it from a well-seasoned pan, at least not easily. Unlike soap of old made with lye and vinegar, most of the soaps today aren’t strong enough to do so. However, a brand new pan, with only the manufacturer coating of questionable durability, might lose those factory-applied layers.

So yes, you can use soap to clean your cast iron.

Alternatives to Cast Iron

Similar to cast iron is seasoned steel. Seasoned steel is used and cared for just like cast iron. The advantage, though, is it isn’t as heavy.

It might seem odd at first, as it looks different from cast iron, but it performs similarly. While not as thick as the iron pans, the steel is denser and evenly distributes heat. They seem to cool off more quickly, too.

Where to Acquire

It’s not uncommon to find cast iron at yard sales or thrift shops or acquire it from those who no longer want it. This would be an economical way to assemble a Dutch Oven Survival Kit and learn how to cook with one. These can be some great bargains or some real stinkers. Here are a few guidelines for deciding which it is:

  • Is the bottom flat? If a pan is improperly heated or cooled, it can warp. If it wobbles, it’s been warped and won’t heat evenly.
  • Is it pitted? Pits form when rust eats into the metal. Pitting is different than that bumpy surface you feel when you buy brand new cast iron; those are because it is manufactured in sand casts. However, you can’t get a good season on the pan with too much pitting. That being said, light pitting might be possible to address and, depending on the piece, might be worth the risk. On the other hand, deep pitting is a headache I would pass on.
  • Is rust present? As long as there is no pitting and it checks out in other areas, rust is easily dealt with.

Words of Wisdom

When many people use cast iron at first, they hate it. They complain of food sticking and an awful experience with cleaning. It’s understandable. An unseasoned pan truly is a nightmare to cook with. However, a well-seasoned pan has a nearly non-stick surface.

The difference between those two experiences is knowing how to care for and protect your cast iron. Patience and proper care yield a non-stick surface far easier to cook on than the modern non-stick surface. You’ll become a believer in its longevity and ease of use.

In my household, we use cast iron and seasoned steel for nearly all cooking. Cast iron cooks well on gas and electric stoves, and it’s okay to use metal utensils when cooking. When’s the last time you could do that with modern, non-stick cookware?

Conclusion

With care, and perhaps even without care, cast iron cookware will last nearly forever, ensuring you can pass it down to your children or grandchildren. In addition, by using cast iron with your everyday cooking, you are not only getting more iron and fewer chemicals in your diet, but you’re also learning how to cook with time-tested cooking gear.

Do you use cast iron? What is your favorite piece?

The post was originally published on September 30, 2014, and has been updated.

The following two tabs change content below.
Rob Hanus is the author of several books, including, “The Preparedness Capability Checklist” and "Surviving EMP." He is also founder and host of the http://ThePreparednessPodcast.com/.

37 thoughts on “Using Cast Iron Cookware in Every Day Cooking So You’re Ready for Emergencies”

  1. I inherited my great-grandmother’s mini cast iron skillet. I love using it because of how well it cooks, and because my great-grandmother used it. What a durable heirloom!

  2. I have a cast iron chicken fryer, deep skillet with lid, that was my grandmothers for 30+ years, it was given to my mother who used it for 30+ years and I have had it for over 10 years myself. LOVE IT! I also have skillets from a 4″ to 12″, two dutch ovens 10 & 14″, round griddle, grill skillet, and a few other items. I don’t think I could cook without my cast iron!

  3. I love my cast iron, and I try to convert people whenever I can. If you are still using those ‘newfangled’ chemical coated pans, just start replacing them one at a time! Before long you’ve created a budget friendly, long lasting set of cookware!

  4. Lodge, one of the largest makers of cast iron cookware, says that it is ok to use mild soap on your cast iron. Just wash, dry, and rub a little oil on the finish. I always dry my pans in the oven after using them and have never had a problem with rust.

  5. The death knell of cast iron is the glass stove tops. They specifically state not to use cast iron on them. I would not want the seasoned pan on the stove because it would deposit the coating to the glass and be a nightmare to clean if it didn’t damage the glass surface.

    1. A small wire brush sold at Ace hardware, and some barkeepers friend is what I use to clean any glass top stove. I personally think the stove manufacturers put that on their instruction book because in the past, because of the heaviness of some of the pans, someone has chipped it by dropping it on the glass surface or by slippery
      hands have dropped it and chipped the glass top.
      I have personally used cast iron, but with a lot of care not to damage the glass.

  6. I love my cast iron pots and pans. I use the skillet daily. When we had to replace our stove I refused to buy a glass top as I wanted to continue to use my cast iron regularly.

  7. I use my cast iron on our glass-top range. No problem. All you have to do is cook gently: don’t slide the piece around or spin it in place — which is good, common sense advice for any cooktop. I had more grief over a plastic bag that found it’s way onto a hot cooking surface than from any cast iron implement. Bonus: cooking gently means less spill/slop/spatter which means easier clean-up.

  8. I have been using cast iron for as long as I’ve been cooking. I would offer a word of advice about choosing cast iron for “what if”. Make sure that the pieces you buy are compatible with whatever stove or heating method you plan to use them with. I wound up giving away a large 2-burner griddle because it would rock from side to side on the burners of my particular stove, and oil and grease would run off the lowest corner. Messy, and potentially dangerous.

  9. Is there a way to bring cast iron back after its rusted? I keep seeing them in that condition and am afraid to take on the responsibility only to find out they can’t be used…

  10. Addressing some of the comments all in one reply…

    Scrubbing with soap and detergent isn’t a good idea, as both may remove the seasoning. This is more important if you practice the ‘daily seasoning’ by heating the pan on the stove to a point where the residual oil and grease is smoking. If you have a good seasoning, light washing with soap probably isn’t going to do much harm (depending on how deep and well-seasoned the pan is).

    I tell people “Don’t use soap” to keep it simple. A pan that is seasoned and well-taken care of doesn’t need to be cleaned with soap, but probably won’t be affected by soap (again, assuming you’re not abrasively scrubbing it). It’s the not-so-well seasoned pans that shouldn’t get cleaned with soap, as they’ll never develop a seasoning from daily use. If you’re always scrubbing away the oils and fats, and not reheating the pan, chances are you will need to do a deep seasoning much more often.

    As for rusted cast iron, they can be reconditioned. You’ll have to sand, grind, sandblast, or otherwise remove the rust. There’s a lot of metal in cast iron pans and this typically won’t do affect it, other than to remove the rust. Once the rust is removed, you need to wash it, dry it in an oven or over heat so the water has no time to cause more rust, then do a deep season.

    BTW, I’m using the term “deep season” to refer to the process of coating the entire pan with oil or fat (I use Crisco) and heating in an oven. 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then wipe the excess off. Continue heating for, at least, another 45 minutes. Leave in the oven until cool. This is how I do it, though you’ll find a variety of ways of achieving the same thing. It will smoke, so don’t be alarmed.

    As for fats becoming rancid… if you’re heating up the pan properly, either with the deep or daily method, the fats aren’t going to go rancid. I think the term is polymerization, but what happens is the fats are changed with the heat to a coating that fills in the microscopic pits and pores of the metal. When heated like this, the fats are no longer a fat and will not go rancid.

    I would never have a glass-top stove, so I have no experience with using cast iron on them.

    BTW, if you find an old cast iron pan or pot that is caked with grease and grime from decades of use, place it in your oven on a couple of fire bricks, and set the over to self-clean. When done, you’ll have a like-new pan that will need to be wiped down and seasoned.

    Rob

    1. Rob

      Grinding, sandblasting your cast iron cookware is not a good thing to do, to remove rust you can soak it in a 50/50 water and vinegar bath to remove the rust or set up a Etank you can google how to make one. You can also use steel wool washing it with cold water and soap using steel wool, I use 0000 or 000 steel wool, on these older cast iron cookware pre 1960 I would never sand, grind, sandblast any of these, steel wool only, i will sand new cast iron to get the smooth surface, even with badly pitted ones I wouldn’t sand or grind, I use these to bake with.
      I tell people to check out some of these youtube videos for care or cast iron cookware or ask others that been restoring cast iron for some time almost all collectors love to talk about cast iron and will teach you, I know I do all the time.

  11. I was wondering why everybody says not to wash cast iron with soap, and I am pretty sure that is a myth. I cook with cast iron skillets every day and I also wash them with soap and water. I even scrub them with a stiff brush with the soap and hot water. I dry it off and add a little bit of oil.

    I have been washing my cast iron with soap and water daily for months now, and eggs can still float around on the surface while I am cooking them. Nothing sticks. If the purpose of the seasoning is to make it non stick and perform well, then soap does not harm the seasoning at all.

    If the seasoning performs some other function that I am not aware of, then somebody please enlighten me.

  12. I have a glass top stove and have used my cast iron on it for many years. I place the pot or pan on the burner and don’t move it.

    Since I have to season my cast iron in the house, and the pet birds, I, and the smoke alarms don’t deal well with smoke, I use my Grandma’s method. It’s works beautifully for raw cast iron, like a new piece (unidentified maker) we scrubbed to the bare metal, a new pre-seasoned piece that’s been washed and dried, or if I just want to add a layer to my current cast iron. I heat the piece to about 200F for 15 min to make sure it’s dry, let it cool a tiny bit, then use a good vegetable oil (I use safflower) on a folded washcloth. I use a spoon to apply the oil to the cloth to make sure there isn’t too much. I cover the whole piece with a very, very light coating, sometimes giving a quick light rub with the side of the washcloth that has no oil on it. Then I put it in the oven, set it to 400-450F and when it reaches temp, I start the timer for 60 min. When the timer rings, I turn the stove off and let the piece cool till I can barely touch it. It now has a very nice thin black coat, with no extra fussing. If it was a raw piece, I will repeat this, so it’s been oiled & baked 3-4 times. Pre-seasoned and my touch ups get 1-2. There’s almost no smoke (and no alarms) in the house, and my cast iron has a rich black non-stick surface, with no sticky or thick areas from too much oil.

    I was also told by a couple collectors that the ‘self clean’ cycle on an oven can hit 900F to 1,200F, and that can damage or crack cast iron, as it reaches those temps too fast for the iron. They also said the warped, reddish and scabby looking pieces in the corner were cleaned by putting them in a fire, damaging them. The ones with ‘fire scale’ are apparently not repairable. The Griswold, unknown and old Wagner I just got will be probably be getting cleaned in oven cleaner to get past the 1/4″ plus of gunk baked on the inside if elbow grease doesn’t work. I’m looking forward to seeing them clean… Hope this helps.

  13. Great write up, I see more people are using and collecting cast iron in the last couple of years and I think that is just great.
    My grandparents and pops showed me how to clean, season, cook and store cast iron cookware its been over 45 years now. I can tell the difference between two steaks cooked one in cast iron and the other a steel skillet, I will pick the cast iron cooked one every time. There is a different taste to food cooked with cast iron.
    I own over 2500 pieces of cast iron cookware ranging from pieces from the late 1700’s to as new as 2016 the new Lodge cast iron. There is a big difference in these, were the older ones are thinner and weigh a lot less these also heat up faster. Now with the new Lodge cast iron cookware, I strip it and will sand it down, yes that’s right I sand it to take the ruff bumps off that Lodge uses to hold there seasoning. When I am done with a new Lodge it is smooth like a older Griswold, it holds a great seasoning and cooks up great. I use Flaxseed oil to season my cast iron, I will season a piece 6 times at 500° for a hour each time, when done it comes out a beautiful smooth black .
    When it comes to cleaning/stripping cast iron I use a Etank , but for chrome plated , nickel plated or enamel coated I use a lye bath to clean these. I do not use the clean cycle on the oven.
    Once you start using cast iron cookware and get the hang of it, you will say where you been .

  14. A properly seasoned cast iron pan can be washed with soap.
    I have been washing cast iron pans with soap for decades.
    When a pan is seasoned, the oil polymerizes and becomes a hard durable layer invulnerable to soap. You cannot wash it off.

  15. Pingback: 60 of the Best Cast Iron Skillet Recipes - Surviving Prepper

  16. The article forgot to mention that a cast iron pan can go from the stove directly into the oven without being damaged. It also forgot to mention that it can withstand higher heat than non-stick pans.

    And just for the record, I wash mine with soap all the time. Never a problem.

  17. Pingback: 25+ Cast Iron & Dutch Oven Recipes – Melissa K. Norris

  18. Pingback: Cast Iron Dutch Oven Recipes Melissa K. Norris

  19. The “no soap” rule goes back to the Olden Days, when most soap was made with lye, which will strip the seasoning. Modern soaps are much gentler, and less likely to damage the seasoning (Easy Off contains lye and we all know how harsh that is). I use mild, organic dish soap sparingly and have never had a problem.

  20. Field Company skillets are half the weight of traditional cast iron. Not nearly as cheap as a Lodge pan, but forged in a way that they can be used on a glass top stove, because they will stay absolutely flat on the bottom.

  21. I absolutely love my cast iron cookware. Skillets, dutch ovens, flat irons, muffin pans, etc. we have it all and use it for most cooking daily. My favorite is the 9″ skillet, The 6 qt dutch oven and the round 10″ flat iron. Steaks, homemade bread, stir fries, fritatas and more all get cooked on these pieces. We have augmented the set over the years for both of our kids (now graduated and on their own) to have their own sets and they use them frequently too.

    Keeping it seasoned is easy once your in the mode and even fried eggs slide out nicely. We talke them camping and use them over over the grill and bonfires. Sure it’s heavy but so versitile you can’t beat it.

    1. Thank YOU so much for this article. I have read so much on this topic and no one has stated it needs to smoke. This is a life or rather skillet saver. Blessings!!!!

  22. So, I’ll be the only one to say, “I hate mine”. I’ve tried seasoning it three or four times using this method, https://www.cooksillustrated.com/how_tos/5820-the-ultimate-way-to-season-cast-iron, which takes forever, wastes a ton of electricity, and makes the house stink, and still everything sticks, even bacon in a lot of grease. They’re also so heavy. And, if you don’t heat them up again after washing, they instantly rust. They’re awful. I don’t want to use the non stick stuff and I thought cast iron would be the solution but when even bacon sticks, I consider them useless. Yes, I could probably season them again, the instructions do say it needs to be done 5 times, but when they still stick horribly after all the times I’ve already done it, I seriously doubt it’s going to work. And, the thought of constantly having to do this re-seasoning over and over forever, no, there has to be a better pan than these.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Catherine. I’m sure you’re not alone! While I do love mine, I completely agree with you about how stupid heavy they can be!

  23. The main problem is that the pan is quite heavy and difficult to flip for an older person. Also, it takes time to heat up. So I always prefer stainless steel.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.