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7 Foods to Never Cook in Your Cast Iron Skillet

I love the versatility of a cast iron skillet. It is, unsurprisingly, a kitchen staple that’s ready to cook just about anything. And I could go on and on about its long life span, striking affordability, and incredible heat retention. But like many things, cast iron skillets are not perfect. And, unfortunately, “just about anything” isn’t exactly everything. 

To be fair, this is a list of recipes you could technically cook with a cast iron skillet if you really wanted to. For instance, cooking acidic ingredients may cause tiny molecules of metal to trickle into your food. And although that’s safe to eat, the inadvertent metallic flavor just isn’t ideal. 

So despite my love for cast iron skillets, let’s bring forward some recipes best cooked in a stainless steel frying pan, a carbon steel pan, or some other cookware. I mean, what’s a kitchen without challenges, right? Here are some foods to never cook in your cast iron skillet if you want to achieve the best results. 

Cast iron skillet with cinnamon rolls

1. Scrambled eggs

If you look real close at the cooking surface of a cast iron skillet, you might see tiny bumps and crevices. That’s right, cast iron skillets do not have smooth surfaces, and eggs can get stuck in them. Your eggs won’t slide off easily, and it’s just a mess. 

Again, you could if you really wanted to, and there certainly are workarounds. For example, letting the eggs firm up a bit — enough for the proteins to coagulate — before agitating the eggs can prevent sticking. But for easy cleaning and the best results, use a nonstick pan instead. 

2. Pancakes

Pancakes on plate with blueberries

Now, keep your shirts on, everybody. There’s a huge disclaimer to this one. Cast iron skillets, at least the adequately seasoned ones, are actually a fantastic choice for pancakes! Its ability to retain heat, giving pancakes that golden brown hue, is a huge plus.

But cooking pancakes on brand new, or unseasoned, cast iron can be a problem. Okay, this isn’t actually a “never cook in cast iron skillet” food as long as you remember to properly season them. Head on to my guide for cleaning and caring for cast iron cookware and see how to season cast iron or how to use a little bit of dish soap — yes, I said it, soapy water can safely touch your cast iron cookware. 

3. Bolognese

Bolognese is heavy on tomatoes, and tomatoes are acidic. Remember how cooking with acidic ingredients may result in dishes with a metallic flavor? That’s pretty much the case with bolognese and its tomato sauce.

Acidic ingredients can also cause your well-earned seasoning to fail. If you absolutely need to work with a cast iron skillet, ensure proper seasoning following its use. 

That said, bolognese is not best cooked in a skillet anyway. Try a saucier pan, a variation of the saucepan, instead. 

4. Salmon 

Flipping over salmon patties in pan

Although salmon is best cooked on an extremely hot cooking surface, like that of a cast iron skillet, the delicate nature of salmon also means it is prone to sticking. This means it is harder to flip your salmon. Naturally, this issue applies to other sticky foods, too.

Although, there are preventive measures you could take, such as adding small amounts of butter. The butter acts as a thin layer between your cast iron skillet and salmon, hopefully preventing the sticking of your delicate dish. But why bother when stainless steel pans are on hand?

5. Lemon chicken

Lemon is, in fact, another acidic ingredient. Although squirts of lemon juice should be fine, the concerns with bolognese also apply if you plan on simmering with citrus juices for prolonged periods. The lemon may react with our cast iron and again give off a metallic flavor. So whenever possible, try to use a stainless steel pan in place of a cast iron skillet. 

As a matter of fact, lemon may also give your cast iron skillet some discolorations. But assuming they do stain your cast iron skillet, scrubbing with baking soda should do the trick. 

6. Anything with vinegar

Not to hammer home this point, but vinegar is also acidic, and acidic foods just don’t work with cast iron skillets. Like lemon, cooking with vinegar is fine in small amounts. But filling your cast iron skillet with vinegar is another story. 

Too bad since a lot of main dishes get a kick from vinegar! We can probably make an exception with the balsamic chicken skillet, I hope.

7. Pie

Hang onto your hats; this last one’s another curveball. You technically can make pie in a cast iron skillet. Indeed, here’s an awesome guide on How to Bake Pie In a Cast Iron Skillet

But there’s a catch: Your pie will likely taste like whatever you cooked prior. The fat that is heated on a cast iron skillet stays and bonds with the metal in a process called polymerization. This thin layer can carry over some flavors, and your pie will probably acquire some of its taste. If this is an issue, baking soda can help remove the bite from your cast iron skillet. 

Then again, cast iron skillets are incredibly cheap. Why not buy another one? Take a look at The Best Cast Iron Skillet for 2021

Knowing What Not to Cook in a Cast Iron Skillet

“Only a sith deals in absolutes,” and “never” rarely every means never. Cooking certain foods in cast iron is no different. While there are better alternatives, you certainly can cook scrambled eggs, pancakes, or salmon in cast iron skillets. 

Ultimately, cast iron is exceptionally resilient. You can throw anything at it, cook what pleases your heart, and cast iron can probably pull in through. But if you do, try to make sure you season your cookware with cooking oil like flaxseed oil, olive oil, or vegetable oil. Even coconut oil and bacon grease work to your season cast iron. Watch over your cast iron skillets, and there’s little that it can’t cook. 

Did I miss your favorite dishes? What other food should you avoid cooking in cast iron skillets? I’d love to hear about it.