It’s Important to Preheat Your Cast Iron

There’s a common myth about cast iron cookware. It’s so pernicious, I’ve endorsed and spread it myself: “cast iron cookware heats evenly.”

That’s simply not true. Not just simply—demonstrably. So much so, that I have observed the falsehood of this claim in my personal experience, and yet disregarded it.

It took America’s Test Kitchen to change my view, and now, I preach their gospel!

Cook It in Cast Iron

Cook It In Cast Iron, (paid link) from America’s Test Kitchen’s Cook’s Country series (Image: Overdrive Media).

If I had not been so convinced of The Myth, I would have recognized the truth when I observed it in my own experience. Cast iron can cook in spotty fashion, with hot spots where the heat touches the pan, cold spots where it doesn’t. if you’ve ever made silver dollar pancakes on a stove top cast iron griddle, you’re likely nodding in agreement.

Cast iron cookware is wonderful (see Cooking With Cast Iron Cookware). But, its incredible heat retaining capabilities have morphed into the myth of even heating. Cast iron will heat evenly . . . if you take the time and effort to preheat it!

grilled cheese in cast iron

This grilled cheese sandwich would have had a much smaller dark spot in the center, and less toasting around the edges if I hadn’t preheated the skillet (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

The answer to correcting this, to getting the most out of your cast iron pans,  is simple: preheat your cast iron in the oven. It’s a time- and fuel-consuming step, but the results speak for themselves.

If I have the time, I preheat my pans in the oven as a part of the cooking process.

If not convenient or possible, I take time to either heat it on the top of the wood stove, or throw a lid on it and preheat it on the burner: I give it low heat, and leave it alone for 15 minutes or more. An easy way to gauge its temperature is to touch the lid handle. If it’s too hot to touch, the pan should be well heated!

I also pay attention to my nose: if I start to smell burning oil, I know it’s getting too hot, too fast. I pop the lid to let off some of the smoke, and turn the flame down even further. A good lidded cast iron pan serves as a stove top oven, if used properly.

Whatever method works best for you, be sure to preheat your cast iron pots and pans before using them. That extra step can save your entire meal.


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2 Responses to It’s Important to Preheat Your Cast Iron

  1. Angie says:

    I preheat my cast iron on the woodstove too; it’s already hot and I’m not burning extra propane. I will preheat it the oven, however, if I’m using the pan for baking rather than stove-top cooking, since the oven’s on anyway.

    (And I keep meaning to tell you, that sandwich looks divine. Next time make two.)

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Thanks, Angie, and yes, the sandwich was divine, and one of two. I didn’t think to take a photo till the second one, which is too bad. The first one reminded me of the importance of preheating cast iron with its hot-spot marks on the bread. It was delicious anyway.

    One thing I’ve learned about good couples diplomacy: if I’m making a meal for two that includes two separate attempts (like grilled cheese sandwiches with big bread) I’ll make them both, cut them both in half, and serve half of each attempt to each person. Michelle and I are both the middle child of three, so fairness is important!

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