How to Keep Food from Sticking to Cast Iron Pans?

Cast iron pans are one of the most popular types of pans used by professional chefs and home cooks alike- and for good reason.

These pans are the perfect heat conductors, heating up very quickly and cooking the food in no time. Moreover, they are also quite durable and long-lasting.

Cast iron pans can be used for various types of cooking, including frying, searing, roasting, and even baking in the oven.

However, one problem that many cast iron pan users complain about is that their food tends to stick to the cast iron pan. This can burn the food and also makes the pan hard to clean.

Personally, I hate it when I am cooking eggs in my cast iron and sticks to it… arghhh!

This problem can easily be alleviated by following the right precautions and tips and understanding the properties of cast iron pans and how to cook with them.

This guide will provide you with information on this and more.

Why Does Food Stick To Cast Iron Pans?

By default, cast iron pans are not non-stick. The material of the pan is such that you will be able to see some pores in the pan (slide your hand on it and you will see the difference between it and a non-stick)

However, when properly seasoned, cast iron get an outer nonstick coating that allows food to slide off the pan and not stick.

Over time, this seasoning may wear off for multiple reasons, and your pans will no longer be as smooth as they once used to be and so you might find food would stick on the surface more.

Even when perfectly seasoned, there could be instances where food will stick to the cast iron pan.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

It Is Not Well-Seasoned

If you start feeling that food is sticking to the cast iron pan (which earlier didn’t use to), it’s most likely that your pan needs to be reseasoned.

When the seasoning of the cast iron pan wears off, it opens the pores that were earlier filled with oil/fat that you used while seasoning.

As a result, food, regardless of type, begins to stick to the surface. Luckily, you can season these pans yourself as well.

Delicate Food tends to stick to Cast Iron

The truth is that some types of food tend to stick to cast iron pans more than others.

Such types of food include those that are protein-rich, such as beef, chicken, fish, or eggs.

These protein-rich foods tend not to have any fat in them and thus no lubrication.

Even when you have a perfectly well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, there is still a chance that these delicate food items will stick. You can add more fat/oil while cooking, but it can only help to an extent.

In such cases, it’s best to avoid using cast iron for these delicate items.

Also read: What Not to Cook in a Cast Iron Pan?

Not Adding Enough Fats

When you don’t add any oil, butter, or other types of fats to the pan, it is not well lubricated (or it may need some more)

Though seasoning a cast iron pan makes it nonstick, it’s no match for a non-stick pan, You still need to add some fat/oil to allow for smooth gliding of food.

Therefore, the food will begin to stick if you have not added enough fats.

Tips To Prevent Food From Sticking To Cast Iron Pans

Here are some things you should be mindful of when cooking with cast iron pans to avoid any food from sticking to these pans:

You Don’t Necessarily Have To Season The Pan

Depending on the type of cast iron pan, you probably don’t need to season it beforehand as it might already come seasoned.

If you have a new cast iron pan that comes seasoned, just rinse it with water, and you’re good to go.

But if you have used the pan multiple times, regular seasoning becomes necessary.

In case you seasoned it earlier, you don’t need to do it every time. A well-seasoned cast-iron pan can be used for weeks (even months) before needing seasoning again

Always Preheat The Pan Before Cooking

Whether you are cooking or frying with the cast iron pan, you must remember to preheat it on a small or medium-sized burner.

It is not recommended to cook with these pans on burners larger than medium size.

Let the pan preheat for a little bit before adding oil or food.

However, while you do this, it is important to remember not put to extremely cold water in the pan when it is too hot, as that will break your cast iron pan immediately. 

Add A Little Bit of Oil

Once you have preheated your pan, you should add a few drops of oil before adding food.

This will prevent any food from sticking to the surface.

If you plan to add butter or other types of fat to your cast iron pan, add a bit of oil beforehand.

Clean Your Pan Thoroughly After Each Use

Another helpful tip to prevent food from sticking is through cleaning it properly. This will also make your cast iron pan last longer.

Avoid using dishwashers to clean these pans as much as possible because that might make the pan lose its nonstick properties.

As a result, your food would be more likely to stick.

Instead, the best way to clean your pan is by running it under warm water and then scrubbing the surface with a scrub.

Avoid using metal scrubs because they may also remove the nonstick coating of the pan. Moreover, use gentle soap when cleaning the pan. Do not leave your pan to soak in water.

Fry And Sear In It

The best way to maintain the seasoning of your pan is to use it consistently.

The more you fry and sear in it, the better seasoned and more nonstick it will become.

Don’t Soak The Pan In Water

Water is a big enemy of cast iron pans which is why you should only be using water with it when cleaning.

Leaving even a drop of water in the pan will soon lead to rust formation.

Hence, you should remove all the water from these pans with a dry cloth before storing them.

Seasoning Your Cast Iron Pan

Sometimes, the fault lies within the pan. Your cast iron pan may lose its nonstick surface through consistent usage, wear and tear, using metal utensils, or harsh scrubs.

This seasoning tends to wear off over time. Luckily, there are ways to reseason your cast iron pan to restore its nonstick properties.

If your food is sticking to the surface of your cast iron pan, the best thing you can do is to reseason it, which is quite easy.

Seasoning means basically bake your pan in a few thin layers of oil.

It not only gives your pan nonstick properties, but it also prevents it from rusting. Regularly seasoning your pan well will make it last for years.

Here’s how you can season your cast iron pan:

Step 1: Apply Oil

First of all, you will need to apply a very thin layer of food-grade oil to the surface of the cast iron pan.

Make sure it is a very thin layer. The pan should look dry and not glisten with oil, or the oil should not be dripping in it either.

You can do this by using a cloth or paper towel, dipping it in oil, and then applying it to the pan.

The oils you can use include vegetables, canola, shortening, lard, coconut oil, or butter.

Step 2: Place The Cast Iron Pan In The Oven

Place the pan upside down in the oven with an aluminum sheet at the bottom to catch any oil drips.

Keep the cast iron pan in the oven at 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for half an hour. After this, turn off the oven but let the pan sit there till it reaches room temperature.

You should repeat this process three to four times to make your pan completely nonstick.

How To Clean Food Residue From Cast Iron Pan

If you did not use the above-mentioned tips to prevent food from sticking or seasoned your pan and have found yourself in a literally sticky position, that’s no problem.

Here is what you should do to clean the food that is stuck on your pan:

  • While the pan is still hot, rinse it under hot or warm water. Make sure not to let the pan soak or sit underwater for too long as that might lead to rust formation
  • Use a sponge or stiff brush to clean the residue from the pan. Avoid using harsh soaps, detergents, or steel wool as it may cause scratches and abrasion
  • Make a paste of coarse kosher salt and water and use that to scrub off the food bits that are stuck on the pan. Then rinse and wipe with a paper towel
  • If there are still some stubborn bits left, boil water in the cast iron pan, and that might do the job
  • Once done and the pan is dry, season it with oil
  • Store the pan in a dry place

Final Words

This was everything about how to avoid food sticking on your cast iron pan, and what you can do if the food is already stuck on the pan.

Remember to be careful when cleaning your pan with water and to season them as regularly as possible to make the pans nonstick and last longer.

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