Why Aromatic Foods Are Best Left Out Of The Cast Iron Skillet

Once you know your way around a cast iron pan, you'll quickly realize why they have remained virtually unchanged for generations. Durable, nonstick, and surprisingly easy to maintain despite the myths, a cast iron pan is a versatile all-star that can tackle just about any kind of food you'd cook on a stove or in the oven. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you should be cooking anything and everything in a cast iron skillet. The seasoning layer has a bad habit of soaking up strong smells, and you should really think twice before throwing in powerful aromatics like minced garlic, peppers, or fish. 

Basically, anything you wouldn't microwave in a plastic container should probably stay out of your cast iron, too. Tasty as they might be, Tupperware-killers like curry, kimchi, chili, and anything pickled will most definitely show up in the next few meals without intervention. There are a few ways of chasing out the odors, the easiest of which is to simply bake it out. Sticking your pan in the oven for a while will usually kill any lingering smells without damaging your seasoning. Failing that, you can always give your pan an overnight salt bath by spreading a thin layer of table salt on the bottom, then rinsing it out the next morning.

How to deal with a smelly cast iron pan

With proper maintenance, you could theoretically get away with regularly cooking smelly foods — so long as you're willing to give the pan a bake each time before putting it away. However, this only works in a best-case scenario. Cast iron has a porous surface that's unfortunately good at retaining odors that have gotten past the seasoning layer somehow. This is why smelly and acidic foods are a definite no-go for cast iron.

So, how do you eliminate a smell that's gotten into the pan itself? You might find a few "natural" methods online that claim to be good for your pan, but there are some cast iron cleaning methods you absolutely need to avoid. Anything involving vinegar, lemon, or soaking in water is more likely to damage your pan than anything else. If baking or salting isn't doing the trick, the best thing to do is simply scour your skillet and give it a fresh seasoning for a clean slate.