Do You Need To Preheat Your Cast Iron Skillet?

Handling these heavy pieces of cookware can seem intimidating and unnecessary when it comes to cooking with cast iron. But we live in a nonstick world. Surely, we don't need to continue cooking with something as old-fashioned as cast iron — right? There are many reasons you might want to consider cooking with cast iron. The benefits outweigh trepidation. 

As America's Test Kitchen put it, the perks of cast iron are that they improve with repeated use, are virtually indestructible, maintain heat well, and develop a nonstick coating over time. That said, cast-iron skillets must be maintained like any other piece of quality cookware. They need to be cleaned and seasoned regularly, both of which increase the life of your pan. They aren't like regular pots and pans that can be thrown in the dishwasher or soaked in soapy water for long periods — although a bit of soap won't hurt your cast iron, as many believe.

There is a common mistake that plagues many good cooks. It may not seem all that important, but skipping it can affect how your dish turns out. The mistake in question is neglecting to preheat your skillet. 

Preheating: the key to getting food not to stick

You absolutely need to preheat your cast iron skillet, as you need to preheat any pan if you want to cook your food properly. According to The Washington Post, "When and how you preheat the skillet has implications for how well your food turns out and how well your equipment will hold up over time." According to Adrienne Cheatham, you don't want to preheat your pan on anything over medium-high heat. High heat risks shocking the metal and, in the case of cast iron, can result in an overly hot pan that will burn your food. Remember, cast iron holds heat extremely well once it comes up to temperature. Slower heating allows the metal to warm at a more even pace. 

The benefits of preheating your cast iron involve how your cooking oil and your pan communicate. According to Amy Traverso at Yankee Magazine, proper preheating creates an atmosphere where the pan's metal — now properly expanded thanks to the heat — will not stick to the food you put on it.

Preheating skillets work best for pan-frying, searing, or sautéing. Searing, in particular, is a party piece for cast iron.