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Best Oils for Cast Iron Cooking

Cast iron is one of the best pan choices you can make when cooking. There are a few things to take into consideration when cooking with cast iron and the best oil for cast iron cooking is one of them!

woman holding a cast iron pan in a kitchen

Many moons ago, I received my grandmother’s cast iron skillets from decades ago.

I was thrilled to have them to cook with, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to use them without having a mess of stuck-on food to clean up.

Cast iron cooking provides a great depth of flavor, as well as, an even cooking temperature.

So many people want to cook with cast iron, but they are afraid because they have either tried and failed. Or, they’ve seen the dreaded photos of cooked on food that won’t come off.

Once you figure out the basics of cooking with cast iron, you won’t have to worry about crusty pans because cast iron is, essentially, non-stick.

cast iron on electric stove tips

Benefits of cooking with cast iron skillets

  • Longevity– Cast iron skillets are wonderful for cooking because you will never have to buy another pan. They are, virtually, indestructible, as long as you care for them properly. These pans are so durable that they are often handed down from generation to generation.
  • Non-stick– If you cook with the proper oil and preheat your pan, you will have to issues with food sticking and not coming off.
  • Chemical Free– So many pans that are on the market are made using chemicals that are harmful to us and that leach into our food. Cast iron is a healthy pan to use for cooking.
  • Iron levels– While you won’t get bad chemicals in your food, you will get healthy levels of iron that can improve iron deficiencies, which many of us struggle with.
  • Versatile– You will love how versatile cooking with cast iron can be. You can take the cast iron from the stovetop and put it right into the oven. You can also solely use it for the oven or stovetop alone. These pans are so wonderful at being workhorses in your from scratch kitchen. If you are heading out camping, be sure to take your pan and cook over the campfire.
  • Cleans up Quickly– If you use a well seasoned cast iron, preheat it before use, and cook with the best cast iron cooking oils, you will have no trouble with clean up. All you will need to do is wipe out the pan with a paper towel.
  • Lots of Price Options– There are cast iron pans that cost a lot of money and others that are very affordable. I will share some great brands below.
  • Different Pan Options– You have every pan under the sun to choose from when it comes to cast iron.
cast iron skillet with butter and a pancake

Using Cast Iron Skillets without Sticking

One of the best features of cast iron are that they are non-stick and cook foods evenly.

They also have an incredible ability to retain their heat after being removed from their heat source.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when using cast iron if you want things to not stick.

  1. Preheat your pan– Be sure to preheat your pan for 5 minutes, or so, prior to putting any fat (or oil) or food in the pan. Preheating ensures that your pan is evenly heated and that your food won’t stick.
  2. Use the best oil for cast iron– Choosing your oil, or fat source, to cook your food in makes a big difference when cooking with cast iron. The best oils for cast iron will have a high smoke point and will make for easy clean up afterwards.
  3. Cleaning Cast Iron– Be sure to clean your cast iron with care. If you have some stuck on food bits, scrub them loose, but don’t immerse your cast iron in water. Be sure to dry completely after cleaning so your pan won’t rust. If you don’t have stuck on bits, you can simply wipe out your pan with a dry paper towel.
  4. Prep Cast Iron for next use– If your cast iron looks dull, pour a teaspoon of oil in the bottom of your pan (I use avocado oil) and wipe it around the cooking surface of your pan with a paper towel so you will have a non-stick surface for the next meal.
bottle of avocado oil being held in a hand

Characteristics of good cooking oils

While the care and preheating of cast iron is important for the longevity and non-stick nature of your cast iron pan, so is picking a proper cooking oil.

You will want to use oils that have a high smoke point, help enhance the flavor of your food, and make for easy clean up.

  • Smoking Point– The smoking point of an oil is that point at which the oil goes from cooking your food to burning your food. It will put off fumes and the food will begin to stick to your pan.
  • Flavor– Using an oil that enhances the flavor, or has a neutral flavor, will benefit your cooking.
  • Easy Clean up– Cast iron should, for the most part, be non-stick, leaving you with only needing to simply wipe out your pan.

Along with having a cooking oil that meets those three criteria, you will also want to choose an oil that offers health benefits.

utensils and cooking oil in a kitchen with white backsplash

Best oil for cast iron cooking

Not all cooking oils are created equal. You may use many different oils to cook with in your pan, but I want to encourage you to choose an oil that will also be healthy for you and your family.

  • Avocado oil– This oil has a very high smoke point, 520°F, and provides a neutral flavor, healthy fats, and a great medium to cook with. This is my preferred oil of choice because you can cook at high temperatures and also have an oil that keeps its vitamins and minerals.. Be sure to choose an organic variety.
  • Organic, Refined Olive Oil– This oil has a high smoke point at 470°F and is great for sautéing foods since it will allow for easy clean up.
  • Canola and Vegetable Oil– While these oils have high smoke points, they are extremely unhealthy and not oils that I would recommend including in your diet.
  • Refined Coconut Oil– Coconut oil works well when cooking with cast iron, but be sure to use refined coconut oil. The flavor profile is mild and the smoke point is around 400°F. This is also a great oil to use when seasoning cast iron skillets.
  • Sunflower Oil and Grapeseed Oil– Both of these are oils that are good to cook with and will offer a clean release of food from the pan, but they are seed oils and aren’t always the most healthy for you.
  • Butter or Ghee– These have a smoke point of 300-475°F depending on how they are made. I love cooking with butter for things like eggs and pancakes. Butter is also great for adding some creamy flavor to foods you are cooking.
cook looking at a cookbook and stirring on the stove

How to use oil to cook on cast iron

It is very simple to get your pan ready to cook with.

You don’t need a bunch of oil filling the bottom of your pan to keep it non-stick.

A tablespoon, or so, of your oil will be sufficient for most dishes.

  1. Preheat your pan on your stovetop for 5 minutes, or until the pan is evenly heated.
  2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil/fat to your pan and use your stainless steel spatula or wooden spoon to move it around to cover the cooking surface of your pan.
  3. Add your veggies or meat that you are cooking and allow them to cook before moving them around. Too much fussing with your food will encourage sticking, so allow the food to chill in the pan. You might consider turning the heat down a bit once your pan is heated up and your food has been added to help prevent burning.
dark kitchen with candles and cast iron on the stove

Best oils for seasoning cast iron

While some oils are great for cooking with, others are good for seasoning your cast iron pans.

Inevitably, there could come a time when you have to reseason your cast iron. It is an easy process, but only certain oils are good for this process.

  • Avocado oil
  • Canola oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Extra-Virgin olive oil
  • Grapeseed oil

How to Season a cast iron

  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • While the oven preheats, wash your cast iron with warm, soapy water making sure to get all of the grime off. If your pan is rusty and grimy, you might have to use some salt and a scrub pad to clean it well.
  • Dry your cast iron completely. Use paper towels or a rag you don’t care to keep clean because the dark, iron color will come off on your towel.
  • Rub an oil with a high smoke point, I prefer refined coconut oil for this process, all over your clean pan. Rub it on the cooking surface, the back side, the handle… all of it.
  • Wipe off any excess oil with a paper towel.
  • Place the pan, upside down, on the middle rack of your oven. Be sure to put a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack beneath it to catch drips.
  • Bake the pan for an hour and then turn off the oven, but leave the pan inside the oven as it cools. Be sure the oven and pan are completely cooled before you remove the pan.
  • Repeat 2-5 times as necessary to get the non-stick coating you desire. Once you wash your pan the first time, you do not need to wash it in between seasonings.

Frequently asked questions

Is it okay to cook with olive oil in a cast iron skillet?

It is fine to cook with olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Be aware of the smoke point and keep your cooking temperature below it.

Is it okay to cook with butter in a cast iron skillet?

It is fine to cook with butter in a cast iron skillet. Be aware of the smoke point and keep your cooking temperature below it so your food doesn’t burn.

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