5 Things I Learned About Cast Iron When I Inherited My Old Roommate’s Skillet

updated Jan 25, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

Whether because it’s too heavy, they own a duplicate, or they simply don’t have room for it in their new place, there are plenty of reasons why a roommate might leave something behind when they move out. That’s how I wound up with my first-ever cast iron skillet: My old roommate got a place of her own, and left hers behind. Maybe she thought it was too heavy for her to pack, or she realized she wasn’t as into cooking with cast iron as she thought. Whatever the reason, the skillet hung out in my kitchen cabinet for months after her move untouched.

To be honest, I was scared of using it. I’d heard horror stories of people who had “ruined” their cast iron skillets, or (gasp) used soap on them — though it should be noted that even the CEO of cast iron giant Lodge uses soap on his. I’m not a great or devoted cook, and it seemed intimidating to use a piece of equipment that required dedicated maintenance.

Eventually, however, I knew push would have to come to shove. Either I had to start using the abandoned skillet myself, or donate it to a home that would get solid use out of it. So I pulled out my pan, cleaned off the rust that had accumulated, and got to work. Here are five things I learned in my quest to become less scared of my grandfathered cast iron skillet:

Credit: Samara Vise

Vintage and handed-down pans are part of a great cast iron tradition.

Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of great cast iron skillets on the market, including versions that are less heavy than their traditional counterparts and pre-seasoned for ease of use. But experts and collectors alike know the power of sourcing a pre-loved cast iron skillet from a thrift store or garage sale. (You can find plenty of them on Etsy, too.) You’ll probably want to clean your vintage purchase before using it — whether you have food sensitivities or dietary needs or simply want to buff your pan to better-than-new, that first clean shouldn’t take more than an hour of your time.

The only way to get better at using your cast iron skillet is by using it.

For months after my roommate left, the cast iron skillet sat untouched in my kitchen cabinet, to the point where it had begun to develop a thin layer of rust from lack of use. But as our sister site Kitchn noted, “the single best thing you can do for your cast iron is to just use the darn thing.” It’s only with time and effort that you’ll get used to the process of using, cleaning, and seasoning your pan — in fact, the only way to not get better is by not starting at all.

Yes, it’s worth investing in a handle cover.

Cast iron gets hot, and when it does, it gets hot all over. When I first started using my pan regularly, I lived in fear of accidentally grabbing the handle with my bare hand. This $7.49 silicone handle sleeve helped assuage those worries substantially, and you can also buy silicone covers for the smaller handle if you’d like extra protection.

Credit: Cathy Pyle

Setting aside a dedicated tool will help you feel more confident whenever it’s time to clean it.

Whether you’re a fan of the Full Circle Tenacious C scrub brush or the fun-looking chainmail scrubber, there are plenty of options to help you keep your cast iron pan in tip-top shape. I set aside a bamboo dish brush I already owned as a dedicated cast iron brush. That way, I know that soap only gets on my cast iron skillet when I want it to.

If you mess up and accidentally flake some of the coating away, your pan will forgive you.

Really — it’s going to be OK. Take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and supposed to be resilient and it will bounce back like nothing ever happened. Better yet, make a note to fry something in your skillet sooner rather than later, to really lock in your new nonstick seasoning.