One of the most common concerns surrounding cast iron is how to care for its seasoning. How should we treat these precious hunks of metal so that they keep that wonderful non-stick surface and what are the cardinal sins of cast iron?
To some, one of the ultimate no-no's is using metal utensils.
It is believed that because they have sharp ends and are often made of stainless steel—which is harder than cast iron—hat they not only scratch your seasoning but can also leave gouges on the surface of your pan.
So can you use metal utensils on cast iron?
In short, yes. If we take a closer look at the two most common types of metal utensils—the spatula and tongs—we will find that they won't harm that beautiful layer of polymerized oil we call seasoning.
In fact, in some cases, they can even help make your cookware better!
So let's jump into it and look at why we can use metal utensils on cast iron!
To fully understand why metal spatulas won’t ruin your cast iron nor seasoning, we need to take a closer look at how we use the tool and the tool itself.
If you run your finger across the edge of a metal spatula, you’ll notice that they are not very sharp. It has enough of an edge to get under food or to scrape away burnt-on grease, but it’s not going to be replacing your knife set.
Now with enough force, you could probably do a little damage to your seasoning if you started slashing away at the surface of your pan – but the damage likely won’t go past the seasoning.
But we don’t use spatulas like this – and if you do, well you have some different problems that this article can’t help.
In reality, spatulas scrape along the surface at a horizontal-ish angle and don’t get a chance to dig in.
So what about metal tongs? Unlike a metal spatula, we actually dig tongs straight into our pan while picking up or flipping food. Can this stabbing action do any damage to our cast iron or seasoning?
In truth, not really. Just like a metal spatula, tongs do not have a razor-sharp edge, and we're only using them to pick up food and typically don't scrape them against the bottom of the pan.
Just be careful when using metal tongs and don't go crazy on the surface of your cookware and like a serial killer with an ice pick.
Note that it can be a different case entirely if the end of your utensils are razer sharp – in which case you should file or sand them down to ensure they don't cause any damage.
So how exactly can a metal spatula help the surface and seasoning of your cast iron?
The answer is pretty cool!
The magic that gives cast iron its non-stick surface is its multiply layers of polymerized oil—seasoning.
The thicker that this layer of polymerized oil is, the smoother and more non-stick the surface of the cookware will be.
However, many of the inexpensive brands of cast iron come with a pre-seasoning that is typically pretty rough. This roughness can easily snag food and cause it to stick to the surface of your cookware.
This is why you'll often hear to avoid cooking sticky foods in new cast iron as the seasoning isn't thick enough yet to provide a truly non-stick surface.
There are typically two ways to smooth out this roughness – either by polishing and resurfacing is manually or by just using it and naturally building a layer of polymerized oil on top of the roughness.
If you go the natural route, a metal spatula can significantly help by knocking down and eroding any rough surfaces such as metal burrs or any extruding oils.
So if you have rough spots on the surface of your skillet, do yourself and your cast iron a favor and use a metal spatula!
To wrap up, I hope this little article exposed the myth that using metal utensils on cast iron is an absolute cardinal sin.
Remember, cast iron gets better with age and use. As you continue to use it, you will not only build up that beautiful layer of polymerized oil but will also knock away rough spots on the surface.
So go forth and use your metal utensils. Just use common sense, be somewhat gentle, and your cast iron will never have any problems!