Cast iron cleaning controversy

cast iron pans

What I’m about to say will probably change your opinion of me, assuming you have one. I am a pretty non-confrontational person. I go along. I get along. 

There is one hill, however, that I am willing to die on: I don’t think cooking with cast iron skillets is all it’s cracked up to be. 

Yes, I said it. I own it. It feels good to get that off my chest, although I anticipate hate mail. Cast iron has a stranglehold on dedicated collectors and cooks across the land. Sorry, but I just don’t buy the hype. 

That isn’t to say I don’t have a sentimental attachment. I love my heirloom Griswold because it was handed down through the family. I love it simply for existing this long. I just don’t want to cook with it.

It is not for lack of trying. I have heirloom cast iron frying pans —  the best of the best. Mine is the really good stuff that has survived countless meals, a couple world wars and a wagon train for all I know. It’s perfectly seasoned. It could double as a weapon. Nonetheless, I loathe it. 


First and foremost, it is heavy. I do not need a workout while cooking. Meal prep is tedious enough without adding weight lifting to the mix. I understand cast iron frying pans were just the ticket when cooking over a campfire. They probably also came in very handy if, say, fending off a bear. 

I, however, am cooking on a smooth top electric stove, and as far as I know, we don’t have any bears in the house — yet. Perhaps if I had a sturdy gas stove with burly burners I would feel differently. I do not, however, so I don’t. Instead I live in fear of cracks and scratches on my stove top because the pan is so hefty. 

No soap

Due to our being a “can’t have nice things” family, our cast iron pans also invariably damage the sink. My last white enamel sink had dings in the finish due to the years we tried to be cast iron cooks and someone (casts eye at Mr. Wonderful) would sling the cast iron pan into the sink. 

Haven’t we have been told since forever not to ever use soap lest it ruin the seasoning? Why was that pan anywhere near the sink, sir? 

I get it though. I don’t want to hear “don’t use soap” when I’m going from acidic, savory, garlic and tomato based foods to pancakes. You will never convince me that just wiping it out will be enough. I feel like that’s a recipe for garlic cakes. On the other hand, I’m also not washing it out with salt and a rinse with the harvested tears of a unicorn.  

Basically, I accept it as a personal failing that I do not have the bandwidth to baby a frying pan. I keep them for looks, however. I have a sentimental attachment to my grandmother’s pans. 

I have also passed them down to BoyWonder. He is just the kind of Eagle Scout type to cook over a campfire. A pan roughly the size and weight of a Volkswagen is exactly what he needs. 


Teflon was the wonder of my 1970s youth.  I have since been told that non-stick surfaces are the work of the devil and highly toxic. I suppose the siren song of a lightweight pan that allows eggs to slide slickly off without residue was too good to be true.

 I like stainless steel pans. They seem relatively harmless. I do know that I set one on fire once and the black residue came right out with a nice long soapy soak and a quick hit from a grinder wielded by Mr. Wonderful. It shined up good as new. 

As I was researching this subject  (aka complaining to my friends about how much I want to be a cast iron cook but just cannot) I came across new information. It seems that in some circles people are — and I hope you’re sitting down for this part — using soap on their cast iron frying pans. Dish liquid with a degreaser has even been mentioned (pause for collective gasp of horror).

Our handsome son-in-law made a delicious Christmas morning frittata in our cast iron pan (he’s a purist, that one). In light of that, I am almost tempted to try using mine again. He went to the trouble of hauling it out and all. It sits now. Dark and glistening. It calls to me. I could probably make cornbread or something. Nothing too serious. 

I would only feel safe using it under cover of darkness with all the curtains drawn. I’m still not convinced that “never ever use soap on cast iron!” folks aren’t coming for me. 


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Kymberly Foster Seabolt lives in rural Appalachia with the always popular Mr. Wonderful, two small dogs, one large cat, two wandering goats, and a growing extended family.


  1. Hi, I enjoy reading your column! Last week, I laughed out loud when you mentioned that in the crime shows, the murderers seem to always travel through Ohio. I’ve noticed that, too. Or the criminals run to Ohio to hide in their mother’s house, or their girlfriend lives in Ohio… There is so often an Ohio connection of some kind. Lucky us. As for this week’s column, I totally agree with you about the subject of washing cast iron skillets. I feel compelled to wash them with soap and water (I dry them thoroughly and once in a rare while re-season them). However, I just wanted to let you know that some manufacturers of smooth cook top stoves don’t recommend the use of cast iron cookware on their stoves. My LG electric ceramic top stove is one of them. If you haven’t already, you might want to check with your stove’s instruction manual to see if it recommends the use of cast iron. Thanks so much for your entertaining columns. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great column. I have and use cast iron pans and I also have stainless steel pans that I use regularly. Cleaning my cast iron is easy and yes if necessary you can use soap. You’ll just have to recoat the pan. If I had your stove I wouldn’t use cast either. As for cooking that much better, maybe, that’s why I have other metal pans just no Teflon because they never lasted and Didn’t really need. Same reason I have a wok. Different tools. Cast iron has it’s uses but it’s not the holy grail. My wife bought me a wonderful large stainless Cuisinart pan that is amazing. I’ve learned it’s what you do with them and you’re correct it’s cooking not a weight lifting class. Thanks again for column.


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