Every home cook needs a cast iron skillet. They’re sturdy, long-lasting, easy to clean, and, compared to cookware made of other materials, incredibly cheap (a good one won’t set you back more than $20).
But can they go in the oven?
Cast iron skillets are generally safe to use in the oven or under the broiler at temperatures of up to 600°F (315°C). Handle them with a silicone holder, kitchen towel, or oven mitt, as they can get really hot.
Skillets with wooden handles are the exception to the rule. At baking temperatures, they can split and break apart into pieces inside your oven. At broiling temperatures, wood can ignite and cause a fire.
So if your cast iron skillet has a wooden handle, stick to cooking with it on the stove—and don’t try your luck by putting it in the oven.
The exception aside, this is one of the many reasons why home cooks swear by their cast iron skillets, especially for recipes that start on the stove and get finished off in the oven.
Instead of transferring whatever it is that you’re cooking from a non-stick frying pan to a pot, brown it on the stove, place it in your preheated oven, and let the food cook!
Some of my comfort food favorites to make using this technique are pan-seared, oven-finished steaks, roast salmon fillets, skin-on potatoes, and chili.
You can also use your skillet for baking rustic loaves of bread, cornbread, or even pizza. Set your oven to the maximum temperature when baking; the heat will puff up the dough.
Why is cast iron such a good choice of cookware for preparing all of these things?
Ironically, because it’s a poor conductor of heat. Cast iron skillets take a long time to heat up and just as much to cool down. But, once they’re up to heat, they’re capable of holding on to it exceptionally evenly and with very few cold spots.
There are also foods that you should never cook in a cast iron skillet.
The biggest no-no is acidic foods, like sauces, soups, and stews containing wine, vinegar, and tomatoes, that require slow-simmering for long periods of time. The vessel will react to acidic foods, leaching dietary iron that imparts a metallic taste (that’s kind of hard to ignore) onto them.
Can Cast Iron Skillets Warp?
Like their name suggests, most cast iron skillets are made of a thick piece of cast iron, which makes them much less susceptible to warping than their aluminum, steel, or copper counterparts.
As a general rule of thumb, the heavier the bottom of your skillet and the thicker its walls, the less likely it is to warp. Many think that the thickness of the base matters, but more often than not, it’s the thinner sides of a skillet that will bend first.
Still, even the sturdiest cast iron skillets are not immune to warping.
So make sure to not overexpose yours to thermal shocks, like taking it out of the oven and immediately putting it on a stone countertop (a silicone or wood trivet is better).
As I was looking into what others had written on the topic before me, a fellow blogger out there had mentioned that you shouldn’t put a hot skillet in the fridge… Unless you’d like to eradicate both of them, I struggle to see why anyone would even try to do that.
How to Handle a Hot Cast Iron Skillet
When using your cast iron skillet in the oven, always use a kitchen towel or oven mitt to handle it because the handles can get really hot.
Some cast iron skillets come with silicone handle holders (they’re also sold separately), which allow you to hold them safely and comfortably, even when hot. These handle holders are typically heat-resistant up to 450°F (232°C).
There are also more traditional handle holders made of spiral-stitched leather, such as this one by U.S. cast iron foundry Lodge, which is oven-safe up to 600°F (315°C).
To use a handle holder, slip it over the handle as soon as you’re done baking, roasting, or broiling, and the skillet is ready to take out of the oven. They’re also pretty handy for when you need to adjust the position of your oven rack mid-cooking to get a better browning of your food.
Don’t leave handle holders in the oven; they’re intended to substitute kitchen towels or oven mitts (while giving you a much better grip on the vessel). Depending on the temperature, they can get hot or even melt.
Are Enameled Cast Iron Skillets Any Different?
The short answer is yes, they are—and the reason is in the coating.
Enameled cast iron skillets are made of single-piece vessels with a vitreous enamel coating that many of us know by the name of “porcelain.”
They look gorgeous, don’t require you to season them, and safely go in the dishwasher (though manufacturers recommend cleaning them by hand). But all of that comes at the trade-off of less sturdiness.
The porcelain coating on enameled cast iron skillets is prone to cracking and chipping at high heat or when exposed to thermal shock. This is why most enameled cookware is oven-safe at temperatures no higher than 400°F (205°C).
Another thing to keep in mind is that enameled cast iron skillets are usually made of thinner pieces of metal than seasoned cast iron skillets, so it’s easier to warp one unless you’re careful when handling it.
Yes, cast iron skillets can go in the oven. The maximum temperature for yours depends on a few factors, such as whether it’s made of bare cast iron or enameled with porcelain.
When in doubt, the best thing to do is to refer to the owner’s manual. Or, in case you don’t have it at hand, call the manufacturer to ask about your make and model.