Last Updated on July 26, 2022 by Ankit Kumar
Cast iron is a utility in any kitchen, but did you ever wonder why do cast iron pans smoke and how to reduce cast iron smoke?
Cast iron is an impressive cookware type which is extremely durable and perfect for dishes that require slow cooking.
However, cast iron pans do tend to leave smoke especially when you are not careful and this can cause the smoke alarms in the kitchen to go off, even when there is no potential hazard.
Here are some of the main reasons why do cast iron pans smoke –
- When the heat is too high with either no oil or a lot of oil
- Cooking with oil which has low smoke point (example – coconut unrefined oil)
- Cooking on an unseasoned cast iron pan
- Uncleaned cast iron pans with food residue
- Unkept or not so well maintained cast iron pans
The good thing is that 99% of the times you can control and reduce the smoke from cast iron pans with a few simple tips.
In this post, we will discuss in detail why do cast iron pans smoke, how to reduce cast iron smoke and also how to season cast iron without smoke?
You can also check out other posts on Simple Tips on How to Use Cast Iron on Glass Top Gas Stoves and Is It Safe to Use Scratched Stainless Steel Cookware?
5 Reasons Why Do Cast Iron Pans Smoke?
All cast iron pans or skillets are made from the same combination of sand, clay, carbon and metal. So, irrespective of the quality or the brand of your cast iron pan, it will leave some smoke while cooking or even seasoning. Having said this, you can certainly reduce the smoke from cast iron pan, only when you know the reason why do cast iron pans smoke.
1). When the heat is too high
Cast iron pans and skillets are designed in a way that they can tolerate high heat and temperatures. This is why cast iron cookware is ideal for slow cooking, however, smoke will come out of your cast iron pan when the oil is too much or too less.
Remember, your cast iron pan has the capacity to distribute the heat well, once it is heated. Therefore, once you preheat the pan, you can reduce the heat level from high to medium or medium to low.
Presence of excess oil will burn the oil leading to smoke coming out from the pan. The same will also apply, if the oil is too less and you are cooking at extremely high temperatures.
2). Oils with low smoke point
The usage of oil while you are cooking on a cast iron pan also impacts the amount of smoke that comes out from the cast iron pan. Some oils have a high smoke point, while others have a low smoke point.
In simple words, an oil’s smoking point refers to the temperature at which the oil will start to burn and smoke instead. For example, when you are cooking on cast iron with unrefined coconut oil, the smoke will appear much faster as compared to cooking with olive oil. This means, olive oil has a higher smoking point as compared to unrefined coconut oil.
As you can see from the above image, different oils have different smoke points. Now, imagine cooking or seasoning at 230 degrees celsius with coconut oil which has a smoke point of 177 degrees celsius, very soon you will notice smoke coming out of the cast iron pan.
This is why, while cooking at higher temperatures with cast iron pans, choose an oil which has a high smoking point, for an example, avocado oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, etc.
3). Cooking on unseasoned cast iron
Most of the cast iron pans need to be seasoned, even though you have bought the cast iron assuming it is pre-seasoned out of the box. Yes, seasoning develops with time and with regular cooking too, however it still needs to be done.
Now, when you are cooking on an unseasoned cast iron, it will generate a lot of smoke, especially when you heat it for the first time, so do not get surprised by it.
With an unseasoned cast iron, food will also get stuck to the surface, which will burn at high heat and lead to a lot of smoke, hence right temperature can make a difference here. To identify a seasoned and an unseasoned cast iron, check the colour of the surface. If the surface is grey, the cast iron is unseasoned, and if the colour is black, the cast iron is seasoned.
4). Uncleaned cast iron
Irrespective of the fact whether your cast iron pan is seasoned or not, improper cleaning will always lead to smoke coming out from the pan. This is simple, when you do not clean the cast iron the way it should be cleaned, some food will get stuck to the surface of the pan.
With food stuck on the cast iron pan, the next time you start cooking in it, the oil and food will combine together to emit smoke from the cast iron pan. Seasoning and proper cleaning of the cast iron pan along with the right temperature cooking will minimise any smoke from cast iron.
5). Unkept cast iron
If you have bought a cast iron cookware and it smokes initially, do not abandon the pan. Most of the times smoking is caused due to unkept or not well-maintained cast iron pieces. Cleaning, washing, seasoning and maintaining your cast iron is essential to reduce smoke from the cast iron.
When you do not maintain a cast iron pan, there are chances there will be food leftovers, even when in small quantities. This will cause the food to stick to the surface and when it burns while you are cooking, it will emit a lot of smoke.
If you take care of the cast iron cookware, you will avoid those minuscule particles from sticking to the surface and disturbing the texture of the cast iron skillet.
How to Reduce Cast Iron Smoke?
Now that you know what causes cast iron to smoke, it is relatively easier to understand how to reduce cast iron smoke, but let’s cover this in details.
1). Turn down the heat
99 times out of 100, cast iron will emit smoke when the heat is too high, irrespective of the oil quantity. When you cook at a higher temperature, food or the oil will stick to the surface of the cast iron and it will eventually start to burn off, especially when there is no need to keep the temperature high.
An alternative is to preheat the pan over low to medium heat, let the pan heat through and after that, add food ingredients. This way, the food will not get stuck to the surface, and you can add more oil, if need be. This process will also lead to better seasoning of your cast iron.
2). Choose the right oil
The usage of oil can impact the amount of smoke coming out from the cast iron cookware. Not every oil is compatible with cast iron cookware, especially those oils with low smoke point.
When you use an oil which has a low smoke point such as butter, unrefined corn oil, unrefined peanut oil, your cast iron will emit smoke quickly since all these oils will burn in a matter of seconds. An alternative is to cook or season with an oil which has a high smoke point, for an example, vegetable oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil, etc.
Check more on oils with different smoking points on Wikipedia.
3). Cleaning & Seasoning
The way you clean or season the cast iron pan can affect the smoke quantity. An uncleaned or improperly cleaned cast iron pan will have small particles of oil or food stuck to the surface of the pan. This food will start to burn when you use the cast iron pan for cooking.
In order to avoid this, you should make sure to remove all the food particles from the cast iron surface, before using it the next time. The good thing is cast iron is not as sensitive as non stick cookware, so it can take a bit of scouring with some water, steel wool, and a scrubbing brush.
After a thorough cleaning, place the cast iron on a gas top stove at very low heat to dry the surface quickly and effectively. Once the cast iron has been cleaned, season it with vegetable oil, canola oil. Seasoning is simple, apply oil all over the surface and heat it in the oven. Repeat this process for 2-3 times and you will have a well seasoned cast iron pan over a period of time.
4). Avoid drastic temperature changes
While cooking on cast iron, avoid sudden temperature changes. As a matter of fact, this logic applies to all other types of cookware as well. In simple words, don’t put anything on the cast iron pan which is right out of the refrigerator, this will emit a lot of smoke due to different temperatures.
Similarly, avoid frying wet foods on the cast iron pan, such as fish, other meats. Dry out these foods with a paper towel before frying them on the cast iron pan.
How to Season Cast Iron without Smoke?
Can you season a cast iron without smoke? Yes, you can, and you certainly do not have to worry about the smoke alarms and I will not ask anyone to switch off the smoke alarm either.
When we are seasoning cast iron, smoke comes out probably because we are using the wrong oil to season the cast iron, or there is something stuck on the surface of the cast iron. Residue food particles or oil from the previous cooking session is not going to work, if you want to season the cast iron without smoke.
Thus, it is important to ensure the cast iron is cleaned properly, and once cleaned, allow it to dry on the gas stove at the lowest heat possible. If required, use a tissue paper to remove any oil from the surface of the cast iron.
Now, considering your cast iron is totally cleaned, this is what you need to do to season cast iron without smoke:
- Wipe the inside of the pan with flaxseed oil
- Place cast iron upside down in the oven
- Heat the oven up to maximum temperature for 45-60 minutes
- Turn the oven off and leave the pan in it to cool down for around 90-120 minutes
- Repeat this process at least 3-5 more times to build up thin layers of seasoning
If you have a new cast iron, try and cook dishes that won’t stick to the surface, such as veggies, and avoid cooking eggs for at least 10-15 days.
Is it Normal for a Cast Iron Pan to Smoke?
Yes it is quite normal for a cast iron pan to smoke, in fact it can happen especially when you are using an unseasoned or a new cast iron pan. The majority of the times, your cast iron will emit smoke when the heat is too high, when it should not be.
The point here is to note that cast iron emitting smoke is not a cause of concern, as you only need to make small changes such as lower the temperature settings, use an oil which has a high smoke point, clean and season the cast iron regularly, and avoid sudden temperature changes.
Just because the cast iron pan is emitting smoke, it does not mean you need to invest in a new cast iron piece, in fact, spend more time in cleaning and seasoning the pan on a regular basis, and your cast iron will do just fine for years to come.
Is Cast Iron Smoke Bad for you?
Any type of smoke can be harmful for the health, however, a lot depends on the amount of smoke coming from the cookware. Cast iron smoke in minimal quantities is not a cause of concern, however, you should be able to ventilate the kitchen whenever that happens, may be open a window or two, switch on the chimney or an exhaust fan.
If the cast iron pan has only emitted fumes for a couple of times, there is nothing to worry about, since the smoke is only harmful when it happens for prolonged period of times. By changing a few things, you can easily reduce the cast iron smoke.
9 Mistakes to Avoid with Cast Iron
Cast iron is an excellent piece of cookware which can literally last for generations to come, however, if you do not maintain it well, the cookware will not be of any use. These are some of the most common mistakes you should avoid if you have a cast iron cookware in your kitchen.
1). Not allowing the pan to heat up: We all know cast iron cookware holds heat really well, which is why, it is a perfect cookware choice for slow cooking. Having said this, one of the common mistakes is not allowing the cast iron pan to heat up. Preheating is essential with any cast iron pan, and by doing this, you can not only avoid smoke coming out from the pan, but also the hot spots, which can eventually lead to uneven heat distribution. Hence, before cooking in a cast iron pan, preheat the pan for a few minutes for the best results.
2). Soaking cast iron in the kitchen sink: Cast iron similar to carbon steel can rust especially when you keep it in the kitchen sink for longer durations. This happens due to the carbon content present in both these cookware types. Avoid keeping your cast iron in the sink, and wash it the minute it cools down. Similarly, hand wash the cast iron, and do not use a dishwasher for cleaning.
3). Not seasoning the cast iron pan: A lot of manufacturers claim their cast iron cookware is pre-seasoned, however it does not mean you do not need to season it again. As a matter of fact, the more you season your cast iron pan, the better it will become with time and provide a non stick surface for the cooking. Re-seasoning the cast iron pan is an essential ingredient for its long life.
4). Storing cast iron pan while it is still wet: Now once you have washed or seasoned the cast iron pan, do not store it right away. The key here is to soak all the wetness from the cast iron pan, so it does not catch up with the rust. If required, wipe the cast iron with a tissue paper after you have washed it and once it is dry completely, you can store it.
5). Washing cast iron with soap: You are only required to wash the cast iron with soap when it is brand new. Once this is done, use regular water, a bit of salt and a soft brush to clean the cast iron. You can remove the food leftovers by wiping it regularly rather than using soap water.
6). Leaving food leftovers in cast iron: If you have a habit of leaving food leftovers in your cast iron pan, change the habit immediately. Not only this will emit a lot of smoke from the cast iron while cooking, but it will also make cleaning messier and difficult. You can use some warm water and a brush to remove any stubborn food leftovers, if need be.
7). Cooking acidic or seafood in cast iron: I am an ardent lover of seafood and pretty much anything that involves lemon and tomatoes, but I don’t use my cast iron pan to cook anything like that for its safety and longevity. These are exactly the foods that will leave a very strong flavour in the cast iron for the next dish you are going to cook in the same cast iron pan. Only cook acidic or seafood in cast iron, if you have separate cast iron pans. Even if you have various cast iron pans in the kitchen, do not let acidic foods stay in the cast iron for longer durations.
8). Do not be afraid of the rust in cast iron: Cast iron is a cooking and a visual treat, at least to me (the latter part). All good things require some patience and perseverance, and cast iron is no different. A lot of people make the same mistake by trashing the cast iron the moment rust appears on it. For starters, the rust came on the cast iron probably because you let it soak in the water for longer durations over a period of time, so this has to stop. You can use fine steel wool to remove the rust from the affected areas of the cast iron pan. After that, wash the pan with warm water and a mild dishwashing liquid. Let it dry completely before storing or using it again.
9). Not using cast iron enough: Cast iron is like a wine which gets better with the age and time, however, most of us get this quote wrong. If you have a cast iron in the kitchen, it does not mean you cook once in 6 months and your cast iron will still age well. Regular cooking is a must if you want the surface to be non stick over time and especially if you are looking for that shiny surface.
Wrapping Up – Why Do Cast Iron Pans Smoke?
Although there are many reasons why do cast iron pans smoke, but too much of heat is one of the most common reasons your cast iron pan is emitting smoke. The good thing is you can fix this problem by reducing the heat levels, using an oil with a high smoke point, and most importantly, cleaning and seasoning your cast iron pan regularly.
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