Cast iron skillets are a timeless piece of kitchen cookware. They’re versatile, they can take high heat, and the best brands will last a lifetime if you make the effort to care for them properly.
They’re also prone to putting out smoke when you’re working at particularly high temperatures though.
Why exactly does a cast iron skillet smoke? Here are the main reasons, which I’ll explain in more detail throughout this guide
- The heat of the skillet is too high for the task at hand.
- You’re not using enough oil while working at high temperatures.
- You’re using too much oil at the current cooking temperature.
- You haven’t maintained your skillet correctly.
Does this smoking process harm the pan? Not really, although it obviously makes a bit of a mess of your kitchen and so it’s best avoided!
Most of the time, all that’s required is a little extra ventilation, and patience while you wait for the pan to cool down. When it does, the smoking will soon stop.
In the rest of this guide I’m going to cover this problem in more detail, and give you all the tips you need to stop your cast iron skillet from smoking in the first place.
(If you want to explore more of my cookware content, take a look at the home cookware guide I have on the site.)
Working With Skillets At High Heat
Cast iron skillets are designed to tolerate extremely high cooking temperatures.
That creates a natural environment for smoke to emerge from the oil you’re working with.
More than that, cooking these types of ingredients at a very high heat will cause the skillet to start smoldering too.
Over time, the residue left on the surface of the skillet will react to moisture in the kitchen, creating a sooty layer to the pan. When this is heated again and again, you end up with more and more smoke.
All cast iron is made of pretty much the same stuff, and so this problem affects even the best cast iron brands.
How Do I Stop My Cast Iron Skillet From Smoking?
So, what can you do to stop this problem from occurring in the first place? It all comes down to a number of different measures which I’ll split into separate sections.
Buying a cast iron skillet always involves committing to a certain amount of TLC.
That means keeping the skillet appropriately seasoned, and taking care to clean and store your cast iron cookware correctly.
By taking care of the surface, you’ll prevent the build up of these sooty particles from forming on the skillet.
With that taken care of, there’s less material for the high cooking heat to react with. That means less smoke and smell in your kitchen!
I’ve got a cast iron seasoning guide that you can find elsewhere on the site, but the steps are pretty simple to follow:
- Use water and a gentle scouring utensil to remove any obvious food detritus and rust* from the surface of the skillet
- Dry the skillet completely. You might like to use your oven on a very low heat to make sure all traces of moisture have been removed.
- When the pan is both cool and dry, apply a few drops of oil to a piece of kitchen towel and work it into the surface of your cast iron skillet. Only use a little here, otherwise you’ll end up with a sticky skillet.
- Turn the pan upside down in the oven (to catch any residual oil), and put a baking sheet underneath to catch those drips.
- Cook the skillet at a temperature of 400F / 205C, until it has stopped smoking.
- Switch the oven off and let the skillet cool completely before handling it.
(* See my guide to using vinegar to remove skillet rust if things are looking particularly bad here!)
Turn Down The Temperature
Even if you’ve maintained your cast iron skillet to perfection, it may still smoke when you use it at extremely high temperatures.
To solve this problem, consider heating the oil up slowly at a lower stovetop temperature. Eventually it will hit the right heat, at which point you can add your ingredients.
This slow and steady approach might not eliminate the smoke entirely, but it should help a great deal.
Try A Different Cooking Oil
Different cooking oils have different smoking points. If you have a dish that requires ferocious heating, try using something like peanut or sesame oil instead.
The MayoClinic has a really useful guide to working with different cooking oils at different temperatures.
Just watch out for any household allergies when you’re going off the beaten path here!
Now you know why your cast iron skillet smokes on the stovetop, and what you can do to minimize this common problem.