A black cast iron pan with slight smoke, while frying a piece of meat.

Why Is My Cast Iron Smoking? 8 Possible Reasons Why

Cast iron is my favorite cookware. It’s durable, affordable and cooks food evenly. But why is my cast iron smoking at odd times? And what can I do to prevent it? In this blog post, I’ll explain why your cast iron is “Smokin!” (“Ooh…somebody, stop me!”) and offer some tips to help stop the smoke. Hopefully, this information will help you keep your cast iron in great shape!

The science of cast iron smoking

When you heat up a piece of cast iron, a process called the Maillard reaction begins to occur [1]. This is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that produces hundreds of new flavor compounds. Some of these compounds are responsible for the characteristic “smokey” flavor of grilled foods. The Maillard reaction is also responsible for the browning of breads and other baked goods.

As the temperature of the cast iron increases, more and more flavor compounds are produced. At very high temperatures, these molecules can begin to break down, producing carbon dioxide and water vapor [2]. This is why it’s important not to let cast iron get too hot – if it starts to smoke, the flavor of your food will suffer.

Why is my cast iron smoking and what can I do about it?

A cast iron Dutch oven producing smoke while placed on a tripod stand over open fire.

1. Not seasoned properly

Seasoning cast iron is an important step in preventing smoking. When done properly, it forms a barrier that protects the metal from rust and corrosion. It also helps to create a non-stick surface on the pan, making it easier to cook with.

The first step in seasoning cast iron is to clean the pan thoroughly with soap and water. Be sure to remove any food residue or grease, as this can interfere with the seasoning process. Next, apply a thin layer of cooking oil to the pan, using a paper towel or brush to spread it evenly.

Then, place the pan in a preheated oven and bake it for one hour. Once the hour is up, turn off the oven and allow the pan to cool completely. The final step is to apply another layer of oil before storing the pan in a cool, dry place.

By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your cast iron will be properly seasoned and ready to use without smoking.

2. Overheating

Another reason why your cast iron pan may be smoking is that it is overheating. When cast iron gets too hot, it begins to smoke. If you are cooking at a high temperature, try turning the heat down slightly and see if that helps. Additionally, make sure that your pan is not placed over an open flame, as this can also cause it to smoke.

3. Moisture

Moisture can also cause a cast iron pan to smoke. When water or other liquids come into contact with hot cast iron, they will vaporize and cause the pan to smoke. To avoid this, make sure that your pan is dry before you start cooking and be careful not to splash any water or unnecessary liquids into it while you are cooking.

4. Food residue

A dirty black cast iron skillet with food residue and a bristled brush next to it.

If there is food residue on your cast iron pan (maybe from a saucy skillet pasta dish), this can also cause it to smoke. Food residue can build up on the surface of the pan over time, especially if you do not season it properly or if you do not clean it after each use.

5. You’re using too much oil

When you’re cooking with cast iron, you should only use enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. You don’t need to douse the pan in oil; a thin layer will do. Be careful not to use too much oil, it will start to smoke and your food will end up greasy.

6. You’re not preheating the pan properly

If you don’t preheat your cast iron pan properly, it can also cause the oil to smoke. To preheat the pan properly, heat it on the stove over medium heat for a few minutes before adding any food to it.

7. Improper cleaning

You can’t just scrub it with soap and water like you would a regular pan – here’s what you need to know about cleaning cast iron so that your meals come out perfect every time.

First, it’s important to scrape off any food that’s stuck in the pan. This will help prevent smoking and also ensure that your food doesn’t stick when you cook next time. Use a stiff brush to get all the food off the surface of the pan – take care not to scratch the surface.

Once the pan is clean, rinse it with hot water. Then, dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth or paper towel. If there is any water left on the surface of the pan, it will start to smoke when you heat it.

8. You’re using the wrong type of oil

Some oils are more likely to smoke than others [3]. For example, olive oil has a lower smoke point than other oils like vegetable or canola oil. This means that it’s more likely to start smoking at a high temperature.

How to clean a smoking cast iron skillet

3 cast iron pans placed together with a light blue scourer for cleaning purposes.

Cast iron is a great material for cookware so, if you’re a fan of cooking with cast iron, chances are you’ve dealt with a smoking skillet at one point or another. While it may seem like a lost cause, there are actually a few simple tricks you can use to clean a smoking cast iron skillet.

First, let the pan cool down completely. Once it’s cool, add a small amount of water and soap and scrub the inside of the pan with a sponge. If the smoking has left behind any tough stains, you can try using a little elbow grease and white vinegar. Let the vinegar sit on the stain for a few minutes before scrubbing it off.

If all else fails, you can always resort to good old-fashioned baking soda. Just sprinkle some baking soda on the affected area and scrub it with a damp sponge. With a little patience and persistence, you’ll have your smoking cast iron skillet looking good as new in no time.

Last thoughts

So there you have it. Your cast iron skillet isn’t ruined, and it’s not because you’re doing something wrong (although it happens sometimes, especially when you don’t listen to your wife ha-ha). It’s just science. And now that the ‘ why is my cast iron smoking?’ question is known, you can take steps to prevent it from happening in the future- like seasoning your pan properly and using a lower heat setting.

Have any other tips to share? Apart from smoke signals… Let us know in the comments!   

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Charlene Gallant

Charlene is a lover of good food. She enjoys nothing more than cooking up a storm in the kitchen and sharing her favourite recipes with her readers. She also enjoys reading a good book.

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