Cast iron pans can be intimidating. They’re heavy and kinda scary, and personally, I’d much rather cook in a nonstick pain—no fuss, no muss, no bother!

But truth be told, a cast iron skillet can actually really enhance your food. Well, if you use them correctly, that is.

You can’t actually cook just anything in a cast iron pan. And you have to be careful about how you use it, store it, and clean it. They’re finicky those pans, but we promise, if you use them correctly, it’s worth it.

So how do you know what to do—or what not do—with a cast iron pan? Here are the top DON’TS to cooking in a cast iron:

Steaks in Cast IronTipHero
  1. Don’t cook fish

    We love ourselves a good piece of salmon or tilapia, but cook those in your stainless steel pan and save the cast iron for a different piece of meat, like steak or chicken. The fish is much too delicate to stand up to the heat of a cast iron—anyone who has made this mistake before will tell you the fish will fall right apart if you try!

  2. Don’t cook acidic foods

    If you’re cooking up a tomato sauce or a sauce that uses some kind of acidic juice, like citrus, you’re better off in a different pan. The high acidity can strip the seasoning from the cast iron pan, and make your meal taste metallic. Gross! One tip: “If the seasoning is very good, you can prepare dishes with tomatoes and other acidic foods, but it’s best to wait until your piece is well-seasoned,” says Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager at Lodge.

  3. Don’t cook anything sticky

    You know, foods such as eggs, pancakes, rice, you name it—the thinner and stickier the food, the worse it will come out in your cast iron—at least within the first few months of owning your pan. As you cook more food in it, it’ll become more well seasoned, and help enhance the coating. However, we still recommend cooking sticky foods in a nonstick pan.

  4. Don’t engage in poor cleaning/storing habits

    How you clean and store your cast iron is just as important as what you cook in it. First off, never use soap unless you want rust. And then, “Once your pan is completely dry, if you’re not oiling it, stack it with paper towels,” says Bake author Charlotte Druckman. “You never know if that other pan above or below it is wet! And it can always help if there’s a little too much oil on your cast iron. [If you’re seasoning your pan], let it come to room temperature and absorb all the oil before storing it.”

  5. Don’t preheat it aggressively

    Low and slow is the motto for cast irons. “Cast iron heats unevenly, but once it gets hot, it gets so, so hot. I preheat my pan as I’m prepping my dish over very low heat,” says Druckman. “Then I slowly, incrementally, move it up—to medium low, to medium, to medium high, etc. It’s actually easier to get it hotter once it’s already hot; by pre-heating it slowly, you can control the heat more easily.”

Have you ever made any cast iron mistakes before? What’s your favorite thing to cook in yours?