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We store a few cast iron pans in the oven, on the bottom rack. We leave the pans in there while cooking other things. Occasionally, I worry that this might affect oven performance, by interfering with radiation or convection in the oven. While investigating the subject today, I found several guides to cast iron guide that mention oven storage, but none of them answered that question. However, a few of them did advise against the practice for a different reason: cooking with empty cast iron might ruin the seasoning.

If you store cast iron in your oven, do you need to remove the empty pans before cooking? Will empty cast iron pans affect the oven performance? Will it harm the pans or ruin the seasoning?

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Will this effect how the oven heats up/cooks food?

  • The greater thermal mass means the oven will take longer to heat up, which is undesirable if you want to cook quickly, but it will also lessen temperature fluctuations from opening the oven door or the heating element cycling, which can be desirable. The block of metal is performing one of the roles of a pizza stone in this regard.
  • Depending on where the heating elements in the oven are situated, the size of the oven and the size and positioning of your cast iron, it may impact how heat distributes, for example by 'shielding' food from a lower heating element, and blocking the flow of air. Each situation is likely to be different so it is hard to say whether this will be a serious impact in your case.

Will it harm the pans?

  • Very unlikely; your cast iron is designed to be happy at oven temperatures. If there is food residue on the pan you may find that repeatedly heating/burning it and letting it cool can make it very hard to clean off without a tough abrasive, so make sure you clean your pans thoroughly before storing them.
  • Similarly, the whole point of seasoning on a pan is that it is formed in high oven temperatures, so it should not be damaged by exposure to similarly high temperatures. As discussed in the answer here, seasoning can be damaged by high temperatures, with the temperature necessary varying depending on the seasoning itself. If your pans' seasoning has survived so far, I would not expect this to change with further time stored in the oven, but if you season a new pan and store it in the oven you should not be surprised if the seasoning is at times damaged as described in that question. (This is the point I am least confident about, so would be open to correction in the comments if it is from a reliable source.)
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    Thanks, this was helpful, and I had arrived at some of the same conclusions regarding thermal mass and heat distribution. One note on your final bullet point: some of my initial research suggested that very high oven temperatures will break seasoning, but there didn't seem to be a consensus on what's too high. – Bradd Szonye May 27 at 4:14
  • @BraddSzonye I added a little more based on a related question. If your pans have survived so far and you haven't noticed the seasoning get damaged, I wouldn't worry about anything different happening in the future. My instinct is there is a 'survival of the fittest' situation, where the sturdiest polymers survive, so if seasoning is damaged in the oven you can reapply it and eventually you'll get oven-resistant seasoning, as it were. – dbmag9 May 27 at 4:36
  • Cool, thanks for the added detail! I'm mostly interested in the performance aspect of the question, because our oven seems a bit slow. Like, if a recipe recommends a range of cooking times, our oven always needs the high end of the range or beyond to get everything fully cooked and browned. I don't think the cast iron should have that effect, but I'd like to rule it out! – Bradd Szonye May 27 at 4:59
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    @BraddSzonye If it's a temperature issue caused by the pans, then it should work when given a long time to warm up; if it's a temperature issue caused by the oven you should get the same problem with the cast iron removed; if it's an air circulation issue, you should notice a difference with the pans removed. I'd test it out and see. – dbmag9 May 27 at 5:05
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    Er ... that depends on how hot they're cooking in the oven. At 350F the seasoning won't be damaged, but at 500F it will be. So they should take the pans out whenever doing high-heat broiling. – FuzzyChef May 27 at 5:34

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