Cooking in Your Cast Iron Skillet
Use your nonstick pan all the time? Don't forget about the versatile cast iron. Here's why you should use it tonight.
You might remember it as the heavy black skillet grandma fried chicken in (and later passed down to you). But versatile cast iron goes from stovetop to oven to grill with such ease that you can bake a gooey upside-down cake in it as well as fry unbelievably crisp catfish. And it’s a regional icon that will boost your reputation as a savvy cook. So pull out your hand-me-down skillet, or buy a new preseasoned one―once you try these recipes, you’ll be a cast iron convert. We'll start with our Cast-Iron Cowboy Steak: This is the best way to cook a thick, juicy bone-in steak restaurant-style without smoking up the house. The skillet surface area promotes a more assertive flavor and better sear than grill grates, yielding a steak with the proper steak house crust.
Recipe: Cast-Iron Cowboy Steak
The brown sugar, apple, and pecan mixture that’s cooked in the skillet and then topped with a spiced cake batter become a gooey, rich topping for the cake when it’s inverted.
Complete with fruit and the "pancake," this recipe needs little else served with it. If you want a heavier meal, consider serving it with scrambled eggs and bacon or thinly sliced ham.
Recipe: Brunch Popover Pancake
Repurpose barbecued pork to make these cheesy quesadillas in your skillet, and top them off with green onions, sour cream, and cilantro. They are great as an appetizer or main course.
Recipe: Barbecued Pork Quesadillas
Roll pecans, apricots, and a brown sugar mixture up in biscuit dough to make this warm breakfast treat. Or substitute chocolate chips, raisins, or other fruits to adjust the flavor to your liking.
Recipe: Apricot-Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
This rustic one-pot meal, a company's-coming riff on the old-school chicken-and-rice number, is held together by a tangy gravy flavored with country ham and mushrooms. Nutty wild rice helps sop up all the good chicken gravy.
The "top-shelf" in this recipe speaks to the crispy skin, superior flavor, and juiciness of the bird. It also refers to a novel new technique: cooking potatoes in the heavy cast-iron skillet that's used as a weight on the chicken. The weight presses the chicken flat against the grill grates, cutting the cooking time in half. Plus you'll be cooking your side dish at the same time.
Recipe: Top-Shelf Chicken Under a Brick
Straight from the oven, this puffy, airy pancake will elicit major oohs and aahs from your crowd. Be sure to use low-fat or fat-free milk--the pancake will puff higher. Like a soufflé, it will begin to deflate as soon as it leaves the oven, though that won't affect the flavor.
Recipe: Apple-Cinnamon Dutch Baby
We based this recipe on one from Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins found in the book Lodge Cast Iron Nation. Use small Japanese turnips from farmers' markets, or peel and cut larger turnips into 1- to 2-inch cubes.
Recipe: Braised White Turnips
This is the absolute best way to cook Brussels sprouts. High heat searing caramelizes the outside and yields perfect crisp-tender texture inside. Use a 12-inch cast-iron pan, or work in two batches.
Equally at home on your stove or over a campfire, this fragrant skillet breakfast pulls double duty for dinner with a green salad. Try substituting sweet potatoes for russets and your favorite tart apple for Granny Smith. Other smoked fish like bluefish or whitefish also work well here. If using thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into pieces and drape over hash just before serving.
Recipe: Smoked Trout-Apple Hash
Serve these savory little numbers with a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime as a crunchy appetizer or a dish to accompany roasted or grilled meats or fish.
Turn your skillet into a Mexican comal, aka griddle, by slowly charring onions, garlic, and peppers in a dry skillet. We like to use this traditional dry char technique because it coaxes sweet, earthy flavors from the vegetables and gives them just a hint of smokiness.
Recipe: Cast-Iron Salsa
- To rid of rust stains, rub this handy rust eraser (pictured) on the stain, and then reseason pan. Find it at hardware stores, bike shops, or wood-working shops.
- To clean, use a stiff brush or plastic scrubber under running water while the cast iron is still warm but cool enough to handle with ease. Kosher salt is also a good scrubbing agent for baked-on stains. The most important tip is to never use soap!
- Before cooking, apply vegetable oil to the cooking surface, and preheat the pan on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly.
- Never marinate in cast iron. Acidic mixtures will damage the seasoning. Reseason if food particles start to stick, rust appears, or you experience a metallic taste.