From savory to sweet, the variety of meals you can whip up in a cast-iron skillet is endless. Yep, it’s time to ditch your flimsy aluminum pan for this heavy-duty kitchen hardware. What draws an avid cook to this kitchen tool is its ability to heat up quickly and, more importantly, preserve that heat. Unlike traditional skillets with protective rubber handles, the entirety of a cast-iron pan gets hot, so don’t grab the handle without a thick towel or oven mitt—otherwise, you could scorch the palm of your hand. This skillet helps you sear meat or fish, toss a veggie-filled stir-fry, make deliciously gooey desserts, and may even help you to land the perfect pancake flip.
Before you hit up a cooking specialty store to buy your very own cast-iron skillet, you may want a few pointers on how to properly cook with it and take care of it. We spoke with Dan Harris, the executive corporate chef for 4 Star Restaurant Group, for tips on how you can best cook and bake with a cast-iron skillet. And for more, don’t miss these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.
Why is a cast-iron skillet good for cooking?
“Cast irons are a great investment for home and restaurant cooking,” says Harris. “They allow for an even cooking surface that can get ripping hot, allowing an amazing sear on the outside of steaks, pork, and tuna. Cast irons also hold temperature extremely well and create a non-stick surface, which is excellent for skin-on fish.”
Why is a cast-iron skillet good for baking?
Harris says a cast-iron skillet’s versatility allows them to make for an excellent swap for a baking dish, too, “whether it’s cooking and caramelizing fruit before baking a crumble, quick braising, or—my favorite—making the best cornbread,” he says. “Adding the batter to the preheated cast iron allows for a golden crispy crust with a buttery, creamy batter inside.”
Why should you preheat your skillet before cooking or baking with it?
Unlike pans that are made from aluminum, Teflon, or stainless steel, Harris says cast-iron skillets are the superior choice because of their ability to retain heat. The preheating process (putting the skillet on the stove burner for about 10 minutes) is an important step to unleash the pan’s heat-capturing powers.
“By preheating the pans, you optimize their function of caramelizing proteins, browning crusts for bread, and breaking down the fruit. Aside from being great for heating and holding heat, cast irons are incredibly easy to clean when hot and can last forever if properly cared for,” says Harris. Speaking of how to properly care for your cast-iron skillet…
How do you properly care for a cast-iron skillet?
As is the case with any pan you cooked raw meat in, or anything that has left bits of charred food or an oily residue behind, you want to clean it thoroughly after each use. In order to best clean a cast-iron skillet, you’ll want to handwash the skillet with a stiff mesh brush and hot water. If the pan is sticky from making a fruity dessert, you’ll want to throw some kosher salt into the cleaning process, and then wipe it down with a paper towel. Finally, dry the skillet and then apply a light coat of oil with a paper towel before storing it in a dry place.
Why shouldn’t you store leftovers in your cast-iron skillet?
“Cast irons hate moisture,” says Harris. “Storing food in cast irons [is a common mistake] that will lead to rusting, and [it] breaks down all the seasoning that developed in the pan, reducing their longevity.”
How do you season a cast-iron skillet?
The best way to season a cast-iron skillet essentially involves cleaning it, then applying an unsaturated oil (think canola oil or vegetable oil, but preferably grapeseed oil) to the entire pan, including the bottom and handle. Next, you’ll want to preheat the skillet and then pop into the oven with the open part of the skillet facing down and bake it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. You’ll want to make sure you put an aluminum foil draped baking sheet on the rack beneath the skillet to catch any drops of oil. It’s recommended that you repeat that process once more to increase the longevity of your pan.
Our favorite cast-iron skillet recipes
Now that you have acquired a wealth of knowledge on cast iron care and maintenance, let’s talk about what kind of recipes you can make with such a flavor-enhancing skillet. We rounded up some recipes that will help you make the most of the versatile kitchen tool.
From breakfast to dinner to dessert, here are the best cast-iron skillet recipes you can make.
A cast-iron skillet adds the perfect bit of crust to this steak, giving it a nice sear. And shallots and red wine add plenty of flavor to this hearty dish.
If you’re not cooking burgers in a cast-iron skillet, you’re missing out. The pans give meat the perfect amount of crust, making at-home burgers just as delicious as the restaurant ones.
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Need something to top that burger? These mushrooms are absolutely delicious when cooked in a cast-iron pan.
True cheese lovers know that baked mac and cheese always trumps the boxed version. But baked mac and cheese in a cast-iron skillet? Now that’s a recipe for one delicious side dish.
Start your day off right with this spicy egg recipe. With pancetta, garlic, crushed tomatoes, and red pepper flakes, this is one hearty dish that’s perfect for a weekend brunch.
There’s no better way to blacken fish than by cooking it in a cast-iron skillet. This recipe makes blackened tilapia even more delicious by pairing it with cilantro, garlic, and lime.
If you haven’t tried cooking quesadillas in a cast-iron pan, it’s worth a shot. They’re great for crisping up the tortillas while warming the fresh ingredients.
Looking for a side dish to add to a breakfast or brunch spread? This casserole is the perfect solution.
Cast-iron skillets are great for meat burgers, but they work well with veggie burgers, too. And who says you can’t have a plant-based burger patty for breakfast?
With red wine and plenty of vegetables, this meal is bursting with flavor. And a cast-iron pan will brown the chicken thighs perfectly.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Cast-iron skillets are the best way to blacken fish. Add avocado to this sandwich for some extra pizzazz.
Cast-iron skillets are an easy way to make delicious egg recipes, and you can’t go wrong with this simple frittata.
This chicken is stuffed with spinach and peppers, but what’s on the outside counts, too. A cast-iron skillet will give these prosciutto-wrapped chicken breasts a perfect golden crust.
You don’t need a smoker at home for delicious brisket. A little olive oil and a cast-iron skillet are all you need for perfectly browned meat.
A good skillet takes pancakes to the next level, giving them a down-home country feel. Top these with fresh fruit slices for a delicious breakfast.
Seared tuna makes for an unforgettable fish taco. This recipe is so flavorful, you won’t even miss beef tacos.
Cooking meat in a cast-iron skillet is always a good idea. This recipe takes things one step further—you’ll prepare the veggie-based breakfast hash in the same skillet as the sausage, letting the flavors permeate the entire meal.
Like pancakes, French toast is delicious when prepared in a cast-iron skillet. This recipe incorporates bourbon for an extra kick.
Grilled cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Pair it with tomato soup for a nostalgic dish that’s perfect for lunch or dinner.
You’ve probably heard of fish tacos, but what about seafood quesadillas? The flavors in this shrimp quesadilla all come together nicely, especially when the tortilla is perfectly crisp.
Don’t live in Philadelphia? That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious cheesesteak! This recipe is the next best thing to a trip to the legendary cheesesteak purveyors the city is known for.
This Spanish-inspired dish will take you on a journey, and you don’t even have to leave your kitchen to do it. Chorizo and dark beer add unexpected flavor to this poultry dish.
Bring a taste of Southern cooking to your kitchen with this classic catfish recipe. The tomato gravy gives the seafood an extra kick.
One of the best things about cast-iron skillets is that they’re great in the oven, in addition to on the stovetop. Bake these cheesy potatoes in a cast-iron pan for a delicious, bubbly side dish.
Why head to Chipotle when you can make a delicious burrito at home? You can’t go wrong with this flavorful carne asada version.
If your at-home dinners tend to include mostly chicken and beef, give this pork chop recipe a try. Pork is just as juicy as other meats, especially when paired with this tasty fruit.
Don’t head out to a Mexican restaurant when you can make these enchiladas at home! With just five ingredients, this recipe couldn’t be easier.
Steak and eggs are delicious for brunch or for dinner, and this recipe is jam-packed with flavor. If you haven’t tried chimichurri sauce with steak, this recipe will be a game-changer.
Skillet pizza is a concept that may sound odd, but when you think about how evenly the cast iron cooks any type of food it comes in contact with, you can start to imagine the crispy dough that’ll be popping out of your skillet. Make it cheesy and gooey with this recipe and you’ll forget all about buyin that pizza stone.
Get the recipe from Laughing Spatula.
Want a new way to make dessert? You can use a skillet to bake the best peach cobbler you’ve ever tasted. The buttery pie dough used for a cobbler is perfect for the cast iron skillet because it gets perfectly crispy all the way around. Not to mention, the peaches in this recipe taste heavenly with a dash of vanilla and cinnamon.
Get the recipe from Recipe Runner.
You’re going to want to grab a glass of milk and a side of vanilla ice cream with this one! Get a fluffy gooey giant cookie that’s way more fun than several individual cookies. The best part? You can make this recipe in the skillet from start to finish, no bowls needed!
Get the recipe from The Baker Mama.
If you loved the cookie in a skillet, wait till you give this dense, fudge-like brownie recipe a try. Is it us or was a cast iron skillet made for chocolate?
Get the recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.
Cooking these sliders on the skillet is simple and you can never go wrong with mini food! A skillet is a great tool for burgers in general—it cooks the patties to perfection and melts the cheese to bring them all together.
Get the recipe from The Baker Mama.
Time to try a new lasagna recipe, because this one is for the books. This skillet recipe only takes a total of 20 minutes to prep and cook on the stove. The skillet does a wonderful job in making it quick and easy.
Get the recipe from The Creative Bite.
This recipe combines two wonderful Middle Eastern staples—crispy Persian rice (tahdig) and shakshuka. The rice will play the part of tomato sauce and you’ll be left with a perfect crispy bottom with nestled-in eggs.
Get the recipe from My Name is Yeh.
Additional reporting by Jordan Summers-Marcouillier.
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