A cast-iron pan is one of the most versatile and reliable pieces of kitchen equipment for any cook, and unlike most electronic kitchen must-haves, it can last for generations. (I’m looking at you, air fryer.)
Because it can handle high temperatures and retains heat well, I love that cast iron can go from stovetop to oven. It’s just as good for searing steaks or chicken breasts as it is for scrambling eggs, stir-frying vegetables, cooking homemade tortillas or even baking a fruit cobbler.
Despite what you might have heard, I can assure you that cast-iron pans are incredibly easy to maintain. You don’t need more than hot water to clean them, along with a little kosher salt to scrub off any stubborn bits. How’s that for sustainable?
Frustrated cooks often ask me what they can do about their scratched nonstick pans, and I wholeheartedly recommend cast iron as a durable replacement. Unlike coated nonstick pans, the finish on a cast-iron pan doesn’t degrade over time. In fact, the nonstick properties of cast iron improve with repeated use, as the oils used in cooking become part of the pan itself.
One note: Until you’ve built up the pan’s seasoning, avoid cooking highly acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine or citrus in the pan. The acid can eat away at the finish, but a well-seasoned pan can handle a brief simmer with these ingredients. (Use enameled cast-iron pieces such as a Dutch oven for dishes that require longer cooking, like tomato sauce.)
What to make in your cast-iron skillet
For most meals, a 10-inch, high-sided cast-iron skillet is the pan you’ll want to grab again and again. Once you start using it, you’ll find it making its way onto the stove (or into the oven) for many a meal, but here are some suggestions to get going.
Macaroni and cheese
Roast chicken and vegetables
While roasting a whole chicken is always a comfort food winner, bone-in chicken breasts and thighs are ideal for a cast-iron skillet meal because it’s easy to get a crispy-skinned finish on the cuts.
The simplest method is this: Brown the chicken skin side down in oil or butter over medium high heat (it takes about three or four minutes), then set aside and briefly sauté vegetables in the pan drippings. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the chicken reaches 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.
When you want a thick and chewy crust for family pizza night, ditch the baking stone and use the cast-iron skillet instead. Preheating the skillet in the oven gives dough a sizzling surface that helps the pizza puff up to pillowy heights.
For a weekend breakfast — or a weeknight breakfast for dinner — bust out the cast-iron skillet to make an impressive looking Dutch baby. This family-size pancake puffs up in the oven, then deflates to create a bowl-shaped pastry that’s perfect for topping with sweet or savory ingredients.
Whether you like it sweetened with sugar or honey, loaded with fresh corn or jalapeño peppers or slathered in butter, cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet is even better because of the crunchy browned crust.