If I had to spend the rest of my life with only one pan, I would have no trouble picking which one—my 10-inch cast iron skillet. Why? Cast iron excels in preparations that require you to maintain a high temperature. It often takes a while to get hot, but once you get it there, it stays hot, making it ideal for searing steaks, charring vegetables, or even making pizza. But it's also more versatile than that, which is why I use my own cast iron cookware for just about everything, including sautéing vegetables and baking bread. And despite the widely disseminated myths about cast iron, it's an easy material to maintain: With just a little love, your cast iron skillet will last forever.
Chances are, if you're reading this, you're already plenty familiar with cast iron's most common applications. But these 15 recipes may introduce you to some uses that you haven't considered—like no-knead focaccia and pepperoni garlic knots. And, if you just need a little encouragement to wrestle that heavy skillet out of your cupboard more often, we've also included our best versions of some old favorites, including pan-seared pork chops and cornbread.
Butter-Basted Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Steaks
To get a good crust on a steak without drying out the center, it's got to be cooked hot and fast, and a thick cast iron skillet will hold its temperature much better than steel once you start cooking. The result is a deeply browned, richly flavored exterior and tender meat. Contrary to the old wives' tale, flipping your steaks often will help them cook faster and more evenly and develop a better crust.
Perfect Pan-Seared Pork Chops
To ensure that your pork chops stay juicy and tender, use our foolproof reverse-sear technique: Cook them most of the way through in a low oven, then finish them in a ripping-hot cast iron skillet. They'll come out well browned, dripping with aromatic-laced butter on the outside and incredibly moist inside. For best results, dry-brine the chops and cook them just to medium or even medium-rare—the pork you can buy in the supermarket nowadays is safe to consume at those temperatures.
Pan-Roasted Chicken With Vegetables and Dijon Jus
This recipe allows you to build an entire meal in a single cast iron skillet—roast chicken with crisp, crackling skin; par-cooked Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and carrots; and a rich gravy made bright and pungent with lemon and Dijon mustard. Sear the chicken, deglaze the skillet, then move its contents to a saucepan to make the jus; after searing the vegetables and adding back the chicken, roast the whole pan until all the components are cooked through.
Spanish-Style Blistered Padrón Peppers (Pimientos de Padrón)
For a tasty, light tapa to begin a meal, use a screaming-hot cast iron skillet to char green Padrón peppers. Because olive oil takes on a strong flavor at high heat, we've chosen to sear our peppers in a neutral oil, like canola, then drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil when they come off the heat. Blistering the peppers deepens their flavor, while a sprinkling of coarse sea salt provides little salty bursts and added texture here and there.
Crispy Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Potato Hash
A well-heated skillet will make short work of crisping the kale and Brussels sprouts in this hash, but to ensure the potatoes are cooked through, par-cook them in water before searing. Topping the hash with eggs and baking them until they're just set turns this into a satisfying breakfast or brunch.
Crispy Baked Pasta With Mushrooms, Sausage, and Parmesan Cream Sauce
Ever looked around at your kitchen after a cooking project and sighed at the number of pots and pans you managed to use for a single recipe? Yeah, me too—especially with baked pasta recipes. Fortunately, for this rich and cheesy dish, a cast iron skillet and a large pot are the only vessels you need. We combine crumbled sausage with sautéed mushrooms and aromatics in the skillet, add a smooth Parmesan cream sauce, then mix the pasta directly into the pan before topping it with bread crumbs and popping it in the oven.
Eggy Puds (Breakfast Yorkshire Puddings With Bacon and Fried Eggs)
Our recent dive into Yorkshire pudding produced this brunch masterpiece: Start by frying diced bacon in a cast iron skillet until it's crispy, then pour in Yorkshire pudding batter and bake. You'll end up with a fluffy, bacon-studded dough basket, to be topped off with fried eggs and Hollandaise sauce.
Easy No-Knead Olive-Rosemary Focaccia With Pistachios
We often think of baking bread as labor-intensive and time-consuming, but this focaccia, topped with sliced green olives, chopped rosemary, and roasted pistachios, takes only 15 minutes of active prep. The key is a highly hydrated dough that doesn't need kneading or stretching, and baking it in a greased cast iron skillet, which will allow the dough to spread out while in the oven. It'll come out with a crisp, olive oil–scented crust and a moist, steamy interior.
Foolproof Pan Pizza
Thanks to that no-knead, no-stretch dough technique, pan pizza is about the easiest kind of pizza you can make. It starts just like the focaccia recipe above, but the thick, puffy crust is layered with sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and anything else that strikes your fancy before it's cooked—pan pizza is sturdy enough to stand up to a lot of toppings.
Easy Pull-Apart Pepperoni Garlic Knots
These one-skillet, golden-brown pull-apart garlic knots were practically made to impress at your next party. Store-bought pizza dough is usually a bit bland for our taste, but the flavorings here are so intense—pepperoni, Parmesan, garlic, and herbs—they'll more than compensate.
Southern-Style Unsweetened Cornbread
For really good Southern-style cornbread, a high-quality stone-ground cornmeal is essential—the flavor and texture are hugely superior to the industrial stuff. If you absolutely can't get good cornmeal, your best bet is to add a bit of sugar to industrial stone-ground cornmeal, which will bring the bread's flavors into balance without making it taste Northern-sweet. Use a preheated cast iron skillet to get those edges crisp.
Moist and Tender Brown Butter Cornbread
If sweet, cakey, Northern-style cornbread is more your style, this is the version for you. It's made with equal parts yellow cornmeal and all-purpose flour, plus sugar for sweetness and buttermilk for tang. To deepen its flavor, we use rich, nutty browned butter, and bake the bread in the same skillet used for browning the butter for a crisp crust.
Quick and Easy Skillet Tamale Pie With Brown Butter Cornbread Crust
While it's good on its own, our brown butter cornbread also does a great job as a topping for tamale pie. This version comes together in just 45 minutes in a single cast iron skillet, using a base of ground beef seasoned with ancho chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and coriander. Add corn, black beans, tomatoes, chicken stock, and grated cheese, then pour on the buttery cornbread batter and let it bake for a terrifically warming weeknight dinner.
The Best Tamale Pie With Braised Skirt Steak, Charred Corn, and Brown Butter Cornbread Crust
If you're crazy about our basic tamale pie recipe, try this slightly more labor-intensive variation, which swaps out the ground beef for more substantial skirt steak. We braise the steak until it's fall-apart tender and use a complexly flavored chili as the sauce, made from whole dried chilies and fresh vegetables.
Quick and Easy Vegetarian Tamale Pie With Brown Butter Cornbread Crust
Tamale pie is easily adapted to be vegetarian. Working from our basic recipe, we use kidney and black beans, charred corn, poblano peppers, and green olives to bulk up the chili. Mixing minced red jalapeño and scallions into the brown-butter cornbread base adds extra flavor.