I've spent my whole adult life living in apartments, which means I've never had the space to amass as many pans as I'd like. Practicality dictates that I buy only what I'm really going to use. There are just a couple pans I own that I have no trouble justifying: a carbon steel wok, an eight-inch nonstick egg pan, and, of course, my trusty 10-inch Lodge cast iron skillet, the top pick from our cast iron skillet review.
In fact, if I had to pick just one pan to use the rest of my life, it would be that cast iron skillet. Cast iron shines when it comes to high-heat cooking, like searing steaks or charring vegetables, but it's so much more versatile than that—you can use cast iron to sauté, bake bread, or even cook eggs, if it's well seasoned. And despite the myths, it's super resilient, easy to season, and easy to care for.
To show you why I love my cast iron, here are 26 recipes that put it to good use, from seared steak and full chicken dinners to skillet pizza and cornbread.
When I'm cooking on a busy weeknight, I want to end up with as few dishes to wash as possible, and a cast iron skillet is my go-to for easy one-pan dishes. In this recipe, we cook chicken thighs, Italian sausage, Brussels sprouts, and shallots all together in one skillet, and pump up the flavor by rubbing the chicken with a savory paste of mustard, honey, and rosemary.
This recipe pairs chicken with Brussels sprouts, too, but adds potatoes and carrots to make the meal extra filling. Though it's not quite one-pan—another saucepan is required to make the rich gravy flavored with lemon and Dijon mustard—it's still pretty darn easy. Searing the chicken skin side down before flipping the pieces over to cook the meat through leaves the skin with a great crisp crust.
This one-skillet dish builds on the Greek appetizer spanakopita to create a full meal. After putting together the filling, a mixture of spinach, chicken, and creamy garlic-feta sauce, we top it with crumpled sheets of store-bought phyllo dough and bake the pie for about 20 minutes or until it's golden brown. It's a dish that hits the same notes as spanakopita, but in a heartier, easy-to-make package.
Corn casserole is made differently in different parts of the country, but we're not here to pick sides, and this isn't a definitive recipe—it's just the way we like it. We start with onion, red bell pepper, and fresh sage, sautéed in butter and flavored with paprika and cayenne, then add corn kernels, cornmeal, eggs, and all the dairy—milk, heavy cream, and plenty of cheese. If you're making this well out of corn season, you'll be happy to know that out-of-season fresh corn actually bakes up quite nicely, though frozen kernels work, too.
Cast iron is slower to heat up than steel, but once it gets hot, it stays hot. That's ideal for cooking a steak, which requires super-high heat to form a crust on the exterior without overcooking the center. Another trick to perfectly searing steaks? Despite what others might tell you, flipping your steaks more often actually helps them brown faster and cook more evenly.
Though cast iron is just as good for searing pork chops as it is for steak, our approach here is a bit different. Most people cook their pork longer than they cook their beef, so we recommend using the reverse-sear technique—cooking the chops slowly in the oven before finishing them in a hot skillet. Modern pork is generally safe to consume medium or even medium-rare; a few minutes' rest after it comes out of the skillet will allow it to cook a little more via residual heat.
This ultra-simple tapa is made just by charring green Padrón peppers in a blisteringly hot cast iron skillet. We sear the peppers in neutral oil and finish them with extra-virgin olive oil—while olive oil is safe to use at high temperatures, it takes on a strong flavor that overwhelms the peppers here. Beyond the olive oil, all the added flavor these peppers need comes from a little coarse sea salt sprinkled on before serving.
Using raw potatoes in a hash is a guarantee that they'll turn out undercooked. Much better is to par-cook them in water, which gelatinizes their starch so they get extra crispy when you cook them in the pan afterward. What you choose to put in a hash is entirely up to you, but this master post offers several different versions: kale and Brussels sprouts; chorizo, green chili, and avocado; and a spicy mixture of bok choy, shallots, and chilies. (We've even got an option that uses sweet potatoes.) To make it a full meal, bake a couple of eggs right in the skillet with the hash.
Baked pastas can be quite an undertaking, but this comforting, rib-sticking dish comes together in just half an hour, with nothing more than a cast iron skillet and a large pot. Start by cooking and breaking up the Italian sausage, then sauté mushrooms and aromatics in the rendered fat to give them extra flavor. We make a roux to thicken the Parmesan cream sauce, mix everything with cooked pasta, then pour it all back into the pan to bake, topped with a thick layer of seasoned bread crumbs.
If you ate Yorkshire pudding with your prime rib for this year's holiday dinner, this recipe makes the perfect day-after brunch dish. It uses up any extra Yorkshire pudding batter, combining it in a cast iron skillet with crispy bacon to make a giant, fluffy pudding to share. Top it off with fried eggs and Hollandaise.
I love the idea of bread-making, but in practice I'm generally too lazy for all that kneading and stretching. This focaccia is perfect for me, because the highly hydrated dough doesn't need either—give the ingredients a quick mix, allow the dough plenty of time to rest and rise, and it will spread itself out in a greased skillet. A topping of sliced olives, rosemary, and pistachios makes it feel especially fancy, so no one will guess that it took just 15 minutes of actual work.
That no-knead, no-stretch dough technique doesn't work just for focaccia—it also produces an incredibly easy pan pizza, of the kind you may have grown up loving at the Hut. The thick, puffy crust can stand up to lots of toppings, so feel free to load this up with whatever you'd like beyond the sauce and cheese—pepperoni, fresh vegetables, pickled vegetables, the works.
As easy as our pan pizza recipe is, it does require that you make the dough well ahead of time. If you want pizza now, your best bet is our bar-style tortilla pizza. It might sound like a gimmick, but a flour tortilla really is the best base for a thin-crust, bar-style pizza. The fact that you can slap it together in about 10 minutes is just a bonus.
These moist, buttery pull-apart garlic knots, loaded with pepperoni, Parmesan, garlic, and herbs, are a surefire way to impress a crowd. They're also a breeze to make: With so many flavorful toppings at work, it's absolutely fine to use a store-bought pizza dough, which we normally find a little bland.
The sweetened-versus-unsweetened-cornbread debate is an intense one, and where you stand probably depends on what you ate where you grew up. We don't take sides here, since both versions have their merits. But if you're into the unsweetened, Southern variety, the most important rule above all is that you must start with high-quality stone-ground cornmeal—the flavor and texture of industrially made cornmeal just can't compare. If you have to use a lesser cornmeal, adding a small amount of sugar is allowable, to give its flavor better balance.
Having grown up firmly in Yankee territory, I've always been partial to moist, sweet, Northern-style cornbread. This version is made with equal parts yellow cornmeal and all-purpose flour, plus sugar and a few ounces of tangy buttermilk. Nutty browned butter gives the cornbread a deeper flavor and crisp crust.
Sweet brown butter cornbread is good on its own, but it's also a great topping for tamale pie. For the ultimate tamale pie and an incredibly satisfying dinner, we use skirt steak that's braised until it starts to fall apart; sweet, nutty charred corn; and a homemade chili infused with whole dried chilies and fresh vegetables.
While our updated version of tamale pie is worth the effort, there's a lot to love about a more classic take. This one relies on good old ground beef chuck, flavored with ancho chili powder, cayenne, cumin, and coriander. Frozen corn and canned black beans and tomatoes keep the amount of prep work to a minimum.
The beef is really just a minor part of a tamale pie, so making a vegetarian version of the dish is no problem. We bulk up a vegetarian chili filling with charred corn, Poblano peppers, green olives, and extra beans. To add a little kick to the cornbread crust, we mix minced red jalapeño and scallions into the batter.
This salmon dish is essentially a one-pan meal (if you don't count the separate bowl used to mix the tangy, refreshing yogurt sauce), and it's simple enough for a weeknight regardless. First, sear salmon fillets in a pan—make sure they're well dried first!—until their skin is crisp. Then set them aside while you sauté curried leeks until tender, and combine the leeks with the salmon in a medium oven until the fish is cooked through. Dinner is ready in just 35 minutes.
Quail makes an impressive and elegant entrée, and in this one-pan dish it's done in a snap. The birds are small enough to cook through entirely via searing on the stovetop. Once they're finished, add shallot, thyme, and pitted plums to the pan; deglaze with stock; and mix in honey. The final dish brings together the tender, crisp quail with a sweet, slightly tart sauce.
This one-pan recipe builds on the layers of flavor left after searing a steak, creating a quick and easy meal for two. After the flank steak is cooked and set aside to rest, you'll add sweet peach slices to the pan to caramelize. To finish it off, deglaze the pan with water and lemon juice to make a sauce. Gently wilted dandelion greens make up the final component of a bright and flavorful dinner.
Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this savory bread pudding combines the flavors of French onion soup—caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese, crusty bread—in a creamy one-pan dish. Oven-dried bread soaks up the eggy mixture better than staled, and a quick method of caramelizing onions saves time while still getting the onions nicely browned.
Kale, chard, and baby spinach combine with mushrooms, garlic, leeks, Dijon mustard, and spices to form the base for a baked-egg dish that's a bit like an omelette turned inside out. We combine the leeks, mushrooms, and blanched greens with butter, half and half, and milk in a cast iron pan. After cracking half a dozen eggs on top of the rich and creamy mixture, we transfer it all to the oven to bake until the egg whites are just set and the yolks still runny.
This easy one-skillet meal cooks up under the broiler in no time. It starts with chicken marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices, tandoori-style; we recommend the tandoori spice mix from Penzeys if you don't want to make your own at home. We then broil the chicken with its marinade until the meat is browned and tender, and use the cooking liquid to steam the couscous served on the side, giving it an extra dose of flavor. Dates and almonds round out the dish.
Like traditional biscuits, these angel biscuits are buttery and tender, but their flavor and texture are closer to those of Parker House rolls—yeasty and light. The dough is shaped and arranged in a cast iron pan, then left to proof overnight in the refrigerator, making the biscuits an easy prepare-ahead option for breakfast or brunch. When baked until golden brown, they're perfect for stuffing with slices of country ham or spreading with butter and jelly.
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