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14 foods to cook in a cast iron skillet

From bibimbap and brownies to pancakes and pizza, few kitchen tools are as versatile and sustainable as cast iron cookware.

Cast iron cookware has made an incredible comeback over the last few years, which is great news. WIth the introduction of nonstick cookware in the 1960s, many cast iron skillets got sent to live in the garage with the camping gear. But as the infatuation with nonstick cookware started to fade, people started singing the praises of cast iron once again.

So why do we love cast iron so much? For one thing, it skips the whole toxic-chemical-coatings business, so that's good. And unlike nonstick cookware, cast iron will live forever, which is kinder to your wallet and the planet. And of course, there's the performance. Cast iron can go from stovetop to oven to combine searing and baking, and it is one of the best materials for maintaining high heat. It's a dream to cook with, and also exceedingly versatile, as you can see in the following suggestions.

(A helpful reminder: Do not forget that a cast iron skillet gets very hot – keep your oven mitts handy.)

1. Crispy pan pizza

pizza© Melissa Breyer

Pizza usually asks to be cooked on a stone in a high heat oven, and getting the crust just right is an art. But I started making pizza in a cast iron pan (photo above) and there's just no going back. If you too want the easiest recipe that makes the world's best pizza, read this: The cast-iron pizza recipe that changes everything.

2. Baked pasta

“Skillet macaroni and cheese,” what else needs to be said? This Epicurious recipe doesn't even require a bowl. And really, if you like crispy-edged baked pasta dishes, cooking them in a cast-iron skillet is a fun way to do it – think lasagna, baked ziti, et cetera.

3. Cornbread

Cornbread is a cast iron classic, there is even a whole genre of cast iron pans for baking corn-shaped cornbread sticks – that's how serious this is. And it makes perfect sense; cast iron gives cornbread that beautiful crisp edge and moist middle that makes it so delicious.

4. Crispy tofu

Tofu is not foolproof; when not cooked in a way that brings out its best, it can be bland and insipid in texture. Which is where the cast iron pan comes in to play. Minimalist Baker shows the magic in the video above; you can find the recipe here: Quick and Easy Crispy Tofu.

5. Roasted vegetables

We are all about the roasted vegetables over here. The heat of the oven concentrates their flavors and gives them a miraculous texture, bringing out their best selves. My secret trick is glazing them, Katherine's is using a cast iron skillet; here's both:

6. Dolsot bibimbap

The Korean rice dish dolsot bibimbap is traditionally cooked in a sizzling hot stone bowl; the result is a hot and crunchy bottom that is one of the most addictive things to have ever happened to rice. Not having a stone bowl on hand, I wondered if it could be done in a cast iron skillet, and sure enough, I came across this recipe at My Korean Kitchen. This is a wonderful dish that serves as a superb way to use up leftover rice and various vegetables you may have on hand.

7. Vegan shepherd's pie

Here's a super simple recipe for a vegan shepherd's pie recipe; to make something like this in a cast iron skillet, simply saute the vegetables in the skillet, then add the potatoes on top and bake.

8. Baked polenta

Polenta in a cast iron skillet© Melissa Breyer

We make this lasagna polenta pizza casserole thing (above) that we have shoehorned into the silly portmanteau of “lagritzza.” It kind of merges the best worlds of skillet pizza and skillet cornbread; it has a crispy edge but the polenta (aka grits) don't get dried out. I doubt there's a recipe, this came about as a way to use up leftovers, but it's easy: Olive oil in the pan, cooked polenta, tomato sauce, and whatever leftovers you want to add (we used the rest of some ricotta, some dabs of pesto, and some other various bits of cheese). Bake at 350F until golden on top, around 30 minutes.

9. Dutch baby pancake

Dutch baby pancake© Melissa Breyer

All hail the Dutch baby! This big fluffy child is easily the easiest of the pancake family to create, and the cast iron skillet makes it perfection, giving it a crisp airy shell and an almost custardy middle. For the ones picture above: Preheat oven to 425. Mix well in a blender or a bowl: three eggs with 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of flour (I mix all-purpose with white whole wheat), 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, and a pinch of nutmeg. Add four tablespoons butter to a 10-inch cast iron skillet and put it in the oven. Once the butter has melted, add the batter. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature to 300F and cook for another five minutes. Remove, garnish, devour.

10. Vegan Brooklyn baby pancake

vegan dutch baby pancake© Melissa Breyer

This is my vegan Dutch baby fail that is so good I rebranded it as the Brooklyn baby. It really does not turn into a voluminous creature like its cousin does, but rather a denser crisp pastry that somehow tastes like funnel cake; true story! Preheat oven to 425. Mix well in a blender: One banana with 2/3 cup oat milk, 1/2 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, a pinch of salt and a bit of nutmeg. Add three tablespoons coconut oil to a 10-inch cast iron skillet and put it in the oven. Once the oil has melted, add the batter. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature to 300F and cook for another five minutes.

11. Fruit desserts

The world of baked fruit desserts is a beautifully quirky place, where one can find dishes such as betties, buckles, grunts, slumps, and pandowdies, in addition to better known friends like crisps, crumbles, and cobblers. They can all be made (and made better!) in a cast iron skillet, which makes for a lovely rustic serving dish as well. See: “Crisps, betties, buckles and slumps: The Who’s Who of fruit desserts.”

12. Tarte tatin

tarte tatin© Melissa Breyer

The French apple tarte tatin is a bit more elegant than the fruit desserts previously mentioned, but it has a rustic side too. The famed caramelized, upside-down apple tart is often baked in a fancy, specialized pan – but all you need is a cast-iron skillet. The Guardian has a terrific guide to making the perfect tarte tatin, which calls for a “heavy-based ovenproof frying pan” – ding ding ding! You can see two phases of a tarte tatin above; unfortunately the photo of the beautiful reveal – the whole point of a tarte tatin! – was eaten by my camera. But you can see plenty of beautiful examples in the Guardian story.

13. Skillet brownies or cookies

This is just a very fun way to make and serve brownies and cookies – I have taken regular cookie recipes and just spread it out in a skillet and baked as usual. The whole thing can then be taken to the table, warm from the oven.

14. Leftovers

There are a lot of ways to reheat leftover food, but doing so in your cast iron skillet may be amongst the most unsung of options. Katherine explains it all in “This is the best way to reheat leftovers.”

For everything you need to know about cooking with and caring for cast iron, see: Cast iron pots and pans, demystified.

From bibimbap and brownies to pancakes and pizza, few kitchen tools are as versatile and sustainable as cast iron cookware.