It’s the Little Things: The One Pan Every Cook Needs

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I have a kitchen stuffed to the rafters with all kinds of cooking utensils. As a professional recipe developer and food writer, I can safely say this is for the job. But my cast iron skillet is the one I use most often.

A cast iron skillet is one of the most versatile and reliable pieces of kitchen equipment for any cook, and unlike most electronic kitchen staples, it can last for generations. (I’m looking at you, air fryer.)

Because it can handle high temperatures and retains heat well, I like 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, sautéing vegetables, cooking homemade tortillas, or even baking a fruit cobbler.

It’s also affordable cookware – so collecting cast iron could become an obsession. I love restoring vintage cast iron skillets that I find at antique stores, but novice cast iron cooks can purchase a Lodge skillet, made in Tennessee’s oldest and oldest cast iron foundry, for less than $30. $.

Despite what you may 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, with a little kosher salt to scrub off stubborn bits. How is it 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 non-stick coated pans, the finish of a cast iron skillet will not 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.

There’s also no need to worry about using metal utensils on cast iron. If you accidentally scratch the finish, you can easily re-season cast iron pans with heat and vegetable oil.

A note: until you have seasoned the pan, avoid cooking very acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine or citrus fruits in the pan. The acid can eat away at the finish, but a well-seasoned skillet can handle a brief simmer with these ingredients. (Use enameled cast iron pieces like a Dutch oven for dishes that require longer cooking, such as tomato sauce.)

For most meals, a 10-inch high-sided cast iron skillet is the skillet you’ll want to sear over and over again. Once you start using it, you’ll find it on the stovetop (or in the oven) for many meals, but here are some suggestions for getting started.

You don’t need to get out a casserole dish to prepare this hearty and rustic dish. Sauté and simmer the ground meat (or lentils, for a vegetarian option) and vegetables in the pan with the wine and broth, then top with mashed potatoes and transfer the pan to the oven.

And although the names are frequently used interchangeably, shepherd’s pie traditionally refers to a lamb-based version of the dish, while shepherd’s pie refers to the beef-based version. To make the variation known as Cumberland Pie, top your mashed potatoes with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs.

Although many recipes call for boiling and cooking the pasta separately from the creamy cheese sauce, you can do it all in one cast iron skillet for a creamy one-pot meal with crispy grilled bits. Who needs boxed macaroni and cheese when you have this stovetop option?

Baked mac and cheese can be a great comfort food to make during the summer months.

When the craving for mac and cheese hits in the height of summer, there’s no need to heat up the oven. Use your cast iron skillet to make a bubbling macaroni and cheese dish right on your grill.

While roasting a whole chicken is always a comforting dish, bone-in chicken breasts and thighs are ideal for a cast iron skillet meal because it’s easy to get a crispy finish on the cuts.

The easiest method is this: Brown the chicken skin side down in oil or butter over medium-high heat (takes about three or four minutes), then set aside and briefly sauté the vegetables in the juice. Cooking. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up, and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the chicken registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

The variations of this meal pattern are almost endless, but you can start with chicken and wild mushrooms, Greek chicken thighs with olives and lemon, or roast chicken and potatoes with pan sauce.

When you want a thick, fluffy crust for family pizza night, ditch the baking stone and use the cast iron skillet instead. Preheating the pan in the oven gives the dough a sizzling surface that helps the pizza rise to chewy heights.

Preheating a cast iron skillet in the oven gives the dough a sizzling surface that helps the pizza puff up.

When using store-bought pizza dough, bring the dough to room temperature before rolling it out. This helps avoid the dreaded rebound reaction that prevents the batter from completely filling the pan.

Or for a pizza that will take you back to the days of red-checked tablecloths, Tiffany-style lamps (and the Book It! program for millennials), make your own skillet pizza dough.

For a weekend breakfast – or a weekday breakfast for dinner – break out the cast iron skillet to make an awesome Dutch baby. This family-sized crepe puffs up in the oven, then deflates to create a bowl-shaped batter perfect for topping with sweet or savory ingredients.

Use a skillet to puff up a baby Dutchman in the oven before the pancake deflates into a bowl-shaped batter.

Try a sweet maple buttermilk baby Dutchman topped with berries and cream or a savory baby Dutchman topped with poached eggs and ham.

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 tastes even better because of its golden, crispy crust.

Savor the crispy golden crust of cornbread after cooking it in a cast iron skillet.

Preheat the pan in the oven, then add enough oil or fat (like bacon drippings) to coat the bottom of the pan before pouring in the batter. Any cornbread recipe sized for a 9-inch baking dish will also work in a skillet. Try this extra crispy version made with polenta and millet.

This traditional Persian rice dish is famous for its crispy golden bottom layer, and it’s a feat you can achieve easily in a cast iron skillet. Because it retains heat, the pan helps the rice cook to a crispy finish without burning or burning in spots.

Prepare the rice as a side dish or serve it as a meal on its own, topped with turmeric chickpeas and greens or spiced chicken.

If you bake a large brownie or oreo chocolate chip cookie in a cast iron skillet, is that considered a single serving? Whether you prefer crispy, chewy edges or a gooey, rich center — or a bit of both — these desserts are perfect. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on top.