A cast iron skillet might make a great gift for someone on your list! Cast iron is one of the healthy alternatives to non-stick cookware, but it’s a little tricky to use if you’re not used to it. Pair that pan with a list of tried-and-true recipes, and you’ll increase its odds of becoming a kitchen essential.
Cast iron skillets can be used in a wide variety of recipes because they work as well in the oven as on the stove-top. They’re good for frying, sautéing, simmering, baking, and roasting. They work with eggs, meats, vegetables, and desserts.
We bought an 8-inch cast iron skillet about 15 years ago and soon wondered how we’d ever lived without it! But it wasn’t big enough for everything we wanted to make, so we got a 12-inch one as well. We use one or both of them nearly every day. We don’t have any other frying pans except the wok.
Recently, we inherited 3 more cast iron skillets: 8, 10, and 12 inches. We’d just been saying we wanted a separate big skillet for fish–because the smell/taste of fish can linger a bit after cleaning the skillet, which is unwelcome if the next thing you’re making is apple pie! Having an extra in the small size is great, too, because we use it so much. The 10-inch hasn’t quite found its niche with us yet.
Maybe it’s the perfect size for one of these recipes the Kitchen Stewardship® team collected!
Cooking Breakfast in a Cast Iron Skillet
Scrambled eggs are my favorite! Here’s my strategy for cooking them in cast iron:
- Set the stove burner to slightly lower than medium heat, and let the empty pan warm up for a moment while you get the eggs out of the refrigerator.
- Add plenty of oil–I use olive oil–and spread it with a spatula so that it covers the whole bottom of the pan.
- Break the eggs into the pan and don’t stir them right away–let them sizzle while you drop the eggshells into your compost bucket and wash your hands.
- Break the yolks, scoop up the cooked part of the whites and flip over, stir a bit. Then leave it alone again for at least 30 seconds.
- Turn off the heat and stir the eggs again. The pan will stay warm, continuing to cook your eggs. Flip them over another time or two until they’re done.
Another favorite trick of mine…breakfast cereal gone stale? Fry it in butter in your cast iron skillet! It becomes a yummy popcorn-like snack.
Cast Iron Breakfast Recipes
My friend Alison Frane told me how to make her Magic Breakfast Burrito–it’s easy to learn!
Pancakes, like eggs, work best with not-too-high heat and plenty of fat. Katie has at least 9 nutritious pancake recipes for you!
Raising Generation Nourished has 4 flavors of Frittata, any of which takes just 15 minutes to make!
If you like bacon and eggs, get your veggies too (and only wash one pan!) with Allergy Free Alaska’s Sweet Potato Breakfast Skillet.
Strength & Sunshine’s Roasted Skillet Breakfast Potatoes look deliciously indulgent but can be made fat-free, if you want.
The Organic Kitchen’s Crispy One-Pan Potatoes with Eggs is breakfast for 4 in one skillet.
One Pan Vegetarian Entrees Cooked in Cast Iron
Onions sautéed in olive oil in a cast iron skillet get any meal off to a good start! That’s the first step in making any of our burrito fillings: Bean Burritos or Sweet Potato Burritos or Bean Wraps with Smoked Gouda and Pineapple.
Cast iron is great for frying burgers. Here are my family’s 3 favorite veggie burger recipes.
A big skillet does double duty making the two colors of Red & Green Pockets, one after the other. This vaguely Indian-flavored recipe is fun for toddlers who love dipping bread into food, or it makes a great pocket sandwich or rice bowl.
Another flexible recipe that makes vegetables very satisfying is my Summer Vegetable Sunflower Blop. (You can make it any time of year!)
I tend to use cast iron when I’m making a small to medium-sized batch of Fried Rice, and only pull out the wok if I’m making a whole lot.
Cast iron is good for simmering, too. We like to warm up precooked black beans in homemade Chipotle Simmer Sauce.
The Organic Kitchen’s Old-fashioned Skillet Macaroni and Cheese looks much easier than the baked macaroni and cheese recipes I’ve tried–no tempered eggs in this one!
Fish Entrees Cooked in Cast Iron
My Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens is made with affordable canned salmon. (If you want to cook your greens in the same cast iron skillet, cook them first and set aside to keep warm while you cook the salmon. The sauce from the salmon will get stuck to the skillet, whereas the oil from the greens doesn’t leave much behind.)
This Old Gal’s Brown Butter Honey Garlic Salmon looks worth whisking up!
Walnut Crusted Crispy Mahi Mahi is a dish I’ve enjoyed in restaurants–Raising Generation Nourished tells us how to make it at home!
Raising Generation Nourished’s Salmon Burgers with Dairy-free Garlic Aioli is suitable for a Paleo diet.
Cape Cod Casserole comes from Confessions of an Overworked Mom, so you know it’s a low-stress recipe!
Orange Ginger Salmon was the comfort-food choice of a sick kid at Raising Generation Nourished.
Easy One Pan Chicken Entrees
My friend Jason Smith’s Absolutely Favorite Chicken: Add salt and pepper to boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Sear in a cast iron skillet, about 5 minutes a side, and then bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.
Zesty Olive’s Chicken Fiesta Skillet is quick and easy–and if you cut up the ingredients in advance, then it would really come together quickly when you come home hungry.
Strength & Sunshine explains how to roast a whole chicken in cast iron.
I Heart Umami’s Chinese Sesame Chicken is compatible with Paleo and Whole30 diets–but it could replace take-out for any chicken lover.
Smothered Creamy Skillet Chicken from Diabetes Strong is so luscious, you won’t notice it’s low-carb!
Another easy low-carb dish is this stove-top Pizza Chicken from Low Carb Yum.
Zesty Olive’s Skillet Garlic Chicken with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Pecorino Cream Sauce looks fancy and complicated, but it’s really simple.
You don’t even have to peel the vegetables to make this Chicken and Potato Skillet Dinner from Turning the Clock Back.
If cornbread sounds great but you’re on a low-carb diet, try Keto Chicken Chili Cornbread Casserole from Fit to Serve Group.
One Pan Red Meat Cast Iron Skillet Meals
My friend Dan Sweigert shared his simple instructions for cooking a steak: Place it in an iron skillet with a few drops of olive oil over high heat on the stove, and sizzle sear both sides. Then finish by putting the skillet in 350-degree oven for 10 minutes, more or less, depending on thickness.
Life Made Sweeter explains how to make a steak dinner all in one skillet.
Gutsy By Nature makes Pork Chops with Cabbage and Apples compatible with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and Paleo Auto-Immune Protocol.
I Heart Umami’s Paleo Thai Basil Beef Stir-Fry is perfect for a Whole30 diet.
Fab Food 4 All’s Minced Beef Hotpot is inexpensive comfort food.
Does winter make you nostalgic for cooking bratwurst on the grill? Try The Rising Spoon’s One-Pan Boiled Brats with Sweet Onions & Hard Apple Cider.
Beach Hut Cook’s Swedish Meatballs with Fennel Seeds are similar to the classic dish at that furniture-store restaurant. Serve with lingonberry jam!
30 Minutes Meals’ Cheesy Taco Sloppy Joes are quick and easy.
Easy Side Dishes to Make in a Cast Iron Skillet
Don’t toss your potato peels–make them into DIY Vegan Bacon! It’s the perfect garnish for potato soup.
Get a totally different flavor from your green beans with A Pinch of Cayenne’s Cajun Smothered Green Beans with Sausage.
Latkes are potato pancakes–but you can mix in quite a bit of other vegetables with the potatoes!
If you’ve never cooked with poblano peppers, get a quick tutorial along with the recipe for The Best Roasted Poblano Bean Dip from Mexican Appetizers & More.
The Rising Spoon’s Hot Caprese Cheese Dip will disappear in minutes, even if your guests are gluten-free vegetarians!
Cast Iron Skillet Dessert Recipes
Attainable Sustainable explains how to bake an apple pie in cast iron.
Raising Generation Nourished’s Gluten-free Rustic Skillet Peach Pie has a flaky, no-fuss crust.
My Favorite Cast Iron Tips
The trickiest thing about cast iron is getting your head around the idea that you don’t wash it with soap. Soap or detergent destroys the seasoning of your pan. Also, don’t leave it wet for long periods–it will rust. How can you clean cast iron?
- Coffee grounds make a great scouring powder that won’t damage the seasoning. You can dump your filter basket into the skillet and leave the grounds there until you’re ready to scrub.
- If you don’t drink coffee, try kosher salt–it seems to cut through meat/fish grease more effectively than coffee grounds, too.
- To protect your hand from the gritty coffee or salt, use the peel of a citrus fruit, with the white side against the pan. A small amount of citrus oil will be released for cleaning and deodorizing power.
- Eco-bonus: With coffee grounds and citrus peel, you’re using two kinds of garbage to clean your skillet–and if your food wasn’t meat, fish, or dairy, you still can put that garbage in the compost instead of the landfill when you’re done!
- If food is stuck onto the pan, put some water in it, bring it to a boil, and scrape off the food–it will come off easily into hot water.
- After cleaning your pan, dry it thoroughly right away. Use a black towel if gray smudges on your towel would bother you.
- In very humid weather, or if you need to put your skillet away in an enclosed place, dry it completely by putting it on the stove burner for a little while.
- Rub a small amount of cooking oil into the pan–only as much as it can absorb, not enough to leave a pool of oil in the bottom. This is a great use for those last drops of oil in the bottle!
Another thing to remember about cast iron is that the handle gets hot. In order to be versatile about going from stove-top to oven, most cast iron pans do not have an insulated handle. Maybe one of these handle covers would be a nice accompaniment to that cast iron skillet and list of recipes you’re giving as a gift!
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