Old cast iron skillets were heavy and uncomfortable to use, and they took a ton of time to season properly. Newer, more modern pieces are lighter and come pre-seasoned, which means the skillet has a smooth layer of carbon all over the cooking surface.
So, aside from searing off a chicken breast or nice cut of meat, what else can you do with this thing? Here are five suggestions to wow even the most seasoned chef.
1. Regulate your oven temperature
Not all of us have a professional-grade range in our kitchens. If you’re lucky, you have a gas range. And if you’re renting, your oven and cooktop are probably electric.
The good news is a cast iron skillet works well on both, but the bad news is your oven may not be that accurate. The temperature settings on modestly priced ovens can vary wildly. Just because you set your oven to 350 degrees doesn’t mean it will reach that temperature. Even if it does reach that temperature, it may not stay there. It could swing 50 degrees above or below during your cook time.
So, if you need to make sure your oven reaches temperature and stays put, consider putting something on your bottom oven rack. Something close to the heating element absorbs heat slowly and retains it for a long time. Something dense and heavy — just like a cast iron skillet!
2. Make the perfect pizza
And as long as your skillet is screaming hot, what to do with it? How about pizza?
A skillet of any size can double as a pizza stone, providing the perfect vessel on which to perfect your preferred pizza process:
Crank your oven to its highest temperature that isn’t the broiler setting (we’re talking about 500 degrees). Leave the skillet in the oven during pre-heating and gather your ingredients. Stretch out your dough and carefully remove the skillet from the oven. It will be extremely hot, so use thick oven mitts. With your piping hot skillet on a trivet or heat-proof surface, brush it with olive oil on the bottom and sides and carefully lay your dough on the hot oiled surface. The bottom of the dough will start cooking immediately, and the layer of oil will keep it from sticking. Apply your preferred toppings and pop back in the oven. When it’s ready, the bottom will be perfectly crispy. 3. Get saucy
We know we said we weren’t going to talk about searing meats … and we’re not. Instead, we’re gonna talk about what to do with the pan right after you sear.
A perfect sauce will elevate whatever protein you just pulled out of the pan. Simply follow these instructions:
After you sear off your cut of meat, add more oil and the fat of your choice (butter, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, etc.) and your preferred liquid. Anything from chicken stock to red or white wine. Water will even work. Use a wooden spoon (plastic isn’t a great idea when cooking with cast iron) to scrape up all those delicious tasty bits in the pan (it’s called fond, and we’re very fond of it) and give it a stir. Season it with salt, pepper, a clove of garlic, or maybe even some fresh herbs
Not only is pan sauce delicious, but it will also make the pan easier to clean when it comes time to do the dishes!
4. Smash some good burgers
If there’s one thing to take away from cooking with cast iron, it’s that it gets hot. Real hot. And it stays hot. And if you like a good burger, that’s good news. Real good.
A good smashburger is easy to do at home, and it’s a breeze in cast iron:
Make small to medium-sized meatballs with your seasoned and prepared ground beef. Roll them into small balls (four to six ounces ought to be perfect, about the size of a golf ball). Get your pan screaming hot on your stovetop. Wet your fingers and flick some water at the skillet. If it sizzles and skitters across the pan before disappearing, it’s ready. Put your meatball onto the skillet, no cooking oil necessary. Then using a flat spatula and a rolling pin (or another long, easily-grippable utensil), push the meatball into the surface of the pan. Help it along by pushing down on the top of the spatula with the rolling pin so the meatball beneath goes flat. Let it sit on the heat for 30 seconds and don’t touch it. Don’t poke, prod, wiggle or fiddle with it! The contact with the hot pan is all the backup you need. Flip it over, apply cheese (because let’s be honest … of course there’s going to be cheese), let it cook for another 30 seconds before removing it from the heat and putting it on a baking sheet in a preheated oven to keep warm.
The result is a thin, perfectly crispy burger that can be stacked high with the works or slipped between some tiny buns for sliders.
5. Deodorize your kitchen while cleaning
You just had a delicious meal of burgers/chops/steaks/frittata (you get the idea), and it’s time to clean up. Piece of cake. Don’t use soap and a sponge on your cast iron, just go to the pantry and get some vinegar. Plain white vinegar works well because it’s cheap and plentiful.
Put your skillet on medium-high heat and pour in the vinegar. Wait until it boils and then sprinkle in about a tablespoon of kosher salt. The acid from the vinegar will eat away at the stuck-on food and the salt will act as an abrasive without damaging the finish.
Another benefit of boiling vinegar in the cast iron is its ability to deodorize your kitchen. No need for powerful aerosol sprays here. Just let the vinegar reach a rolling boil for a few minutes and the steam will absorb the smells from your kitchen and neutralize them.
Just be careful not to breathe it in. It’s not dangerous, just powerful.
Your new favorite cooking tool
Take care of your cast iron and your cast iron will take care of you. Use it for browning, broiling, baking and more.
How do you use your cast iron? Share your tips, tricks, hacks and suggestions with us in the comments below!
Header Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash
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