The Cast-Iron Skillet is The Home Cook's Best Friend

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A cast-iron skillet is one of the most sophisticated kitchen gadgets a home cook can own — not because it's expensive or flashy, but because it takes a little more love and care than your average teflon-lined pan. J. Kenji López-Alt says it perfectly in his book The Food Lab: "Being a proud owner of both a puppy named Hambone and some really nice cast-iron cookware, I’ve found that they are remarkably similar in many respects. They both require a little work, a little patience, and a whole lot of loyalty."

But for all the flack cast-iron skillets get for being high maintenance, the important thing is just to dry them immediately after washing them and then use a paper towel to rub a tiny bit of oil into the surface of the pan so that it doesn’t rust. The payoff for this little bit of effort is perfectly caramelized meats, golden crusts on baked goods, and the ability to move your cooking projects agilely from the stovetop to the oven and back again. If you’ve recently been initiated into cast-iron skillet ownership, here are a few fun ways to take your pan for a spin.

Baked Eggs
Have some leftover tomato sauce in your refrigerator from spaghetti a few nights ago? Simmer this in a cast-iron skillet for a few minutes on the stovetop, then crack a few eggs carefully into the sauce. Stick in a 400° oven for about 5 minutes, or until egg whites have become opaque. Sprinkle some parsley and parmesan on top and dip in with some crusty bread.

Roast Chicken
Rub a chicken all over with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Stick it into a cast-iron skillet in a 450° oven. Check for doneness after about 45–55 minutes. If you wiggle a joint around, the juices will run clear when the meat is cooked through. You can scoop the chicken out of the skillet when it’s done and make a little pan sauce directly in the skillet, simmering some white wine with the drippings, and then adding some thyme, garlic, and a couple tablespoons of butter.

Cornbread
Here's a secret. You know those boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix that cost 50 cents at the grocery store? Follow the instructions on the box, but instead of dumping the batter into a muffin tin, pour it into a buttered cast-iron skillet and bake for a few minutes longer than the package suggests. Your cornbread will have a crunchy, beautiful golden crust and will look extremely rustic and homemade.

Seared Steak
One of the things about a cast-iron skillet that sets it apart from other pans is that you can transfer it seamlessly from the stovetop to the oven. For a perfectly crusted seared steak, preheat your skillet in a 450° oven. On the stovetop, over high heat, sear the steak for 30 seconds on each side, and finish for a few minutes in the 450° oven.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sometimes when you're hosting a dinner party, dessert is the last thing you want to worry about. Make some chocolate chip cookie dough the day before, and keep it chilling in your refrigerator. As your guests are finishing their meals, toss the cookie dough into a buttered skillet, and sprinkle some flaky salt on top. Bake until the top is golden brown.