5 Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron on the Grill

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Cast iron pans were designed for cooking over an open fire, so it only makes sense that we should throw them on the grill from time to time too. Look, I understand there’s some romanticism to the idea of cooking everything directly on the grill once it is hot and ready, but there are a few times when busting out your cast iron comrade will make your grilling better.

Here are five ways cast iron makes grilling better, plus three tips for cooking with cast iron on the grill.

What to Know About Grilling & Cast Iron Pans

Anything you can cook on the stove in cast iron, you can cook on the grill. Remember this when you’re trying to figure out cooking a side dish inside while preparing chicken on the grill. If you can cook it in cast iron inside on the stove or in the oven, you can absolutely cook it outside on the grill too.

Pro tip: Think of direct heat as a high heat on the stove and indirect heat as medium heat and adjust your skillet’s position as needed to maintain the appropriate heat.

1. Cast iron lets you bake on the grill.

Because of its ability to retain heat evenly, cast iron is the best vessel for baking on the grill. Quick breads, biscuits, pizza, and simple cakes bake best in cast iron skillets, as they have a relatively short baking time. Use a Dutch oven to bake heartier bread, like no-knead, and be sure to preheat the Dutch oven before baking in it.

Pro tip: Add an oven thermometer inside the lid of your gas grill to get a gauge on temperatures for baking. A simple surface thermometer can be used to estimate the temperature of cast iron pans on your charcoal grill.

2. A cast iron pan on the grill keeps smaller foods tidy.

Want to blister a bunch of shishito peppers on the grill or roast cherry tomatoes? A cast iron pan on the grill is your best friend. Convection allows the smoky aromas of the grill to still flavor these small specimens without employing a grill basket or worrying about losing food between the grates.

3. Cast iron on the grill gives an excellent sear.

If you want a really juicy burger or steak, and don’t want to worry about flame flareups, then throw your favorite cast iron skillet onto the grill and use it to sear the steaks or burgers. All the juicy fat will collect in the pan AND you’ll still get that distinct grill flavor.

Pro tip: Don’t leave an empty pan on the grill too long or you can ruin the pan’s seasoning.

4. You can put your cast iron right into the charcoal.

There are three primary reasons to set your pan onto the roaring coals. First is to bring a Dutch oven of water to a boil for making potatoes or cooking crab beach-side. (You can easily make soup this way too.) The second is to create a bi-level cooking setup. This is ideal for those times when you want to sear a large piece of meat, like a pork shoulder, but also cook something smaller, like bacon or corn on the grates. Which leaves the third reason …

5. Cast iron pans turn your grill into a smoker.

The final reason to stick a skillet right on the coals is to turn your cast iron skillet into a smoker! Put soaked wood chips into a cast iron skillet and place them right on the charcoal. The cast iron will slowly burn the wood, making your grill an inexpensive and effective smoker.