The First 5 Things to Cook in Your Cast Iron Pan

updated May 29, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

A friend excitedly texted me last week: “I scored a well-loved cast iron skillet at a garage sale! What should I cook first?” These are my favorite messages to answer because I love cast iron cooking and I have strong opinions about where to start if cast iron cooking is new to you.

These five recipes will jump-start your relationship with a new cast iron pan and they are also very reliable recipes for rekindling your love of cast iron too — especially if your pan has been stored too long and is looking a little dry and lonely. Here’s the plan: Cook these five things, in this order, and watch your cast iron glisten and gleam before your eyes along the way.

Our Favorite Cast Iron Skillet

Not lucky enough to find one at a garage sale? You can buy our favorite one online!

Fried eggs are the cheap, fast, and easy way to learn how your pan works on your particular stove. Yes, fried eggs are the litmus test for a new pan! There are two things that will guarantee success. First, preheat the pan without any fat or oil. How long should you preheat for? A minimum of five minutes. Then, and only then, can you add oil or butter, followed swiftly by the eggs.

Give the eggs plenty of time to set before you try to move or flip them. Reduce the heat to cook the white and yolk without burning the underside. It’ll probably take three to four eggs before you really nail the timing for your pan, stove, and egg preference.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

When you’re feeling confident with eggs, it’s time to move onto something meaty like pork chops or steak. These two really show off the cast iron skillet’s stove-to-oven skills and force you to get a good grip on cleaning it. Another important moment when making pork chops in your pan: deglazing!

After cooking the meat, pour some broth or wine into the pan to make a pan sauce. With cast iron you don’t have to worry that deglazing will hurt the pan. Plus, making a pan sauce with this technique will make cleaning easier.

(Image credit: Maria Midoes)

If you’ve got the ambition, frying chicken or doughnuts will make your pan silky-smooth and make you feel like a kitchen hero. For the rest of us mere mortals, pork or chicken schnitzel is the next big step in caring for our cast iron skillet through cooking. If cleaning up after the the saucy pork chops you cooked with your cast iron left your pan parched, schnitzel calls for enough cooking oil to season the pan. You’ll get dinner out of the deal too!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Your pan isn’t ready for scrambled eggs yet, but a frittata — that is, a baked omelet that starts with some sautéing on the stovetop before finishing in the oven — is just right. You’ve worked up a bit of seasoning by frying the schnitzel, so you’ll get a nice crust without sticking and you’ll get a good baseline for how other egg dishes are going to cook in your pan.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Your reward for all these cast iron cooking exercises should be something fun. Buffalo chicken dip is one of those recipes that impresses guests and makes a case for cast iron as servingware — the pan keeps the dip warm! This gooey chocolate chunk skillet cookie is another recipe that will make you feel like you’re getting the hang of your cast iron pan!

Cleaning Your Cast Iron Skillet

You’ll also need to know how to take care of your cast iron skillet. Most importantly, you’ll need a good brush.