[dropcap]A[/dropcap] good cast iron skillet is one of the best tools you can have for your kitchen. It is also great for cooking over a campfire. Cast iron is durable, inexpensive, and easy to use. It evenly distributes heat and holds that heat for long periods of time. This means that you can avoid the hotspots you normally get cooking with a campfire. Your food will also stay warm long after you remove it from the heat.
One of the best features of cast iron is that you can move it straight from the stove to the oven. Also, a well-seasoned pan that is kept dry does not have to be washed after every use. Tiny particles of oil seal the pan and preserve its condition. Because of this, you can cook with less oil and still retain a naturally non-stick surface. In this article I will cover several of my favorite cast iron recipes and will focus on dishes that are easy to cook indoors or while camping out.
The Best Steak You Have Ever Eaten
This is not an exaggeration. Long before I ever bought my first piece of cast iron, I considered myself to be a grill master. I was convinced that I had eaten and cooked the best steaks imaginable. I was wrong. The reason you hardly ever see this steak recipe in restaurants is that it is rather time consuming and almost impossible to cook to order, but it is worth it.
One of the biggest reasons why I love this steak is that you can get a perfect medium-rare all the way through the cut of meat. In other recipes the steak will be red in the center and medium-well on the outside. Another factor that makes this steak wonderful is the salty dry sear on the outside. It makes for the most flavorful steak I have ever had. It renders the fat down to the point it is delicate and flavorful instead of chewy and dull. Finally, you rest your steak in the middle of the process instead of at the end. This causes it to remain juicy but still smoking hot when you take that first bite.
Any thick premium cut of beef. I prefer porterhouse.
A Cast Iron Skillet
(yes, this is the end of the list)
Bake your steak. In an oven you want to set your oven to 275 degrees F and cook your steak to an internal temperature of 125 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and use a cooking rack to raise it off of the baking sheet. Heavily season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper and pop it in the oven. If you are doing this over a fire, suspend your steak several feet above the flames. To check your temperature, hold your hand over the flames at cooking height palm side down. You should be able to hold it there for four to five seconds before pulling it away. This ensures that the steak will cook evenly. The cooking time for this step will vary based on the thickness of the steak. A ¾” thick steak will normally take about 20 to 30 minutes. If your steak is thicker, check it every 10 minutes or so. It should still have a red appearance but should be just starting to turn grey. It should also be developing a thin dry layer on the outside.
Rest your steak. Remove your steak from the heat. If you have foil you can wrap it and throw a towel over top. Otherwise, just removing it from the heat is fine. This redistributes the fluids throughout the cut. Rest for about 20 minutes.
Sear your steak. I like to add a little more salt before this step. Put your cast iron pan directly on the fire or stove burner. Let it get smoking hot before placing the steak in the pan, about 10 minutes. Put the steak in your pan and make sure that you get as much surface contact as possible. This creates your crust. It should only take one to two minutes per side to get a dark sear. If there is some smoke, do not worry about it. This is just part of having a very hot cast iron pan.
Your steak is ready to eat the moment you take it off the heat. There is no need to rest it again, and there should be no need for additional seasoning.
Cast Iron Cornbread
There is nothing quite as satisfying as warm cornbread slathered in butter. I have fond memories of the cornbread my grandmother cooked with almost every supper we ate. Most people think of using a cast iron skillet for meat or vegetables, but not for baking. Still to this day many people bake with their cast iron.
1 Tbsp bacon drippings or butter
2 cups cornmeal OR 1 1/2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
6 Tbsp butter, melted
Preheat your pan. Add your Tbsp. of bacon drippings or butter to the pan and place it in a 400 degree oven. If cooking over a fire, test the heat at cooking height. The ideal height would cause you to retract your hand after about two to three seconds. Adding a lid will make your cornbread cook more evenly.
Make the batter. Stir together all of your dry ingredients. Then add your egg, buttermilk, and melted butter. Stir together until smooth, although a few lump does not hurt anything.
Bake. Pour your batter into your preheated skillet. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Check your finished product by inserting a toothpick or knife in the center. When it comes out clean and the edges near the pan are starting to turn brown, it should be done.
Let it cool and serve. Let your cornbread rest for 10 to 30 minutes before cutting. Slice into wedges and serve.
This cornbread should be fluffy and slightly sweet. It is a filling addition to any meal.
Cast Iron Oven Baked Beans
Beans are one food that have always been near and dear to my heart. Few foods are quite so perfect at balancing a rich flavor with protein and carbohydrates for energy. There are so many different ways to turn a pot or pan of beans into something magical. In soups, chili, stew, baked beans, ham and beans, and red beans and rice, they have been a staple for my entire culinary life. If I was told I had to bug out today and I could only take one food item, it would be a bag of dried beans without a doubt.
This recipe is just one way to take your favorite variety of bean and turn it into a sweet, smoky, and rich dish which you can eat as a side dish or as your main course. You can literally use this recipe with any type of bean you like.
2 pounds dry beans, soaked overnight
6 slices thick cut bacon
1 sweet onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup bqq sauce
2 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. If you are cooking over a fire, set your cooking height so you can hold your hand over the fire for three to four seconds before pulling it away. Chop half of the bacon and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered.
Add your chopped onion first and then your garlic and let it cook down. This should take about six minutes.
Add the brown sugar, vinegar, molasses, mustard, paprika salt and pepper. Stir until the sugar dissolves and everything is combined evenly.
Add the beans and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then let it simmer for five minutes. Place the rest of the bacon strips directly on top.
Either add a lid to your pan or cover with foil. Move it to your oven or leave it over your fire. If you have a lid, throwing a few coals on top will help it cook more evenly. Cook for at least two hours and check the flavor and consistency before removing from the heat.
Step 6: Let it cool uncovered for 10 to 30 minutes. Serve by itself, on toast, or with a runny fried egg if you like.
Cast Iron Deep Dish Pizza
I have to admit that typically I am not a deep dish pizza guy. I grew up with crispy thin crust pizza in St. Louis and crunchy strombolis in Pennsylvania. However, the crispy outer crust from a cast iron skillet combined with the fluffy inner crust is pretty incredible. Also, when I think of a cast iron meal I want something hearty and filling. This dish accomplishes all of that.
You will need to start this recipe the night before, but I can assure you that it is worth the extra prep time. You can add whatever toppings you like, but I suggest toppings that will crisp up nicely. A bunch of veggies could water down the crust, so choose carefully.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water, cold
1 tbs. olive oil, for greasing pan
1/3 cup of your favorite pizza sauce
4 oz. mozzarella & provolone mix cheese
Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a bowl. Add the water and mix it into dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it set for at least 12 hours on your counter. It should roughly double in size.
Time to make your crust. Sprinkle a little flour in your bowl and mix until you can roll your dough into a ball. Oil your cast iron pan and place your dough ball in the center. Press the dough down into the pan and out to the edges. Cover the pan and let it rest for at least another hour.
Preheat your oven to the highest setting. If you are cooking over a fire, lower your cooking height to where the flames are just below the pan.
Add your sauce, cheese, and toppings to your dough. Do not layer your toppings much as this pizza will cook very fast. Thick toppings could lead to a layer of raw toppings.
Cook your pizza. If using an oven, start your pizza over a stove top burner on medium-high heat for three minutes. If cooking over a fire, start for three minutes without a lid. Move your pizza to the oven or add the lid. Cook for 12 to 16 minutes. The crust should be golden brown, toppings should be crispy, and all cheese should be melted.
Let it cool. Let pizza set for five to ten minutes before slicing and serving.
This pizza has a very unique texture and is a nice change from anything you can get delivered. With dozens of combinations of toppings, you can make a new recipe each time.
Cast Iron Apple Dutch Baby
For those that have a sweet tooth, this recipe should make you smile. It works perfectly with a cast iron skillet. I also chose this recipe because apples are something I commonly take with me on hiking and camping trips. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does.
3 large eggs, room temperature
¾ cup whole milk, room temperature
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 large Pink Lady apple, peeled, sliced ¼” thick
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. If you are cooking over a fire, set your cooking height to where you can hold your hand over the fire for two seconds.
Mix eggs, milk, flour, vanilla, salt, and ½ tsp. cinnamon in a medium bowl until smooth.
Melt two Tbsp. of butter in your skillet. Add your apples and sprinkle with brown sugar and remaining cinnamon. Cook for about four minutes tossing regularly until the apples are softened. Move them to a plate.
Wipe out your skillet and let it set in the oven or over your fire for 10 minutes. Add your remaining two Tbsp. of butter and coat the bottom of the pan.
Add your apples to the center of your pan and then pour your batter over the top. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes. The outside should be browned and crisp while the center should still be custardy but warm. Serve by itself or add vanilla ice cream or maple syrup.
This recipe is wonderful on a cold snowy day, but we enjoy it year round. I have even made it for a sweet breakfast on occasion.
If you have made the decision to buy cast iron cookware or you have already purchased some, the first thing you need to do is season your pan. Gently scrub it with a mild soap and a soft brush. Never use steel wool or abrasive soaps on cast iron. Rinse and dry thoroughly. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil over the pan. Place it upside down in a 375 degree F oven on the middle rack. Put down foil on the bottom rack to catch any drips. Let it cook for one hour and let it cool inside the closed oven. This whole process should take about four hours. Once it has cooled, your pan is ready for cooking.
Of course there are downsides to cast iron. It is easy to burn yourself, it is heavy, and you have to be cautious that it does not rust. However, for anybody that spends much time cooking from scratch cast iron is a must. It is also great for cooking over a fire, so bringing one on your camping trip is a good idea. You can find cast iron pots, pans, and lids in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and costs. You can also find this cookware in second hand stores if you want to save some cash. If you have never cooked with cast iron, I suggest you borrow a pan and try it out on a few of these recipes. I am confident you will be impressed.