A cast iron skillet may not be the only pan you need in your kitchen, but I will make a case for a 12″ cast iron skillet being the most useful piece of cookware you can own.
Once you get past the shared stereotype that a cast iron skillet is just for cooking over a campfire, you realize what an amazingly versatile tool it is.
The obvious use of a cast fry pan is for frying stuff. A cast iron frying pan does an excellent job of preparing steaks, pork chops, fried chicken, and anything else that you would use a stainless steel or aluminum skillet for. Properly seasoned, a cast iron frying pan can also cook eggs and other sticky dishes that you might think you need a non-stick pan for.
This brings up the point that cooking with non-stick pans may have health risks, and your non-stick cookware will require replacing every few years. By comparison, a cast iron skillet does not introduce toxic chemicals into your food and can last many generations.
A cast iron skillet has many other uses besides frying if you exercise some culinary creativity.
You can bake with it in the oven, or in a BBQ. (I’ve made pie in a BBQ. It was entertaining and turned out amazing.)
Here are the sizes of some shared baking dishes:
* 9″ round pie plate – 63 sq. inches
* 8 x 8 cake pan – 64 sq. inches
* 9 x 13 cake pan – 117 sq. inches
Lodge 12″ cast iron skillet – 113 sq. inches
You can see, a 12″ skillet can be substituted for a 9×13 cake pan, two 8×8 cake pans or two 9″ round pie plates. This method, pies, cakes, and baked casseroles can be made in your skillet.
A cast iron skillet can also be used for most things that you would use a baking stone for. The main purpose of a baking stone is to already out the hotspots and temperature fluctuations in your oven. A cast iron skillet has similar enough thermal retention and thermal mass that you can substitute it for a baking stone in many recipes. In other words, pizza, cookies, and bread can all be cooked in a cast iron skillet.
Because of its excellent heat retention, a cast iron skillet is a good choice for thorough frying. You can make fish and chips, latkes, donuts, corn dogs, and more in your skillet.
A large skillet makes a great roasting pan. Chicken, ham, and chief rib all come out great.
A cast iron skillet can also be used for soups and stews. A Lodge 12″ Skillet has a capacity of 3.9 quarts so it can do pretty much anything you would use a 4 qt. pot for. For example, my wife makes french onion soup in ours. She caramelizes the onions on the stove top, adds the rest of the elements to make the soup and simmers it, then puts bread and cheese on top and puts the whole thing in the oven to finish.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Baked mac and cheese, pancakes, omelets, calamari, pannini’s, pies, cobblers, bread, pizza, steaks, cookies, cornbread, soups, stews, biscuits, roasts, stir-fry’s, hamburgers and more, all from the same pan!
Some people may consider a 12″ skillet to be too large to be their main cook pot. Rarely is “too large” a problem. There are few situations where a pot that is small can perform a task better than one that is large. However a pot that is too small for the dish you are preparing is completely useless. There is very little you can do with an 8″ or 10″ skillet that you can’t do with a 12″, but there are plenty of dishes you can prepare in a 12″ fry pan that won’t fit into an 8″ or 10″.
I have nothing against smaller skillets, but after much experimentation have decided that if I could have only one it would have to be a 12″.
Cast iron cookware is inexpensive, environmentally friendly, incredibly versatile, and lasts almost forever. Most importantly, it makes great food.
Whether you are heading out on your own for the first time or are an experienced cook looking to rediscover a better way of cooking, get yourself a cast iron skillet and discover for yourself why it may be the only pan you really need.