Sure, you can use a cast-iron skillet to cook anything you would typically use a regular skillet for, but regular skillets just can’t compete with what cast-iron varieties are capable of. When it comes to certain tasks—like achieving a perfect sear on quick-cooking scallops or creating a golden-brown crust on a juicy steak—this skillet type reigns supreme. It’s a must-have for making both weeknight dinners, like the Braised Chicken with Potatoes, Olives, and Lemon pictured here, and more special dishes. That’s because it’s a fit for all kinds of cooking methods—you can take it from the stovetop to the oven and then finish it under the broiler before setting it on the table for family-style sharing.
If you just invested in your first cast-iron skillet and are wondering what all the fuss about, the secret to finding lifelong success with it is simple: use it! No, really—the more you use your cast-iron for jobs like sizzling bacon and searing steaks, the more you will build up its seasoning which makes it more and more nonstick as time goes on. If the term “seasoning” in this context is new to you, be sure to check out Martha’s quick explainer on the important subject. It’s a common misconception that cast-iron is finicky and hard to care for. Yes, it does have a different cleaning protocol than other pans, and no, it won’t immediately be as slick as a Teflon-coated pan, but what you get in return is a long-term relationship with a stick-free surface that can handle high heat—even the roaring flames from a campfire if you choose!
Whether you’re breaking in a new skillet or dusting off your family heirloom, the following recipes will help you make the most of your pan.