Caring for your cast iron + { Recipe } Skillet Cornbread

I've had this cast iron pan for more than twenty years. It has survived many a roommate unfamiliar with caring for cast iron. This pan is so resilient! And it just keeps getting better.

Cast Iron Dreaming
My favorite and most often used tool in the kitchen is my 10-inch cast-iron skillet. I use it daily for virtually everything from sautéing veggies to making omelets or searing meat and cooking crispy bacon and baking (including today's recipe for skillet cornbread). It's also my oldest pan, having received it as part of a care package when I went away to college.  It conducts heat evenly, and with 37 years of proper care and use, it's developed a nearly nonstick cooking surface.

Besides my 10-inch skillet and my three different size cast-iron Dutch ovens (two are enameled, one isn't), I own five additional cast-iron pans, each used regularly for specific things:
  • My 10.5-inch round griddle pan lives on my stovetop primarily for cooking and reheating tortillas. But I also use it for grilled cheese, making sopes (¼-inch to ½-inch thick savory Mexican corn "cakes" made from corn tortilla masa and usually topped with beans and meat), quesadillas, or making pancakes and French toast.
  • I use an 8-inch skillet to make scrambled eggs, tortilla española, frittatas and chilaquiles for two.
  • I use a 6-inch skillet to dry toast nuts and seeds when I make mole; I also use it for baking big single-serve sweet treats like brownies, cobblers and oversized chocolate chip cookies.
  • I have a heavy beast in my 12-inch skillet. I use it several times a month for frying tacos or searing multiple pieces of meat (it's the best for making super crispy-skinned chicken thighs like my Skillet Crispy Chicken Thighs with Garbanzos and Harissa). I also use it for roasting whole chickens.
  • I have a square grill pan for when it's too chilly to grill outdoors or for when I just want a couple of quick no-fuss grilled chicken breasts.

Seasoning a new cast iron pan
Except for my grill pan, all my cast-iron pans are from Lodge. I bought the 8-inch skillet and the griddle before the company released their pre-seasoned line of products in 2002. If you buy one that needs seasoning (I actually follow these steps even when I have purchased a pre-seasoned pan to better ensure a good finish), it's an easy process, but it will take you an entire weekend for the best results. 

You can also use this method to re-season a pan that's sticking or rusted. If it's just sticking, scrub it with soap and a steel wool pad until you've removed all or most of the black seasoning, being sure to rinse the soap off thoroughly. Then heat it on the stove to remove all the moisture before immediately beginning this seasoning process to follow. 

If you're starting with a rusted pan, soak it in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water for one hour. Rinse well and immediately sprinkle generously with baking soda, neutralizing the vinegar. Use a metal scouring pad and scrub, scrub, scrub every inch of the pan, rinsing as needed, until you've removed all the rust. Give it a final rinse, a quick towel down and heat on the stove until all the moisture has evaporated (it won't look pretty; just immediately start the seasoning process). 

To get a beautiful, glossy, seasoned finish, you'll be oiling down your skillet, heating it, cooling it and repeating the process several times. You're going to need pure unrefined cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil (the kind that has to be refrigerated; I buy it at Sprouts) for the first five rounds. To finish, I like to use lard for the two last rounds (use flaxseed oil for all seven rounds if you're opposed to using animal fat). 

Here's the process:
  • Place two racks in the oven. Place a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil in the center of the bottom rack.
  • Squirt two generous teaspoons of flaxseed oil into the pan. Use a paper towel to spread it over the entire inner and outer surface, massaging it into the metal. Take a second, clean paper towel and buff the pan, removing excess oil, so just a thin layer is left behind.
  • Place the pan in the oven upside down on the top rack centered over the cookie sheet. Turn the oven on and set the temperature to 450 to 500 degrees depending on how high your oven goes (do not place the pan into an already hot oven; the pan should heat up with the oven).
  • Bake the pan for one hour. Turn off the oven and leave the pan in the oven to cool for two hours.
  • Remove pan from the oven and buff with a paper towel–this is where most people will tell you your pan is ready to use, and they'd be half right; you could stop here. However, my experience tells me this is nowhere near enough seasoning. I like the surface to be super smooth and glossy. So I repeat this process four more times using the flaxseed oil. 
  •  After the fifth round of flaxseed oil, use a paper towel to apply a thin layer of lard to the entire pan and repeat the heating and cooling down steps above. Do two rounds of this, buffing the pan between rounds and after the last cool down.

Your pan is now perfectly seasoned and ready to use. I like to do one round of this every month for maintenance, but that's optional.

Using cast iron
The first several times you use your seasoned pan, try using it for higher fat content food, such as frying bacon or chicken, as it will help promote good seasoning.

The best way to use your pan is to begin by wiping some cooking oil on the cooking surface of a cold pan with a paper towel. Then add your desired amount of cooking oil, place on low heat for the first couple of minutes. Slowly turn the heat up to medium (cast-iron conducts heat very well; there is rarely a need to ever go above medium-high heat when using as you're more likely to just burn food). The best practice is to allow the pan to come up to temp slowly. Once your pan reaches the desired temp, you're ready to start cooking. Remember, cast iron gets very hot. Never touch the handle without a proper potholder or handle cozy.

Caring for cast iron
A beautiful, well-cared-for cast iron pan will become even more seasoned with regular use – smoother, blacker. And as it becomes more seasoned, it will become naturally nonstick. But it won't become this way if you make the biggest mistake so many cast iron novice users make in caring for it: washing your cast iron with soap or using an abrasive sponge to scrub off burnt-on food. Doing either of these will remove the seasoning (and any nonstick properties you've built up) from the pan, forcing you to start the seasoning process all over. At this point, most cast-iron haters give up and move on to other types of cookware.

To help ensure a good return on your investment, here are my tips for clean up:
  • Limit the amount of time you leave food, especially acidic foods, in the pan (I often cook tomato-based foods in my cast-iron). As soon as the dish is ready, I immediately transfer it to a serving dish and proceed with cleaning my skillet, not allowing the acidic food residue to sit in my pan longer than it takes to cook the food. 
  • After cooking and removing all food from the pan, if your pan has a good nonstick finish, all you probably need is to immediately wipe the pan's interior with a wadded-up wet paper towel. Be careful not to burn yourself in the process, as the pan will still be hot (to protect your fingers, use tongs). Then turn the heat on to medium-high and let the pan heat just long enough to burn off any moisture. Turn off the heat. Add about ½ teaspoon of flaxseed oil and use a paper towel to rub it over the cooking surface, lip and handle, then buff it out with a clean paper towel. This step will provide a "shield" from moisture in the air which can promote rust while in storage. 90% of the time, this is all you have to do.
  • Most of the time, however, after I transfer the food to a serving dish, I use a pot holder or handle cozy to take the hot pan to the sink. I rest it in the sink, holding it at a 45-degree angle. I run hot water in the pan (careful of the steam) while lightly scrubbing the pan with a plastic bristled brush. Once the food has rinsed off, the pan goes back onto the stove and I follow the steps above to provide the protective shield. 
  • If, after wiping down the pan with the wadded-up wet paper towel or using the bristled brush, you have a little food still stuck to the pan, allow the pan to cool down for about 15 minutes or so. Pour a tablespoon of kosher salt (or coarse sea salt) into the pan and use a wadded-up, slightly dampened paper towel to "scrub" the pan in a circular motion using the salt as the abrasive. When everything has been removed, toss the salt, wipe the pan down with a fresh wet paper towel and proceed with the second half of the instructions above.
  • If your pan is a little crustier and the salt step is not enough, you can add some warm water to cover the bottom of the pan, bring it to a boil, then, using a wooden spoon, carefully loosen up the burnt-on food. As soon as it's loosened, though, stop and carefully dump out the hot water, then proceed with the instructions above to burn off moisture and provide a rust shield.
Cast iron cookware does take a little TLC, especially initially, but I believe the payoff is well worth it. And with a bit of care, they'll become treasured family heirlooms for generations.


Skillet Cornbread is quick, easy and tasty
I first saw the recipe for Skillet Cornbread over at Pioneer Woman. It was love at first read. I've made some tweak's to Ree's recipe because I love to bite into real corn kernels in my cornbread.

Ready? Let's get baking.

Add cornmeal and all-purpose flour to a large mixing bowl.

Add one teaspoon salt.

Add 1 tablespoon baking powder.

Use a fork to stir. See those lumps? Lumps bad. Use the fork to break 'em up until…

those lumpy bumpies are all gone and the dry ingredients are nicely combined.

Next up, dairy goodness: milk (I happen to drink nonfat but you can use whole or lowfat), buttermilk and one large egg.

Add the milk, buttermilk and egg to a bowl.

Whisk it baby, whisk!

Add 1 level teaspoon of baking soda to the milk mixture and whisk again.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour bowl.

Add 1 cup of frozen whole kernel corn and stir to combine.

Stir in melted butter.

Slowly warm up your 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Add pancetta (two or three strips of bacon chopped up can sub for the pancetta) to the pan and render out the fat. Once rendered, remove the pancetta bits. If they aren't too terribly burnt, save 'em to add to your scrambled eggs the next morning. Trust me. Yum.


Add butter or shortening to the pan and melt. 


Carefully add batter. Level the surface with a spoon. Cook on the stovetop for 1 minute then transfer to a preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Oh! Yeah! Baby! Bring on the BBQ!


Skillet Cornbread
Southern-style cornbread has no sugar but if you want a hint of sweetness, add a teaspoon or two of granulated sugar to the wet ingredients.

Makes 6 servings

1¼ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup milk
1 egg
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup whole kernel frozen corn
4 tablespoons butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided use
3 tablespoons pancetta, for rendering

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. Whisk well, ensuring there are no baking powder lumps. 

In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, milk and egg, stirring together with a fork. Add the baking soda and stir. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently stir in the corn. Melt 4 tablespoons butter, then slowly add it to the batter, stirring until just combined.

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, cook the pancetta over medium-low to render out the fat. Remove the pancetta bits (save for another use). Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until melted. Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet, spreading with a spatula to even out. Cook on stovetop for 1 minute, then transfer to the oven and bake for 18 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean with just a few tender crumbs.

I hope you enjoy the cornbread!

Until next time, 

(Updated February 2022)


  1. I *adore* Friday Night Lights and despite the football (which I've grown to enjoy esp. in small bursts), it's a great drama centered around Coach Taylor and his family.

    Check out Hulu Plus. I believe you can view the final season with a small fee. Commercials may still be included.

  2. This is one of the most beautiful recipes I've seen. Great job with the pictures! I was craving cornbread so I found this on Taste Spotting and whipped it up (it cooks so fast!). Best cornbread I've ever had and it got me to use my mom's old iron pan (learned somethings about that as well)! Topped it with some more Straus butter and raw honey. Soooo good. Thanks!

  3. @Darlene : I see a subscription to hulu+ in my near future. :)

    @Ryan: Welcome to 'Confessions'!! I'm so glad you found me and that your cornbread baking was a success. I love hearing that! And great to know my submissions to Tastespotting are helpful to folks. :)


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