5 Ways to Hack Your Cast-Iron Skillet

Sure, Cook It in Cast Iron will show you dozens of ways to use your cast-iron skillet in recipes both traditional and surprising, but this irreplaceable tool also has other unusual uses in the kitchen that you’ve probably never thought of before. Here are just a few tips for jobs your cast-iron skillet can help with in the kitchen besides straightforward cooking (plus some unexpected ways to keep it in top-notch shape).

1. Cast Iron Double-Team

Here’s a trick for panini without a griddle, panini press, or Dutch oven:

1. Set a large, seasoned, oiled cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; place your assembled ­sandwiches in the middle.

Panini on Cast Iron

2. Place a smaller cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich to press. Cook until the bottom of the sandwich is golden brown, then flip and repeat the process on the other side.

Cast Iron for Paninis

2. Thawing in a Hurry

Your cast-iron skillet can help you even before you start cooking. Place thin, frozen cuts of meat in the skillet at room temperature and let them sit for an hour. The rapid transfer of ambient heat from the metal to the food will quickly, safely thaw the meat.

3. Skillet Stove Helper

Tired of burning butter that you’re trying to melt or scorching mashed potatoes while keeping them warm on the stovetop? Let your cast-iron skillet help you out.

Keep Food Warm with Cast Iron

It makes a great flame tamer to keep things over gentle heat for a long time; simply place the skillet over a low flame, then place your pot or saucepan right in the skillet. The skillet will ­moderate the heat.

4. Creative Cast Iron Cleaning

Clean cast iron with kosher salt and warm oil

We have our favorite recommended techniques for cleaning and scrubbing your cast-iron skillet (like with kosher salt and warm oil, as shown above), but over time we’ve also come up with some alternative methods that double as creative ways to recycle common items from your kitchen. Here are two tricks for scrubbing your pans when the built-up, burnt-on food gets too bad for a simple rinse and wipe. After using either of these, be sure to follow the procedures for cleaning, drying, and oiling your pan.

Plastic Mesh Bag

Clean cast iron with a mesh bag

Let the dirty pan cool, then use a plastic mesh produce bag (the kind that holds lemons or onions) to wipe the pan clean. The mesh bag doesn’t damage the seasoning the way steel wool would, and you don’t have to ruin a scrubber with grease.

Aluminum Foil

Clean cast iron with aluminum foil

A wad of heavy-duty aluminum foil also makes a great cast-iron skillet cleaner. After using paper towels to wipe any excess grease from a cooled pan, simply use the foil to scrub off stuck-on food or dirt.

5. In-a-Pinch Pie Plate

If you find yourself short a pie plate, a seasoned cast-iron skillet can be the perfect alternative for just about any pie. Just make sure your skillet is 9 or 10 inches in diameter to keep the recipe volume and baking times consistent.