If you’re familiar with chef Kent Rollins, then you may have heard the term “cowboy cooking” before. But what is cowboy cooking? Learn about chuck wagon cooking and how to care for a cast iron skillet in this easy and fun guide on cowboy cooking and cast iron care!
What is cowboy cooking?
Cowboy cooking is about hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food, usually made in a cast iron skillet over a wood burning stove or an open fire. Campfire dinner recipes using beef, beans, and potatoes are popular “cowboy food”, and are perfect for skillet cooking. You can even make cast iron desserts!
The best part about cast iron skillet recipes is that you can make them from the comfort of your kitchen and still enjoy the robust flavors of cowboy cooking just as if you were cooking outdoors. If you know how to care for a cast iron skillet, you won’t want to cook with any other kind of pan!
How to Care for Cast Iron
Cast iron skillet recipes are popular, and for good reason. Cooking in a cast iron pan offers durability and excellent heat retention and distribution. They heat up slowly, distribute heat evenly, and offer superior heat retention to other pans, and if you take care of your cast iron skillet, it will last for generations.
So, what does that mean? It means you’ll get a better sear on your meat and it will cook more evenly. Additionally, cast iron cooking is perfect for frying vegetables and even baking, as in this Gluten Free Au Gratin Potatoes recipe.
To keep your cast iron skillet in good shape, we recommend following a few simple rules:
- Season your cast iron skillet properly. In the case of cast iron, “seasoning” just means creating a non-stick surface for cast iron through the use of oil or fat. Many people simply cook with their pan frequently enough for it to become seasoned, or buy their pans pre-seasoned, but you can also intentionally season your pan easily. If you don’t know how to season a cast iron skillet, it’s simple! Keep scrolling for more knowledge on seasoning cast iron.
- Do not boil water in your cast iron skillet. The boiling water will deteriorate the seasoning on the pan, ruining your hard work. It’s best not to boil beans, pasta, or anything else in your cast iron skillet.
- Clean your cast iron skillet properly. Cast iron skills should not be cleaned the same way you clean your average pan, or you risk it rusting or deteriorating your pan’s seasoning. If you’re not sure how to clean a cast iron skillet, don’t worry, it’s easy. Use a stiff kitchen brush or pot scrubber and running water to clean your cast iron skillet—do not use soap. For tough stains on the pan, try scrubbing with kosher salt.
- Store your cast iron pans in a dry location. Moisture and cast iron pans do not go well together, as too much moisture will cause your pan to rust over time. If you have no choice but to store your cast iron skillet in an area with high humidity, try storing it with a little dry rice on the bottom to absorb moisture. If your cast iron skillet does rust over time or if you want to restore an older skillet, try this guide from Sustainable Cooks on removing rust from cast iron.
How to Season Cast Iron
To season a cast iron skillet, follow these simple steps:
- Clean your cast iron pan (remember not to use soap) and preheat your oven to about 200°F. Allow your freshly clean pan to heat on the stove for 10-15 minutes to get rid of any remaining moisture.
- Add oil to your skillet. You can use any vegetable or olive oil, whatever is most accessible to you. Some sources will swear by specific oils, but you can season your pan with whatever olive or vegetable oil works best for you. Not much oil is needed to season a cast iron skillet; you want a thin layer, so start with about 1 tsp. to be safe.
- Using a clean paper towel, rub the oil around the inside surface of the pan. Then take a second clean paper towel and wipe up whatever is left. Make sure there isn’t oil pooling anywhere.
- Place your oiled cast iron skillet in the preheated oven upside down and on the middle rack. Once 10 minutes have passed, take the pan out and place it on the stove. Carefully wipe away any excess oil—but remember to be careful, as the pan should be quite hot at this point.
- Increase the heat of the oven to 400°F. Let it heat up, then return the pan to the oven and leave it for an hour, making sure not to disturb the oven by opening the door.
Cowboy Cooking and Cast Iron Skillet Recipes
You can cook all kinds of incredible recipes using a cast iron skillet, from savory breakfasts to sweet desserts and everything in-between. We’ve collected a few of our favorite cast iron skillet recipes for you to enjoy, including a little bit of everything!
Breakfast Skillet Recipes
You can make breakfast easily in a cast iron skillet! Anything from chilaquiles (a Mexican breakfast skillet using tortillas) to fluffy Dutch baby pancakes can be cooked in cast iron. Try these great breakfast ideas:
- Chilaquiles Rojos
- Dutch Baby Pancake with Berries and Cream
- Baked Eggs with Potatoes and Kale by Umami Girl
- Summer Vegetable Hash by Yummy Mummy Kitchen
- Spring Onion Dutch Baby with Herbs and Goat Cheese by Rhubarbarians
- Keto Chorizo Frittata by Love In My Oven
- Crispy Hash and Eggs Breakfast Skillet by The Cozy Cook
- Skillet Toad in the Hole by Krumpli
- Sun-dried Tomato Goat Cheese Frittata by A Cedar Spoon
Skillet Dinner Recipes
Our favorite cast iron skillet dinners are dishes like skillet lasagna, fajitas, and crispy chicken thigh recipes! Here are some of our favorite cast iron skillet dinner recipes:
- Ground Beef Stroganoff Skillet Recipe
- Cast Iron Skillet Lasagna
- Easy Cast Iron Pan Pizzas with Perfect Crust by 4 Sons R Us
- Skillet Chicken Fajitas by Saving Dessert
- Steak Fajitas by Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen
- Skillet Shrimp Fajitas by Spend With Pennies
- Easy Cajun Blackened Fish Recipe by Our Happy Mess
- Pan Seared Steak with Bercy Butter Sauce by A Communal Table
- Honey Lime Garlic Chicken by Carmyy
- Chicken Au Champagne by Cooking With Curls
- Chinese Style Beer Braised Pork Belly by Pups with Chopsticks
- Baked Turmeric Cast Iron Chicken Thighs Recipe by Mom Foodie
- Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crumble Topping by Kristine’s Kitchen Blog
- Cast Iron Skillet Cajun Chicken Thighs by The Hungry Bluebird
Skillet Side Dishes
You can make delicious, easy side dishes in your cast iron skillet, like classic skillet cornbread or even old fashioned macaroni and cheese! These recipes make especially good side dishes for BBQ:
- Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots (Gluten Free)
- Mexican Cornbread by Pinch and Swirl
- Skillet Cornbread by Little Sweet Baker
- Old Fashioned Skillet Macaroni and Cheese by The Organic Kitchen
- Naan Bread by Salt and Baker
- Hot Cheesy Corn Dip by I Heart Naptime
- Skillet Sausage Pesto Pizza Dip by Plating Pixels
From cast iron brownies to skillet s’mores dip and even banana bread, you can even make dessert in a cast iron skillet, and it’s delicious! Here are some of our favorite cast iron desserts:
- Mascarpone Mixed Berry Cake by Wild Wild Whisk
- Cast Iron Brownies by Practical Self Reliance
- Blueberry Bread Pudding by Girl Heart Food
- Grilled Triple Berry Crisp in a Cast Iron Skillet by Savor with Jennifer
- Strawberry Rhubarb Skillet Cobbler with Cardamom by Platings and Pairings
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Skillet Cake by Upstate Ramblings
- Chocolate S’mores Dip Recipe by Lemon Peony
- Cranberry Cake by Sugar and Soul
- Dark Chocolate Banana Bread Recipe by Cooking on the Ranch
What’s your favorite cast iron skillet recipe?
Let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you. And while you’re at it, why not give these other recipe round ups a try?
And if you like simple cooking, grilling and BBQ as much as we do, we know you’ll love these recipes:
- Bison Burger Recipe
- Mushroom Swiss Burger
- Poached Egg Burger
- Loaded Burger with Asparagus and Parmesan
- The Easiest Slow Cooker Brisket Recipe
- Slow Cooker Short Ribs
- Slow Cooker Pork Ribs with Bourbon BBQ Sauce
This post was updated on June 11, 2019 and is based on the original post by Renee’s Kitchen Adventures from June 22, 2017.