A Southern Kitchen Staple

What is Southern Cooking without a cast iron skillet?

Along with many others in the Charlotte area, moving to the Queen city brought me below the Mason Dixon. And with the change in geography, my palate followed suit — fried pickles, okra and biscuits. Yes, please!

Now that Charlotte feels like home, I want Southern culinary staples to take their rightful place in my cooking repertoire. First things first, I’ve learned from some home-grown Charlotteans, is to add a well seasoned cast iron skillet to my cookware. It is the essential ingredient in many Dixieland delights.

How to season a cast iron skillet:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. Evenly coat the inside and outside of your cast iron skillet with melted Crisco or bacon grease
  3. Line the bottom rack of your oven with foil to catch any drippings
  4. Cook the cast iron skillet, upside down, for 1 hour

Note: Seasoning can be repeated as needed and as often as you like.

Seasoned Cast Iron Skillets -- Before and After

A few helpful tips to make this versatile cookware last a lifetime:

  1. Rinse skillet with hot water immediately after each use
  2. Do not use soap to wash your skillet as it will remove the seasoning and flavor
  3. To remove stubborn food, you can scrub with a non-metal brush or sprinkle salt on it and rub clean

An ideal starting point for Southern food exploration using your seasoned skillet is cornbread. While both Northern and Southern cuisines feature cornbread (a hotly debated regional topic, I’ve found!), there are some distinct characteristics to the Southern variety:

  1. A high ratio of cornmeal to flour
  2. Small or no sugar added
  3. It’s baked in a cast iron skillet rather than a square pan
  4. Slices are pie shaped, never square

Here’s the cornbread recipe, with a unique twist, that I love to use with my seasoned Southern iron skillet:

Ingredients

  • 4 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal, white or yellow
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the bacon into a cold 10-inch cast iron pan and cook over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon bits are crisp. Do not let it burn. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined plate. Keep the bacon fat in the pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy; whisk in the milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Fold in the bacon bits, and chives. Pour the batter into the cast iron pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes.

{Recipe via Tyler Florence}

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4 Comments

Filed under Food

4 responses to “A Southern Kitchen Staple

  1. Laura

    The cornbread sounds great! Also, I am embarassed to say that even though I was born and raised in the South, I had no idea you “seasoned” an iron skillet! Can’t wait for more tips!

  2. I just got a brand new cast iron skillet but I was wondering how to season it! Thanks for the information! And Welcome to the South 🙂

  3. This is exactly how to do it! Excellent reporting!

  4. Sandra Riddle

    This is not “Southern” cornbread as I grew up eating it. We never ever add flour. We use “White Lily” cornmeal, buttermilk , and corn oil or some other veg. oil, certainly not bacon fat…(though it probably tastes good). Cast Iron pan is an absolutely necessary for good cooks everywhere!

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