100 Techniques

Technique #67: Use Cast Iron for Burnished Baked Crusts

A perfect golden crust makes baked dishes that much better. Learn to make one every time.

Published Aug. 26, 2023.

This is Technique #67 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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When we’re after evenly and deeply browned crusts, practically nothing beats a cast-iron skillet. It’s our go-to cooking tool for perfectly seared steaks, but it also can be used for achieving great crusts on foods other than meat. For instance, it happens to be fantastic for creating crisp, golden-brown crusts on baked goods.

Why Makes Cast Iron So Good?

There are two reasons why cast iron burnishes baked goods (and other foods) without burning or sticking. The first is the slick patina it develops, called seasoning, which gives it a naturally nonstick quality much like that of a baking pan. You used to have to put in some effort to create that seasoning, but nowadays most cast-iron pans are sold preseasoned. So all you have to do is maintain that seasoning. How? As you use your cast-iron pan over time, that slick patina, which releases food easily, builds up and reinforces itself. 

How to Maintain Seasoning

You can help maintain this seasoning by setting your washed and dried skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, then using paper towels to rub the interior with a small amount of vegetable oil before letting it cool and storing it. A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet can become just as nonstick as any nonstick metal baking pan and will definitely outlast them. (In fact, a cast-iron pan is one of the few pieces of kitchen gear you can buy that noticeably improves after years of heavy use.)

Heat Retention Is a Must

The second reason why cast iron works so well for making burnished baked goods is that it retains heat extremely well, which ensures even baking and uniform browning. We often grease the skillet with oil (which has a higher smoke point than butter and thus can get hotter without burning) and preheat it when using it for baking. 

Although preheating a baking dish is an atypical step for traditional baked goods recipes, once a cast-iron pan has been properly preheated in a very hot oven, it will stay hot better than traditional baking dishes—when you add the batter it sizzles, a sign of the immediate jump-start on crisping up. This makes it great not only for Dutch babies and cornbread, as we show you here, but also for pizza, focaccia, biscuits, or even a giant skillet cookie.

The Science of Seasoning

Seasoning is simply a layer of fat that builds up in a pan to create a nonstick surface. Applying oil to the surface of the skillet and heating that oil causes the fat molecules to break down and reorganize into a new layer of molecules that adhere to the pan, over time creating a durable coating that acts like an all-natural Teflon.

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Step by Step: How To Use Cast Iron for Burnished Baked Crusts

There are a few simple but very effective ways to use your cast iron for perfectly golden crists—no matter what you’re cooking. By seasoning the skillet and preheating it in an oven, you’ll be maximizing all the value you get from this incredible kitchen tool. Here are two recipes you can try this technique on. Then keep reading to follow our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Grease and Preheat 

Grease cast-iron skillet with oil and preheat skillet in very hot oven until oil is shimmering.

Step 2: Prepare Batter 

Meanwhile, make batter.

Step 3: Add Batter to Skillet 

Carefully remove preheated skillet from oven, quickly pour batter into hot skillet, and immediately transfer back to oven.

Step 4: Bake 

Bake until golden brown on top and browned and crusty on sides and bottom, rotating skillet halfway through baking time.

Watch Julia Collin-Davison and Dan Souza make a Dutch Baby in a cast-iron skillet in the video above.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Use your newfound cast-iron knowledge with any of these recipes.


Dutch Baby with Burrata and Prosciutto

Dutch babies are having a welcome renaissance, especially savory versions.
Get the Recipe

Southern-Style Cornbread

Cornmeal mush gives the bread a strong corn flavor and a moist, fine texture.
Get the Recipe

Cook It In Cast Iron

With 120+ recipes you'll learn how to shop for, season, care for, and clean cast-iron cookware. Full-color photos show you how your dish will turn out, and guide you every step of the way.

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