Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken


20 May Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken

Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken - TheMessyBaker.som

I’m filing this skillet chicken under “Why didn’t I think of this?”

This dubious looking chicken is one of the best I’ve ever had. Moist, juicy and with an impossible crisp skin. It also won me over with its simplicity. I made this in between bursts of gardening. Charmian 246. Weeds 0.

Like all good recipes and techniques, this arrived in a cirucuitous route. Karen, a fellow roast chicken fanatic, read about the method in the New York Times, who in turn described the technique as “age-old” and “classic.” The idea is to cook a whole chicken evenly using a hot cast-iron frying pan. By splaying the legs and placing them directly on the hot pan, the dark meat begins cooking before the breast meat even hits the oven. The bird emerges evenly cooked with crisp skin and moist meat. I’m sure someone is going to tell me this is how they used to do it in the 1700s or that their grandmother  never cooked a bird any other way, but it’s new to me, so I’m passing it along.

Of course, nothing ever works for me the way the article intends, so some tweaking occurred. The New York Times’ method cooks a whole chicken weighing anywhere from 3 to 4 1/2 pounds. My butcher’s chicken weigh closer to 7 pounds. You can see where this is going.

Knowing my 10-inch pan couldn’t hold such a beast, I simply substituted extra-large chicken thighs for a whole bird. Twice the size of the supermarket offerings — each one is about 10 ounces, with the bone and skin – four of these thighs is roughly the same weight as a small chicken. So I gave it a whirl. And was rewarded.

I tweaked the recipe with herbs for flavour and a slivered onion to keep the exposed meat moist. The skin crisped amazing well against the cast iron and the meat was extremely juicy. I can only imagine how good a whole bird would turn out. As a bonus, the onions caramelized so beautifully I am ashamed to report I served myself most of them. Sorry Andrew. You can have my share of the skin.

The crispness of the skillet chicken intrigued me so much, I’m now pondering Cornish hens and variations of roasted potatoes. And as I type, I realize this isn’t so different from the no-knead bread technique I tried a while ago. The possibilities seem endless. Anyone else do cast-iron cooking? If so, what do you do? Please share. I’ve got a cast-iron frying pan and I’m not afraid to use it.

Cast-Iron Skillet Chicken
Recipe type: Chicken & Poultry
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 to 6 depending on size of skillet
Cooking chicken in a hot cast-iron frying pan produces an extra-crisp skin and moist meat. This recipe calls for chicken thighs, but will also work with a small (3-pound or so) chicken that's been butterflied.
  • Chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
  • Fresh thyme (or other herb of choice)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Slivered onions
  • Oil
  1. Put an empty, seasoned cast-iron skillet in an oven set to 500°F. Leave the pan in the oven to heat for 45 minutes.
  2. Insert a sprig of fresh thyme (or any other herb you care to use) under the skin of each chicken piece. Sprinkle the skin with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Sliver the onion (use two or three as they shrink down), drizzle with a bit of oil, toss and set aside. Go out and garden. Or not.
  4. When the skillet is heated, sprinkle the onions evenly over the bottom of the hot pan. They will sizzle. Place the thighs, skin side up, on top of the slivered onions. Pop the skillet into the 500°F oven. Resist the urge to turn the heat down.
  5. Cook the chicken for 25 to 45 minutes, or until done. (My butcher sells huge chicken pieces which take almost twice as long as supermarket pieces.) Use this time to make a salad, cook rice, answer email. Or garden.
  6. When the chicken is done, serve immediately while the skin is still delightfully crisp. Resting doesn't make chicken cooked this way any juicier and only results in disappointingly withered skin.
This recipe was been updated to reflect my most recent chicken experimentation. I found putting the chicken in skin-side up kept the chicken just as juicy, but produced a crispier skin. The technique is just as easy, but the results are slightly more attractive. One day I'll update the photo. Maybe...

  • Lisa MacColl
    Posted at 10:26h, 20 May Reply

    My grandmother cooked everything, including butterscotch pie, in her cast iron frying pan. She used an electric frying pan for her fried chicken, though. She’d soak it in milk, and then put it in the frying pan early in the afternoon on low heat. She’d ignore it except for turning it over periodically. Her chicken was perfectly cooked, skin was crisp, chicken was moist…
    Hmm, I may have just figured out dinner…

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:05h, 21 May Reply

      Okay, I knew a grandmother story would crop up but I didn’t expect it to inclue butterscotch pie! I’m totally intrigued. Do you have the recipe? My father-in-law loves it and I would love to surprise him with it.

      I’m also intrigued by her fried chicken. I do a combination of pan frying/oven. I just love how there are so many ways to delicious results. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Natalie B
    Posted at 10:55h, 20 May Reply

    Ahhhh this came at the perfect time! I have leg quarters defrosting and a pot of Bourbon baked beans filling my house with scrumptious smells. The cast iron skillet completes it!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:06h, 21 May Reply

      Bourbon baked beans sound amazing. I’ve never had them but there’s very little in this world a splash of booze won’t help, so I imagine they would be lovely. Hope your chicken turned out.

  • Babette
    Posted at 11:03h, 20 May Reply

    I do believe this is dinner.
    Done and done.


    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:07h, 21 May Reply

      You, my friend, are easy to please. Hope the chicken turned out as you imagined. I’m definitely going to be playing with this recipe over the summer!

    Posted at 13:17h, 20 May Reply

    Looking over your chicken made me hungry. I want to taste this tender and delicious dish right now. =)

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:08h, 21 May Reply

      I was surprised how tender and juicy the meat was. I was expecting crisp skin, but not extra-juicy meat. Bonus!!

  • Jamie Calston
    Posted at 20:40h, 20 May Reply

    This looks like it might be an ideal camping recipe, as long as there is some way to transport the chicken on the trail ..

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:13h, 21 May Reply

      I’m not a camper but am intrigued by the thought of employing the concepts of this method using something other than an oven. I’m going to try the cast-iron chicken on the barbecue soon. My theory is the closed lid would mimic my oven. But my theories don’t always work.

      Happy trails!

  • Rusti
    Posted at 12:00h, 17 June Reply

    I have 7 cast iron pans all different sizes. One is from my mother with a tall heavy cast iron lid that has self-basting rings in it. My sister has a wood stove and this makes the best meals ever. I bake my flat breads and naan bread in my cast iron pans. After doing bread or pancakes in them, they are practically non-stick. Pineapple upside down cake is the best in a cast iron. Just don’t flip it onto a crystal cake server as soon as it is out of the oven unless you warm it up. Mine shattered when I did that once.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:59h, 18 June Reply

      Oh, your poor crystal cake plate. I can imagine how that went.

      I am quite jealous of your self-basting rings. Our cast iron pan gets a lot of use, too. But I’ve never done upside down cake in it. I simply have to use mine more! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Karin
    Posted at 15:55h, 27 June Reply

    Does the chicken go in the pan skin-up or skin-down? The recipe suggests skin-up, while the text implies skin-down.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:19h, 27 June Reply

      You can do either. When I wrote the text, I cooked the chicken pieces skin-side down. Upon more experimentation, I found skin-side up worked just as well and produced crispier skin. I updated the recipe to reflect the change in technique. I will make that clearer.

      Hope you like the results no matter which way you cooked the chicken.

  • Eliza
    Posted at 17:33h, 18 October Reply

    Howdy, I cook quite a bit in cast iron! My BFF just got me 2 more cast iron pans from Lodge cookware (she is my BFF for MANY reasons) and I’m really excited about using them. Anyway, I cook whole chickens in my 12 inch one all the time. However, I have never pre-heated my pot so I’m going to try this! One of my hubby’s favorites is what I call Asian Fusion Chicken. I take a large amount of wasabi and mix it with soy sauce and minced garlic and put it inside the chicken cavity and on the outside too. I put carrots and water chestnuts on the bottom of the pan. I cook it on 450 for about 45 min- hour depending on the size of your bird. Happy Eatin’!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 19:38h, 18 October Reply

      That Fusion Chicken sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

      Your BFF is a true friend. Lodge is great cookware. Hope you share a meal or two with her!

  • Judith Rutty Godfrey
    Posted at 10:33h, 29 January Reply

    Made this a while ago but did it again last night with a small, whole chicken. But I’d forgotten to read the timing directions so dinner was waaaaaay late! That said, my chemist husband inquired as to why I was letting the pan sit in the oven for 45 minutes! He said, and I tend to agree, that when the oven reaches 500 degrees so does the pan, and further time doesn’t increase the temperature of either, only maintains it. Dinner was delish in spite of being late but what’s your input on the heating of the pan Charmian? Thanks!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:10h, 29 January Reply

      Great question. The key to this recipe is a really hot pan. Unfortunately, all ovens are not created equal. My new gas oven could likely heat the pan in 30 minutes, but my old one would have needed every second of the time allotted. And then some.

      When you write recipes for the general public it’s best to err on the side of caution. Since heating the pan too long won’t affect the outcome but not heating it enough will, the original recipe writer gave a generous preheating time. If you find your pan is ready sooner, make a note of it. I had to rework all sorts of recipes when I got my new stove and none of these adjustments work on my mother’s.

      Glad you liked your dinner in spite of the tardiness. I love this method and use it a lot, especially on cold winter nights. (I use that long preheat time to prep vegetables or drink wine, by the way!)

      Thanks for asking such an intelligent and observant question.

  • Skip
    Posted at 21:40h, 28 February Reply

    This is how I always do chicken. My oven does not work, so I cannot do most recipes. I start mine with bacon (or cut-up hunks of pancetta if I am serving others), and I use shallots and onions along with carrots and mushrooms. I buy chicken leg quarters because I prefer dark meat. Also, I do 3-4 fresh garlic instead of Thyme.

    You can also pull the chicken out, then add chicken stock and diced potatoes (lI usually add more carrots as well). Cook on high heat until the potatoes are done (not long if you dice the potatoes small). Then I throw a dollop of sour cream and take off the heat. The stew is thick from the potato starch and the sour cream adds character. If you did a whole chicken you could through the breasts in here, but it takes just fine n the side with your chicken. When the skin is gone you can dip the meat in the stew.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:45h, 01 March Reply

      I love the dark meat, too! Thanks for sharing your chicken cooking method. I love that you don’t let the lack of an oven stop you from cooking!

      Your stew sounds delicious, especially with that bit of sour cream to finish things off. Thanks again for taking the time to share your method!

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