|Pizza baked on an upside-down cast iron frying pan.|
Besides frying your bacon, a cast iron frying pan can be used for baking or as a casserole dish for your potatoes au gratin. I've also used a cast iron pan for biscuits, cakes, sticky buns, upside-down cakes, and giant cookies.
If bake a sugary-sticky cake in a cast iron pan and you accidentally let it cool too much and the sugar hardens, you can put the pan on the stove and heat it just enough to soften the sugar and release the cake - you probably wouldn't want to do that with a standard cake pan.
When you're baking in a cast iron pan, you might need to adjust your cooking time or temperature to get the same results you'd get from a traditional baking pan, but cast iron also offers baking options you couldn't get from your standard cake pan - like preheating the pan in the oven before adding your batter, or cooking your caramel in the pan on the stove top before adding the dough on top of that gooey caramel.
Are those uses too obvious? How about these?
Personal Pizza Baking Stone
Preheat your cast iron frying pan upside-down in the oven and use the bottom surface to bake your personal-sized pizzas. Needless to say, a larger pan will give you more surface area to bake on, but even a normal-sized cast iron pan is large enough for personal pizzas.
When you need to flatten some chicken breasts or pound a round steak flat, a cast iron frying pan has the heft to do the job, and a nice flat bottom surface for even pounding.
While it seems logical that a larger pan would give you more weight for pounding, a smaller pan is easier to lift, and lets you flatten the meat with a little more precision rather that splatting it flat with one massive smack.
Many bread recipes call for a steam pan in the oven. It's a simple thing, really. Just a pan to hold water to create the required steam.
A cast iron frying pan works well, with a caution. While cast iron pans are extremely sturdy, they can crack due to thermal shock - I had it happen once on the stove when I added oil to a hot pan, and it scared the heck out of me.
If you put the pan in the oven with water in it, you're fine. If you preheat the pan in the oven, and then add boiling water, you're probably okay, But if you preheat the pan, then throw ice cubes into it, there's a risk that it's going to crack. It might be fine, but you might want to use a cheap new pan rather than great-grandma's heirloom pan for that sort of abuse.
A well-seasoned pan will suffer no ill effects from occasionally using it for boiling water, but if your pan has a thin coating of seasoning, check it to make sure it's not losing so much seasoning that it's at risk of rusting.
Mortar and Pestle
Who needs a mortar and pestle when you've got a cast iron frying pan - or even better, a pair of pans that nest together? Put the nuts or seeds in the bottom pan, place the smaller pan on top of the product you're smashing, and push and twist to break up those pesky nuts and seeds. By using two pans rather than just crushing seeds on your cutting board, you contain the seeds so they don't fly all over the kitchen. And, if you need toasted seeds, you can toast first, then crush.
For things like graham crackers, cookies, or corn flakes, you can place them in a plastic bag and use a single pan to crush them to crumbs.
Chicken under a brick sounds like a fun recipe - use a handy brick to weight down and flatten a half-chicken on the grill or in a pan. But ... who has a brick sitting around? If there's a construction site nearby, maybe you can borrow a brick. But even if you wrap it in foil, are you sure it hasn't been in contact with things you don't want near your food?
A cast iron frying pan can perform the same function, it offers a larger surface area than you'd get from a brick, and it's food safe.
Sure, an electric panini press is a fun gadget, but if you don't need it often, a pair of cast iron frying pans work really well. Heat both pans, place your sandwiches in the larger one, then put the smaller pan on top, using the bottom of the pan to press and toast the sandwiches. You won't get grill lines, but you'll get a nice toasty surface.
Sometimes tofu needs to be pressed, and a cast iron pan makes a fine weight. You can put the pan right on top of the wrapped tofu, or place a baking pan on top of the tofu and use the cast iron pan to add weight.
If you've ever made home-made cheese, the same method works just as well. If you need a precise weight for the type of cheese you're making, you can use several cast iron pans (weigh them first, then add up the weights to get to the ideal amount) or use the pan to hold canned goods, pie weights, or whatever else you need to get to the proper weight.
While you won't get the leverage that a tortilla press provides, the bottom of a cast iron pan gives you a flat surface and a bit of weight to flatten corn masa into a flat tortilla. If you regularly make tortillas, you might want to invest in a tortilla press. But for a few tortillas, a cast iron pan will do the trick.
Pots and pans have heavy bottoms for a good reason - to spread the heat out evenly to avoid hot spots. But what if your ideal cooking vessel doesn't have a heavy bottom? What if you need super-gentle, super-even heat? Just use your cast iron pan as a heat diffuser. Put the cast iron pan on the stove, and put your cooking vessel in the pan.
How do you use your cast iron frying pans, besides frying?