When we think of classic Southern-style biscuits, we imagine them nestled together in a cast iron pan. But cast iron isn’t just a traditional vessel for baking biscuits, it’s also the route to baking better biscuits. Once you start making buttermilk biscuits in a cast iron skillet, you’ll find that the lightly crisped bottom and tender crumb makes you never try another pan again.

For our cast iron biscuit recipe, we use both butter and shortening. This combination gives you a flaky texture (produced by the steam released from butter), as well as the softness that shortening creates. Stacking sections of your biscuit dough is the final touch, producing the visibly flaky layers that are characteristic of the best biscuits.

Field Notes

1.

There are a couple of steps in this recipe that are absolutely key to making a perfect cast iron biscuit. First, it’s important to use butter and shortening that are completely chilled or frozen. If you use room-temperature butter, it will melt and seep into the biscuit dough instead of allowing the water in the butter to evaporate as soon as the biscuits go into the oven. This can prevent your biscuits from being as flaky as possible.

2.

Biscuits are also better when baked at a fairly high temperature, which is why our recipe calls for a 400°F oven. High heat also encourages evaporation inside the biscuits, which makes them rise quickly, instead of spreading out.

3.

When your biscuits are done, remove them from the pan as soon as they come out of the oven. Since cast iron retains so much heat, leaving the biscuits in the pan risks continuing to cook them on the bottom, potentially burning the crust. Instead, remove your biscuits and wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, then move the biscuits and towel back to the skillet. This will keep them warm until you’re ready to serve.

Recipe

Cast Iron Buttermilk Biscuits

Yield: 8 servings
Photo: Lauren V. Allen

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (½ stick) very cold butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, plus 3 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing
4 tablespoons very cold vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup cold buttermilk (either low-fat or whole buttermilk is fine)

Instructions

1.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the cold butter and shortening to the dry ingredients. Using your hands, two forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. (By “cutting,” we mean rub the butter and shortening into smaller pieces that are coated in the dry ingredients.)

3.

Add buttermilk and stir gently with a large spoon until mixture just comes together. The dough will be sticky and a little shaggy, that’s okay!

4.

Transfer the dough to a floured cutting board and pat into a rectangle. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Stack all four pieces on top of one another. Gently press down on the stacked pieces of dough, then roll into a rectangle that’s about 1-inch thick.

5.

Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 equally sized squares. (You can trim the sides of the dough if you’d like to make these biscuits very uniform, but that’s not necessary.)

6.

Arrange the biscuits in a greased No.8 Field Skillet so that they’re just touching each other. Brush with butter and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

7.

Remove the biscuits immediately after baking, and place on a clean kitchen towel. (This will prevent the bottoms from cooking any further in the hot pan.) Transfer the cloth and biscuits back to the skillet to keep warm until ready to serve.