Regular vs. Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread
While you could technically make cornbread in any oven-proof pan, if you’re looking for the classic qualities of a great cornbread (aka a crunch crust with a fluffy interior), then your best bet is to make cornbread in a cast iron pan.
What makes cast iron cornbread so different? The secret lies in the high heat retention of cast iron: compared with other metals, cast iron can hold a lot more heat. Preheating your pan in the oven, getting it piping hot, then pouring your cornbread batter in makes for an immediately crispy crust. (Something like a round cake pan is usually made from aluminum, and can’t hold that much heat even with pre-heating.) Adding your cornbread batter into a searing hot pan also adds an extra depth of flavor—you get a toasted, slightly nutty, thin outer layer of crust. And at the same time, the interior of the cornbread becomes extra fluffy, thanks to the immediate influx of heat and steam.
An extra bonus: Baking cornbread is actually good for your cast iron skillet too! Cast iron is naturally nonstick thanks to seasoning, a layer of polymerized oil that builds up on the skillet surface with time and use (and plenty of oil). Since cornbread recipes rely on oil, fat or butter for their tender crumb, they’re great for adding a nice new layer of seasoning to your pan.