All You Need For Better Boxed Cornbread Is A Cast Iron Skillet

If you ask even the most seasoned bakers, they'll probably agree that some of the best recipes are better left to a good store-bought mix. Cornbread, for example, easily comes together in a matter of minutes from a box, without the need to procure specialty dry ingredients like cornmeal. But, when mixing up cornbread to serve alongside a hearty bowl of slow cooker chili, or to enjoy on its own simply slathered with butter, using a cast iron skillet can seriously elevate the boxed creation.

A cast iron skillet's capacity to hold onto high heat makes it ideal for browning and searing the outside of foods like meat and fish, while still delicately cooking the inside. And, cast iron skillets are known to retain heat particularly well when used to bake bread in the oven. Whether you're using the pan to make a hearty loaf of sourdough or cornbread, the end result will be a baked good with crispy outer edges. 

In particular, when you bake your cornbread in a cast iron skillet, the outside becomes nice and golden brown, while the inside bakes up fluffy and light for the perfect combination. And, with the skillet and the expert textural qualities it provides, it's unlikely that anyone will suspect you didn't make the recipe from scratch. 

Grease and preheat the pan before pouring in the batter

Since you're saving time using a boxed cornbread mix, it's worth it to add in a few easy yet key steps that will ensure your cornbread comes out delicious. Cast iron skillets yield the crunchiest bread loaves, but the cookware takes longer than other pans to heat up, so you'll need to preheat your skillet first. To achieve cornbread with an excellent caramelized exterior, it helps if the cast iron is sizzling hot right before adding in the batter.

To prepare the pan, simply turn on your oven and dial the heat up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, add in a tablespoon of butter to melt while the pan heats. For amped up flavor, some fans of classic southern home cooking recommend coating the skillet in bacon grease to keep the cornbread from sticking. Either way, once pre-heated, transfer the cast iron to the oven and let it heat up with the fat while you mix together your boxed cornbread ingredients. 

When your batter is ready and the pan is hot, carefully remove your skillet from the oven and swirl the grease to evenly distribute it around all sides and edges. You can also use a pastry brush to ensure adequate coverage. Finally, pour the batter into your prepared skillet, lower the oven's heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (or as directed on the box), then bake your cornbread to perfection.

More ways to level up your boxed cornbread mix

In addition to breaking out the cast iron skillet to cook your cornbread, there are a few other tricks to seriously spruce up the boxed mix. Specifically, you can swap out flavor-neutral ingredients called for on the instruction label for more tasty alternatives. For instance, ditch the vegetable oil for melted and cooled butter, and bown your butter for a pleasantly toasty flavor. Or, sub in coconut oil for a plant-based alternative. You can also whisk in full-fat buttermilk instead of regular whole milk for extra depth and a subtle tartness.

Once your cornbread is mixed up smooth, fold in additional ingredients like chopped, pickled jalapeños or canned green chiles for spicy heat. Toss in some canned corn or pre-cooked turkey sausage for textural contrast and heartiness. To up the flavor even further, incorporate dry spices like smoked paprika or cardamom. Of course, you can always add in a touch of sugar or maple syrup for a cornbread that's perfect for layering with jam for breakfast. 

Really, the options to enhance store-bought cornbread mix are endless. Just remember that baking it in a cast iron skillet will make all the difference.