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Cast Iron Club

  • todao Jan 8, 2011 08:10 PM
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I am a great fan of cast iron cookware. Whether it's my Dutch Oven, my Aebleskiver pan, one of my many frying pans or some other cast iron vessel, I just love to use the stuff. But there are conflicting points of view among professional write about such things so I'm wondering what others on this board think about it. Harold McGee (On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen) describes what it's made of and list some advantages; Robert L. Wolke (What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained) says "... it's not the general purpose tool"; Alton Brown (I'm Just Here for the Food) says the list of things it's good for is too long and that it's easier to list what it isn't good for - "boiling pasta". Except for the fact that I don't think cast iron is the right selection for cooking high acid foods (spaghetti sauce) I tend to live in Alton Brown's camp on this subject.
I wonder how many others have a fondness for (or, if there are any, distaste for) cast iron cookware.

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  1. Cast iron rocks. I like to buy vintage already seasoned pans--use them ALL the time.

    1. Cast iron is the best. My favorite things to use it for are searing scallops and steaks. I also flip it over and cook Pizza on the back of it.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hammered

        Hey Hammered,
        How do you cook pizza on the back? Do you heat it first or use it as a pizza stone in the oven? I'd love to know more!
        JeremyEG
        homecooklocavore.com

        1. re: JeremyEG

          I'm not "hammered" but I will share my techniques for pizza in cast iron. I use the bottom of the cast iron pan (a 12 inch pan) that has been preheated. I use it much like I would use a baking stone. I also use the preheated pan (not blazing hot but just hot enough to allow me to handle it) for deep dish style pizza - of course, that's inside the pan and not on the bottom. My deep dish pizza formula is nearer a Foccacia than a Neapolitan thin crust pizza.

      2. I have a big fondnness for non-acidic cast iron cooking, braising, baking, high heat searing. I admit to not having read " What Einstein Told His Cook" or "Just Here for the Food" These books are pending reads on my "read soon book" list or my silly bucket list, which is terribly short. If Robert L Wolke, a guy I admire greatly, says "it's not a general purpose tool" he must have qualified that statement in some manner; can you quote further?. What is Alton's Brown camp, and what does it mean to you, culinarily speaking?

        So, my point is I like cast iron in large ways, have used it since the early 70's whe I first started cooking, although I don't like it for everything, but for most things. In my life I have used it both professionally and at home. I realize that I'm vague on technique, but if the cast iron area is ashy grey, and it's it red hot, well...strike.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          Like you, I too admire Wolke's work. To quote him further (page 276) responding to a question about selecting a high-quality, general purpose pan:
          "Thus, ... an excellent pan for certain specialized uses in which a high uniform temperature must be held for a long time. No true southerner would make fried chicken in anything else.
          You should certainly keep one handy for domestic fouls and domestic fouls, but it's not the general-purpose tool you inquired about."
          It's the end of that paragraph that I have an argument with. Cast iron is my "general-purpose tool". My other cookware is used only for "specialized" cooking operations where cast iron might not work as well - (quoting Alton Brown) like "boiling pasta."

        2. Love it. I use them almost everyday. Regarding the acid issue, I think sometimes that's exaggerated. I certainly wouldn't make a marinara or something with lots of citrus, but I like to make paella and that starts with some onions, garlic and tomato. I saute those for around 10 minutes and I always taste it just to see if the sauce tastes funny from the pan. It never does. It just tastes like the ingredients and there's certainly no unpleasant taste once the dish is finished.

          Anyone do any baking in their cast iron pans?
          JeremyEG
          homecooklocavore.com

          2 Replies
          1. re: JeremyEG

            spoonbreads and cornbread would be the classic cast iron baked goods, and you can bake/roast main dishes in a cast iron pan also.

            1. re: JeremyEG

              Only cornbread, and only the savory kind. For some reason, I bake my sweet cornbread in a baking pan, and my savory cornbread (also Tex-Mex cornbread) in a cast iron skillet.

            2. I like cast iron cookware quiet a bit. I won't say cast iron is an universal metal for cookware, but it is a very useful . Cast iron cookware are inexpensive, relatively nonstick, and durable. They are humble and true.

              1. For each of the 5 pieces of cast iron that I have, I have some thing that I like better:

                - carbon steel crepe pan or comal instead of a cast iron comal (griddle); cast iron takes too long to heat.

                - hard anodized aluminum dutch oven instead of a small Lodge camp oven for camp use with coals. It is lighter and stores better.

                - the aluminum dutch oven or a 3qt stainless steel DO instead of the cast iron chicken fryer; these handle long braising better. The aluminum DO also works well as a deep 10" baking dish.

                - carbon steel fry pans instead of the 10" cast iron skillet (frying). The 10" skillet is still best for steaks, more due to the larger surface area.

                - nonstick cast aluminum instead of the 8" cast iron

                I also have an assortment of inexpensive enameled steel pans, and a few clay pots.

                1. I love cast iron cookware. But then I love the kind of food that is best prepared in cast iron. Is there such a thing as a "general all purpose tool" that would be for everyone? To me stating that something is "general all purpose" is a matter of opionion. In my grandparents day, cast iron would have been considered just that. General all purpose. Because, the foods they prepared and ate were excellent in cast iron. In my grandparents day, in this area, they would not have prepared a great variety of food. I doubt they even knew was pasta dishes were. LOL

                  With that said, they did have a few other pots besides their cast iron, that was used for different things. They had some enameld steel sauce pots, and might have had a few aluminum pans or pots. But the cast iron was their staple pan, because so much of their food was fried. Enameled pans would have been for the foods that were boiled. And maybe a tin pan for baking biscuits in, thought some would have used cast iron for that, if they were not already using their skillets for frying something.
                  But to be honest, I don't think there is a type of pan that is good for every type of dish prepared.
                  After all, that is why our kitchens have a variety of pots and pans. Because we prepare such a variety of dishes now.
                  And some types of pans just work better for some types of cooking.

                  If my main diet was, say, pasta dishes. I doubt I would get a lot of use out of my cast iron. Except maybe to brown my hamburger meat.

                  So to me, for TN southern cooking, CI could be considered "all purpose". But for some other types of cooking, not all purpose at all.

                  Yes, I do consider myself in the Cast Iron club. I love it and use it for most things. But I do use other type pans as well, depending on what I am cooking.

                  1. My cast iron skillets hang about my oven, and I grab them for almost everything. The best is pan-roasting, since they make the best sear and go straight into the oven. But I also love them for simple things, like grilled sandwiches and quesadillas, and baked goods like cornbread. I've cooked in dutch ovens that weren't cast iron, and the food didn't turn out nearly as well.

                    I agree with Alton that the list of things you can't do is much shorter; in addition to what you've said, I don't use mine when I plan on making a pan sauce, as fond doesn't form on the non-stick surface.

                    1. Please accept my application for Membership into the Cast Iron Club....I'm a life long fan, promoter, and user of Cast Iron ~~~ Below is my Jambalaya Pot that sometimes doubles as a bath tub on long cattle drives up to the Powder River Country.... :))

                       
                       
                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Uncle Bob

                        kick. . . butt, Uncle Bob!

                      2. todao: There are multiple threads here "fond" and "distaste". In the latter camp, you should read:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7381...

                        Barenaked CI is rugged, inexpensive, brutishly attractive and pretty versatile. To borrow a gem from Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."

                        1. There's nothing like cast iron for searing or the long steady heat used in stewing and braising. I received a Lodge 5qt. chicken fryer as a Christmas gift and am able to produce wonderful stir-fry dishes on a plain residential burner.

                          Sign me up.

                          1. Cooking, exercise and home defense, what other cookware offers so much?

                            It will endure what causes other pans to cry. I find the maintenance and cleaning to be less than most cookware including nonstick that isn't fresh out of the box. How many pans can you take a grill scraper to and not worry?

                            The uses far outweigh the non-uses. I use it everyday for something. To me it's the deserted island pan.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: SanityRemoved

                              Erudite post, Sanity. I agree that the maintenance and cleaning of CI is less or equal to most other cookware, and it gives me great pleasure to use and maintain my pans.

                              On a sader note, I actually know someone who got smacked upside the head with a cast iron skillet in a home invasion situaton (he was not the invader.) The cast iron pan's handle broke off. My friend survived. The take away from this for me was that possibly cast iron is not the best choice in home defense...

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                In a previous profession I learned to be very aware of where the kitchen was because of people's propensity to pick up frying pans and knives. Glad to hear your friend survived.

                            2. There is no one type of cookware that excels at everything.

                              There are only pieces of cookware that are suited for certain things, and cast iron is one of those, and for the things it is suited for, it excels at that them stupendously.

                              That is why I am a cast iron fan, and will continue to be so.

                              1. I am also a fan of cast iron. This is about a third of my cast iron cookware collection. We use if for nearly all our cooking. The ones I use are stripped down to the bare iron and reseasoned.

                                 
                                 
                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rgilley

                                  Ohoooo, a third? Big space is nice. Send me a few pieces, if you don't mind. Where's the photo of the CI you actually use on a daily basis?

                                  1. re: rgilley

                                    That's a lot of skillets you've got hanging....Sad that so many of them are rusting!!!

                                  2. Hi cast iron club members/experts, I new and begin cooking with castiron cookwares, primarily due to the concerns about cooking with coated cookwares. I just got a bunch of lodge cookwares. They all came "seasoned". Knowing that I shouldn't not use soap or any solution to clean after cooking, I used a stiff brush and cleaned hot water. When I sprayed a bunch of olive oil in the pan/pot and wiped off the excess oil with dry paper towel, I noticed paper towel had BLACK stuff. Oh...I now am concerned about eating iron or whatever the black stuff is. What did I do wrong, seasoning or cleaning?

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: enjoycooking

                                      Not to worry about the "BLACK stuff". It is a little bit of left over carbonized food from your meal that baked into the seasoning. It most likely is the result of some micro-burning and won't hurt you, but can be alarming.

                                      Solutions would include a generous pour of kosher/sea/table salt added along with oil (I use canola) lightly heated and then scrub with your brush. You'll see the salt get brown with the carbonized material . Wipe with paper towels and repeat if necessary.

                                      In the future be sure to use plenty of oil if frying or food in the pan after preheating to a medium heat. Over time your Lodge pebble finish will start to smooth out and the pan will get darker as the seasoning builds up.

                                      Hope this helps,

                                      1. re: redrako

                                        now I feel better about it, and am ready to purchase a cast iron waffle maker (no coating for me). do you have any recommendations for a cast iron waffle maker? Cost is not an issue...
                                        I am willing to spend the money for healthy cooking, therefore will pass on anything made in China.

                                        1. re: enjoycooking

                                          http://fantes.com/waffles.html

                                          Most of them are cast aluminum though.

                                          I have a Palmer pizzelle maker and it's awesome. No seasoning required and nothing sticks, probably because the batter has enough butter in it already. :-)

                                          1. re: cutipie721

                                            I am concerned about the coating and rather go with the cast iron option if there's any made in the U.S.

                                            1. re: enjoycooking

                                              Cast aluminum has no coating.

                                              1. re: cutipie721

                                                Isn't Palmer pizzelle maker coated?

                                                1. re: enjoycooking

                                                  They have 2 versions, coated (1000T) and uncoated (1000).

                                                  1. re: cutipie721

                                                    thank hyou cutipie. do you think i can make a bunch of them and freeze them? what about making a healthier waffle mixer, whole wheat, low sugar and less butter?

                                                    1. re: enjoycooking

                                                      You can make a whole bunch of waffles, freeze them, and reheat them in the microwave or toaster oven. Of course the result will never be the same as a freshly baked waffle. You should go to "Home Cooking" and ask. I'm sure the folks over there will give you better tips.

                                                      Waffle batter is more or less the same as a pancake batter. Other than those two tablespoons of butter and that sprinkling of sugar, the major of sugar and fat come from the topping. I'm sure you can substitute a portion of AP flour with some varieties of whole wheat flour (buckwheat for example).

                                                      In either case, I like to eat the real deal of everything and avoid substitutions like splenda or it's-not-butter. My theory is, if it's unhealthy? Eat less of it.

                                    2. I'm on record here as using CI. In fact my return to CI stems from CH posters who so enthusiastically posted about it. There are a lot of threads about using it, caring for it, stripping it, etc.
                                      I have four vintage skillets which get a fair amount of use. I've returned to non stick for eggs or fish, but for much other stovetop cooking, I use iron. I have a newer Lodge grill pan which sees daily use as well. If you are sold on CI, you will probably find uses for it, over other pans. If you aren't as sold, you probably will find other pans to use. But I enjoy using it.

                                      1. I'm a big fan of the cast iron club. It's a great tool for getting the kids to eat their vegetables.

                                        As a recent new owner of my 1st cast iron pan I'm grateful to all the posters on the CI pan topics who have offered tips on its use and maintenance.
                                        I was especially impressed by its ability to put an even excellent crust on steaks and cook them to perfection, with my help of course. By dialing down the temperature as the desired sear is close to being achieved I've been able to cook steaks evenly through to the rare side of medium rare just on the stove top without putting them in the oven, including 1 1/2" thick steaks. It does involve flipping the steaks 2 or 3 times after I've gotten the right the sear on both sides.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: ilikefood

                                          Hi, ilikefood:

                                          The steak sear use you mention is as good as it gets for CI. My mom, rest her soul, had a way of searing one side of a NY strip to a perfect crust, flipping it *once*, and then at some Platonic instant of perfection, removing the skillet to let the steak finish. Try as I do, I cannot seem to replicate her results.

                                          Aloha,
                                          Kaleo

                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                            Cast Iron is the way to go have been using the same pans since my mother taught me to cook at 5 years old not sure how old her pans are I think they are at least 40-50 yrs old.

                                            1. re: agarnett100

                                              Hi, agarnett100:

                                              You should definitely use what works for you, and what gives you pleasure. Others here are not so fortunate to have your long training with CI, and so may be disappointed with its performance.

                                              Cheers,
                                              Kaleo

                                          2. re: ilikefood

                                            what about grilling fish? does fish fall apart easily? try to eat more fish to get my omega 3

                                            1. re: enjoycooking

                                              Hi, enjoycooking:

                                              FWIW and IMHO, cast iron isn't well-suited to species of fish that are high in Omega-3s. Those oilier fish, e.g., salmon, are usually too delicate to take a sear without disintegrating/deskinning, unless you like Cajun-style blackened (and carcinogenic) preparations, which are usually accepted in a fragmented state. I think what may serve you better with these fish is a saute pan in a more conductive/responsive material that will allow even *browning* and still keep things together. Aluminum or copper would both be`excellent choices at opposite ends of the cost spectrum.

                                              Now then, I LIKE ahi flash-seared in CI...

                                              Aloha,
                                              Kaleo

                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                sounds great..i am taking notes here

                                          3. Count me in the club! As a fellow southerner, I agree with Alton Brown. A recent trip to the Lodge Factory store was a real treat, most of their pots & pans were 20-50% off lowest online prices. I used to think CI was hard to find at yard sales & flea mkts because it was kept in the family, now I know rgilley has it all!