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franklin county times

I admit it, I'm a cast iron man

By Staff
October 6, 2004
The most valuable piece of cooking equipment in my kitchen is a Lodge 15-inch cast iron skillet.
I've got a lot of pots, pans and skillets. I've got even more gadgets things that are supposed to help expedite the cooking process. But nothing works as efficiently and easy as my cast iron skillet.
I've got thousands of dollars of "gourmet cookware" hanging on the pot rack in my kitchen. Most of it I bought when I was young and foolish. Most of it stays hanging on the pot rack. The item I use more than any other is my Lodge 15-inch, cast iron skillet.
Cast iron cookware is just plain better. It cooks more evenly, retains heat, is durable and lasts for generations and is a fraction of the cost of gourmet cookware.
I paid $42.95 for my 15-inch Lodge cast iron skillet. An All-Clad stainless-steel saut pan, of similar size, costs $242, Caphalon $235.
Cast iron cookware must be seasoned before you use it. I have encountered many people over the years who are scared of the seasoning process.
It's not rocket science. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Wash your new cast iron skillet with a mild detergent using a scrub brush. Dry it thoroughly. Spray a good coating of spray-on vegetable oil over all surfaces of the skillet (don't overdo it; excess oil drips in the oven and smokes up your kitchen).
Place both oven racks on the two lowest settings in your oven, approximately 1 inch apart. Line the bottom rack with aluminum foil to catch the excess oil as it drips. Place the skillet on the upper rack and bake for one hour. At the end of the hour, turn off the oven and let the skillet sit in the oven until the oven is completely cool. Repeat the entire process one more time and you are good to go for the next 200 years.
To some this might seem like a lot of trouble. The good news is if you do it right and you do the easy after-use steps that maintain the cookware's life you only have to do it once. A properly seasoned skillet almost has the same non-stick qualities of Teflon.
The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent.
A few Christmases ago my mother-in-law gave my wife a cast iron skillet for Christmas. After it was opened, my mother-in-law warned, "You'll need to season it before you use it." To which my wife replied, in all seriousness, "What do you use to season it, salt and pepper?"
Some comments follow a person around for a long time.
There are many misconceptions about using cast iron. Am I supposed to wash it? Can I put it in the dishwasher? Will it rust if it gets wet? Once again, it's not rocket science.
After using my skillet, and while it is still hot, I rinse it out in the sink under hot water. If the skillet is properly seasoned, nothing sticks too stubbornly. Next I scrub it out using one of those scrub brushes with soap in the handle.
Folks, I have never kissed a man outside of my immediate family. However, if I ever met the man who invented the scrub brush with the soap in the handle, I'd consider it.
After scrubbing with soap, I rinse it, dry it, spray a light coating of vegetable oil on the surface, and store it until I use it again. The entire cleaning process takes about 45 seconds. Cast iron retains heat so well that water evaporates almost as soon as it hits the skillet's surface.
Some might complain that it's a pain to hand-wash your cookware when you could just put it in the dishwasher. Gourmet cookware isn't supposed to go into the dishwasher, either, so it's a wash (pun intended). Most cast iron manufacturers warn the user to stay away from soap. I use it and it has never caused a problem.
For those who might still be scared to season a skillet on your own, most companies that manufacture cast iron sell pre-seasoned cookware. If cast iron is ever mishandled and rusts, all you need to do is repeat the seasoning process.
Now, stop reading this and go fry some bacon!
Robert St. John is an author, chef, restaurateur and world-class eater. He is the author of "A Southern Palate," "Deep South Staples" and the upcoming book "Nobody's Poet." He can be reached at www.nsrg.com or www.robertstjohn.com.

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