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Cast iron

Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012, at 11:26 AM

(Lodge Mfg. web site photo)
Steve Mills had a great blog post about pet safety, related to the fumes released by Teflon and similar non-stick coatings when they get too hot. I didn't mean to hijack the post, but I had to drop in that I love the original nonstick cookware, properly-seasoned and cared-for cast iron. I got ready to make another comment and figured I would move some of that discussion over here.

Lodge Manufacturing, in South Pittsburg (just off I-24 on the way to Chattanooga), is the only U.S. manufacturer of cast iron cookware. I was fortunate enough to get to tour the factory some years back for a newspaper story. As I said in a comment on Steve's post, there's a wonderful factory outlet store right next door, and they have factory seconds at a big discount (and cast iron is relatively-inexpensive to begin with). They have everything from skillets to cornbread molds to dutch ovens to griddles and barbecue grates. There's also a Lodge outlet store up near Pigeon Forge, but it only carries the first-quality merchandise, not the factory seconds.

To get to the store, you take the South Pittsburg exit. The store is on your left just on the other side of downtown South Pittsburg. It's no more than two or three miles from the Interstate.

Cast iron does have to be properly cared for. If you buy it new and unseasoned, with the silvery color of the iron showing, or if you are trying to restore an old piece that's been allowed to rust, you have to coat it with shortening or oil and put it in a hot oven to start the seasoning process. (Remove all of the rust before trying to season the pan.) When you pull the pan out of the oven, it will look brown and a little gummy. You'll want to use it for really oily foods or cooking methods at first.

Over time, a black coating known as "seasoning" will form on the piece. This seasoning, which is a natural non-stick coating, is the result of a chemical reaction between iron and oil which occurs at high heat.

Lodge now seasons an increasing amount of its cast iron in the factory. They had just started doing that back when I took my tour, and it was proprietary, so we didn't go into that part of the plant. Buying pre-seasoned cast iron saves you the trouble of putting it in the oven yourself, but whether you buy pre-seasoned or unseasoned you still have to take care of the piece to preserve the seasoning. Here's the page at Lodge's web site with care instructions: http://www.lodgemfg.com/useandcare/seaso...

As you can tell from that page, there are two schools of thought about caring for cast iron once it's acquired its seasoning. Soaps and detergents tend to eat into the seasoning. Some people, and I'm in this camp, don't like to use soapy water on a cast iron pot except in the most extreme circumstances. You rinse it out with hot water, preferably while the pan is still warm, and scrub it well with a brush or nylon scraper to remove any stuck-on bits of food. If you've properly cared for your pan, that shouldn't take too long. Then, you wipe down the surface lightly with oil and put the pan away. Since cast iron generally gets used at high temperatures anyway, the pan should in theory be sanitized by the heat the next time you cook.

If you do insist on soapy water, the oil wipedown is even more important. Some cooks who use soap end up re-seasoning their pan frequently, and they're OK with that.

Cast iron is a great way to cook. I love my skillets, my dutch oven, and a little reversible griddle/grill that I have which sits right on the stove.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

You can also clean your cast iron pans with salt & a paper towel. Just sprinkle salt into the pan (as much as needed) and "scrub" with the towel. I use this for my cornbread skillet.

-- Posted by RausJacks on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 1:23 PM

A good tip. Thanks!

-- Posted by jcarney on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 4:13 PM

Have you tried a pre-seasoned pan? Just wondering if it is worth it or better to do it yourself?

You've made me want to stop by the store and see what they have. As I get older. I seem to appreciate good old basics more and more.

The cast iron pans always sell well at auctions, especially the more unique cornbread pans.

-- Posted by stevemills on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 5:36 PM

The more I cook, the more I use cast iron. A friend assured me that I can use it on my new glass top stove, just don't be careless with it. I think I would have forgone the glass cook top rather than the cast iron skillet.

-- Posted by jbillswms on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 7:21 PM

I'm somewhat of a collector of cast iron cookware and am the proud owner of a #9 Wagner and a #9 Griswold. Both are great pieces. The Griswold is only used for cornbread and the Wagner is only used for country ham or fried chicken. I also have an old dutch oven and a #7 Wagner corn fritter pan. Great article John!

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 9:24 PM

Any pictures Tim, John? I am curious since I see so many different ones at auctions.

I saw on the site that they do not recommend sliding the cookware on glass tops. Makes sense.

-- Posted by stevemills on Wed, Dec 5, 2012, at 10:52 AM

I have enjoyed everyone's response concerning cast iron! My husband especially enjoys collecting and cooking with cast iron and continues to be on the look-out for more pieces. "Martin" was a former manufacturer of the cast iron and since that is our last name he would search for these pieces at area flea markets. He was successful and each one of our children have a "Martin" skillet. We seldom can find the Martin brand. Google says that it was manufacturing from 1905 until the early 1950s. We also have a collection of Griswold, Wagner, and of course Lodge. A collection that is used!

You just can't beat cooking or baking with these pieces. He purchased a large "bucket" type piece, found a lid that would fit...it also has the bale handle..very heavy. This makes a great roast by browning on top of the stove and then placing in the oven with the lid. Awesome for family dinners of chili and beef stew!

Thanks, John, for your piece on cast iron!

-- Posted by amy.martin on Fri, Dec 7, 2012, at 12:49 PM

Almost daily I use a cast skillet that belonged to my mom. It is @ least 70 years. I am thinking of putting it in my will ;)...

Once every year I have a family member throw it into their wood burner. It comes out brand new, and I spend much time curing it back to the 70 years.

About 10 years ago I bought two corn sticks casts at a yard sale, Lodge 27 C2. I've never used, so should someday check the age and worth.

-- Posted by moonwalker on Fri, Dec 7, 2012, at 7:06 PM

As "inexpensive" as it is, I have never bought one...and want one really bad. My husband keeps saying we'll drive down to South Pittsburg to purchase one, but we never do. I've finally put it on my Christmas list, so hopefully my outlaws will finally buy me something I will use! ;)

p.s. Very interesting moonwalker! How long does it hang out in the wood burner?

-- Posted by neighborhood mom on Sun, Dec 9, 2012, at 8:31 AM

Cracker Barrel Restaurants also have a wide selection of Lodge cast iron!

-- Posted by RausJacks on Sun, Dec 9, 2012, at 9:11 AM

I have 4 cornstick lodge pans. Each holds 7 sticks. The 4 will fit side by side in my oven, so I can bake 28 cornsticks at a time. Keep in the freezer until I heat some. Great with hobo soup: 2 cans black eyed peas, 2 cans big butter beans and 2 cans of diced tomatoes. Dispose of the liquid in the cans, and replace with water, except tomatoes.Pigout now, or freeze in bowl size containers. Cheap and fast.

-- Posted by Grits on Sun, Dec 9, 2012, at 7:55 PM

Neigh.mom, about 10 minutes or so. After it cools I cure with lard, heat slightly and do over and over. Clean with paper towel after each ap. When you can fry an egg without sticking she is ready for some good old Tennessee cornbread.

-- Posted by moonwalker on Mon, Dec 10, 2012, at 9:55 AM

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