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Cast ironPosted Tuesday, December 4, 2012, at 11:26 AM
(Lodge Mfg. web site photo)
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.
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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.