September 30, 2010

Cast Iron Cooking

Filed under: awesome,food,interfaces — mhoye @ 9:55 am

Fresh Rain

Oh, blarg, why do I abandon you so. I have been neglecting this space in favor of the twitters, whose twits are legion, and who is so, so uncomplicated. Also I’m trying to start a business here and it’s kind of busy. Excuses, excuses, I know, but I feel like I should tell you about it.

Have I mentioned this? It’s not news to most of the world, I’m sure, but our recent culinary discovery has been this: brining stuff in strong tea. That’s turned out to be a pretty powerful move, particularly when we’ve gone with the really smoky-tasting Lapsang Souchong
over chicken or (particularly awesome) fish; trout that’s been brined and pan-fried thusly has this great lox flavour to it, but is still a big, tender piece of meat. That costs about a tenth what a comparable pile of actual smoked salmon would cost, I might add, which is also nice.

On another culinary front, modulo a bit of fiddling around it turns out that these two links provide excellent, excellent advice about making pizzas at home, and even my amateurish fumbling has produced better pizza than we’ve been able to order in.

You’ll need cast iron pans for that, but it turns out that nobody knows they’re resurfaceable, so once they’ve messed them up they throw them away and buy cheap nonstick pans, which if you’re paying attention means advantage: you.

I’ve had a lot of luck picking up the semi-wrecked cast-iron cookware I see at garage sales and reseasoning them as per this excellent advice, though I preface that with the scorched-earth approach of hosing them down with oven cleaner and letting them stew in an heavy garbage bag for two or three days. Stripping them right to the bare metal has proven to be the right approach, though I should tell you that the people who claim that cast iron gets smoky are Doing It Wrong, and seasoning their cookware with oils that have a relatively low smoke point. I did that wrong myself at first, but now that I’m doing this the right way around it turns out that 50-year-old cast iron actually works better than my two-year-old teflon, and I’m always happy to chalk up a victory for the old school.


  1. That is a great article on seasoning cast-iron. I have one moderately-OK pan that I use regularly, and then another one that I junked up the seasoning on. I will totally recondition the bad one with that technique.

    I’ve really been disappointed by most of the other cast iron tips I’ve read, since they seemed universally based on superstition.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — September 30, 2010 @ 1:37 pm

  2. I really can’t say enough about the combination of that article plus the oven-cleaner prep. You need to be careful with oven cleaner because, hey, it’s oven cleaner, but it works pretty shockingly well. If you’re going to do one, though, why not do both?

    Comment by mhoye — September 30, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  3. Pizza: that’s an interesting technique. I actually like the pizza you get from a recipe like this:, but it does make a particular style. The broiler + pizza stone method seems worth investigating.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — September 30, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

  4. If you’re going to do one, though, why not do both?

    I’m now leaning that way. I’m not a fan of having to scrape stuck-on bits out of the pan, which is all too frequently what I have to do with the current state of the thing.

    Totally getting a can of oven cleaner on my way home today.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — September 30, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

  5. The other thing worth knowing about cast-iron cleaning is the “clean it with coarse salt” trick, which you can see here – he’s somewhat misguided about the olive oil part, but the coarse salt part is spot-on.

    Comment by mhoye — September 30, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  6. I have a cast-iron skillet that I sort of got seasoned by accident, but it’s MAGIC now. Nothing sticks to it whatsoever, except just enough to make it awesome for pan-sauces. I’d been reluctant to branch out into more cast-iron because it took me over a year to get this one working right and I didn’t know how I managed it, but that technique sounds plausible.

    (We have cases of actual lye crystals around here for our soapmaking business, which means I won’t even need to go shopping for oven cleaner…)

    Comment by Amy Young — September 30, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

  7. Cast iron pots are also great for baking some kinds of bread.

    Comment by jeremylukehill — October 1, 2010 @ 6:41 am

  8. You are absolutely not allowed to hang a comment like that out to just flap in the breeze. What kind of pan? What kind of bread? Where’s the links to recipes? Dammit, man, we need that information!

    Comment by mhoye — October 1, 2010 @ 8:13 am

  9. Ah, pizza!

    The upside-down skillet technique sounds neat, but it ignores the fact that people have been making great pizza in home ovens for a long time, usually with unglazed tiles or a stone on the floor of the oven, or under the broiler. I bet this trick has been (re)invented dozens of times, like shaft drives for bicycles. There’s also an error of logic in the procedure:

    “Let it sit under the broiler for a couple minutes to fully heat up, then get your pizza ready.”

    If the broiler gets it hotter than the cooktop, why bother with the stove? I suspect they just don’t wait long enough for their stone to heat up; I turn on the oven an hour before the first pizza goes in. A baking stone is so much easier to deal with than that setup would be…

    Anyway, in order to add something positive to this discussion instead of just being a curmudgeon, here’s a tool that takes the challenge away from getting pizza — especially wet dough — onto a baking stone:

    It’s just a loop of cloth wrapped around a peel, but it is brilliant, and it means I never have a mess on my baking stone, and I can open the oven, put the pie on the stone, and close it up again in just a few seconds. Taking it out is even easier, and I never need oven mitts.

    Comment by Mike Richters — October 2, 2010 @ 12:42 am

  10. If the broiler gets it hotter than the cooktop, why bother with the stove?

    Expediency, I think, and maybe the cast iron makes things crispier than just the oven? Hard to say, but my reluctance to have single-purpose tools in my kitchen makes me like the cast-iron-pan approach.

    The thing I’ve been using for this is my smallish cast-iron tortilla pan (9″ or so across) which wins on both nonstickyness and not-having-sides-edness, but which is a teensy bit inconvenient for only being 9″ or so across. I think that if I find a larger cast-iron thing in that vein (Cast-iron pizza pan?) I will jump on it.

    Comment by mhoye — October 3, 2010 @ 8:35 am

  11. I believe that you are confusing “single-purpose” and “single-function” when referring to tools. Your cast-iron skillet is no less of a single-purpose tool than my baking stone. I would also add that niether the stone nor the peel is intended solely for pizza, and both get used many times per week in my kitchen. If you don’t bake lean bread regularly, and you only make pizza rarely, a baking stone could be more inconvenient than helpful, but if you had one, you might change your habits.

    I’m interested in this 9″ tortilla pan with no sides. All the pictures I’ve seen (never met one in person) have at least a small lip on the edge. Does yours lack even that? And if so, I suppose you don’t have to find a way to get the handle out of the way to make it lie flat on the oven rack…

    I surmise that the advantage of the cast iron is that it has higher thermal conductivity than any “stone” substance, and that’s more relevant than temperature for getting dough baked quickly. My baking stone is made of cordierite (which includes a fair amount of iron, as well as magnesium and aluminum), but its thermal conductivity is significantly lower than that of cast iron. What it does have is much greater mass, so I can bake quite a few pizzas on it without it cooling substantially.

    On another note, I have a whole set of pots and pans made of hard-anodized aluminum, and I’m wondering if it’s possible to season them the same way as cast iron. The big skillet is usually sitting on the bottom of my oven, pressed into service as a steam pan for bread-baking, though, and it’s no longer very useful for it’s original purpose because it’s been warped by heating to 500F, then having water at only 212F poured into it…

    Comment by Mike Richters — October 8, 2010 @ 11:08 pm

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