Cooking With Cast Iron

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My passion for cooking was first born in my grandmother's kitchen. On Sundays, she would always host our entire family, extended family, friends, and strangers for a post-church lunch that invariably stretched well into the evening. It was a day filled with food, laughter, and fellowship. Of course, the Southern staples of collard greens, black-eyed peas, mac n' cheese, squash casserole, and spiral-sliced ham always made their way onto our family table. But my grandmother — Sitty as she was known — was famous throughout Valdosta, Georgia for one thing: fried chicken.

Wet battered and fried in a black cast-iron skillet, the crispy skin and moist, tender chicken was almost prophetic. My father still jokingly tells my mother that Sitty's fried chicken was one of the reasons he proposed over 30 years ago. Rightfully so — we Southerner's take pride in our traditions and food.

Sitty passed a few years ago, but her memory still lives on. Not only through the memories of her joyous smile or sharp sense of humor — but also through her cookware. That's right — I celebrate her love every time I pull out that perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillet she handed down to me.

There's something incredibly comforting about cooking in her old skillet. I'm reminded of those childhood family meals, while at the same time I know that I am creating new memories for myself and friends — all through the same cookware.

For that very reason, I have long felt that when it comes to cookware, cast iron is king. It lasts a lifetime(s), cooks evenly, and even supplies a healthy low-dose of iron to your diet. It's arguably the most versatile piece of cookware you will ever find. It performs on the stove top, in the oven, over coals, or even on top of a grill. From frying, to sauteing, to searing, to baking — it’s truly the Swiss Army knife of the kitchen.

The best part? Cast-iron cookware is super affordable when bought new and can also be snagged on the cheap at yard and barn sales and restored.

So, listen up men. Before you go buy a bunch of expensive gadgets to outfit your kitchen, start first by picking up a cast-iron pan. Treat it right, and you'll be passing it on to your grandkids.

SEASONING CAST IRON

Unlike Teflon pans, which get their non-stick properties from chemical compounds, the stickiness of a cast-iron pan is diminished by a natural layer of oil/fat called u201Cseasoning.u201D The seasoning also protects the pan from rust. These days, the majority of skillets you will find come pre-seasoned by the manufacturer. While you should always take steps to maintain the seasoning (see below), you may encounter times that you want to repeat the seasoning process. Of course, if you are starting with a brand new, unseasoned skillet, you will need to follow this process before you begin using your cast iron.

WASH — This will be the only time I advise you to use soap on your cast iron, as you will want to strip it completely clean. Repeat, only use soap on your cast iron prior to seasoning your skillet — never again — got it? Good. Now, rinse that skillet with hot water to remove ALL of the soap. Done? Rinse it some more to be sure — you want ALL of that soap out of the pan prior to seasoning. If you are re-seasoning the surface due to stuck-on food particles or uneven color, go ahead and use a brush or even steel wool to form an even, clean surface.

DRY — After the skillet is completely cleaned, make sure the entire surface is dry and smooth.

SEASON — I prefer to use a thin layer of melted (vegetable) shortening. You will want to apply this layer over every part of the skillet. If you do not have access to shortening, choose a cooking oil such as canola, soybean, or safflower, and follow the same procedure. Avoid using low-smoke point oils such as extra virgin olive oil or butter.

BAKE — Set the oven to 350-400 degrees F and place the cookware (upside down) on the top rack of the oven. Bake the cookware for at least one hour. You can place aluminum foil underneath the pan to avoid drippings getting on the heating element. Then turn off the oven and allow the cookware to cool to room temperature in the oven — several hours.

STORE — cookware in a cool, dry place. Thinly coat the cookware with cooking oil in-between uses to maintain seasoning.

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