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Cooking with cast-iron skillet or pan creates unique flavor in food
Reseasoning the kitchen tool is a simple process
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Cast-iron skillets can be used in the kitchen for everything from frying to baking. Several items can be cooked in the heavy skillet including cornbread. - photo by AMANDA HEAD

For a cormbread recipe, click here.

Known to cook meals for hundreds of years, a cast-iron skillet is the perfect tool to fry, bake, saute, braze and broil.

“Prior to the introduction of other metals, cast iron was the No. 1 type of cookware and it was used for everything,” said Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager for Lodge Manufacturing.

Lodge Manufacturing, which has a factory store in Commerce, began making cast-iron products in the late 1800s and continues to grow today.

Producing a dry heat, a cast-iron pan is great for baking and holding a constant temperature throughout the pan; it is great for every other type of cooking as well, Kelly said. Including cooking on a stovetop, in an oven and on a grill, Kelly says cast iron is great to cook over a campfire, as well.

The only thing homechefs cannot cook with cast-iron pans are very delicate sauces, such as those that must be heated and cooled quickly. A cast-iron pan or skillet does not cool quickly.

But Chris Mitas, executive chef of the Bistro at the Oaks in Gainesville, said a variety of foods are better when cooked in cast iron. But using cast iron is not without its setbacks.

“They’re heavy and get hot real fast and the handles get hot,” he said. “You can’t use them on a glass top because the top can shatter from the hot bottom of the pan.”

Also, cast-iron pans are not dishwasher safe, Mitas added.

To outweigh the negatives, cast-iron products have a variety of positives.

Kelly explained if cast iron is taken care of it can last a lifetime or more. In fact, he uses his grandmother’s cast-iron skillet and Dutch oven.

“(They) were wedding presents to her in 1918 and I still use them to this day,” he said.

Plus, the more cast iron is used the better it will be seasoned and longer it will last.

“Even if you bury it in the ground for a year or a century, you could still refinish it and use it all over again,” Kelly said, noting it is the great thing about cast iron.

If the pan is rusty, steel wool can be used to grind off the rust and soap can be used to complete the cleaning process before reseasoning the pan.

Taking care of cast-iron products is easy. Lodge recommends vegetable oil or Crisco for the initial and reseasoning of the pan. The company also suggests olive oil, which has a lower burn point, for maintenance.

“Put a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven below the cooking coils,” Kelly said. “Preheat the oven to 350 (degrees), put vegetable oil or Crisco all over the pan and put it upside down to allow the oil to drip into the aluminum foil. And bake it for an hour.”

Once seasoned, avoid letting the pan sit with water. And use a mild soap, if any, for cleaning. Kelly said it is best to clean the pan once it has cooled from cooking.

“I personally do not use soap,” Kelly said. “I use warm water and for any extra bits I have a nylon scrub.”

If cooks don’t want to deal with reseasoning cast-iron pans, Mitas suggests enamel-lined cast iron.

“You don’t have to season them, the enamel keeps it nonstick,” he said. “You can clean it like a normal pan, but you don’t want to use a metal scrubby because it will tear off the enamel, which will render the product useless.”

An enamel pan will give the same heating results as cast iron, but will not have the seasoning, which adds flavor to future food cooked within the pan.

“If you want Southern home cooking, enamel cast iron is probably not what you are looking for,” Mitas said. “If you’re wanting a little more convenience without the seasoning process, then enamel cast iron is probably your best bet.”

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