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Timeless classic for the modern kitchen
on November 17, 2007
Sorry for the long review - for the short review, count the stars!
I'm a bit of a purist. I always season my cast iron - new, or used (hey, I don't know WHAT someone else used that old piece of cast iron for - maybe cleaning auto parts). I sand it down to bare metal, starting with about an 80 grit and finishing with 200.
Then I season. The end result is a glossy black mirror that puts Teflon to shame. There are two mistakes people make when seasoning - not hot enough, not long enough. These mistakes give the same result - a sticky brown coating that is definitely not non-stick, and the first time they bring any real heat to the pan, clouds of smoke that they neither expected or wanted. I see several complaints here that are completely due to not knowing this.
But there were a few pieces I needed (yes, needed, cast iron isn't about want, it's a need), and this was one of them, so I thought I'd give the Lodge pre-seasoning a try. Ordered last Friday, received this Friday - free shipping, yay!
The first thing I noticed was the bumpy coating. The inside is actually rougher than the outside, and my hand was itching for the sandpaper, but that would have defeated the experiment. This time, I was going to give the Lodge pre-seasoning a chance before I broke out the sandpaper. So I scrubbed the pan out with a plastic brush and a little soapy water, rinsed well, put it on a medium burner, and waited. Cast iron tip number one - give it a little time. Then give it a little more time. Cast iron conducts heat much more slowly than aluminum, so you have to have a little patience.
Then I threw in a pat of butter, and brought out the natural enemy of badly seasoned cast iron - the egg. And, sure enough, it stuck - but not badly, just in the middle. A bit of spatula work and I actually got a passable over-medium egg. Hmmm. But still not good enough. So I cleaned up the pan, and broke out the lard.
I have only one justification for using lard. I don't remember Grandma using refined hand-pressed organic flax oil, or purified extra-virgin olive oil made by real virgins. Nope, it was pretty much animal fat in her iron. A scoop of bacon grease from the mason jar beside the stove and she was ready to cook anything. Grandaddy wouldn't eat a piece of meat that had less than a half-inch of fat around it. "Tastes like a dry old shoe.", he'd declare if it was too lean. In the end, I'm sure their diet killed them, but they ate well in the meantime. Grandaddy was cut down at the tender age of 96, and Grandma lasted till 98. Eat what you want folks - in the end, it's pretty much up to your genetics.
So I warmed up my new pieces, and smeared a very thin layer of lard all over them - use your fingers. Towels, especially paper towels, will shed lint, and lint in your seasoning coat doesn't help things at all. Besides, it's kinda fun.
Here's cast iron tip number two - season at the highest temp you think you'll ever cook at - or higher. If you don't, you won't get the full non-stick thing, and the first time you bring it up to that temp you'll get clouds of smoke from the unfinished seasoning. I put my pieces in a cold oven, and set the temp for an hour at 500 degrees (F, not C). Yeah, I know, Lodge says 350. Lodge doesn't want panicked support calls from people whose house is full of smoke. Crank the heat up.
You have two choices here. You can put a fan in the kitchen window and blow smoke out of your house like the battleship Bismarck under attack by the Royal Navy, or invest in an oxygen mask. You will get smoke. You will get lots of smoke, especially if you're doing several pieces at once, like I just did. This is a good thing - that's smoke that won't be jumping out to surprise you the first time you try to cook with any real heat. The goal is to heat until you don't get smoke, and in my experience, 500 degrees for an hour does that pretty well.
Let the pieces cool in the closed oven. Then re-grease and repeat. And repeat again. And don't glop the fat on. Just enough to coat. More thin layers are better than fewer gloppy layers. I managed four layers last night without my neighbors calling the fire department.
Seems like a lot of work? Look at it this way. It's a lifetime commitment. Treat your iron well, and it will love you right back like you've never been loved before. And this is pretty much a one-time deal, unless you do something silly.
The end result of my all-night smoking up the kitchen exercise? Dry, absolutely no stickiness, black as a coal mine at midnight and shiny - but still bumpy - could it possibly work with that rough surface?
I put the skillet back on a medium burner, put a pat of butter on and tossed in a couple of eggs. After the whites had set a little, I nudged them with a spatula, and they scooted across the pan. I'll be... it works. My wife came back from the store and wanted scrambled eggs. If there's anything that cast iron likes less than fried eggs, it's scrambled. But it was the same thing all over again. No stick. No cleanup. Just a quick hot water rinse with a brush in case something got left on the pan (I couldn't see anything, but hey), then I put it on a med-hi burner till dry, put a thin coat of lard on the pan and waited until I saw smoke for a minute. Let cool and hang up. Done.
So. do I like the bumpy texture of the Lodge pre-season? Nope. Does it work? Yes, and contrary to my misgivings, it works very well. My wife pointed out that even some Teflon cookware has textured patterns in it. The Lodge pre-season isn't a perfect surface out of the box - but it does give you a big head-start. After a night's work, my iron is ready to face anything, and you just can't beat that.
Lodge makes a great product. For the quality, durability, and versatility, you can't beat Lodge cast iron. Plus, it's made in America. I like that. If you've never experienced cast iron cooking, you've just been cheating yourself. Plus, the price, for a piece of lifetime cookware, is insanely cheap.
And my sandpaper is still on the tool shelf.