on November 20, 2009
To preface, I'm trying really hard to be a "good cook" but don't have a lot of experience, and I can't justify spending thousands of dollars on a budding hobby. So, when it came to replacing my flaking non-stick cookware, I researched for months before deciding on a hybrid set of copper-core stainless and Lodge cast iron. I read dozens of reviews and was intimidated by the extra care required by cast iron (I'm a wash-and-wear type). But, Lodge is so cheap comparatively and still really respected as an industry standard, that it's hard to overlook.
I initially purchased the combo cooker, a 5qt dutch oven, and a variety of skillets. The cookers arrived in their Lodge packaging and were quite secure, but the skillets definitely were shipped loose. Fortunately they survived the jumbled journey fine, but I can see what other reviewers suffered with regards to skillets scraping each other or breaking out of their boxes - they are only a few steps shy of being insufficiently packaged. Free shipping is a great offer though.
The pieces were just what I expected after having read the reviews - heavy, uneven in color/preseasoning application, and rough like sandpaper. Several reviewers I read were upset by sticking of initial cooking attempts, specifically because of the cat's tongue-like feel of the basin surface (which Lodge's website says is a normal condition). Responders suggested a few home seasonings prior to cooking, but I was impatient and followed one piece of advice spefically: go to my local bulk goods store, buy ten pounds of ground beef, and cook it in my new cast iron. I ended up also getting four pounds of bacon for good measure, and spent three hours cooking batch after batch of ground beef and bacon in every piece I'd purchased.
The plan worked perfectly - by the time I had finished cooking, drained the oil and scraps, rinsed the pieces with hot water, and towel dried, the insides of the skillets were smooth as satin. The beef fat had left a gray film that made the skillets look instantly "used", which is a benefit I'll have to get used to (not being able to polish them back to a "new" looking state). The bacon stained the cooking surface a bit worse - in bacon-shaped shaddows, but I saved the bacon grease and used it for weeks to brush on the pans prior to use. I've cooked on the cast iron many times since (just dislodged a perfect batch of cornbread this morning), without any sticking during or after cooking. The several weeks of bacon grease was unhealthy, sure, but a great patina starter - I now use a spray or a light brush with butter with no problems.
- The skillets keep food hot for more than an hour, but yet are not dangerously hot to handle from the oven or stove. I'm going to purchase the handle pads now, but so far I've been using those old loom-woven potholders I made at summer camp with no added discomfort relative to other pans.
- The skillets are so versatile! I heat them on the stove to melt butter, toss in some whole garlic cloves, pop in the oven to roast, and bring right to the table for a hot appetizer on toast. They have a vintage-y, industrial charm that allows them to mix and match smartly with existing serveware, and I love the stove-to-oven/broiler convenience.
- Food cooked on cast iron really does taste better. I was skeptical because all food tastes good to me, but a few friends and I conducted a "Test Kitchen" on Aebleskiver pans, pitting a teflon against a cast iron. My friends' husbands consistently chose the cast iron-cooked pancake balls citing their crust and flavor to be preferable.
- Lodge designed their lines efficiently. The 10.25" lid fits the 3qt Combo Cooker base, for example, allowing me to purchase one lid for several skillets.
- Duh, they're heavy. I'm talking two-hands-heavy. It's a drawback for sure, but nothing's perfect and I know the heaviness is directly related to all the reasons I really like my cast iron.
- They're quirky - cast iron doesn't like soap, doesn't like sudden temperature changes, and likes to stay very dry. But, like good table silver, the more the cast iron is put to use, the more forgiving and less tempermental it becomes.
I'm back to purchase more pieces, because Lodge cast iron has exceeded my expectations and caused me to take a sentimental approach to cooking - how many Thanksgivings will I reach for this dutch oven?, I wonder. A cook with cast iron in his or her hand is at once an intimidating force to be reckoned with, and a comforting vision of timeless domesticity. Thanks to Lodge (and Amazon!), I can live up to that image with few qualifications and little effort.