Pros: Evenly heats, practically indestructible, withstands high temperatures.
Cons: Can rust easily if not cared for properly.
The cast iron skillet is one tool that my kitchen will never be without. In fact, we currently have four cast iron skillets of varying sizes in my kitchen. We love cast iron because, as Alton Brown put it, it's a "righteous conductor". It heats to unbelievable temperatures, holds that heat for a long time, and in doing so sears meat, roasts vegetables and cooks batter in an incredibly predictable way.
My Lodge 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet was the first cast iron purchase that I ever made. Unfortunately, I descend from a long line of women who hate to cook, so I had no beloved cast iron skillet to inherit from a mother or a grandmother. If I wanted one, I had to go buy one. So I purchased mine from a home specialty store about twelve years ago for under $20.
The Lodge Manufacturing Company has been around for 110 years. Located in Tennessee, it is a family-run foundry that creates cast iron cookware by casting the molten iron into a mold, letting it cool and then breaking away the mold.
The resulting pan is uniform, heavy and pure iron. Lodge sells both seasoned and unseasoned cast iron cookware. The seasoned cookware line is a recent addition in the past few years and allows you to take home your cast iron pan and start using it right away.
About the 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet
The 12-inch skillet weighs about eight pounds. It's a hefty sucker. It has a looped handle on one end. If you dare to hang these heavy monsters on your drywall, you can hang it by that handle, I know a woman who did that, though I wouldn't do it myself.
It also has an "assist handle" on the opposite end of the main handle. If you're like me, lifting up a hot eight pound pan laden with food is not something your wrist can handle very easily. So you just take two potholders and grab on each end. Ahhh, much better.
The pan is solidly constructed in one piece. It's designed to last. Forever. I know people who have inherited slick black cast iron pans from several generations back. In fact, I even purchased and salvaged one such pan from a garage sale a few years ago. I have never in my life heard of a Lodge cast iron cookware item wearing out. The only thing that ever gets to these pans is rust.
Speaking of Rust... How to Care For Your Lodge Skillet
The most difficult thing about owning cast iron is knowing how to care for it. Cast iron can be a pretty temperamental beast. It hates water and moisture and can rust in a heartbeat if you don't know how to manage it. There are two simple (but sometimes time-consuming) things that you can do to maintain your Lodge cast iron skillet for a lifetime.
1. Regular Seasoning
Even if you buy a pre-seasoned Lodge skillet, you should consider re-seasoning your pan on a regular basis, at least a few times a year. Seasoning is the process of lightly coating a cast iron pan with oil and baking it on in order to give the pan a protective finish.
You should season the inside and outside of your pan, including the handles. There are a number of methods passed around for seasoning, but Lodge recommends that you do the following:
- Wash the pan thoroughly in soapy water
- Rinse and dry the pan completely
- Coat the pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil or shortening, such as Crisco. Make sure the layer is very thin and covers the entire pan, handles, outside and all.
- Turn the cookware upside down on a rack in a 350 degree oven and bake for an hour. Put aluminum foil on the rack below your pan to catch any drips of vegetable oil.
- Turn the oven off and let it and the pan cool down before removing your pan. It should be a dark golden brown after the initial seasoning. Future seasonings and extended use will eventually turn the finish to a shiny black.
2. Cleaning and Storing
You should never clean your cast iron skillet with soap or use harsh abrasives on the finish. This can ruin the seasoning and cause your skillet to rust in spots. Lodge recommends that you allow your skillet to cool down before cleaning it and that you clean it only with a stiff brush and hot water.
When I have a real mess that I have to clean out of my skillet, or stuck on foods that would ordinarily take a scouring pad to get rid of, I rely on a method I learned from Alton Brown and his FoodTV Program "Good Eats". I take a few tablespoons of coarse kosher salt and pour it into the pan. I add a little bit of warm water to make a paste and I gently rub at the baked on or hardened bits of food. The salt eventually dissolves, usually taking the food with it. And the finish on the pan is preserved.
You should never put your cast iron in the dishwasher. And once you have finished washing your pan, you should coat it with a thin layer of oil and store it in a dry place.
One thing that I like to do is clean and dry my skillet thoroughly and then coat it with the oil. I then put the skillet back in the warm oven upside down to dry in the heat and mildly "reseason" itself again. If I have used the skillet on the grill or the stove, I just turn the oven on to 250 degrees and set the timer for 30 minutes to remind me to turn off the oven.
I store my cast iron on the lowest shelf of my oven. All four pieces get heated each time we use the oven and I always keep them coated with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Doing this keeps them perfectly seasoned and they're always handy when I want to use them.
If you purchase a lid for your cast iron skillet, be sure to store it with a folded paper towel between the lid and the skillet to keep air circulating in the pan.
If your pan rusts, scour off the rust with steel wool, clean the pan thoroughly and then reseason it again. This has only happened to me once or twice with other pans, and when it does I usually reseason it twice over the course of a few days just to be sure the rust doesn't reappear. It's important to get all of the rust off the pan before reseasoning it.
How Does It Cook?
The beauty of the cast iron skillet is that it cooks so evenly. The iron is so thick and is such a good conductor that heat distributes perfectly across the pan with no hot or cool spots.
We use this pan to sear steaks indoors by heating it up over a high flame until it's blistering hot. We then put the steaks on for a minute on each side and then put the pan in the oven to finish them. It's great that this pan can go from stovetop to oven with ease, and can handle any temperature you want.
We also use this pan to roast vegetables outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter. The pan goes straight on our gas or charcoal grill along with whatever else we are grilling. Vegetables roasted on the grill taste unbelievable.
Another favorite use for the pan is to make cornbread. I heat up the pan in the oven first, coated with vegetable oil. Then I pour in the batter and return it to the oven. The result is a perfectly cooked pan of cornbread with a wonderful browned crust.
One thing we don't do in the pan is cook tomato sauce or other acidic foods as the acid can eat through the seasoning and cause the pan to rust.
We love cooking with our cast iron skillets. The 12-inch skillet is the perfect size for nearly everything we cook in our kitchen. The other (smaller) skillets only come out when we need to do double duty and use multiple ones for our meal, or we need to cook something very small. This skillet is the perfect size for starting out with cast iron.