Guest Post: Lessons on finding the best cast iron skillet by Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas

Doug Thomas, my friend and fellow founding member of the Northern Sierra Dutch Oven Group, spends a lot of time researching and collecting cast iron cookware. He is one of Nevada’s reigning State Dutch Oven Champions and recently competed in the 2014 International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship Cook Off. I asked him awhile ago if he’d be interested in writing some guest posts for my blog as his knowledge on cast iron, both new and vintage, is boundless. Below is a lovely article on what types of cast iron make the best skillet, along with some tips on collecting vintage pieces.

What is the best skillet for cooking and why?

Without a doubt the best skillet for cooking is made of cast iron. Cast iron skillets hold heat more uniformly and for longer periods of time than other types of metals. Additionally, they should be bare cast iron, not coated with enamel or porcelain. They should not have wooden handles so they can be interchanged from stovetop to oven. Bare cast iron cookware, however,  does require seasoning with oil to seal the pores of the metal to prevent rusting and provide a smooth surface. Bare seasoned cast iron also imparts a certain flavor to the food being cooked and many medical personnel proclaim that it adds a certain amount of iron to the cooked food. Some doctors have even proclaimed that iron supplements can be reduced or eliminated with regular cast iron cooking.

What brand is the best?

There are many differences of opinion as to which brand is preferred. Perhaps one of the best skillets is the one grandmother or great-grandmother used.  With proper care, cast iron skillets can last indefinitely. In addition, the early cast iron skillets were manufactured differently than the ones currently made. They were thinner and therefore of lighter weight. The surface of the metal was also very smooth compared to the porous surfaces found today.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Skillet with Griswold markings. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Early manufacture of cast iron skillets began in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  One of the earliest companies was Griswold. Their pans were marked with “ERIE” due to their production in Erie, Pennsylvania. In the early 1900s this was changed to “GRISWOLD.”

Another company, Wagner Ware went into business in 1891 and continued making cast iron for over a century. Today there is a Wagner and Griswold Society that is still quite active. Beware of Wagner skillets currently being sold in cardboard boxes as they are made in Asia. This skillet says “Wagner’s 1891 Original” and was manufactured between 1991 and 1999.

Lodge Skillet with Lid

Lodge Skillet with Lid

Lodge is the only factory still making cast iron skillets in the U.S.A. today. They were founded in 1896, and are manufactured in Tennessee. The current skillets are quite porous and thick-walled compared to the earlier versions.

Skillet with Piqua marking. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Skillet with Piqua marking. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

A lesser-known skillet manufacturer was the Favorite Stove Company. It manufactured pans from the 1910s through the 1930s. These skillets have a very smooth surface and are lightweight. The bottom says “PIQUA” or “FAVORITE PIQUA.” Some have a smiley face under the name. This is an excellent skillet that is often overlooked.

Wapak Hollow Ware Chief Marking. Photo courtesy of ebay.com.

Wapak Hollow Ware Chief Marking. Photo courtesy of ebay.com.

Lastly, the Wapak Hollow Ware Company was formed in Wapakoneta, Ohio in 1903 where it produced several lines of “thin wall” skillets that were lightweight until 1926. These are currently some of the most sought after pans. Some have the word “WAPAK” on the bottom and the most collectable ones have the crest of a Native American chief on the bottom.

Several companies currently import cast iron skillets and include: Bayou Classic, Camp Chef, Coleman, Old Mountain and Texsport.

Choose your cast iron skillet wisely and it will treat you with a lifetime of pleasure.

Advertisements

Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook Giveaway!

A few posts back I promised to give away, not one, but two of The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. Well today is the lucky day! 

Here’s how you can enter:  tell me two of your favorite summer dishes.

Simply leave a comment here at The Skillet blog, on my Facebook page and/or send a tweet via my Twitter site. You will be entered for each place you leave a comment. So, comment at all three places, you are entered three times into the contest.

That’s it! Easy as pie. Mmmmmm…did I mention that one of my favorite summer dishes is strawberry rhubarb pie? Might have to make one in my skillet.

The two winners will be announced on Monday.

Hope your summer is off to a fabulous start and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Photo courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing

Shrimp with Fresh Basil, Thai Style

Photo courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing

Photo courtesy of Lodge

A while ago, my husband gave me a copy of the latest edition of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. I don’t know if other cooks and foodies are like me, but I spend more time thumbing through my cookbooks than actually trying some of the recipes. For me, the attributes of what makes a fine cookbook are a wide variety of dishes, beautiful photographs (preferably color), easy to follow recipes, and little tidbits thrown in on history, techniques, and possible ingredient substitutions. I am also partial to cookbooks with spiral bindings, as they remain flat on the counter when you are working through a recipe.

Lodge’s cookbook meets most of my criteria. It doesn’t have the spiral binding, but quite frankly, most cookbooks don’t. But it has everything else — a variety of dishes, including breakfast frittatas, soups, stews and gumbo, delectable surf and turf dishes, desserts, and an entire section just on cornbread — and an easy-to-follow design with numerous color photos, simple directions, and sections on caring for cast iron, metric conversions, and even tips on bean hole cooking.

The recipes are diverse, not only in cultures (American, Asian, Indian, Cajun, Mexican), but in the different types of cast iron skillets, griddles, bakeware and ovens that are recommended for cooking. Overall, a great cookbook!

Following is a recipe that I tried from the cookbook, something that caught my eye as I love Thai food. I modified it a little, adding some julienned carrots and removing the jalapeno pepper from the recipe. This recipe is very simple, extremely flavorful, and fast to make. And it gets the thumbs-up from my hubby, so what more does one need!

Oh, and stay tuned! I will be giving away two copies of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook in the near future. Details to follow in a future post.

Thai Basil ShrimpIngredients
2 Tbsps. Asian Fish Sauce
2 Tbsps. Water
1 tsp. Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp. Sugar
2 Tbsps. Oil (Canola or Vegetable)
1 Lb. medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup thinly sliced Onion
1/2 cup Carrots, julienned
1 Tbsp. chopped Garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped Green Onions
2 Tbsps. coarsely chopped fresh Cilantro
3-4 torn Basil Leaves

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps' edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps’ edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Thai Basil Shrimp

Cook 1 minute, tossing occasionally…

...until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn't brown.

…until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn’t brown. Stir the fish sauce mixture to make sure the sugar is dissolved and pour it around the edge of the pan.  Toss well to season the shrimp, then let cook, undisturbed just until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce is bubbling.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each,. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Lodge Skillet Giveaway!

So here it is. My first ever giveaway! The Skillet blog is nearing its six-month anniversary and 50th post, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and I want to spread the love of cast iron cuisine by giving away this wonderful 12-inch Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Lid.

Lodge Skillet with Lid

I swear by Lodge skillets. They are featured in this blog and used daily in my kitchen. Lodge skillets are pre-seasoned, making them ready for cooking on your stovetop, in your oven, or over the campfire. And they are made in the good ‘ol U S of A!

So here’s how to enter for your chance to win. If you do all three, you are entered three times in the giveaway.

PLEASE NOTE: Existing followers of the blog and on Twitter, and “Likes” on Facebook are automatically entered. That’s my thank you to my loyal followers!

  1. Become a follower of The Skillet blog. Simply click on the “Follow” button on the sidebar to the right, enter your email address, and receive future posts in your mailbox.
  2. “Like” The Skillet blog on Facebook. Hit the “Like” button in the sidebar to the right. (The one with the goofy cowgirl photo – yep, that’s me. Cowgirl Wannabe.)
  3. Become a follower on Twitter. Just look for that cute little bluebird on the sidebar to the right and “Follow @theskilletblog.”

The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, making it my 50th post!

Please leave a comment if you have any questions about the giveaway.

And thanks SO MUCH for reading this blog and joining in on my cast iron adventure!

Garlic-Parmesan Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Seems I’ve been on a bit of a chicken kick lately. A number of my recent posts involve it as a main ingredient. My husband and I eat a lot of chicken as our primary protein because it is lean and versatile. But I think we need to mix it up a bit in the new year. Resolution Number One. Well, right after get in shape, eat healthier, organize my house and spend fewer hours on my gadgets. Then I’ll mix things up – in my KitchenAid mixer – another gadget. Never mind. I guess some resolutions aren’t meant to be fulfilled.

So if you are looking for a lovely way to mix things up with chicken, try this stuffed chicken breast recipe. It would be tasty with turkey as well. The stuffing got a thumbs-up from the hubby.

Garlic-Parmesan Stuffed Chicken BreastsIngredients
1/4 cup Butter
1 cup chopped Onion
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 cup Plain Bread Crumbs (not pictured, oops)
1 cup chopped Fresh Parsley
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/8 cup chopped Fresh Sage
2 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Black Pepper
2 Tbsps. Olive Oil
Butcher’s Twine

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

Add the onion and garlic.

Add the onion and garlic.

Cook until browned, about 5 minutes.

Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the bread crumbs, parsley, chicken broth, Parmesan cheese, and sage.

Add the bread crumbs, parsley, chicken broth, Parmesan cheese, and sage.

Mix thoroughly and allow to cool.

Mix thoroughly and allow to cool.

Butterfly the chicken breasts without cutting all the way through.

Butterfly the chicken breasts without cutting all the way through.

Cover with plastic wrap and pound with mallet until 1/2-inch thick.

Cover with plastic wrap and pound with mallet until 1/2-inch thick.

Season with salt and pepper.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add stuffing over chicken in an even layer.

Add stuffing over chicken in an even layer.

Tightly roll up the chicken breasts and secure with butcher's twine.

Tightly roll up the chicken breasts and secure with butcher’s twine.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet (I used the same one that I used for the stuffing) and sear each side of the rolled chicken breasts, about 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet (I used the same one that I used for the stuffing) and sear each side of the rolled chicken breasts, about 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned.

Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature is 155-degrees. Let the chicken breasts rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Bake in a 300-degree oven for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature is 155-degrees. Let the chicken breasts rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Slice and serve with your favorite vegetable, like steamed artichokes.

Slice and serve with your favorite vegetable, like steamed artichokes.

Diabetic-Friendly Smoked Sausage and Pepper Frittata

My husband is diabetic and has asked that I get us back on a healthier diet. I have to agree. We have fallen off the low glycemic bandwagon lately. So I will be mixing things up a bit, adding more diabetic-friendly dishes to my menu and this blog.

After a night of trying not to eat all of the Halloween candy, I decided to make this very simple and tasty frittata – which is like a crustless quiche – filled with turkey sausage, bell peppers, onion and egg substitute instead of whole eggs.

Calorie count per serving – 170. Total carbs – 13 grams. Total fat – 5 grams. Even if you are not diabetic, this recipe is also good for the waistline.

Ingredients
Nonstick Canola Cooking Spray
7 oz. Smoked Turkey Sausage, diced
1 each Red and Yellow Peppers, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped Yellow Onion
1 cup Cholesterol-free Egg Substitute
3 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese or Marscapone (an Italian cream cheese, it is low-calorie and gluten-free)
Black Pepper
Salsa (jar or fresh)

Coat the bottom of a cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Over high heat, cook the turkey sausage until it begins to brown. Remove the sausage to a plate.

Spray the skillet again and add the peppers and onion. Cook over medium-high heat until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes.

While the veggies are getting steamy, add the egg substitute, cream cheese and black pepper to a blender.

Puree until smooth.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the turkey sausage to the veggies. Mix together.

Pour the egg substitute mixture evenly over all.

Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes until almost set.

Remove the skillet from heat and let sit uncovered for 3-4 minutes.

Cut into quarters and serve with salsa. This recipe comes to you “Husband Approved.” Enjoy!

The Health Benefits of Cast Iron

So posts this week have been pretty light – quite frankly, non-existent. The reason? I’ve just been super busy (dog trial, agility awards dinner, crazy work deadlines, etcetera, etcetera) and not able to cook much this past week. I’ll be back in the cast iron swing of things soon and I have some fun dishes planned for future posts. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I thought I’d cover some of the health benefits and sustainable reasons for cooking with cast iron.

  1. Because cast iron pots and skillets are so well-seasoned, they have a natural non-stick surface, meaning you don’t need to use as much oil or butter when cooking. And that’s good for the love handles.
  2. Cast iron cookware is free of potentially harmful chemicals that are found in non-stick pans like those with Teflon surfaces. Many non-stick pans are made with perfluorocarbons or PFCs, which are known to be highly toxic and carcinogenic. PFCs are released and inhaled from non-stick pans through fumes when the pans are heated on high heat. They can also be ingested if a non-stick pan is scratched. I’ve had a few scratched up Teflon skillets in my time. I don’t use them any more. I strive for a Teflon-free kitchen.
  3. Cast iron fortifies your food with iron, which is good if you have an iron deficiency or want to avoid taking Geritol. One of my Dutch oven cooking buddies was instructed by his doctor to cook in a cast iron skillet once a week to help avoid becoming anemic. Geez…I’m on my way to becoming Iron Man.
  4. Cast iron is made to last a lifetime, if properly maintained. My mother used her cast iron skillet for decades and many of my friends have skillets and Dutch ovens that belonged to their parents and grandparents. Cast iron is very vintage.
  5. Cast iron cleans easily by using hot water, a stiff brush and a little vinegar. No soap is required. Many dish soaps contain high levels of phosphates which act much like fertilizers, increasing algae and aquatic weed growth in bodies of water. Wastewater containing phosphates can end up in lakes, rivers and streams. Cast iron can be very eco-friendly.
  6. Cast iron is versatile, as I’ve tried to demonstrate through this blog. One cast iron skillet can be used on the stove, in the oven, on the grill, and over the campfire. You can cook multiple dishes in a cast iron skillet, meaning less equipment to purchase for your kitchen. Unless you’re a total addict like me.
  7. Cast iron is affordable. My favorite Lodge skillet cost around $25 and is the most used piece of cookware in my household. And since I intend to be cooking with it when I’m 90, I’d say that’s the best $25 I’ve ever spent.

Sources:

EatingWell Magazine
sustainablebabysteps.com

Dutch Ovens 101: The Necessary Accessories

As with any kitchen or wardrobe, accessories make all the difference. It is the same for Dutch oven cooking, especially if you want to cook outside and in some degree of comfort. Following is a gallery of items that I think are necessary for the Dutch oven chef. Be forewarned, Dutch oven cooking can be an expensive hobby, but many of these items are one-time purchases and should last a lifetime. This gallery is in no particular order or priority.

This cooking table, manufactured by Camp Chef, makes Dutch oven cooking easy on the back. No bending over campfires, fire pits or aluminum garbage can lids (yes, many people cook this way with their ovens). It is easy to assemble – the legs and wind guard come off – and can be toted in a durable vinyl grill bag.

The charcoal starter should be familiar to anyone who camps. It is an essential tool in Dutch oven cooking. Coals go in the top cylinder, newspaper is rolled into the bottom and lit. Coals take about 20 minutes to heat through this method.

Charcoal. I think this is an obvious one, but it is important to use a high quality type. Kingsford is the best – it holds the heat the longest and provides an even temperature.

Leather welding gloves – yes, that’s right – welding gloves. Cast iron gets HOT and you will feel the heat through your regular oven mitt. Cooking safely is fundamental and these heavy leather gloves will protect your hands. Welding gloves can be found at hardware stores or through Lodge and are relatively inexpensive.

A lighter, preferably one that is long. I keep four to five of these on hand because I never want be unable to light my fire. You know what I mean.

A metal trivet can be very versatile. I’ve used it as legs for my poultry roaster or a skillet so coals can be slid underneath. I’ve used it as a lid stand. It fits inside my oven in case I need to raise something, like a pizza, from the bottom to avoid burning. It’s my multi-tasker.

A metal lid stand can rest on the ground or on a table and gives you a clean place to rest your lid while cooking.

Lid lifters come in a number of varieties and sizes. They provide stability and safety when lifting a coal-covered lid from a hot Dutch oven.

Here I am, safely using my lid lifter.

An ample supply of newspaper is good to have on hand for lighting your fire. You know what I mean.

An external digital thermometer is a nice perk to have, especially if you are roasting meats that require a few hours or a specific temperature. This thermometer allows you to set your temperature and sounds an alarm when you reach it. You can find it at discount, grocery and department stores for under $20.

A kitchen timer is very helpful to keep you and your dish on track.

An ash bucket is essential when discarding your hot ashes. I purchased this metal bucket from a local Army Navy supply store for $10. I drilled holes into the top to alleviate any suction of the lid when the hot ashes are sealed in the bucket (otherwise you cannot get the lid off until the bucket completely cools). You can also use a heavy plastic paint bucket purchased at a home improvement store and fill it halfway with water, then dump in the ashes. One must be safe when playing with fire.

Wooden utensils are best when cooking with cast iron. They don’t scratch the surface like metal ones, won’t melt like plastic ones, and don’t get too hot to handle.

A variety of plastic scrapers of all shapes and sizes plus a soft-bristled scrub brush make cleaning your cast iron a lot easier and won’t damage the seasoned surface.

Lodge manufactures these nifty silicone hot handle holders which are ideal for cast iron skillets and griddles.

These silicone trivets provide a safe and ample surface to place your hot Dutch oven or skillet.

Plus I really like the pattern.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Dutch Ovens 101: Restoring Rusty Cast Iron.

A Little Black Pot’s Journey through History

There are few cooking vessels today which remain virtually unchanged from the time they were first manufactured. The cast iron Dutch oven has traveled across time – from its inception in 7th and 8th-centuries Europe through the settlement of the American West – in the same form.

In the early 16th century, the Dutch mastered the art of casting iron in molds, using dry sand to create smooth surfaces. The English studied the Dutch process of casting metal, enabling them to manufacture cast iron cooking vessels for Britain and their American colonies. The term “Dutch oven” remained with the shallow kettle with three legs through three centuries into modern times.

Paul Revere

The colonists brought their cast iron pots to the New World and began casting their own skillets and kettles. Silversmith and American patriot Paul Revere is credited with creating the flanged lid on the Dutch oven, allowing for hot coals to be held on the lid. With coals on top and under the oven, an actual baking oven was created at the hearth or campfire.

Iron cookware was treasured so much that George Washington’s mother even specified the recipient of her cast iron kitchenware in her will.

Lewis and Clark

When President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery to explore the Louisiana Purchase, the Corps embarked on a two-year trek to discover America’s newest territory. They brought along cast iron cooking pots and refused to discard them when loads along the journey needed to be lightened.

The Dutch oven has become an iconic symbol of the American West – an integral part of the westward expansion by settlers, gold miners and ranchers.  American settlers packed their covered wagons with their most necessary and treasured possessions – including their cast iron cookware.

A chuckwagon with compartments for Dutch ovens and skillets

Chuck wagons on cattle drives were built with special compartments for the Dutch ovens and skillets. The modern baling wire handle of the Dutch oven was most likely added by cowboys so the oven could hang on a tripod over a campfire.

Today, Dutch ovens are rarely made by blacksmiths and now are mass produced. They are predominantly made in China and the United States. Lodge Mfg., based out of South Pittsburg, Tenn., has been manufacturing cast iron cookware since 1896.

Today’s modern Dutch oven cook has a plethora of equipment to make the cooking experience a lot less rustic than American settlers may have experienced. Charcoal, rather than fireplaces and campfires, provides fuel.

For me, cooking in the Dutch oven ties me to my past, knowing that my forefathers and mothers, who were American colonists, revolutionaries, Civil War soldiers, and pioneers, also cooked in a very similar vessel. Many of my friends have ovens and skillets that belonged to their parents and grandparents. The Dutch oven is a part of our American heritage.

How miraculous that one small pot could travel unscathed through history…and be so much a part of it.

Sources: Lodge’s Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101