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First and foremost, we use Lodge cast iron because of the superior quality. We also feel good supporting a family owned, family operated business producing the most extensive selection of quality cast iron goods on the market right here in the USA.
When Joseph Lodge began making cast iron in 1896, he began a legacy that would create the foundation to an enduring standard of quality carried forward by four generations of family management. The resulting privately held metal formula, precision molds and exacting mold wall thickness are the result of years of dedication to improving quality that began with the first skillet from the first sand mold.
We've been to the Lodge foundary nestled alongside the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains is the town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee. The attention to detail and quality by a dedicated crew of long-time employees is impressive. It was obvious to us during our visit that care and craftsmanship goes into every piece they make.
Not even the most expensive stainless and aluminum cookware can rival the even heating, heat retention, durability and value of Lodge Cast Iron. Its legendary cooking performance keeps it on the list of kitchen essentials for great chefs and home kitchens alike. For open-fire cooks, quality cast iron that will withstand the intense heat and provide that even heating is key to successful campfire meals. We've seen lesser-quality cookware split while hanging, dumping the Dutch oven contents into the fire. Not a pretty sight, and most disappointing to the cook!
While it is true I have some treasured cast iron handed down to me by family that is not made by Lodge, these older skillets were made of much higher quality than most imported goods available today - and some have been used by members of my family for over 100 years.
The reason we choose Lodge when purchasing new pieces of cast iron is simple - they offer pre-seasoned Lodge Logic. Although we do season the cast iron ourselves to some extent, it is very nice to buy a new piece and use it right out of the box. Over time, cooking certain foods will add to the headstart given by the preseasoning, which Lodge estimates is equal to about 5 years of use. This is an excellent choice for those inexperienced cooking with or seasoning cast iron.
Cast Iron allows trace amounts of iron to leach out of the cookware and into the food. Soups, chili, and spaghetti sauce, and other foods with a high moisture content or acidity that are stirred frequently and cooked for a long time, will absorb significantly more amounts of iron than foods that are cooked quickly, like chicken breasts, steak or burgers.
Experts estimate that 60% to 70% of Americans do not get enough iron in their diets. Iron is a vital mineral, and an essential factor in the body's ability to efficiently circulate oxygen through the blood stream. Iron is needed for the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals which allow information to be passed between nerve cells.
Low levels of iron in the blood can result in insufficient amounts of oxygen being circulated, leading to fatigue and headaches. An extreme deficiency can lead to anemia, with nausea, vomiting, weakness, suppression of the immune system, and difficulty in maintaining body temperature. Inadequate iron levels can be caused by low dietary intake, excessive blood loss, or the body's inability to absorb iron due to an underlying disease.
Women who are pregnant or of childbearing age, or who have heavy menstrual periods, have the greatest need for iron. Pre-term or low birth weight infants, older toddlers, teenage girls, and patients with gastrointestinal disorders or kidney failure are also at high risk for iron deficiency. Athletes lose iron through perspiration.
Iron absorption is negatively affected by the consumption of high in calorie foods that are low in nutrition: such as sodas and desserts, potato chips, and other snack foods which have become diet staples for many Americans, especially children. Using cast iron cookware can inexpensively add more of this vital element to our diet.
Iron is stored in the body, and reserves are used as the amount of iron in the diet diminishes. It is possible to consume too much iron, but the trace amounts in food cooked in cast iron are not high enough to cause an iron overload in most people. Of course, people with an iron overload disease, such as hemochromatosis, should get their doctor's advice before using cast iron cookware.
The non stick surface on cast iron comes from seasoning. Seasoning is the term used for treating cast iron with a quality oil and baking it at 350 degrees for at least an hour. This seasoning using the cookware fills in the porous surface, giving it a natural patina that is virtually a non stick surface. Seasoning is one of cast iron's biggest benefits. This seasoning can retain the flavor of the last cooked food. Since some of the fats and oils of what you are cooking is being retained in the cookware, it will serve to "season" subsequent dishes.
Cast iron does not fare well with low fat cooking. Soups and stews, particularly those with a high acid content, such as tomato based dishes, should be avoided until a good layer of carbon is built up on the cookware. Once your cookware has acquired a silky smooth, coal black layer of carbonized oils, fats and other materials referred to as a patina, it will tolerate these dishes if alternated with frying. This patina should be recognized as an advantage on the surface, and NOT surface soiling. Do not scrub away the patina when cleaning your cast iron or you defeat the purpose!
Well seasoned cast iron can be used freely for baking. If food sticks to your cast iron it means it is not properly seasoned or the temperature for cooking is too high. Cast iron should not be used for storing leftovers in the refrigerator.
The oil covering the surface is hot enough when it has either; 1) a gentle ripple in its surface, or; 2) for butter and other fats, a bubbling or foaming across the surface. If either fat or oil starts smoking, or butter begins browning, the cast iron is too hot and should be cooled a little before proceeding. The easiest way to do this is remove the pan from the heat source for a few moments.
For longer shallow frying and a good color to your food, a mixture of oil and butter works great.
For deep fat frying in a deep Dutch oven, the maximum oil level must not exceed one-thrid full. This depth allows the correct height above the oil for it to bubble once foods are added. A deep fat oil frying thermometer should be used for maximum safety and a lid should be available in case of oil overheating or flaring.
When frying in cast iron, add enough oil to completely cover the cooking surface. The amount will depend on the food and the pan, and how well the patina has developed. Oils and fats provide cooking color as well as flavor so a little is always required, i.e. a fried egg cannot be achieved without fat to fry it in.
For grilling and searing vegetables, corn or groundnut oils will give excellent results. Olive oil is great for the additional flavor it gives to food, but it has quite a low smoking point, so should not be used for brushing on hot flat or ribbed surfaces. Instead brush olive oil over the food just before cooking, or use in a marinade.
For correct grilling and searing it is very important that the cooking surface be sufficiently hot, so pre-heating skilles or griddles is recommended. Sear lines from ribbed grills will not be produced if the pan surface is too cool, or the food is too moist or wet.
To preheat, place the cast iron over a medium heat and allow it to heat for several minutes. Do not add oil to a cold pan because as the pan heats, the oil may become too hot and will smoke.
Take a few drops of water on your fingers and scatter these over the hot surface. If they sizzle and evaporate almost immediately, the surface is hot and ready for use. If the water produces steam and has no sizzle, heat the pan a bit longer and repeat the water test.
When the surface is hot enough oil lightly as needed, depending on what you are cooking.
For distinct sear lines leave the food undisturbed on the surface for several minutes. If the food is moved too quickly the lines will be poor and steam from the food may be released on to the surface.
Any food for grilling or searing should be quite dry before it is placed on the hot surface. Wet foods will not achieve good sear lines and may result in a steamed appearance and flavor.
Use paper towels to pat off excess natural surface moisture from foods. Oil can then be brushed over the food if desired - olive oil is great for this purpose.
Foods that have been in a marinade should also have excess moisture removed with paper towels before searing or grilling.
In addition to seasoning, the general care of cast iron is also important. By following these easy steps, you can ensure your cast iron pieces will be around to serve you for a long time to come.
Always wash with a mild detergent, rinse and dry thoroughly. Many say don't use soap at all, but a little drop is what I have used for years on my prized cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens. I place thoroughly rinsed cast iron over heat or flame for 2-3 minutes, to remove any moisture from the porous metal. Never scour or use a dishwasher. I might add a few inches of water and hang a Dutch oven over the fire to remove stubborn food particles.
Cook food with little water content the first few times. Avoid cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes or beans, unless combined with other food as in a soup. Uncover hot food as you remove from the heat, because steam can remove the protective coating. By the same token, avoid steaming in your Dutch oven unless it is very well seasoned, and even then - sparingly.
Rust, a metallic taste or discolored foods are signs of improper or inadequate seasoning. If this occurs, wash thoroughly and re-season.
Since cast iron heats evenly, it is not necessary to use extremely high cooking temperatures. Best results are obtained with medium to medium-high temperature, and removing dishes from the open fire before they are fully cooked. The cast iron will finish the cooking job nicely and this will prevent the novice open-fire cook from burning cakes! Do not overheat or leave empty cast iron on a burner or over the fire. Never place cast iron on an already heated burner on the stove; rather, allow it to heat as the burner does.
Always store cast iron utensils with tops or lids off so moisture won’t collect inside. Store in a warm, dry place. A paper towel placed inside the utensil will absorb any moisture and prevent rust.
Extensive use of a cast iron Dutch oven or skillet will cause a crust to build up on the inside and outside of the pot. No amount of washing will prevent this build-up. If you need to clean this crusting off cast iron, follow this procedure:
1. Wash the piece as you normally would.
2. Place empty pot in a fireplace, wood heater or directly over an open fire.
3. Allow the piece to cook until the residue is burned away.
4. HANDLE CAREFULLY to remove from the fire and set aside, allowing slow cooling until the pot is cool enough to hold.
5. Use moist sand and a cloth to scrub the inside and outside of the pot.
6. Once the crust is removed, season as you would a new pot.
Your 20-year-old yardsale treasure can look the same as when it was new.