Few things in life last longer than a good, old-fashioned cast iron skillet. For the beginner or expert backyard barbecue grill cook, this versatile and virtually indestructible item is a trusty companion and just the start of your fundamental cast iron lineup.
During a drive from St. Louis to Tampa this past week I spotted a roadside sign just before Chattanooga touting the “World’s Largest Cast Iron Skillet.” It was one of the best “gotcha” tourist moments I’ve ever experienced, because next thing you know I was in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and buying a slew of BBQ equipment from the Lodge Cast Iron company, going strong as the last survivor of 100+ cast iron makers dating back to 1896.
I walked in and could practically smell fresh-fileted trout smoking beside rosemary sprigs in a sizzling cast iron skillet on our Big Green Egg. This is how to cook -- whether you’re using your kitchen oven and stovetop, or camping over an open fire, or enjoying your Big Green Egg ceramic cooker like I am for smoking, grilling and baking. Let’s look at some of the things you need to know as you join cast iron nation.
The Benefits of Cast Iron
Heat retention, consistency, durability, versatility, easy care and tradition are right up there at the top. This utilitarian product came out of the Industrial Age and grew up side-by-side with America’s steel boom in the late 1800s. In fact, U.S. Steel owned the property where Joseph Lodge started the Blacklock Foundry in 1896, and then after it burned down in 1910 he rebuilt his operation as Lodge Cast Iron in 1910 and the rest is history.
The more you cook with a cast iron product, the better it will be. How many other things in life can you describe that way? Here’s why: “Easy release” is a term Lodge Cast Iron uses to describe the gradual improvement of its products. Whether you're cooking meat or vegetables or anything else, the food emits oils. Those oils turn into carbon particles that enhance the seasoning. Keep cooking with it, and it continues to "easy release" more and more carbon particles to gradually build up the familiar non-stick process.
Lodge Cast Iron pieces take 2 ½ hours to make in a foundry where they pour a melted mixture of pig iron and other metals and alloys at 2,500 degrees to start a process that leads to shipments to more than 3,000 dealers in 80-plus countries. Cast iron owners are passionate about their items and hand them down for generations.
13 Cast Iron Accessories You Could Use Right Now
Imagine your cast iron product is seasoned and ready to use, it’s fully preheated, and you added a little oil. You’re ready to rumble. So here are some of the items you may want for the ride:
Get even heating and a perfect sear every time with a wide choice of cast iron skillets. If you’re buying a cast iron BBQ skillet for a kamado grill, just be mindful of your maximum diameter as you pick out the size. You may want a handle like ours, or try a dual handle camper pan.
Recirculate moisture and steam anything with cast iron lids, or opt for a glass version. You can find other cast iron brands, but they are usually imported from somewhere. We have had a 10-inch skillet for decades, and on the bottom is the “Wagner’s 1891 Original” logo. That just means it was made by a foreign company starting around 1987 to commemorate the now-defunct Wagner cast iron company. But it gets the job done because it’s cast iron, and during my Lodge stop I started by buying a 10 ½ inch lid that fits that one perfectly.
I’m the meat guy and my wife is a vegetarian, and in a good marriage you take care of each other. So when I walked through Lodge and asked a sales rep what she would suggest for my wife’s Big Green Egg interests, she walked me over to the Grill Topper section. The holes in these grates have Lodge’s iconic teardrop shape to keep food from falling through as you infuse your dinner with a smoky BBQ grill flavor. There’s also a 12-inch round grilling basket, but I like the Topper so I can share space on the EGG. Of course, you can cook far beyond veggies with this. It’s great for shrimp, jalapenos, potatoes or whatever you can imagine to top off our smoker grill experience.
Big Green Egg Products
The Lodge visitor center shop has a spacious Big Green Egg product area in one corner, and as usual that brand has many of its own proprietary products. That includes cast iron stuff, like their green Dutch oven, skillet, half-moon Plancha Griddle, sauce pot and grill press. Cast iron products are also great companions for Traeger grills, Weber charcoal grills, Kamado Joe smokers, pellet grills, gas grills, kettle grills, Hibachi grills and so on.
For stir fry and fajitas and campfire scrambled eggs, a 14-inch cast iron wok is perfect for the Big Green Egg. Deep sidewalls keep everything contained while you cook, and you might want to add the 15-inch glass lid for steaming. It will handle all surfaces indoor or outdoor.
Wood Smoker Pellet
There are many ways to distribute amazing smoke throughout your Big Green Egg or gas grill and charcoal grill, and this is one of the best. This 6 ½ inch skillet smoker has vent holes so it keeps your wood chips in place, cast iron style.
Dutch Ovens and Casseroles
The cast iron Dutch Oven comes in one, two, five and seven quart sizes, and you can put that baby on the Big Green Egg and whip up fire chili. Take it straight to the table as a great centerpiece displays when entertaining for holidays and special events. I bought a blue cast-iron casserole at Lodge, and while it’s pretty in that Big Green Egg picture above, the seller recommends not using it on a grill because the enamel finish could break down.
This is on deck for my Big Green Egg. Nothing beats a basic cast iron cornbread recipe, and we’ll start with a Traditional Southern recipe and then fancy it up from there. Shoot, we might even enter the Lodge National Cornbread Cook-off at some point. If you’re getting cast iron stuff, you have to toss in some bags of cornbread and cornmeal or are you really a griller.
Cast Iron Grill
Lodge’s Sportsman’s Pro Cast Iron Grill is about 17 inches long and 9 inches wide, ideal for burgers, fish and veggies for a special on-the-go cast iron BBQ cookout experience. That’s hundreds of bucks cheaper than a Big Green Egg Mini Max, for example. Even less expensive is the Kickoff Grill, so these are two fine tailgating options.
Your fajitas have to sizzle, and nothing makes a better sizzle than cast iron fajita griddles.
If you’re one of those who don’t miss an episode from Dutton Ranch, then you’re going to like the range of cast iron Yellowstone cookware with the big Y branding. The combo cooker, deep camp oven and grill press are just a few of the highly desirable items for real Montana outdoor dreamers.
Handle Holders & More
The great thing about cast iron is its ability to retain heat. But, if you accidentally grab a hot handle, the bad thing about cast iron is its ability to retain heat. The handle holders pictured here protect hands up to 350 degrees, and there are multiple pattern styles. I opted for the black max-temp handle holder, which has a Pyrotex outer fabric to protect hands from heat up to 450. There’s also a silicon holder in various bright colors, as well as assist handle holders. Many other accessories are available here, and I threw in a double-thickness crochet potholder and a FireWire kabob holder.
Taking care of cast iron is a little different, but it's easy and it will help ensure these last longer than a lifetime. Cleanup is a three-step process: wash, dry and oil.
Forget the myth that you don’t use soap on cast iron. Use a little soap with water and scrub anything off. I bought an everyday scrub cloth that we used to scour after a quickie batch of grilled asparagus. For heavy-duty cleanup that will arise from some Big Green EGG BBQ action, I added a square blue chainmail scrubbing pad to tackle really tough messes. A polycarbonate hand scraper is good as well to remove built-on food.
Dry quickly with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. Black residue will likely come off, but it’s just the seasoning and that’s normal. Then you want a rub a light layer of cooking oil on, and in my case, I opted instead for Lodge’s seasoning spray. Then wipe with a paper towel and it’s good.
For $10 you can also stroll through the Lodge museum and take a look at that giant skillet. I passed because there were too many incredible items I had to have or think about while there, and if you look closely on the left you can get a peek of the world’s largest cast iron skillet. It’s not like seeing the Grand Canyon during your drive, but it’s worth the exit.