Pan Fried Mushrooms

I keep a cast iron pan near my barbecue for exactly one reason: my wife loves grilled mushrooms on her hamburgers.

I know very well that a well-seasoned pan atop an outdoor gas grill has a whole host of purposes, but when you have a system like this that ain’t broke… why fix it?

We eat barbecued hamburgers at least a few times per month over the summer, and without fail we slice up a couple cups of fresh button mushrooms, toss them into the blazing hot pan with a pat of butter and a clove or two of crushed garlic.

Recipe

2 cups of sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of butter

The fungi heat and sizzle and brown up with a rich, lovely aroma as the burgers grill up nearby, and everything is usually ready to eat just in time, as I swoop the plate full of patties into the house with a steaming hot bowl of grilled mushrooms alongside.

These go great with hamburgers, but I’ve been know to toss grilled mushrooms atop a steak, beside some grilled pork, as part of a veggie medley, or even just to nibble on their own.

Can I use an outdoor grill or campfire to season my cast iron pan?

Iron. Oil. Heat.

These are the three foundational ingredients needed to season any cast iron pan.

If you have a cast iron pan, a bit of oil, and a heat source then you should be able to season that pan. And so the simple answer is, yes, if your heat source is a campfire or a gas grill this would count and you should, most definitely, be able to season cast iron outdoors on a grill or other open flame.

In fact, in my own experience, I’ve had some great luck seasoning cast iron both on the barbecue and over the fire while out camping. There are many practical benefits including dispersal of smoke, efficiency of the process, and the honest-to-goodness joy of sitting around a fire doing something as practical as seasoning your cookware.

I’ve also had a couple bad experiences. So, a caveat

Cast Iron Guy Caveat: Fire and flame are less predictable than electric heat sources. And unpredictable heat can mean things might get a little too hot or too cool as you work to find the just right level of heat to achieve the best seasoning results.

Too low heat means that the chemical reactions to create seasoning won’t happen and the oil will likely just get gummy and sticky and fail to properly polymerize to become seasoning.

Too high heat means the oil and any established seasoning will likely burn and disintegrate leaving bare iron behind.

Check out my article on using a self-cleaning oven to strip seasoning for a refresher on how different levels of high heat affect the seasoning on a pan. I wrote about some of the chemical properties of seasoning and how the blast furnace temperatures of self-cleaning modes torch seasoning to ash.

Finding that just right heat in an oven somewhere in the middle of that too high and too low value is a matter of setting the knob to the just right number.

Finding that just right heat on a campfire or over a gas flame is a trickier prospect and requires attention and care above the heat source, and definitely not just throwing it into the flames or coals and hoping for the best!

While many things can go right, there is more wiggle room for things to go wrong: uneven seasoning, soot and ash contamination, over-heating and burning off the seasoning you’ve already created, increased difficulty to season handles or edges, or even in the extreme, possible cracking of your pan by moving it through too much temperature variation too quickly.

So, with a good steady-burning bed of coals or a medium flame on your grill, a rack or grate to rest your pan above the heat, the right tools, the right oil, and with work and care, yes, you can season cast iron on a campfire or outdoor grill… but maybe start with a practice pan to learn.

Grilled Grilled Cheese Spring Sandwich

Late last year I bought a slab of cast iron from the local home improvement mega store. The idea was not to buy a quality cooking griddle, but instead supplement my outdoor grill with a reasonably inexpensive multi-purpose cooking surface.

Delicate grill items, like veggies or fish are fine on aluminum foil, but I figured an outdoor flattop would be so much better.

If I recall correctly, I spent less than thirty dollars on a reversible barbecue griddle. The one I found that fit my dimensions was meant to match into a specific model of barbecue, but on its own sits just fine atop the grill I own.

I seasoned it up with a triple round of oil and heat. Smiled contentedly at my own ingenuity. Stored the griddle in inside the grill and then … winter hit.

Yesterday at lunchtime I was working from home, as usual. As I rummaged through the kitchen I discovered a loaf of freshly baked sourdough, some leftover Easter ham, a big block of cheddar cheese, and an abundance of painfully beautiful spring weather.

Inspiration struck.

I fired up the grill. Brushed the grill plates down a little (still crusty from the over-the-winter storage). And put some fresh oil on the slab of home improvement store cast iron.

I was rewarded for my efforts with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, fresh off the backyard grill. Hot. Fresh. And in the fresh air.

Ain’t spring grand?