Cast Iron Convinced-ish

After nearly nineteen years of marriage, I’d like to think I’ve learned something about not just my own spouse, but about being married in general. One of those lessons is that a good spouse is one who can keep the other in check, balanced, and grounded. And vice versa, of course.

Introvert and extrovert. Left and right. Yin and yang.

I can’t tell you when exactly I became a die hard fan of cast iron cooking. It came on gradually and evolved proof-wise from an ever-growing, ever-expanding collection of pieces and recipes that validated my obsession.

I can tell you that my wife has been — tho largely supportive — mostly skeptical of the effort and has never fully jumped into the crucible of molten iron that is my cast iron fandom.

Insomuch as she has enjoyed the results of my cooking efforts, there have been a wave of negs from the gallery, commenting on their weight, or the space they occupy in our cupboards, trotted out like a curious exhibit for visitors who get a peek into the cast iron cupboard.

Then last week I found her cooking dinner having unearthed a Teflon frying pan from the depths of our pantry.

Betrayed!?

Or, yin and yang.

“You’re using an old frying pan?” I asked.

“I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy one.” She replied.

Don’t get me wrong. She knows very well that there are jobs for which a cast iron pan is just a pan and others for which cast iron is king. This past weekend she led the charge for Father’s day, frying up a sizzling pan of smoked pork chops fried to a crispy finish in my ten and quarter inch Lodge.

But her convinced quotient still leans the “sorta” column whereas mine is camped in the “fully convinced” lot.

Her caution is the balance to my obsession.

And for any stray reader who stumbles upon this website or post, perhaps googling a query like of “how to convince my wife to switch to cast iron” or “great reasons to buy your first cast iron pan” the advice I would offer is simple: maybe you never will. Maybe you never should. Maybe you only need to convince yourself and then just cook. The proof is in the pudding… or pancakes. And anyway, who cares if no one else does. Do you and find joy where you need to.

We have a cupboard full of cast iron and I use it almost daily to prepare our meals, bake our bread, or grill up interesting things to share. Years on, my spouse still doesn’t quite get it… and maybe she never will.

Maybe that balance is a good thing.

It reminds me to enjoy and use the pieces I have, to keep learning new skills as to bring her closer to team “fully convinced” and overthink it all to maintain that balanced yin and yang of a good marriage cast in something probably much stronger than iron.

Sustainable All

If you asked me for my political position on where the world should be going, I’d tell you. After all, it’s never great to write these things down, particularly on a public website where you are trying to foster a positive, happy vibe without some means to avoid the wrath of the countless people who disagree with you.

Instead, I’ll write about why I like cast iron so much.

What do you think the world will be like 25 years in the future?

We live in a disposable world, don’t we?

We’re arguing over single-use plastics — bags, straws, and wraps — as if the question is one of convenience trumping trash. In reality, it is a question of sustainability.

Everything we do shifts energy. Everything we do increases the general entropy of the universe. These are just laws of physics, not even opinion.

The opinion comes into play when we ask what the accumulated effects of billions of people shifting around energy and increasing universal entropy mean for this tiny ball of dirt and water and air upon which every one of us are bound past, present and future.

For as much as I love great cooking and hefty cookware, there is a often said but generally understated benefit to cast iron: it lasts forever.

The thing is that a lot of things last forever. That plastic straw you sipped your cola through for fifteen minutes will last in the ground as waste effectively forever. Well, okay, sure, ten thousand years is not actually forever, but it’s a heckuva long time on a human scale.

On the other hand that plastic straw is not usable forever. It’s usable for a few weeks under ideal circumstances, if you saved it and washed it and took care with it. But ninety-nine percent of the time a plastic straw lasts forever but is usable for fifteen minutes.

Cast iron pans last forever, but more importantly the are usable for a very long time. Generations in many cases. We can confidently say that any well-made cast iron pan is usable for good hundred or so years because we have examples of collector pans that date back easily as far back as cast iron pans were commonly manufactured. Yes, they take energy to cast and energy to mine iron from the ground and energy to move around the supply chain to get into your kitchen, but over the usable life of a pan — which can be very long — it even out, and likely even wins out.

On the other hand, there are much less sustainable ways to fry an egg.

In the next twenty-five years, say by the mid-40s, I really think we’re either going to need to have our collective mind firmly wrapped around the kinds of choices we make about disposable versus sustainable objects.

Do we drink from a straw or do we slurp from a cup? Do we love our non-stick Teflon™ or do we cook on cast iron? Do we keep the species alive for a few more hundred years, or do we turn the Earth into an unlivable wasteland?

I think that decision, however we manage to get there — by consensus, force, or inevitability — will dramatically shift what the world in twenty five years looks and feels like.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Strip this Pan, Part Four

In short, and to conclude this short series of posts, the effort to strip and re-season the twenty-inch reversible grill was a modest success.

In the end, it was a combination of elbow grease and chemical oven cleaner that seemed to net me the best result of the multiple methods I tried.

I found that using a wire brush to score the surface of the old seasoning then applying a liberal dose of chemical cleaner overnight allowed the bare pan to be the most easily exposed.

Four cycles of re-seasoning later in the oven and I tried grilling up a batch of chocolate chip pancakes this morning. That was definitely a success.

As far as cost goes… alas between buying scouring pads, a wire brush set for my drill, and a can of oven cleaner, I probably spent close to thirty bucks to achieve what I did here. A cycle of the self-cleaning oven is not free either, but it wouldn’t have been thirty bucks.

In then end and all that said though, having tried all these alternative methods to remove the old seasoning, I think I might just go back to the self-cleaning oven method next time. Simple. Effective. And not so nearly smelly, painful, or expensive.

Strip this Pan, Part Three

Time being limited and linear, it’s taken me over a month to get around to tackling the twenty-inch reversible grill reseasoning project.

For reference, check out parts one and two wherein I presented my options to deal with the pitting that was destroying the five-year-old seasoned surface of my Saturday morning pancake flattop and tried the least aggressive way I had read about, soaking in vinegar, to strip the seasoning. Spoiler alert, vinegar didn’t work.

A couple days ago I went to the store and picked up a can of oven cleaner, a pack of abrasive dish cleaning pads, a roll of industrial strength paper towel, and a pack of steel brush wheels for my power drill.

What I’ve read online (since I’ve never stripped a pan this way before) was that spray on oven cleaner is an agressive chemical approach to degrading the seasoning of the pan enough that you can pretty much just wipe it off.

It wasn’t quite that simple, of course.

The instructions I had read told me to coat the surface in oven cleaner, wrap in a plastic bag, and wait twenty-four hours.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Furstratingly, a day later, I had a pan with some very clean, but still very firmly attached, seasoning.

Back to the drawing board.

Yesterday afternoon I rinsed off the pan, and switched over to the drill and wire brush method. Forty-five minutes of shoulder aching, noisy, smelly, whirring away on the pan, I had stipped about half of the top surface down to bare iron.

To be honest, I’ve not been too worried about the edges or the reverse side. The bottom of this pan is a ridged grill pan that I think we’ve used less than five times since we bought this piece. It’s not that it isn’t useful, it’s just that this grill is pretty much my dedicated pancake pan and the smooth side gets used weekly and so consequently the smooth side is the side that I care about.

But even given that I only cared about the top half of the pan, a day plus forty five minutes of neighbourly-annoying outdoor cast iron maintenance had only got me part way to what I’d accomplished pretty much passively when I reseasoned this years ago by the self-cleaning oven method. That method, of course, has it’s risks not the least of which is the risk of the pan cracking in extreme heat, but with a crick in my back and a small bit of flaking seasoning embedded under my bleeding thumbnail (did I mention that part?) I was starting to reconsider the risk versus reward calculation.

Then I had a bit of an idea … mostly because I was tired and it was starting to get dark out

I lightly burred down the rest of the still-seasoned parts of the cooking surface with the steel wire brush, then resprayed with oven cleaner before stuffing it back in the bag and stowing it once again for an overnight.

This morning the results of the combined method had seemed to have paid off respectably well.

Over the pan where I had scuffed the surface of the seasoning, the chemical oven cleaner had been able to get under and into the old seasoning. It was able to do the job I had expected a day earlier. The bulk of the old seasoning flaked off and easily washed away with a little bit of light scouring from a dish pad.

I was able to grind the remaining stubborn specks off with the drill setup, wash it down really well, dry it up, and …

… as I write this post the pan is in the oven baking on a first coat of bacon grease seasoning.

I’ll spend the day doing multiple coats of a new seasoning layer, getting it back up to a surface that I can attempt some pancakes on in the coming week, and of course, report back with how it all turned out!

And hopefully part four is the part where I tell you how great it all turned out … and not me resorting to the self-cleaning oven again.