Ten Hunks of Meat for Any Occasion That Cook Great on Cast Iron

Apologies to my vegetarian friends out there, but this one is for the omnivores in my audience. Never was I so convinced of the superiority of cast iron as part of my cooking contraptions than after I’ve plated some perfectly seared meat.

Hopefully these ten classics will inspire you to oil up a pan.

1. Beef Steaks. The pride of my homeland, a thick cut of Alberta grain-fed beef, peppered and grilled on a scorching hot pan to seal in the juices, cooked medium rare and sauced with a warm and sweet hickory glaze.

2. Hamburgers. In the summer I revert to the barbecue, but on those winter days a searing hot pan is a worthy replacement to grill up a patty or three, slipped into a bun and stacked high with all the fixings.

3. Lamb Chops. Seasoned simply and then pan seared in a bit of olive oil until a mouthwatering crust forms.

4. Fried Chicken. Buttermilk soaked and breaded, dropped into a bath of hot oil and fried up golden, and then served with biscuits (also cooked in cast iron!)

5. Salmon Steaks. Pink and thick, fried flaky on the outside, soft and tender under a butter fried crust, dashed with fresh lemon juice then sprinkled with dill from the garden.

6. Chicken Parmesan. The crisp cheesy breading browned to a crunchy finish around a chicken breast is almost good enough to eat without the sauce and pasta, but why would you.

7. Wings. Whether you like them spicy, crispy or saucy, properly deep frying a batch of chicken wings in a cast iron pot of oil can’t be matched by takeout.

8. Braised Roast. A hot cast iron pan can sear the sides to a gorgeous and delicious brown then finished in the same pan for a tender meal.

9. Schnitzel. Pounded thin chops, breaded and spiced, then shallow pan fried to a crispy finish with homemade potato salad on the side.

10. Fresh Caught Fish. Those lakes and rivers are calling, and over a campfire or just a kitchen stove, a fresh fish in a scorching hot cast iron pan is almost iconic as a fried egg.

People like lists. I like people. So I’m giving the people what they like. I ran a blog for 16 years and one of the most popular posts ever on that blog was a list of “100 things” that I’d compiled and posted. I’m trying to recreate something similar over the next couple months for the cast iron guy blog. This post will eventually form part of that mega list.

Suburban Fire Craft (Part One)

I have been making big plans for how I’m going to spend another summer of limited travel and quasi-lockdown in my little suburban backyard.

See, for at least five years we’ve had a small fire bowl set up in our yard. It has served the purpose of gathering friends and family around some burning logs, roasting some marshmallows on warm summer evenings, and sipping cold beers under the autumn twinkle of a clear night and the glow of a warm backyard fire.

We even kindled it up this last New Years Eve, sipped hot chocolate in the winter chill and ceremonially burned our 2020 calendar. Good riddance!

But after five years, and yet another long cold winter in the harsh Canadian elements, our trusty portable firepit is probably due for a replacement.

I’m looking at this an an opportunity rather than a loss.

The current bowl is simple and meant to be nothing more than a safe way to have a small fire. We’ve cooked hot dogs or made s’mores with it, but anything more substantial would be pushing it’s functional limits. It’s just not meant to cook over, for example.

As a kind of “Saturday Projects” series, and as summer approaches, I’ve got a few big ideas about how I’m going to bring some of my wilderness adventure to my suburban backyard. First on the to-do list is a series I’m calling “suburban firecraft” where I’ll be upgrading my fire bowl situation with a new set-up that will allow us to build safe, useful, and (of course) legal bylaw-compliant fires right out our back door.

I’ll be figuring out a way to not only cook marshmallows, but make use of some of our cast iron to cook campfire meals and test out some recipes before we take them out to the wilderness.

How would you build a backyard fire pit: a portable fire bowl that can be moved and stored or a permanent fire pit?

Cast Iron Care Checklist

Kinda surprising actually that I haven’t written on this topic yet, but here goes…

If you’ve been thinking about investing in a cast iron cookware collection, your new pans and griddles need a small collection of tools to live their best life with you.

As with many hobbies, there are expensive and cheap versions of available care accessories. Many companies will happily sell you branded tools, purpose-made implements, and specially crafted concoctions. Most of these items are important to care for your iron, but the pricy version of it is not. Cheap or free alternatives often exist. After all, cast iron cookware has been common for hundreds of years, but imported organic flaxseed oil probably has not.

Ten of the tools I keep handy to maintain my cast iron collection are:

Seasoning Oil – Personally, I lean heavily on canola oil for a post-cleanup wipe-down because we always have it in quantity and handy, but I also keep a bit of shortening or leftover bacon grease in the house for my purpose-seasoning efforts. There are numerous products on the market that are labeled as cast iron seasoning products (and I intend to buy some and try them) and many people online swear by flaxseed oil (but it is expensive). Whatever your oil of choice, this tool is a must for ongoing maintenance of your pans.

Heavy Duty Paper Towels – If I’m feeling flush, and I happen to be near a hardware store there is a brand of blue, commercial grade paper towels that are just about perfect for cast iron clean up. If I don’t have these around, plain old paper towels are a must for our supply closet.

Coarse Salt – The first time I tried it I was amazed by how much basic post-cooking cast iron cleanup could be accomplished with a quarter cup of water and a tablespoon of coarse salt. A few minutes of simple soaking usually means that with only salt and elbow grease I can clean up almost any pan. For anyone new to cast iron who is skeptical about the no-soap approach, try a salt scrub and your uncertainty will be alleviated.

Stiff Bristle Brush – To help with the salt scrub (as above) a good brush is also a must. We use our Lodge-brand brush so much it rarely even makes it back into the drawer.

Plastic Scraper – For slightly tougher clean-up jobs, I keep a couple of these in my collection. They are also invaluable for scraping out bits of set fat or other pan leftovers that don’t make it onto your plate, either by design or because you’re just too full to eat it.

Chainmail Scrubber – An optional big gun in your arsenal in the war on pan clean up is a heavy-duty scrub pad. I rarely use this personally but for those deeply stubborn bits (or when I’ve let my daughter cook and there are bits of burnt food clinging to the pan) a coarse, seasoning-safe scrubber is worth investing in eventually.

Heavy Duty Oven Mitt – It probably goes without saying, but the best way to use and care for your cast iron is to make it hot. Over a flame, from the oven, or atop a burner, you can neither use it nor care for it if you can’t touch it. Get yourself some serious mitts that will allow you to hold, lift, move, and carry a hot pan without grilling your digits.

Storage Rack – Sure, you could stack your pans one on top of each other — like an animal! Or you could invest in an elegant way to give those pans a way to stack or hang in style. There is probably something to be said about preserving seasoning and preventing damage this way, but the simpler reason is that if you can access them, you can use them.

Self-Cleaning Oven – A dual-purpose tool, a hot oven is vital for seasoning new pans or touching up the ongoing effort to keep your season even and strong. Additionally, a self-cleaning oven can get hot enough on the clean cycle to obliterate all the seasoning layers on a pan that needs a refresh. This is controversial and you shouldn’t do this with antiques or anything you can’t easily replace. Whenever we run the self-clean on our oven, I always toss in a pan or two that are starting to chip or build up seasoning in weird ways. This strips them clean and allows for start a fresh on bare iron.

Fire – Heat is heat, but nothing beats cooking over real fire. Plus, if your pans could talk, they would thank you for the chance to touch some real flames. Not everyone has access to daily fire in the form of a gas stove or barbecue, but taking your pan to a campout or picnic with some burning wood is what your cast iron cookware was made for.

Recipe: Cast Iron Campfire Waffles

Even far from an electrical socket, when I wake up in the woods I still have a few morning rituals. I need my hot cup of coffee brewed in one of a variety of ways: steeped, perked, or filtered. I usually try to eat a piece of fruit to start my day off right. And then I set out to cook a hearty breakfast for myself and the family.

Recently, and thanks to an amazing find at one of our local camping shops, that hearty breakfast has included fresh campfire waffles.

Yes, waffles. Over the campfire.

The easiest way to do set yourself up for campfire waffle success is by prepping some of your ingredients at home first.

In a plastic zip bag at home mix:

2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt

In a bowl at your campsite mix:

1 bag of dry ingredients (as above)
2 eggs
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups of milk

Also, pack some extra oil for cooking and for caring for your waffle iron.

My waffle iron needs about five minutes to heat up over a cooking fire after you’ve oiled it. Having a grate or other surface to rest your iron on is useful.

When the iron is smoking hot (yes… literally smoking) open the iron wide (using heat-proof mitts) and add 1/3 cup of your waffle batter to one center of the grill plate. Close. Flip (and I do a gentle whirl to spread the batter out inside.) And return to the heat.

Add a bit more oil to the iron between waffles.

Figuring out when the waffle is done cooking without that handy beep of an electric iron is as much an art as a skill. Added to the complexity is that you’re cooking over a fire with irregular temperatures. Look for less steam. Look for visible doneness at the edges. Get a feel for the time it takes and be prepared to over/undercook your first couple waffles.

Then… serve. Hot. Add fruit. Syrup. Whatever you like.