Questions & Admissions

Do you ever get the feeling that people don’t get you? It doesn’t keep me awake at night by any means, but occasionally I’ll have an insight into how others see me, and it’s an interesting epiphany.

For example, every day I have a morning check-in meeting with a group of my colleagues. It’s a chance to get the work day off to a good start and build rapport with the team. We give status updates on our various areas and go through some of the emergent issues that need to be worked on together. The person who chairs the meeting also tends to bring a fun question of the day and does a roundtable for everyone’s answers. These are simple things, light and fun.

Today she asked: What’s something you’ve been spending too much money on lately?

My coworkers know that I run. They also know that I’m into technology (it’s part of my job, after all!)

I guess that’s about all they know.

See, I haven’t really copped to the cast iron and cooking obsession.

So, today I replied: Well, I’ve been spending a lot of money on cookware lately … referring to some recent cast iron purchases, my investment in re-seasoning pans, and the money I spent over the summer to outfit an outdoor firepit, essentially so I can cook over it.

It’s funny the small secrets we keep from people, not necessarily by a deliberate act of exclusion, but simply because we haven’t shown certain people one side of our personality.

I do web design and digital technology stuff at work, and most of my coworkers think of me as the techie guy who is probably into video games and eclectic nerdy hobbies involving science fiction or soldering irons or databases. For some reason, it blows their minds a little when they find out I spend my free time outside exploring the world or inside cooking amazing meals.

Some people wear their personalities on their chest, but I guess I’m a little more cryptic these days. I’m okay with that.

La Cocotte est Neuve

I’m not sure how the rest of the world fares, but in Canada we have this side effect of those nearby American holidays wherein (despite celebrating local Thanksgiving a month ago … the right way!) we still get this post-Thanksgiving (American version) event called Black Friday falling out of their long weekend.

I’ve lately not been much of one to line up at a retail store and go crazy for deals, but I neither do I snub my nose at wandering the virtual aisles looking for discounts on things I’ve already got on my wish list and have been thinking about buying anyhow.

Such as, for example, new cast iron.

Last week a Canadian retailer had an early (like, really early) Black Friday half price deals on Staub cast iron pieces. Staub is one of those higher end cast iron brands that can run into the hundreds of dollars. It’s not unusual to see them listed for four or five times the price of an analogous Lodge brand piece.

So, for example, where you may pay sixty Canadian bucks for a Lodge frying pan, a Staub frying pan of similar size would set you back three hundred bucks at their suggested retail cost.

The price difference comes from finish.

At the end of your cooking day, any good inexpensive cast iron pan that is well seasoned, well loved and well practiced can make the same quality of food as its high end equivalent. After all, the art that comes from a paint brush has more to do with the artist than it does from the brand of brush she used.

But Staub being an imported brand with a strong reputation for quality and the distinction of being in that class that wears a refined enamel coat to the party, a coat that protects the iron and eases cleanup (not to mention looks sharp in blog post photo!) raises it into a higher class of product and, usually, a higher price bracket.

That said, you can often get a nice enameled piece on sale, and this being my second Staub I’ll note that we’ve paid full retail price on neither.

I’ve been combing the online stores for a smaller Dutch Oven for the better part of a year. My seven quart Lodge is a beast, a sourdough workhorse, and I love it, but it is a little too big for stews, soups, or roasting meals that are appropriately sized for a three-person household.

The new Dutch Oven (which arrived by courier just before dinner time last night) or what Staub calls a cocotte (because, I assume, the French are not going to call a fine piece of cookware by the name of their European neighbours) is roughly half the size of my old one. The four quart (or three point eight litre) is a perfect size for all kinds of future meal plans, and I’m sure it will find a quick and happy home in my kitchen and recipe repertoire, and some feature space on this blog in the near future.

Plus the bright cherry red colour will bring a smile to my face every time I put it to the flame.

It may still be a week or so until the actual Black Friday deals begin, but I’m happy to report that my money is happily spent and as a result I’ll be roasting up something delicious and avoiding any further shopping.

What’s the best first cast iron pan to buy?

First, always consider that the tool you’re most likely to get the most use out of is the tool you have the most reason to use. Buy a pan to suit the type of cooking you like to do.

A big flat skillet will let you cook big batches of pancakes or grilled sandwiches.

A small frying pan will be your breakfast companion for years to come.

A generous dutch oven will serve you well for chilis, deep frying and crunchy sourdough breads.

So, the simple answer here is buy the pan you need first and build out a collection from there.

But, you ask, what would the Cast Iron Guy recommend?

You’ve read all about this cast iron movement and you’re looking at your chipped and scratched collection of aluminum pans from the supermarket and pondering leaping into building a legacy collection of cookware and begin replacing your nonstick throwaways.

You can’t go wrong with a medium-sized frying pan, of course. A simple ten to twelve inch pan is a staple of any collection and will be of great use in any kitchen.

But the piece I recommend, the piece that sits atop my stove and rarely ever finds it’s way back into the cupboard, the piece that I would buy as a gift for a friend or family member who was debating their first acquisition is a round griddle.

I own the Lodge 10.5 inch round griddle. *not a paid endorsment

This piece is a low walled, simple round, smooth pan with a bit of a lip around the rim. It’s simple to use and maintain, and cooks just about everything day-to-day: grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, fried eggs, crepes & pancakes, and naan bread. It heats fast for warming leftovers. It packs well and I often take it local travelling to hotels (like when we go skiing in the mountians where we often have a kitchen but usually not-so-great pans.) It’s an all-in-one workhorse for egg sandwiches, grilling sausages, and my lunchtime meals-for-one. It goes into the oven as a roasting pan for numerous meat and vegetable dishes, and if I need to broil anything it’s the pan I turn to first.

And if I was rich, I’d buy these by the caselot and hand them out as gifts.

So, my recommendation: you need a great first pan, and you are not looking to fill a specific cooking need, I don’t think you can go too wrong with a simple round griddle.