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A Black Iron Haven

Recent Cast Iron Acquisitions

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Last month, Kathy and I took a day trip to Tennessee, and while we were in Sevierville made the required stop for any cast iron aficionado at the Lodge Cast Iron Outlet Store. This is the second time we had been to a Lodge outlet store, with the previous visit made to the store in South Pittsburg, where Lodge is headquartered. If you’re into cast iron like us (and if you’re reading this, you probably are), you know that visiting one of these stores is akin to a religious experience.

Lodge has four factory stores, and of the two we’ve visited so far, the Sevierville store was clearly the nicer one. It was larger than the South Pittsburg location and had high ceilings and lots of bare wood walls and displays. It almost felt like being in a log cabin, but it was brighter and more open than your average cabin. It was a thrill to walk into a store dedicated to cast iron and see shopping carts. I immediately grabbed one, although we did not have a clear plan for what we were going to purchase.

As we went along, spending about an hour in the store, Kathy and I walked up and down every aisle, making certain we had missed nothing. We called a family member as well as a friend of the family asking them if they needed us to get them anything while we were there. They both enthusiastically gave us their “orders.” Some of the items we picked up were novelties such as a Lodge baseball cap. It’s black with the Lodge logo on the front and the words “1896 * USA” on the back. I also got one of those rust eraser sticks I’d heard about, but have not had a chance to use. I’ve got a couple of old cast iron chicken fryers that need cleaning up. I’ll be certain to write about my results with the eraser when I’ve had a chance to try it out.

I was especially excited to find the cast iron casserole dish pictured to the left. To my knowledge, these are not sold on the Lodge website, although Lodge sells an enameled version of the same pan. This one, however, is non-enameled, bare cast iron (although pre-seasoned). A few months ago, I featured the larger enameled cast iron broaster pan in one of my posts, but this smaller cast iron casserole dish was something I’d been wanting for a long time.

Also pictured here is a cabbage casserole which was the first recipe we tried in the new cast iron casserole pan. I plan on featuring this recipe a few months from now as we get closer to New Year’s, but if you can’t wait until then, be certain to shoot me an email requesting it.

I’d also been wanting a lid for our cast iron wok for quite a while. I realize you may be thinking that a lid is not customarily used with a wok, and I’d have to agree with you completely. But let me explain why I wanted one.

When Kathy and I cook dinner using our Lodge cast iron wok (see my original review here), we usually cook enough food for our dinner and then have enough food for leftover lunch the next day. You have to realize that this is not customarily the way woks are used. Most of the time a wok will be used to cook just enough food for one meal. So, if there are four people eating, the food in the wok will be divvied out among them with none leftover. But Kathy and I regularly need to make enough food so that we can take our lunch to work with us.

So, if we pack our lunches right away, we run the risk of our food for that night’s meal getting cold. But if we leave the food in the wok, it tends to lose too much moisture while we’re eating. Therefore, I needed a lid!

A few months back, I emailed customer service at Lodge asking them if they made a lid for the wok. They do not, which didn’t surprise me. However, I was told that the 14” camping dutch oven lid fits perfectly. So, while in the store, I found one of these rather large lids and carried it over to a display where a few woks were sitting. I set the lid on top of the wok, and I was delighted to see that it fits perfectly! It’s almost as if the lid was especially designed for the wok.

So, our cast iron collection has grown a little bit more. Because we have limited room, I decided long ago that I was not going to collect cast iron simply to collect it, although some people greatly enjoy doing that. Instead, all of our cast iron is what like like to call “in use” cast iron. We actually do use everything we have. I’ve shown a picture of our cast iron display rack before, but it’s a bit more full since the last photos I posted.

What you see here is almost every piece of cast iron we own. Other than what you see here, I also have my main cast iron skillet that has a permanent place on the stove top. It the first cast iron piece I got back in the nineties. It is a Lodge 10.25" skillet that I received back before they began adding the extra grip handle and before everything came pre-seasoned.

I also have Kathy’s grandmother’s chicken fryers (two) in the back room waiting for me to find the time to clean them up and get them back into normal use. I don’t yet know what brand they are, but I look forward to trying to figure that out. My only other not-pictured cast iron item is a Wagnerware cornstick pan which I will have to take that rust eraser to before I can re-season it and get it back into working order.

Finally, pictured below are a few shots of the same rack above, but slightly enlarged so that you can see some of the items we have. I’m not showing these items to show off. I know of many cast iron collectors whose inventories are larger than ours. However, I also know that true cast iron aficionados enjoy looking at other folks’ cast iron. So, enjoy and feel free to post any questions or comments in the comment selection of this post.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Queenie's Peach Cobbler/Looking at the World through Cast Iron Lenses

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Do you look at the world through cast iron lenses?

That is, when you go to a restaurant or perhaps to dinner at a friend’s house, do you think when the food is served, “You know, I bet this would taste even better if it were cooked in cast iron”?

I admit I do this. In fact, when I make old family recipes, I chuck the directions to use a glass dish, and I usually cook in cast iron instead. You think that green bean casserole is good in a Pyrex dish? You’ve not had green bean casserole until you’ve had it cooked in cast iron. If skillet fries taste best in cast iron, think of how good your uncle’s hash brown casserole will taste. I’ve got two cast iron pans specifically for casseroles, but if you don’t, a cast iron skillet will work just as well.

My cast iron obsession preference makes me re-read all those great family recipes that I ate growing up and rethink them using cast iron. One of those recipes that I applied to cast iron recently was my grandmother’s peach cobbler. You might remember a while back when I posted her cornbread recipe, “Queenie’s Cornbread,” and if you liked that, wait until you try her peach cobbler.

Of course, I should point out that I never actually ate this peach cobbler at my grandmothers house when she was alive. But my mother made it regularly and always referred to it as her “Mom’s Peach Cobbler.” In the copy of the recipe I received, which had the title just mentioned at the top of the page, the directions simply called for a “casserole” dish. But this goes back to my previously mentioned point—I was certain this would go better in cast iron!

In fact, the recipe itself isn’t all that different from the cobblers we’ve made while camping, using a dutch oven placed directly on top of live coals. One of the best features of those great campout cobblers is the crust that forms in the cast iron. Therefore, I was fairly certain that I could (forgive me for saying this!) improve on my grandmother’s recipe.

At our church, my Sunday school class has a potluck brunch every first Sunday of the month. So two weeks ago, I decided to make my grandmother’s peach cobbler, but not in a glass dish, but in cast iron! Now, my wife, Kathy, who doesn’t like peaches (odd, isn’t she?), asked if I’d also make one using apples instead. The recipe is pretty versatile, so the picture at the beginning of this post has apple on the left and peach on the right. To make the cobbler even more special, I made the original peach recipe specifically in my grandmother’s skillet that was handed down to me years ago. It is a BS&R and is at least 70 years old if not older. I used my Lodge skillet that I got in the nineties for the apple cobbler.

Needless to say, both cobblers were a hit, but the peach cobbler was completely gone when the apple cobbler was only half eaten. But by the end of our class, both pans were empty. Cast iron is definitely superior to the standard casserole dish for this recipe as you probably imagine. I encourage you to join me in looking at your world through cast iron lenses!

So, here is Queenie’s recipe for peach cobbler. It’s very easy, so very basic and so very good. Enjoy!

Queenie’s Peach Cobbler

Cast Iron Required:
10.25" Cast Iron Skillet

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 can of sliced peaches, don't drain
Melt a stick of butter in a cast iron skilet.

Mix a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, two teaspoons of baking powder, 1 cup whole milk.

Pour in 10.25" cast iron skillet and add one large can of sliced peaches (don’t drain).

Bake at 350° 30-40 minutes.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Rick plans to post more of his grandmother’s recipes in the future, so check back often. Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Joanna Pruess on QVC Tonight

Joanna Pruess, author of the The Griswold and Wagner Cast Iron Cookbook, will appear on Kitchen Ideas on QVC tonight at 9 PM EST.

If you haven’t seen Joanna’s book, be certain to read my review. It is perhaps the best cast iron themed cookbook I’ve ever seen. We liked it so much that after we bought ours, we bought three more to give as Christmas gifts last year.

Be sure to catch Joanna on QVC tonight and if you don’t already have her book, you may want to order one.

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Why Cast Iron? Five Reasons

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Every now and then, someone asks me--“So what’s the big deal about cast iron?” There are plenty of other pans around. Plenty of other ways to cook. Why should someone entertain the use of cast iron cookware to begin with?

Here are a few reasons to use cast iron. Maybe you’ve been toying with the idea of cooking in cast iron for a while, and this will help to push you over.

Macaroni & Cheese in Cast Iron
(1) Cooking in Cast Iron Makes Food Tastes Great. It’s easy to talk about food that tastes good, but I only hear about cookware that makes food taste better from folks who have switched to cast iron. Cast iron distributes heat evenly over the cooking surface, second only to copper pans. But cast iron has an advantage because its unique properties affects the texture of food cooked in it. Anyone who’s ever eaten a properly cooked piece of cornbread from a cast iron skillet can testify to this. Maybe it’s true that copper conducts heat better, but I never hear anyone bragging about cornbread made in a copper pan! I’ve begun cooking casseroles in cast iron for this very reason, but even sauteed vegetables and meats cooked with a light amount of olive oil produce results that pans of other materials simply cannot match.

(2) Cooking in Cast Iron Is Healthy. This is true for a number of reasons. First, cast iron pans are a great way to get trace amounts of iron into your diet (see the first question and answer here). Many have pointed to the rise of other materials for cookware (aluminum, chemically treated non-stick pans, etc.) in the mid-twentieth century as a direct correlation to the rise in people being diagnosed with iron deficiencies today.

There are also serious questions raised about the danger of cooking surfaces such as teflon when used at high temperatures (see MSNBC: “Teflon Chemical Cancer Risks Downplayed”). It is well known that fumes from teflon pans (and possibly other chemically treated non-stick surfaces) can cause the death of birds kept as family pets (see “The Silent Killer” by Joanie Doss).

Aluminum pans aren’t necessarily safe either. Though a definite causal relationship has not yet been established, a common factor seen in Alzheimer’s patients are aluminum strands found in the brain (see Alzheimer’s Society: “Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease”). Whether aluminum cookware is one of the factors in this is yet unknown, but some believe that heating foods at high heat in aluminum pans causes the metal to leech into foods. Note also that aluminum pans are almost universally used in restaurants where food is usually cooked quickly at very high temperatures.

On the other hand, cooking in cast iron negatively affects only an extremely small portion of the population--those who suffer from too much iron in the blood. This condition is referred to as hemochromatosis. This is not an issue for the average person, and for those who suffer from too much iron in the blood, I’d still recommend enameled cast iron for all the other reasons mentioned here.

Another healthy aspect of cooking in cast iron is that it is so enjoyable, you will be encouraged to cook at home more often, which is always healthier than eating out or warming up pre-packed foods in the oven.

(3) Cooking in Cast Iron is Versatile. Not only that, it’s durable as well. What other kind of cookware can move so effortlessly between the stove top and the campfire? Today, cast iron can be found in use from all sorts of people--from the gourmet chef to the campfire cook.

Although cast iron is making a strong return to America’s kitchens, it never left the campsite. It was cast iron that sustained America from the earliest pilgrims to the pioneers who traveled west. Cast iron is hardy and very difficult to permanently damage unless it’s downright abused. I’ve easily used some of the same pans in my kitchen when we’ve gone camping as well. Although most campers will want to obtain dutch ovens specific to the campfire, a lot of us can confess to throwing regular dutch ovens in the fire, too, with no harm coming to them because of it.

(4) Cooking in Cast Iron Is Responsible. You’ll want to see my post “Green Iron: The Environmental Benefits of Cooking in Cast Iron,” but needless to say, cast iron is perhaps the most environmentally friendly kind of cookware available. When treated well (and often even when not!) cast iron can last for generations. I regularly use my grandmother’s skillets (one of which is pictured to the right) which are at least 70 years old, but that’s nothing. There are cast iron pans from the 19th century still in regular use today! Older pots than that are around, too, and if most of them weren’t in museums, they would still cook just fine.

Before we started using cast iron as our main cookware, there’s no telling how many other pans we eventually wore out and then threw out. Non-stick heating surfaces on those other pans eventually started flaking, so we’d throw them out. But after switching to cast iron a few years ago, I fully expect to be using the same pans--including my grandmother’s--for at least another three or four decades (assuming I live that long). After that, I will pass them on to others, which leads to the next benefit of cooking in cast iron...

(5) Cooking in Cast Iron Creates a Legacy. In his book Dutch Ovens Chronicled, John Ragsdale points out that Mary Washington (the mother of George Washington) included her cast iron collection in her will (see p. 28). I’ve already mentioned that I regularly use two of my grandmother’s skillets and still assume I will be doing so when they are well over a century old.

We also have a couple of cast iron chicken fryers left to us from Kathy’s grandmother that I’m in the process of restoring. According to Kathy’s mother, her father used to often clean these pans by throwing them into a fire in the back yard!

Now think about it for a second. Do you really think that your aluminum pans, your chemically-treated non-stick pans, or your electric skillet will be in use too many years from now? Is there any chance you'd be able to will them to your family members? Would you even want to?

With cast iron, it's a different story.

When done with thought and care, the preparation and eating of meals together can be very intimate and memorable occasions. In today’s busy society, too often people don’t take the time to make a meal from scratch and sit around the table together. When I make my grandmother’s cornbread (see recipe here) in her skillet, I think of all the times I sat at her table eating her wonderful foods. That skillet is forever tied to her memory. I can’t use it without thinking of her. If I had to only keep one item in my cast iron collection, I would choose that one.

One day I will pass on my cast iron to others. I hope that when they use them, they will think of me and the good times we had sitting around the dinner table.

Perhaps you have a cast iron pan or pot from a family member who has now passed on. Take that pan down, relive some memories and create some new ones.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Smothered Cooking in Cast Iron (Louisiana Cookin' - February, 2010)

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I’m very pleased to announce that the current (Feb. 2010) issue of Louisiana Cookin’ contains an article I wrote, “Smothered Cooking in Cast Iron.” The article discusses the history and method of smothered cooking, and I also included five recipes written by myself, family, and friends.

Recipes included:
  • Pointe Coupee Smothered Potatoes
  • Uncle Larry’s Smothered Deer Steak
  • Smothered Chicken and Andouille Sausage
  • Hamburger Steak
  • Queenie’s Smothered Steak
The “Uncle Larry” in the second recipe is my actual uncle, and the “Queenie” in the last recipe is my grandmother whose recipe I adapted for the article. My “original” contribution is the Smothered Chicken and Andouille Sausage recipe.

The article begins on p. 28 and concludes on p. 33. As you can see below, there are a number of very professional photographs of my recipes that accompany the article:

The February issue of Louisiana Cookin’ is now on sale at most major national book chains. If you’re visiting our website for the first time because you discovered us in Louisiana Cookin’, we hope you’ll come back regularly and visit us.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Don't Mess with My Tabasco

Posted by Rick Mansfield

If you know me, you know that I have a "thing" for Tabasco. Normally if I were grading one of my student's papers, I'd count off for using the word thing because it is vague and nondescript, but it seems fitting for the first sentence of my post. I've written about my predilection (perhaps a better word) for Tabasco before (see "Confessions of a Tabasco Addict Aficionado").

I always feel the need to defend my Tabasco habit. People who see me carrying my own personal Tabasco bottles usually assume two things: (1) I like my food really hot, and (2) I must not really be able to taste my food at all with all that Tabasco on it.

Well, these assumptions are simply unfounded. First, I really don't like my food too hot. Really. I simply use Tabasco instead of the black pepper you sprinkle on your food. You'll never see me adding both to my plate. It's about flavor--flavor with a little bit of a kick.

And, for what it's worth, I don't actually put Tabasco on everything. But see, there are some foods that simply go with Tabasco. I can't imagine eating eggs without Tabasco. Tunafish without Tabasco? Unfathomable.

As I said, I carry a bottle with me. I'm trying to eat a bit healthier these days, so Kathy and I mostly cook at home. But occasionally, when I need to grab something quick, such as a night like tonight when I'm teaching in Louisville, I usually pick up a tunafish sandwich on 9 grain honey oat bread at Subway. There are actually two Subways that I frequent. One is in Simpsonville where I live, and the other is in Louisville close to where I teach. At both of these locations, I don't even have to ask anymore. After the person behind the counter puts the tuna on the bread, he or she will reach across the counter so that I can hand over my 2 oz bottle of Tabasco. Tunafish and Tabasco were simply made for each other.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Why don't you just put your own Tabasco on the sandwich later when you eat it? Well, I could do that, but most of the time I'm taking the sandwich with me. The Tabasco and tuna will taste best together if the two have had a few moments by themselves, to get to know each other better.

So tonight, I'm at the Subway counter getting my tunafish sandwich. I should really get to know this fellow who's making my sandwich. He's made so many of them for me. I should ask him his name. I assume he's either the manager or the owner since he's always there. He's been making me sandwiches for at least two years. He's of Indian (as in India) descent, always very nice, and, of course, he humors my Tabasco thing. I don't have to ask anymore. He simply reaches out his hand. I give him the bottle noticing tonight that there's very little left. I'll definitely have to buy some more before I travel later this week.

As he sprinkles the Tabasco on my sandwich--I don't even have to tell him when anymore; he just knows at what point to stop--I notice a new employee leaning against the door frame that leads to the back room. She's new; I've never seen her before. A lot of these folks come and go. All except my friend behind the counter who knows how to make my sandwich. He's always there.

In hindsight, I heard what she said. But I was so taken aback when she said it, I simply had to make her repeat it.

"I beg your pardon?" I said in a tone that sounded mildly offended, or possibly even insulted. She said it again, in that same matter-of-fact, I-need-to-set-you-straight tone: "You know, it's really against health department codes for you to pass an edible substance over the counter like that."

What? I knew she really said it because I made her say it twice. Did she know who I am? Did she realize that I have an "I love Tabasco" bumper sticker on my truck's rear bumper? Didn’t she know that my Indian friend and I had been following this same ritual for almost two years?

I did not lose my cool. I did not do anything unchristian. But I looked at her and said very seriously, "Well, there are plenty of Subways in this town. If this one won't put my Tabasco on my sandwich, I can easily go to another store that will."

The manager was red-faced at this point, but trying to keep his cool. He looked at me with an apologetic countenance. "It's okay," he said.

As I left, I saw him take her into the back room. There were other customers eating after all. Nevertheless, as I walked out the door, I couldn't make out anything being said, but I could clearly hear his raised voice--something I'd never, ever heard from this gentle, normally quiet man. The bumper sticker on my truck caught my eye as I rounded my way to the driver side door. Yeah, it's love.

Don't mess with my Tabasco.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Interview with Joanna Pruess, Author of The Griswold & Wagner Cast Iron Cookbook

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Joanna Pruess
The Griswold & Wagner Cast Iron Cookbook
2009 Skyhorse Publishing

I first heard of Joanna Pruess' new book, The Griswold and Wagner Cast Iron Cookbook, about two weeks ago. While it's always questionable as to whether we need yet another cookbook around our house, this one seemed too good to resist. And I was right. I have a number of cast iron related cookbooks, and this one may already be my favorite.

This volume is a really nice, high quality hardbound book with a stitched spine. It lays flat on the counter which makes using it while cooking very easy. You can't begin to imagine the quality of the pictures until you see them. They were taken right in Pruess' home by a professional photographer as she prepared the recipes.

Pruess herself is no stranger to the culinary world. She has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Washington Post, Food Arts, Saveur, Food & Wine and more. Her most recent cookbooks before her cast iron book include Mod Mex: Cooking Vibrant Fiesta Flavors at Home and Seduced by Bacon: Recipes & Lore about America's Favorite Indulgence. Pruess even has her own Wikipedia entry! She is married to restaurant critic, Bob Lape.

Having been so impressed with her new cast iron cookbook (only released November 1), I contacted Joanna Pruess asking her for an interview and she graciously agreed. I've inserted page numbers from the book to go with a number of the recipes that are mentioned below.

I’ve noticed that most cast iron “aficionados” have a story to tell about how they came around to embracing cooking in cast iron. For some, it was after going through multiple sets of chemically treated non-stick pans and then remembering that pan that mom or grandma used that never wore out. What about you? How long have you been cooking in cast iron?

My earliest memories are from my mom making her potted chicken [p. 102]. The smell of that dish, like no other, takes me back to my childhood and happy, simpler times. I also remember a dish that was among my favorites as I was growing up--tamale pie [pp. 145-147]--and then updated it with ingredients that probably weren't available back then, like chipotle chiles. My mom's mac and cheese [pp. 33-34] was totally beloved in our house. With at least seven at the dinner table, it was a boisterous, fun event.

The topping is what made it special. I added the panko and while her Parmesan was most probably from a green cylinder, I use Parmigiano-Reggiano. I love touching old recipes from our families and friends. It connects us to our past. What I said last night is what Adele Davis said: "We are what we eat; I like to add that we are also the product of those we have eaten with...our relatives and friends who color and infuse our life with special meaning."

You’ve been writing about food and cooking for a while. You’ve previously written other cookbooks. Why did you think it was the right time to write a cast iron cookbook?

Because we all need comfort--both emotionally and economically. Many of these recipes are inexpensive and easy to make and appeal to a huge audience of all ages. Also, cast iron endures: it's good for our environment and even good for our bodies since the small amount of iron that is leached from the pots prevents anemia. Did you ever hear of anyone in our grandparents' generation with iron-poor blood? Nope. Also, some of the chicest chefs in town are now using cast-iron pots.

You're exactly right. I've said that I believe we're going through a bit of a cast iron "renaissance."

Also, the way home entertaining has evolved, the area of the kitchen and dining room has morphed into a great room. Cast-iron goes directly from the stove to the table.

I agree about that renaissance. We are discovering that after all those fancy pans have been used and/or abused and thus discarded, cast-iron is still viable. It can almost always be reconditioned. On that score, I was so fortunate to have the advice of David G. Smith, a.k.a. "The Pan Man," who is a real expert on caring for the pans.

Who, would you say, is this book for?

So far I am amazed at how many people tell me they adore reading it...the history, the old stories and that they LOVE the food. There seems to be a connection to both young and old; sophisticated and novice cooks. Everyone finds something they can take away because the food is really tasty, yet it doesn't take intellectualizing to appreciate it.

Your book is simply gorgeous. It can just as easily sit on a coffee table as it could sit on a kitchen counter. One of the elements of your book that really rings true to me are the pans you’ve used in the pictures. When I see, for instance, the picture of the skillet in the oven on p. 88, I notice the pan has carbonization building up on the inside. In other words, this is a pan that gets regular use and has been used for quite a while. I can relate to it because it looks like my primary cast iron skillet. This is really in contrast to some cast iron books I’ve seen in which a marketing department simply went and bought pre-seasoned pans from the store and prepared a few of the recipes in them. I can even think of one cast iron book that actually has food sitting in a gun-metal gray unseasoned cast iron Dutch oven. So, what about the pans in your book? Were they all yours? Were some of them borrowed?

I did cook in much-used pans. The food was all cooked and shot in our kitchen as it actually was prepared. I have worked as a food stylist and know that many food pictures are staged. I wanted people to see how it really looks. I have used that 13-inch skillet for at least 25 years, since my kids were young and I made pancakes. A griddle would have been great but that one was also my "showcase" pot for big parties. People always "ooh" and "ah" about it. Besides, the pictures tempt people to try dishes.

The fun thing was borrowing a chef-friend's pile of small cast-iron skillets for mini cornbreads and those to-die-for chocolate chunk-pecan cookies topped with ice cream and salted caramel sauce.

You're making me hungry! How extensive is your own collection of cast iron? What’s your oldest piece of cast iron? What’s your favorite or most used pan?

I have that 13-inch skillet (25 years old), a Dutch oven and a 10-inch skillet. Unfortunately, my mom's Dutch oven got lost. To me the lesson is "less is more." You can do almost all your cooking, with the exception of microwaving, in a few pots, including induction cooking. I also think that people should look for cast-iron at yard sales. There are lots of pots waiting to be adopted. And as you said they almost always come with a story or favorite recipe.

Agreed. And "adopting" pots is a great way to recycle and give life to these old pans. Which leads me to my next question: Why Griswold and Wagnerware? Why not simply write a general book about cooking in cast iron?

[Griswold and Wagner] were the first companies that produced and sold cast-iron cookware exclusively. Also, through Dave Smith and Joel Schiff (also a fine dealer in old cast-iron ware), I had access to their old ads and printed information which is in the public domain, but both had great collections which gives the book a lot of its charm and old fashion feeling.

When we previously corresponded, you suggested that I try out “Mom’s Mac and Cheese with Bacon” [pp. 33-34] and the “Clam-and-Corn Fritters” [pp. 52-53]. These were both exceptional recipes. What are some of the other “star” recipes in the book?

That's like asking which is your favorite a mother who has a bunch. Anyway, I love the zucchini pancakes [pp. 67-68], Steak 'n' Stout [p. 138], Salted Caramel [p. 202] on anything, Raspberry-Blackberry Crisp [p. 187] is to die for, Shrimp Posole (a real surprise and from Native Americans) [p. 180], My Favorite Chile [pp. 142-143], Tamale Pie [pp. 145-147], Oven Roasted Chicken [pp. 89-90]...and the shockingly better asparagus [pp. 74-75] cooked in cast-iron. I could continue to effuse since I adore this food.

Some of these recipes, such as the previously mentioned “Mom’s Mac and Cheese” have been adapted by you. I believe you mentioned that your mom didn’t include panko bread crumbs, and my mom would have never paid for Parmigiano-Reggiono cheese as I so happily did. What other kinds of adaptations did you make to “classic” recipes?

Good question. In my mom's Potted Chicken, she used Lawry's salt, introduced in 1938 by the eponymous restaurant in Los Angeles. It had MSG in it, so I discovered a deconstructed version of the seasoning [p. 103] online and combined it with her other seasonings, and it took me immediately back to her kitchen. I took out artificial ingredients wherever I could.

Rick, I want to add that cooking and serving in cast-iron seems to be a great "ice breaker" at a meal. It's so homey and unthreateningthat people just relax and get into the food.

I agree. We love to have folks over and cook for them in cast iron. We have a baker's rack in the kitchen where some of it is displayed, and it's always great for conversation. Usually someone's grandmother and her cooking comes up in the conversation. We've also converted many of our friends to cooking in cast iron.

Another thing I think that is important is the connections between Old and New World. For example, I love my short ribs but also a Korean friend gave me her version [pp. 136-137] that spins a thread between cultures. Same can be said of paella [pp. 176-177] and jambalaya [pp. 178-179].

I agree about converting people. Last night I made 30 new converts.

Where do you live?

I live in Simpsonville, Kentucky, not too far from Louisville, but I was born and grew up in Louisiana.

Wow, that's far away but prime cast-iron country for fried chicken (read the funny story about the cornflake crusted version [p. 98]) and all those good desserts.

I appreciate your taking the time this morning for this interview. I’m certain the readers of Cooking in Cast Iron will enjoy learning more about you as well as using this wonderful cookbook. Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the book in closing?

I think we've done it...except it's not only a way to connect with the past, it's a great legacy to pass on to future generations (hopefully with this book included).

In addition to lots of great history and recipes, Joanna Pruess also includes instructions for care and restoration of cast iron pans in her book. It would make a great addition to your own collection of cookbooks and as a gift for your special someone this Christmas.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at Joanna Pruess has agreed to answer any questions readers might leave in the comments as she has opportunity.

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General Tso's Chicken

Posted by Rick Mansfield

When I was a kid, we had one Chinese restaurant in the small Louisiana town in which I grew up. It was a nice restaurant. The food was good. It wasn't fast food, and it wasn't an all-you-can-eat buffet.

These days there's a Chinese restaurant in every strip mall. Most are buffets. Mostly mediocre food. It seems as if there's so much potential, but so very little followthrough in these kinds of places. Really, it's difficult to find even a really good Asian restaurant anymore because of all the competitions of the strip mall variety. I've seen very good Chinese restaurants close their doors because of the cheap Chinese buffet two blocks down cutting into their business.

But there are a few good ones still out there. And I tend to judge any ethnic restaurant of any kind by whether or not I'm the minority nationality when I'm there. If I find that I'm one of the few Westerners in the place, I can generally always expect the food to be not just authentic, but very good as well.

However, as is the case nearly every time I eat out--even at good restaurants--I inevitably think to myself, I could make this taste even better if I made it myself at home.

So shortly after I got my second wok (reviewed last May), I decided I wanted a Chinese cookbook. Well, not exactly a fully authentic mainland Chinese cookbook, but more of the kind that represented the American Chinese cuisine I was used to. Yes, I know, I know, General Tso's Chicken was probably never made in China. But, hey, let me start with what I'm familiar and then I'll later branch out.

In my quest for an American Chinese cookbook, I settled on The Everything Chinese Cookbook by Rhonda Lauret Parkinson. No, Parkinson is not Asian herself, but she's spent a good bit of time in Asian circles and has studied the cuisine. For an American, she knows her stuff. I was already familiar with her egg drop soup, which I featured in the earlier review of the cast iron wok. So I figured I'd give her book a try, too. The General Tso's Chicken featured here was good, but I think it could be improved upon. I'm going to present Peterson's recipe pretty much as it is in her book (with the addition of my photographs) and then add some comments at the end. You'll want to especially pay attention to these parting thoughts because they might help you make this dish even better if you decide to make it.

General Tso's Chicken

Cast Iron Required:
  • 1 pound dark chicken meat
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasame oil
  • 6 dried chiles
  • 4-6 cups oil for deep frying
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced


Cut the chicken into cubes. Mix in the soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of the rice wine, white pepper, and the cornstarch, adding the cornstarch last. Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes.

Combined the dark soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and 1 teaspoon rice wine. Set aside. Cut the red chiles in half and remove the seeds. Chop and set aside.

Heat the oil to 350° F. When the oil is hot, add the chicken cubes and deep-fry until they are lightly browned. Remove from the wok and drain on paper towels.

Raise the temperature of the wok to 400° F. Deep-fry the chicken a second time briefly, until the chicken turns a golden brown. Remove from the wok and drain on paper towels.

Drain the wok, leaving 2 tablespoons of oil for stir-frying. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger, and green onions. Stir fry briefly until aromatic.

Add the chiles and cook for 1 minute. Add the sauce in the middle of the wok and bring it to a boil. Add the chicken and mix through.

Suggestions for improvement:
  • Double the recipe. Kathy and I have been paying close attention to portion size lately. The recipe says that this makes four servings. This is what we were hoping for since we usually like to take leftovers for lunch the next day. This was realistically only two portions--even when trying to keep portions withing a reasonable range. The entire result would equal the average General Tso's ordered from a menu at most Chinese restaurants. I used four cups of oil for the frying. I believe this would be enough even if two pounds of chicken were cooked.
  • Use honey instead of sugar. I mean, why not? Honey would give a better, more natural flavor.
  • Watch your peppers. The recipe calls for six dried chile peppers. Our dish was very hot, and I was very careful to remove the seeds. Therefore, I'd scale it down to at least four peppers, and maybe even two for mixed company.
  • The dish is a bit salty. Mixing it with a bit of rice helps. Most of the salt comes from the soy sauce, so compare sodium levels if you have access to different kinds of soy sauce.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Review: Cook Me Somethin' Mister! New Orleans Style Jambalaya Mix

Posted by Rick Mansfield

"Cook Me Somethin' Mister!" is a subsidiary of ADGAS Outdoor Cooking Products, based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Recently, they sent me a 20 oz "party size" package of their New Orleans Style Jambalaya Mix to try out. The mix comes with everything you need except for the meat, cooking oil and water.

The directions suggest 1 1/2 lbs. of skinless chicken thighs and 1 1/2 lbs. of smoked sausage. Of course, if you're already familiar with jambalaya, you know that just about any meat or seafood combination can be substituted. In my case, I grilled some chicken breasts, which I chopped up afterwards, and substituted andouille sausage for the smoked sausage. The recipe also calls for "a five quart pot." I used a Lodge Logic 5 qt. Dutch oven which worked perfectly.

The directions, which are printed on the packaging, were simple enough. After the meat was cooked in the oil, I added water and brought the pot to a boil. While boiling, I added the mix and boiled this for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, it was just a matter of waiting. The stove's heat has to be completely turned off and the food sat covered in the dutch oven for 30 minutes. Although the next-to-last step suggests testing the rice to make certain it's done, it was for us. The only remaining step was number 8 requiring the cook to "Shout, 'Yum, yum, come get you some!'" which I did, bringing both Kathy and Bessie Mae (our hound dog) running. Unfortunately, Bessie Mae did not get any.

I've eaten and made many jambalaya recipes in my life and I have to admit that this one was right up there with the best of them. It's easy to be skeptical of a mix, but this one had the flavors right. Maybe part of it was Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning blended in--a fact advertized right on the label. I think another reason why it was so good is that unlike many mixes I've tried in the past, this particular one used vegetables large enough to see, bringing out a much richer flavor.

As you can see in the close up above, red and green bell peppers are easily identifiable as well as onions. The flavor was rich, and full, and my guess is that the average person would not even consider that it might be a mix.

The package advertizes that once chicken and sausage is added, there's enough food for 8-10 full meals. I would say, that and maybe more. We also gave some to some friends of ours without telling them it was from a mix so as to get an unbiased reaction. They thought it was wonderful and were actually surprised when I told them it was a mix.

One might ask, "Why use a mix anyway? Why not use a recipe from scratch" That's a fair enough question. But if you've ever made any Louisiana dish, you know that most of them aren't created in 30 minutes or less. And truly, even the jambalaya mix from Cook Me Somethin' Mister is going to take about an hour in total time once your meat is cooked, too. However, even that is at least an hour shaved off the normal time that jambalaya takes.

But there's even greater reason to use this mix in a whole different context. Cook Me Somethin' Mister also sells a 4 gallon or 8 gallon cast iron jambalaya pot and burner combo. The four gallon combo requires 10 lbs. of meat total and 4 bags of the jambalaya mix. The ten gallon setup uses 10 bags of the mix and 20 lbs. of meat. These will produce 32 and 80 servings respectively!

What would you use this for? Well for tailgating parties, campouts, and any other event where you might need to feed a whole lot of people. I think this would be great fun to cook this huge cast iron pot of jambalaya for a large group of friends.

The good news is that you don't have to fix multiple gallons of Cook Me Somethin' Mister New Orleans Style Jambalaya to try it. You can start with one bag which will be enough for your family, maybe a couple of friends, and who knows--you might even end up with leftovers!

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Regarding the New FTC Guidelines Regarding Endorsements, Testimonials

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I wanted to say a quick word about the new FTC Guidelines that go into effect on December 1, regarding any website that offers reviews, edorsements, and testimonials.

I want to let the readers here know that I think it's a great idea. You should know up front when you're reading a review of a product, book, movie, or whatever, whether or not the reviewer has been compensated in some way--even if it's stimply a free sample or copy of the product under review.

We've only offerered a handful of these kinds of reviews in this site's short tenure, but we've stated up front, every time, when a product was given to us. Last year, a chicken fryer was given to us for review, and after we reviewed it, we gave it away. We've reviewed a couple of food products (one coming up in a day or two), and we always acknowledge this as well.

My belief is that you want to know what we think of particular products or you wouldn't come here. I don't want you to think that we're biased just because someone sends it to us, though. If it's a food product, obviously we can’t send that back. But if it's something more tangible such as a piece of cast iron, we will always either give it away or send it back afterwards. If that policy were to ever change, I'd let you know. But with the roughly 30 or so pieces of cast iron that I cook with, not one of them has been given to me by a commercial company.

I also promise that if there's ever a product that we really don't like, we'll simply tell it like it is. If it's a product that's been sent to us.... well, this is simply the risk that companies take with reviews. But we'll always be very polite, of course!

We're also open to suggestions. If you'd like to see a particular product reviewed, let us know. If it's within our budget or if we can get a review copy/sample/demo from the manufacturer, we'll be glad to give it a shot.

And if you're a company that would like to see a product reviewed here, contact me at the email address below, and we'll consider it.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Macaroni & Cheese in Cast Iron: All You Can Eat

Posted by Rick and Kathy Mansfield

I know I'm biased, but I really do believe that macaroni and cheese tastes better in cast iron. Most folks probably don't think about cooking dishes like this in cast iron, opting for a regular casserole dish or even a non-cast iron stove top pan if making the generic box mix from Kraft. If that's you, I have three suggestions: (1) Regardless of your recipe--whether from scratch or a mix--try it in cast iron. You will be very pleased with the texture that macaroni and cheese gets from cast iron. (2) I've yet to come across a really difficult macaroni and cheese recipes. I strongly urge you to make it from scratch rather than making it from a box. Having said that though, I realize that some folks simply like boxed macaroni and cheese. Therefore (3), if you insist on making macaroni and cheese from a box, at least try it out in cast iron--probably just a skillet--especially if you have a lid for your skillet. You will be very surprised with the results.

To test my assertion that macaroni and cheese always tastes better in cast iron, we made a number of different recipes--four to be exact--all cooked in cast iron. Some of these recipes are better than others. Since Kathy and I cooked them (and ate them!) together, she's going to add her comments. Unless you see Kathy's name next to the paragraph, assume that it's me--Rick--writing.

Supposedly, macaroni and cheese goes back to early 19th century when Thomas Jefferson served it to guests. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. What I do know is that it doesn't begin to popularly appear in cookbooks until the middle of the 20th century. Therefore in an attempt to get back to the foundations of macaroni and cheese, we started with a recipe from the original 1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book.

Macaroni and Cheese
Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book

This recipe is interesting at a number of points. First, it calls for either a 6 or 7 oz. package of macaroni. I can't find elbow macaroni in these small amounts anymore. The smallest package I can find at the grocery store today is 16 oz--more than twice the amount called for in the 1953 recipe. I used a food scale to measure out the required 6 oz. of macaroni. Note also that only 6 oz. of macaroni yields a total of six servings. If anything, I believe that this speaks to the way portion sizes have grown in our expectations today. This dish, split six ways, means that the macaroni and cheese is a true side as opposed to the much larger potions we often eat today.

The recipe also calls for 2 cups of American cheese. I can't find American cheese in grocery stores these days; I can only find cheddar. I assume that I could find a block of American cheese at a specialty store, but I simply used cheddar in this recipe instead.

We used a Lodge two-quart serving pot with iron cover for this recipe.

Of the four macaroni and cheese dishes we made, this was the most basic and my least favorite. It's not that it was bad. Not at all. It just simply didn't stand out compared to the other three.

Kathy's comments: Although this macaroni and cheese dish was good (I can't imagine one that isn't!), it was not my favorite. The minced onions just didn't belong. I love onions, but somehow they didn't fit with this recipe. If we made this dish again, I'd try sauteed sweet onions.

Cast Iron Required:
  • Two quart cast iron serving pot
  • 1 6 oz. package 7-minute macaroni, (or 1 7 oz. package elbow macaroni)
  • 2 cups American cheese, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pepper
  • paprika
Cook 7-minute macaroni according to directions on package. Mix with cheese, milk, onion, and salt and pepper; turn into creased two quart cast iron pot (original: 1 1/2 quart casserole). Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake mixture in moderate oven [350°] 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Macaroni 'n' Cheese
1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book

Interestingly, the 1953 Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book has four macaroni and cheese recipes on the same page (178), although we only tried two of them. This next one really caught my interest because it had a cream of mushroom soup base. That by itself piqued my curiosity. Like the previous recipe, it also called for only 6 oz. of macaroni which I measured on a food scale. Also like the previous recipe, this one also called for cubed macaroni and cheese. But this time, I simply shredded my cheese instead, which I believe is a better solution.

I used the same Lodge cast iron serving pot for this recipe as the previous one. I really liked the flavor of this version of macaroni and cheese. The onions and cream of mushroom soup give it a good flavor. It's also the only macaroni and cheese we made that was layered. It looks really nice in the serving pot once it's dipped into, and it looks simply sinful on the plate. I liked this recipe quite a bit and would like to try it again. Kathy did not care for it as much.

Kathy's comments: Of the four macaroni and cheese recipes we tried, this was my least favorite. Once again, I didn't think the onions quite belonged. Since this was the second recipe to have them as an ingredient, I assume I am simply biased against onions in my mac and cheese. I also didn't like the cream of mushroom soup. It turned this side dish into more of a casserole in its taste and feel. Don't get me wrong, I still ate plenty of it, though!

Cast Iron Required:
  • Two quart serving pot
  • 1 6 oz. package 7-minute macaroni
  • 1 10 1/2 or 11 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper
  • 1/2 pound American cheese, cubed
Cook macaroni in boiling, salted water; drain and rinse.

Combine the mushroom soup, milk, onion, and seasonings.

Alternate layers of macaroni, soup, and cheese in creased 2 quart cast iron pot (original: 1 1/2-quart baking dish). Bake in moderate oven [350°] about 45 minutes. Makes 6 servings.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Kathy's Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese
Kathy Mansfield

I've probably eaten this recipe (and variations on it based on ingredients we had available) more than any other in the last two decades. This is a recipe created by Kathy's mother that Kathy has adapted over time. It's always good, hands down. This was the first time it was cooked in cast iron. I used a Lodge enameled roaster/casserole pan which was perfect. The mac and cheese had a nice texture and was wonderful as a main dish.

Kathy's Comments: This recipe is adapted from my Mom’s delicious homemade macaroni and cheese. I live over 700 miles away from Mom, but every time I go home (usually summer and Christmas), she makes sure to have macaroni and cheese ready for me. I don’t often make the dish myself, but when I do I usually add the jalapenos for a little kick! In earlier years I used Jalapeño Cheese Whiz, but I haven’t been able to find it in my local grocery store the past few years. This dish is definitely a crowd pleaser and can even be served as a main pasta dish rather than as a side.

Cast Iron Required:
  • Roaster/Casserole pan
  • 1 16 oz. box macaroni noodles
  • 1 8 oz. Velveeta cheese, cubed (8 oz. jar of Cheez Whiz may be substituted)
  • 1-2 fresh jalapeños, chopped fine
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese, in all
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Paprika
Cook macaroni noodles according to package directions. Butter a 9x12 cast iron baking dish. Mix noodles with Velveeta cheese, chopped jalapeños, butter, milk, and one cup of the cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly in baking dish. Cover with remaining cheddar cheese. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until bubbly.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Macaroni & Cheese Supreme
Cajun Men Cook

This is one of my favorite macaroni and cheese recipes of all time. I've been making this recipe for well over a decade and a half--or however long ago it was that my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Cajun Men Cook. Of all four recipes shown here, this one is the richest and most involved. But the little bit of extra effort is worth the time. In years past I baked it in a casserole dish. But in moving it to cast iron, I used my original 10 1/4" Lodge cast iron skillet given to me in the nineties (the closest equivalent available for purchase is here). The beauty of using this skillet meant that other than boiling the macaroni in a separate pan, everything is cooked in one pan. The onions are sauteed in butter, and then the cream and cheese is mixed in the same skillet. Once the pasta is added the skillet goes straight into the oven.

In making it this time, we used a cup and a half of white cheddar and a cup of regular yellow cheddar. The original recipe didn't call for it, but I added a little bit of grated yellow cheddar on top for some color. With flour, butter, onions and heavy cream, this makes for one delicious recipe.

I'd also recommend having a little bit of bread handy. This recipe might leave a little bit of butter at the bottom of the bowl. A nice piece of bread can make good use of this!

Kathy's comments: Okay, okay. I know I said I was biased against onions in my mac and cheese, but in THIS recipe they are awesome! I know it's because they are sautéed first. Out of the four recipes, this was my favorite. In the past I haven't been as fond of this particular dish, but this time we used cooking wine rather than regular wine. I always thought in year's past that the wine taste was just a bit strong, but with the cooking wine, the flavor was perfect. I was sad to eat the last spoonful.

Cast Iron Required
  • 10 1/4" skillet
  • 1 8 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine, (or vermouth)
  • 2 1/2 cups extra sharp grated cheddar cheese

Boil macaroni in boiling salted water according to directions. Drain. Set aside. Meanwhile melt butter, add onion, sauté till tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper.

Slowly add cream and wine. Cook over low heat, stirring till thickened. Stir cheese until melted.

Add macaroni.

Pour into casserole dish and place in a 350° oven. Should be thoroughly heated and cheese sauce browned and bubbly—about 20 minutes.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

What about you? What's your experience with macaroni and cheese in cast iron? Leave your thoughts, and if you want, your favorite recipes in the comments.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at or Kathy at

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Crawfish Fettuccine in Cast Iron

Posted by Rick Mansfield

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a new Lodge 5 quart Dutch oven with loop handles. This particular Dutch oven is a true kitchen Dutch oven. There's no bail handle on this particular Dutch oven as there has been with my previous ones. Thus, this is specifically a Dutch oven for the kitchen, and not really for the campsite.

This coincided with the fact that we still had a pound and a half of crawfish in the freezer from our trip to Louisiana in July. Kathy had been suggesting for a while that we use them in an étouffée, but I wanted to make something with them we'd never made before. I'd been thinking about a crawfish fettuccine which I'd had in restaurants, but had never made myself. However, I'd made other fettuccine dishes before, so I figured it was time to combine the best of both worlds. Kathy and I have a hundred or so cookbooks, so I pulled out about a half dozen different books containing crawfish fettuccine recipes as well as two recipes on the internet and let her decide. I told her she could pick the recipe and I'd make the dish.

Kathy picked the recipe, "Brenda's Crawfish Fettuccine" from the Real Cajun Recipes website. This recipe looked extremely easy to prepare (and it was), and the ingredient list was fairly simple. She had also been skeptical about bell peppers in fettuccine which I thought was fine, but I wanted to make something both of us would eat. This was the only recipe that did not call for them. Plus, most of the crawfish fettuccine recipes I looked at simply had the topping placed over the cooked fettuccine. I liked this one because it baked together in one dish.

However, I noticed one problem right away. The recipe called for 12 oz. of fettuccine, but the average box sold at the grocer is 16 oz. However, I love that the Real Cajun Recipe website has a built in ability to scale recipes. The original recipes said that it would make 6-8 servings, but what I discovered was that as is, it was actually set to six servings. By increasing it to eight servings, the amount of fettuccine increased to 16 oz. However, the rest of the ingredients were at odd measurements such as one and 3/10 onions. So what you see below is my adaptation as to how I made it. All I can tell you is that it was quite good, and Kathy said it was the best meal she'd ever had (however she says things like that all the time!).


Cast Iron Required:
  • 5 qt. Dutch Oven
  • 1.5 medium chopped onions, (or 1 and a 1/2)
  • 8 tbsp stick butter (1 stick + 3 tbsp)
  • 2 chopped celery ribs
  • 5 tbsp flour, heaping
  • 1.5 lbs. crawfish
  • 2 & ¼ cups Half and Half
  • 1 8 oz. Velveeta cheese
  • 16 ounces fettuccine
  • salt, black and red pepper to taste or Cajun seasoning

Sauté onions and celery in butter in the bottom of a 5 quart cast iron Dutch oven.

Add flour gradually, then half and half and cheese heat until the cheese is melted.

Add crawfish and simmer for approximately 25 minutes, stirring constantly so that mixture does not begin to scorch. Season to taste. Cook fettuccine according to package directions, and add the boiled fettuccine into this mixture. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Above: the final product out of the oven. It was bubbling and quite hot.

On the plate with a nice piece of homemade bread.

A handful of notes: I used one medium-sized onion and one small onion. You could just as easily use two medium onions, and I don't believe it would overpower the recipe. Technically, after converting up to the greater number of portions, you would need more than 8 oz. of Velveeta as called for in the original recipe. It's very difficult to find the 8 oz. package these days, and we had purchased the 16 oz size. We'd already used half of that in another recipe a few days earlier, so the 8 oz. was all we had left. I don't feel that this took away from the recipe at all because of all the cream in it as well. Also, we used a pound and a half of crawfish because that's what we had. Contrary to the look of the plate above, there was almost a crawfish in every bite. If you don't want that much, scale it back to a pound.

Finally, the original recipe called for everything to be combined in a 2 quart casserole dish. I can't imagine that this would be large enough. With only slightly increasing the ingredients, we filled a five quart dutch oven with only about an inch and a half to spare as you can see in the pictures. The advantage of using one dutch oven is that everything can be cooked in the same pot (with the exception of boiling the pasta).

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Tip: Baking in Cast Iron is for More than Cornbread

Posted by Rick Mansfield

The other night a couple told Kathy and me, “We need to have you come over and show us how to do more with our skillet than just make corn bread.”

Oh where to even begin?

But many folks who use their cast iron regularly, don’t realize how versatile something like a skillet is for ordinary baking.

When it comes to baking and cast iron, I’m convinced of two things:
  1. Food tastes better in cast iron. If you’ve ever had macaroni and cheese baked in a cast iron skillet or a casserole cooked in a dutch oven instead of a traditional casserole pan of aluminum or glass, you know what I mean. Cast iron provides a texture to the outer layer of food that just can’t be duplicated in other pans.
  2. Baking is VERY “healthy” for your cast iron’s seasoning. If you only use your skillet on the stove top, you will probably have to re-season it (at least the inside bottom of the pan) more often than you will if you’re using it inside the oven, too.
So rethink how you bake in the oven. Do you normally grab a cookie sheet? Casserole dish? Pizza pan? Next time, take a look at your cast iron and see if you have something that might work instead. You may find that the quality of your food is a whole lot better!

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Mamme's Chicken & Dressing (modified for cast iron!)

Posted by Rick Mansfield

A Yes, I know that the holidays are now behind us, so who wants to talk about dressing? Well, I’m going to post this recipe anyway because it’s something that some of you might want to experiment with during the year before the holidays are upon us again. Frankly, I don’t know why more people don’t use cast iron to make their Thanksgiving or Christmas dressing. Think about that wonderful crust that comes from cornbread in a cast iron skillet. What’s the main ingredient in dressing--cornbread! It’s time to rethink how we make this dish.

A few months back, I shared my maternal grandmother’s cornbread recipe. With the holiday season square upon us, I want to share my paternal grandmother’s (pictured on right) dressing recipe. This is an interesting recipe because rather than a dressing that can be served with a turkey, this dressing can be served as a main course since it has chicken in it already. Or the chicken can be left out and it can be served traditionally with turkey. I made this dressing recipe from my paternal grandmother using my maternal grandmother’s cornbread recipe. To me, this brought together traditions from both sides of my family into one dish.

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of this recipe, but I find it unusual that it already has chicken in it--similar to something you might find in a cafeteria. My grandmother was a single mother of three children working on a teacher’s salary in Arkansas during the mid-twentieth century, so this may have been a recipe designed to fit with a modest budget. However, this makes it a great dish to take to a potluck this time of year because it is complete in itself. My memories of my grandmother making this particular recipe are starting to fade--she died in 1988--so I was very glad to get a copy of it from a family member. It is still being made annually by my relatives as a way to keep my grandmother’s memory alive.

My grandmother’s name was Maureen Mansfield, but we simply called her “Mamme.” Even though she’s been gone over two decades, I can still remember her voice and the distinct way she would tilt her head upwards and close her eyes when she laughed. The picture of her that I have in this post would probably date from the early 1960s I would guess.

I was very excited to get my grandmother’s recipe, so that I, too, could continue the tradition of making her dressing. But as mentioned earlier, I wanted to try it in cast iron. To me it only seems to make sense that a dressing recipe would be made in cast iron; yet I don’t know anyone who does it. This is probably because most people don’t have cast iron casserole pans (which I highly recommend). I used a Lodge enameled roaster pan and the recipe came out absolutely perfect with a nice crispy texture on the outer edges, just like perfectly cooked cornbread. If you don’t have a cast iron casserole pan, you might try a couple of cast iron skillets or a large dutch oven. However, if using a dutch oven, you’ll want to make certain that the dressing is done in the middle.

Technically, you can make the gravy for this dressing in any regular pan and transfer it to a gravy boat on the table. However, I used a Lodge 2 qt. serving pot which was very nice looking on the table without even needing a separate gravy boat.

So you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. Try making this dressing recipe or any other in cast iron in the coming months so you can perfect your method by Thanksgiving. Then, don’t be surprised if you like it cooked in cast iron so much that you don’t ever go back to those old pans again!

Mamme’s Chicken and Dressing
(modified for cast iron)

Cast iron required:
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • Any cast iron roaster/casserole pan or try two skillets or one large (9 quarts or larger) dutch oven.
  • 6 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1.25 quarts broth from cooking chicken, separated
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 skillet cornbread, (not sweet)
  • 10 saltine crackers, crumbled
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 slices toasted bread, crumbled
  • 2 can cream of chicken soup
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp poultry season, (or to taste)
  • 2 boiled eggs, chopped
After cooking chicken breasts, debone if necessary, and chop up into bite-size pieces.

Sauté onions and celery in a cast iron skillet.

Mix together crumbled cornbread, sautéed celery and onions, 10 crumbled crackers, 4 crumbled slices of toasted bread.

Add 1 can of cream of mushrooms soup, beaten eggs, black pepper, poultry seasoning, chicken broth, and cooked chicken pieces. Chill overnight.

Set out in the morning and let sit for a couple of hours to get some of the chill off. Pour into a casserole pan (preferably cast iron or a large cast iron dutch oven). Cook at 350° uncovered for approximately 45 minutes or until the center is set and dressing is slightly brown.

To make the gravy, combine 1 can of cream of chicken soup with 1 cup of chicken broth, chopped eggs and 1 to 2 tbsp of cooked dressing. Heat in over a medium heat. I use a Lodge 2 quart serving pot, but a sauce pan works, too. When thoroughly heated, it's ready. If you have the Lodge cast iron pot, serve it in that. Otherwise, pour into your favorite gravy boat.

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Queenie's Cornbread

Posted by Rick Mansfield

As most cast iron aficionados know, there's more to cast iron than cornbread. However, having said that, the ability to make good cornbread is essential—foundational—to any cast iron cook's repertoire. There are many different cornbread recipes out there, from basic to elaborate. Northern cornbread tends to be sweet, while Southern cornbread is not. I've often said I've never met a cornbread I didn't like, but I'll quickly admit that I don't want sweet cornbread in my bowl of purple hull peas!

Most cornbread recipes are fairly easy to make whether using a pre-made mix or making it from scratch. For folks just learning to cook, cornbread is something that can easily build confidence. It's difficult to mess up cornbread unless you burn it! And even overcooked cornbread can still taste good with a little butter or in a bowl of peas or beans as long as it's not too burnt.

While cornbread mixes are okay (I can't knock them too much because they usually taste pretty good), it doesn't take much more effort to prepare cornbread from scratch. I really encourage folks to find a cornbread recipe they like and use that instead of the mixes. And as mentioned a couple of posts back, any baking in the oven, including cornbread, is very "healthy" for your cast iron skillet's seasoning.

This particular recipe belonged to my grandmother on my mother's side, Queenie Pennington. We simply called her "Mammaw." The ingredients are fairly common, and she may have simply adapted a standard recipe over time. I have the advantage of not just having her cornbread recipe, but also having the skillet she used to make cornbread in on nearly a daily basis. I recall many wonderful meals at her house accompanied by her cornbread. When cooked in her pan, there is a particular texture to the outer crust which I cannot duplicate in any other cast iron I've tried. It's not that this particular texture of the crust is superior to other cornbreads; rather, its taste and feel in my mouth so strongly reminds me of my grandmother who died last year at the age of 88. This cornbread doesn't just taste good to me; it also has sentimental value. Every time I cook Mammaw's cornbread, it's like having her back again.

Greg from the "Black Iron Dude" blog recently identified my grandmother's skillet as a product of the Birmingham Stove and Range (BS&R) company. Her skillet is at least 70-years-old and may be older than that.

Above is a picture of my grandmother, Queenie Pennington, and me--probably
taken around 1970. Doesn't she look like someone who would be named Queenie?
Doesn't she look like someone you'd call Mammaw?
And doesn't she look like someone who could just naturally make good cornbread?

My grandmother's recipe below uses a combination of both cornmeal and flour, creating a light and moist cornbread. A basic trick for making any cornbread is to allow your cast iron pan to warm up in the oven while it preheats. I grease the skillet and place it in the oven before I set the temperature. That way it heats up with the oven itself. Then when pouring the batter, the hot iron immediately starts cooking the outer layer making a perfect crust.

If you try this recipe, you'll notice that it creates a very moist batter. Don't worry that's it's too moist. After twenty minutes in a 450° oven, it will be absolutely perfect. Of course some folks like their cornbread a bit more well done, and if that's you, simply keep it in the oven a little while longer.

In the recipe below, note the occasional footnotes. I'll add the notes to the bottom of the post.


Cast Iron Required:

  • 10.25" cast iron skillet1
  • 1 1/2 cups white corn meal2
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda3
  • 3 level tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp bacon drippings4
Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add buttermilk and egg, stirring until combined. Grease skillet with shortening and preheat in 450 oven. Melt drippings and add to batter. Pour batter into very hot skillet and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.

My grandmother's cornbread in the same pan she used for well over six decades.

Notice how nicely the cornbread came out of the pan without sticking. This is testimony to a pan seasoned over decades of use. My mom says that when she was growing up, many times she saw my grandmother flip the cornbread straight from the pan into the air before putting it on a plate. I haven't been brave enough to try this yet.

And finally, the pièce de résistance--my grandmother's cornbread in a bowl of purple hull peas!

I have one more fond memory of my grandmother's cornbread. After we'd finished the wonderful meal she cooked, one or two slices of cornbread always remained. My grandfather would take a slice and submerge it in a glass of ice cold milk. This was essentially his dessert, or his way to cap off a good meal. When I was a boy, I tended to do everything he did when I was around him, so I'd take the other remaining piece of cornbread and ask for a glass of milk myself. I never liked this as much as he did, so I rarely finished the entire glass. But when I was young, a slice of cornbread in a glass of milk seemed like pretty exotic fare.


1If you prefer cornbread muffins, this recipe yields 12-14 muffins in a standard-sized muffin pan. I haven't experimented yet to see how many cornsticks the recipe will make. I'll determine this and update the post at a later date.

2 My mother wrote down the essential recipe when she was 18 and had just married. In the original draft, as dictated by my grandmother, it specifically says "Aunt Jemima" white cornmeal. We sometimes have difficulty finding this brand, so we often use something different. I haven't discovered any discernible difference in taste or quality.

3 The original recipe as dictated by my grandmother called for "3 pinches; 4 if buttermilk is old" in regard to the baking soda.

4 Kathy and I normally cook with olive oil and don't keep a whole lot of bacon grease around. However, I always use bacon grease for my grandmother's cornbread. I've learned through experience that cooking four slices of bacon yields about one tablespoon of grease. Cooked bacon keeps for a while, so fry up eight or so slices to use in sandwiches throughout the week.

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Camp Chef's Web Presence Continues to Grow

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Earlier in the summer, we ran a post titled "Lodge Manufacturing Expands Web Presence with YouTube and Twitter." Well, in the interest of equal time, we're including this post to make mention of all the ways Camp Chef communicates with its customers via the Internet.

If you haven't discovered it already, you must check out the Camp Chef website. There you will find listings of all the Camp Chef products--not only cast iron, but also lots of other grills, cooking appliances and accessories--as well as informative articles about subjects such as camping, hunting, tailgating, and more. There's so much to explore, you will want to spend a good bit of time on the Camp Chef site.

One of the newest additions to the Camp Chef is their extensive collection of videos. Videos are categorized by subject: Products, Media/Press, Recipes, How to, and Frequently Asked questions. There's lots to explore here as well, and lots of examples for using cast iron in creative ways. If you find something you really like, Camp Chef offers embed codes so that you can add the video to your own website. Camp Chef videos can also be found on YouTube.

Camp Chef has a great blog. I know because I'm a regular reader. Not only do they highlight new products, they also feature mouth-watering recipes that make me want to immediately get out my dutch oven and start a campfire. You'll also find descriptions of Camp Chef events and the occasional cartoon.

As of this writing, Camp Chef has over 800 fans on it's FaceBook page. This is a great place to hold conversations with other Camp Chef fans as well as post your own photos using Camp Chef products.

If you use Twitter, be sure to follow Camp Chef! On average, Camp Chef "tweets" once every day or two. Sometimes it's something overheard around the campfire, sometimes it's announcements about events or new products. They are also very good about responding back if you have a question for them.

You may or may not be aware that Camp Chef has a sister company, Santé. The company is described on the website as a "manufacturer of high-end cooking equipment for the ultimate home kitchen." In many ways, you can think of Camp Chef for use at the campground and Santé for use in the kitchen; however, the reality is that there's a lot of overlap as anyone who regularly uses cast iron knows. I own a couple of Santé's cast iron loaf pans and have found them to be well made and perfect for making homemade bread.

There's also a Santé blog you'll want to check out for lots of recipes and more.

So check out Camp Chef as well as Santé. They've got a great selection of cast iron cookware and a whole lot more.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Skillet Banana Cake

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I was about seven years old or so, riding in the backseat of the car, when Larry Jarrell (riding in the front passenger seat) turned to my Dad (driver’s seat) and asked, “Well, are you ready to go buy some land?” I’m certain that question came from a lot of previous discussion that I was not aware of, but at the time, it seemed very sudden. A year or so later, we moved just north of Ruston, Louisiana, into the house that we built, and the Jarrell’s became our neighbors. The Jarrell’s oldest son Brian and I always got along very well, even though I was a few years older than him. Later he would serve as one of the groomsmen at my wedding.

Many afternoons were spent down at the Jarrell’s house, playing with Brian (he had more games on his Atari 2600 than I did) or in the small thicket of woods between our houses where he and I built a three-level tree house (It sounds much more elaborate than the actual reality). Another advantage to hanging around the Jarrell house rested in the fact that Sharon Jarrell (pictured above) was a fantastic cook. In fact, she was well known for her cooking, often catering events and publishing her own cookbooks.

Recently, I was going through some recipes that we simply categorize as “family recipes.” When you live next to someone long enough, they count as family. This particular recipe of Sharon’s caught my eye because it specifically called for an “old iron skillet.” I had never made the recipe and couldn’t even remember if I’d ever had it before. Kathy and I have made it twice in the last month or so, and I can only tell you that it is incredible. It tastes wonderful hot out of the oven or cold out of the refrigerator.

Sadly, Sharon Jarrell is no longer physically with us, but she left behind a rich cooking legacy, and I remember her whenever I make any of her recipes such as the one below.

  • an “old” 10.25” cast iron skillet (if yours is not old, a new cast iron skillet will work just fine).
  • a second, smaller skillet (or sauce pan)

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup mashed banana

Mix all ingredients together and pour into old iron skillet. Bake at 350º for about 30 minutes.

While the cake is baking, get the topping ready.


  • 1 cup pecans - (slightly toasted)
  • 5 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons cream or evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
[Since the recipe calls for roasted pecans, I spread out the pecans in a smaller skillet and cooked them in the oven for about eight minutes next to the cake baking in the larger skillet.]

Bring all topping ingredients to a boil.

Pour over cake when it comes out of the oven. Return to oven and broil to bubbling. Watch to keep from burning.


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Can I Use Cast Iron on a Glass Top Range?

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I often have people email me asking if it’s okay to use cast iron with glass top ranges. Some range manufacturers include warnings against using cast iron with their products. And the RangeKleen fryer we reviewed last year had a warning against its use on a glass surface. Of course, we ignored that, and I’ll tell you why below.

What’s the big deal about cast iron and glass (or even ceramic) surfaces? Well, glass can get scratched. We live in such an over-protective culture that we often throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes when it comes to erring on the side of judgment. For instance, many schools have gotten rid of playground equipment because some children might get hurt on it. I got hurt on playground equipment when I was a kid, but I promise you, I’d rather have had it than to not have it. Ladder companies tell us not to use that top step as a step because some people have been reckless enough to do it and have gotten hurt. I wonder how long before you can’t buy a ladder. And just try finding a diving board for a backyard pool these days. You can find one, but it’s getting difficult.

Anyway, companies that make glass top ranges don’t want you to call them up complaining about how easily their surfaces get scratched, so they simply tell you not to put anything heavy on it-- especially cast iron! By the way, the heaviness of cast iron could also cause your glass top range to break if you dropped a pan, so this is another concern with the company.

Now, I don’t want you to call me up complaining about your scratched or broken range top either, but I can tell you that IF (this is a big if) you are careful, you can use a glass top range or stovetop with no problems. In fact, if you notice in most of my pictures, such as the one above, Kathy and I have a glass range right now. In reality, I much prefer a gas range, but this is just where we live right now and we’ve made do.

I can tell you that we use cast iron all the time on our glass top range. Cast iron works great on a glass top range. In fact because a glass range heats evenly and cast iron heats evenly, it’s a pretty good match. I would even guess that today, gas ranges are probably in the minority for most kitchens even though most of us who really “get into” cooking prefer them.

If you have a glass top range, let me offer a few suggestions for keeping it unscratched (and unbroken!) and in tip-top shape.

  1. Keep you range top CLEAN. Usually what scratches your range top is some kind of abrasive substance between the surface and your pan. Also, make certain that your cleaner is specifically designed for the range you have. Usually the manufacturer recommends specific cleaners. If yours doesn’t, check on the label of the product you are buying. Glass range cleaners can usually be found at appliance stores, home improvement stores, discount stores and more.
  2. By the same token, keep the bottom of your pan clean. If you’ve got gunk building up on the bottom of that pan, know that it can damage a smooth surface range.
  3. Don’t slide cast iron around on the surface. Sliding any pan around--cast iron or otherwise--is going to eventually leave marks on the surface of your range. Pick it straight UP. Which, of course, leads to...
  4. Set cast iron down gently onto your smooth-top cooking surface. If you’ve ever been burned by a pan coming out of a 400° oven, you know how easy it is to simply drop it on the floor or your range top. Use both hands and use pot holders that are thick enough. I’ve learned the hard way that those little mitts that fit over the the skillet handle is not enough protection for a pan that has been in a hot oven for any period of time. I also feel that the short handle on newer skillets across from the regular handle is genius. This really helps the cook use both hands when handling a hot skillet.
By the way, I ran a quick survey of our panelists in regard to what kind of range they use. JT and Pat use a gas range, but Kathy and I as well as Leila have a smooth top electric range. One great aspect of cast iron is that it is so versatile it can be used with just about any kind of heating source--open flame or flat glass or even coals from the campfire.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Coming to Terms with Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron

Posted by Rick Mansfield

If you have many discussions with true cast iron aficionados, you may find a wide variety of opinions on a number of subjects: the “proper” method for seasoning cast iron, soap or no soap when cleaning, old cast iron vs. new cast iron, and much more. But if you really want to start an argument in some circles, bring up the subject of manufacturer pre-seasoning. For the uninitiated, there was once a day when all “new” cast iron came gun metal gray. Nowadays, that’s almost impossible to find because nearly all new cast iron comes already nice and black since it’s been “pre-seasoned” from the manufacturer, usually with a sprayed on vegetable oil concoction.

And for the extremely uninitiated, when someone refers to seasoning in cast iron circles, it’s a reference to the black coating that builds up overtime on a cast iron pan. This coating, or patina, is the product of the carbonization of oils and creates a natural non-stick surface on a pan. This is why a cast iron skillet or other pan actually improves with age as opposed to chemically treated non-stick pans which generally get worse as they get older.

I just ran an informal inventory of our cast iron. We have roughly 29 cast iron cooking items, or 30 if you count my Sportsmans Grill. In that count, I’m not including lids (even though I bought at least one separately) or novelty items such as the little ashtray-size skillet that we use for a spoon rest. With a couple of exceptions, all of our cast iron items are pans we actually use on a fairly regular basis. In other words, we don’t get into collecting cast iron for the sake of collecting. I’m not knocking that, mind you; nor am I saying I’d never do that. We simply don’t have the room for that right now.

Now of the 29 or 30 cast iron items we have, 16 came pre-seasoned from either Lodge or Santé. But that wasn’t always the way it was. My first piece of cast iron was a Lodge 10.25” skillet given to me in the mid-nineties by my mother. it came completely unseasoned, so I had to season it myself. I can’t remember what kind of oil I used on that first attempt, but I do recall that it was a disaster. Through trial and error, I eventually got it right. As many of you can no doubt relate, the more I used that cast iron skillet, the more I wanted to use cast iron for just about all my cooking. My second cast iron item was obvious. I needed a dutch oven to cook my gumbo. Somehow, I just instinctively knew gumbo would taste better in cast iron--and I was right!

I requested a dutch oven for Christmas and I received TWO that were exactly the same with one exception. One was pre-seasoned and one was not. As pre-seasoned cast iron really just came into vogue in the early part of this decade, many companies at the time offered both pre-seasoned and bare items side-by-side in the same stores. Seeing pre-seasoning as a bit of a novelty, and remembering my initial experience with my skillet, I opted to keep the pre-seasoned dutch oven and sell the bare cast iron dutch oven. I later regretted this decision.

What’s the big deal with pre-seasoning? Well, it tends to eventually come off the pan. Take for example, the lid pictured below of my Lodge 2 qt. Serving Pot:

You can see how faded the pre-seasoning has become. Believe it or not, that was after only two uses! I’ve re-seasoned it myself since, and it’s doing fine. I’d also point out that in my experience, a pre-seasoned pan doesn’t normally lose its seasoning quite so quickly. But this is typical of what often happens eventually to a pre-seasoned cast iron pan. And if it doesn’t fade, the pre-seasoning chips off. Of course, pre-seasoning is not dangerous to someone’s system as a chemical non-stick surface like Teflon might be. In fact, the pre-seasoning treatment that Lodge uses is even certified Kosher!

Nevertheless, when pre-seasoning began to fade or chip in the past, I used to get very frustrated. I really felt (and still do) that I can season a pan better myself. But try finding a major cast iron brand that still offers pans that aren’t pre-seasoned. They’re near non-existant. Now my frustration is fairly mild compared to some. Since Lodge has decided to no longer sell non-pre-seasoned pans, I’ve actually heard some folks say they’ll never buy Lodge again. In my opinion, this is extreme, although no one can argue with the cooking ability of a 100-year-old Griswold skillet or other older pan which becomes the only other alternative to pre-seasoned pans.

Regardless, my frustration with pre-seasoning has become a thing of the past. Yes, I’d rather season a pan myself, but I’ve come to terms with pre-seasoning, and my acceptance has come for a number of reasons.

1. Pre-seasoned pans aren’t really a new innovation.
Not too long ago, I was looking through Smith & Wafford’s The Book of Wagner & Griswold (the red book) when something very interesting caught my eye in this photograph below on p. 9.

There’s no date on the picture, but I would guess that it was from the 1940s or 50s, if not earlier. Notice the advertising on these Wagnerware pans. The main selling point for these pans is that they were pre-seasoned. Thus, I find it hard to throw stones at any cast iron company that pre-seasons today--whether that’s Lodge, Camp Chef/Santé, RangeKleen or any other company--because evidently, the idea’s been around for quite a while. Who knows if your prized decades-old skillet that you obtained second hand wasn’t pre-seasoned to begin with!

2. All regularly used cast iron will (probably) have to be re-seasoned.
Let me offer a lesson I learned from my grandmother’s skillet. When my grandmother moved into an assisted living home a few years back, I inherited her 10.25” skillet pictured below.

I don’t know exactly how old this skillet is. My grandfather tells me she had it their entire married life. They were married 71 years before she died in 2008. If it was brand new when they got married, it’s well over 70 years old. But if it was a hand-me-down, it’s much older. I have no idea what brand it is. It only says “NO. 7" and "10 1/4 IN.” on the back. It’s my prized possession of all my cast iron simply because it was my grandmother’s. If you told me I could only keep one piece of my cast iron, I would pick this one--even though I use it second to my Lodge skillet that was my first cast iron pan. Furthermore, when I received this skillet, it honestly had the nicest seasoning I’ve ever seen on any piece of cast iron. The inside bottom is as smooth as glass. I wish I could sit down and talk to my grandmother about this pan, but of course, I can’t now.

Now, you need to know that I take really good care of my cast iron. I never wash with soap. I treat every pan with a fresh coat of olive oil to prepare it for its next use. I never stack pans, and I’m very careful to avoid metal utensils when cooking in them.

However, one day I noticed that my grandmother’s pan was starting to lose its seasoning on the inside bottom. I was shocked! How could this happen? Then guilt set in. I felt embarrassed, ashamed. Knowing that there is no heartache in heaven, I at least found some relief in the fact that she didn’t know.

The reality is, though, that more than likely she had to re-season her pan every now and then. Granted, she and I used her pan differently. She probably didn’t cook overly acidic foods in her pan like chicken marsala (which uses red wine), and I don’t remember her cooking spaghetti sauce all that often in her skillet. Further, while I primarily use olive oil in my pan and occasionally bacon grease; my grandmother primarily used bacon grease, and if she wasn’t using that, she was probably using Crisco!

She also used her pan multiple times a day back and forth between the stovetop and the oven. In the morning, bacon and eggs were cooked for the whole family. She might use it at lunch as well. Sometime in the afternoon, the pan was used for cornbread, cooked in the oven. Then, in the evenings, it was used again for the family dinner. This constant use, multiple times a day, going back and forth between the stovetop and her oven, was incredibly “healthy” for this skillet. And frankly, none of my pans gets this kind of constant use. But I am firmly convinced that this back and forth between the stovetop and oven was a key for keeping such a quality seasoning on the pan.

Since I had to partially re-season my grandmother’s pan (I only concentrated on the inside bottom, using lard for seasoning), I’ve stopped using it for overly acidic foods. But the main point here is that even the best of pans--pre-seasoned or not--have to be re-seasoned every now and then.

3. Pre-seasoning gives folks new to cast iron a head start.
That statement isn’t original to me, and I wish I could find the source. But I remember reading those words one day on someone’s website, and it all just kind of fell into place for me. For many “modern” cooks, bare cast iron can be a real challenge. I know it was for me, but I fell in love with cast iron and was determined to persevere. But with people’s busy schedules, it’s easier for many folks to simply grab a chemically treated non-stick pan, especially if a cast iron pan is going to necessitate a lot of preparation beforehand. I’ve said it before, but I’m firmly convinced that whether one likes pre-seasoning or not, its mainstream use today has been a major factor in the cast iron renaissance that we have witnessed as home cooks (and many professional chefs and celebrity chefs) have realized grandma was right to begin with and have returned to using cast iron.

Further, when I was in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, touring the Lodge Manufacturing plant last summer, I asked a Lodge employee why they no longer offered bare cast iron. Her answer was rather interesting. She said that for a while they offered both. But she said that when put side-by-side on store shelves, the pre-seasoned iron outsold the bare iron by a wide margin. And when their pre-seasoned cast iron sold out, they found that customers would buy other brands that were pre-seasoned over their bare cast iron offerings. That was enough of an answer to make sense to me. Lodge is the last American foundry in existence. I don’t exclusively use their cookware, but I use a lot of it, and I’d hate to ever lose them the same way that other great cast iron companies disappeared over the last few decades.

Two Suggestion for Cast Iron Manufacturers

  • Most cast iron cookware comes with a brief set of instructions for care and maintenance. I feel it would be a good idea to also include instructions for re-seasoning cast iron in case the pre-seasoning fades or flakes. Lodge includes re-seasoning instructions on their website, but it might not be a bad idea to include them with the product as well. I shudder to think of perfectly good pans getting thrown out, but I bet it happens.
  • Since Lodge is the only cast iron company with a US factory, they might be the only ones who could actually implement this second suggestion. I think it would be a great idea if those of us who prefer bare cast iron were allowed to special order it and have a pan taken from the line before it has the pre-seasoning process applied. Although it seems a bit backwards when I really think about it, I would actually be willing to pay a few dollars more to be able to place a special order and receive my cast iron bare. Then I could season it myself.
The other day, I read a review of a cast iron pan on in which the reviewer was upset that his cast iron pan came with a few flakes in the pre-seasoning. He gave the pan a one star rating and sent it back for either refund or replacement--I don’t remember which. I thought this was crazy. With a little steel wool applied to the flaked area and some oil or fat added and thrown in the oven for an hour or two, it could be re-seasoned rather easily. Usually, when I order a pan, I need it right away. I can’t imagine that I’d ever send it back unless it was broken. While I realize that seasoning or even re-seasoning cast iron might be intimidating for some at first, once a person has done it a few times, it’s really no big deal. If nothing else, Saturdays were made for things such as this.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Cajun Smoked Sausage and Andouille in Brown Gravy

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Kathy and I traveled to Louisiana near the end of June to spend time with our families (we’re both originally from the Bayou State). We enjoyed seeing family and cooking good food while there (we carried cast iron with us!). And then our last task before driving back to Kentucky is to go to one of the local grocery stores and buy as many regional groceries as we can fit into our ice chest.

One of the items I buy when in Louisiana is real andouille sausage. I’ll use it in my recipes until I run out. Then I have to use that Yankee brand (Johnsonville) until we can make another run south.

Coming back stocked up on good sausage made me sort through my old copies of Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine for the recipe that is in this post. This particular recipe is adapted from a 19th century dish. I’m pretty sure I have the older one and have made it before, but for the moment, I cannot put my finger on it. I’ve made this recipe or some form of it about three times now. Slow-cooking the sausage in a dutch oven results in very tender meat that falls apart in your mouth. Kathy is not normally much for sausage as a main ingredient; it’s fine for her in something like red beans and rice. But this is a recipe that she really enjoys, as do I.

Often with recipes that use andouille or smoked sausage, a skillet is used in combination with the main pot. One convenient aspect of this recipe is that everything can be prepared in one pot. For this recipe, I used Savoie’s andouille and Down Home medium smoked sausage (if you know of a link for the latter, contact me).

The original recipe said that this made four servings. Okay, I know some people are prone to overeating, but a person would have to have really large bowls to spread this out over only four servings. Eight or more servings is more realistic--even for hearty eaters.

  • Dutch Oven (Lodge 5 quart pictured here)

  • 1 pound andouille
  • 6 cups water, in all
  • 1 pound Cajun smoked pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cups cooked long grain white rice
  • salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

Boil the andouille in 3 cups of the water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, discard the water and set the andouille aside to cool.

Cut the Cajun smoked pork sausage into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the andouille lengthwise and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a cast iron pot over a medium high heat. Add the sausage and andouille and sauté until well-browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add one cup of water to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping it with a wooden spoon. Add the remaining water and bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 hours.

After two hours, taste and adjust with salt, black pepper and cayenne, if necessary (it wasn’t necessary this time due to the spice already in the sausages).

Serve over white rice.

As I mentioned, I’ve made different variations of this recipe before. One of these other methods required slow cooking the dish in the oven instead of on the stovetop. I’ve had results with thicker gravy, although there’s nothing to complain about the outcome shown above. The gravy in this case was more like a broth, but a very rich one made from the juices of the sausages mixed with the water. Adding less water would result in a thicker gravy if desired.

This recipe originally appeared in the February, 2002, issue of Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine.

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My Favorite Gumbo

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Although I grew up in Louisiana, I never had gumbo until I was about eleven or twelve years old because I was from north Louisiana. Back then the cultures of north and south Louisiana were as different as daylight and dark. When most people outside Louisiana think of the state, they are thinking of south Louisiana. But where I grew up, we probably had more in common with folks from Mississippi, Arkansas, and east Texas.

The cultures of north and south Louisiana are still distinct, but the Cajun and Creole cultures of the south are winning out, especially when it comes to food. It’s nothing today to see signs for crawfish for sale all around north Louisiana and little restaurants with names like “Cajun Cafe.” And who can complain since it’s really good stuff?

We did have relatives who lived in south Louisiana when I was growing up, so I distinctly remember my first gumbo--a seafood gumbo with shrimp, crabs, and fresh fish caught by my uncle. I can also remember my first crawfish boil when I was a teenager. Looking back, I’m honestly surprised that I was so adventurous having grown up on a diet of purple hull peas and cornbread, but that Cajun cuisine--as exotic as it seemed to me at the time--smelled and tasted so very good. I was hooked from the first bite!

This past week while we visited family in Louisiana, it was hot! One day it reached 100° and gumbo was the furthest thing from our mind. Then however it rained the last three or four days we were there. With the cooler temperatures upon us, I grabbed my Lodge 5 quart dutch oven (yes, I travel with cast iron). It was time to make the gumbo!

I’ve made many different gumbo recipes over the years, but this one is my all time favorite. There are all kinds of gumbos, and in spite of the fact that gumbo is an African word for okra, the recipe below does not contain any (although you could easily add it). This is also a Cajun (brown) gumbo as opposed to a Creole (red, tomato-based) gumbo. It is not a seafood gumbo, but rather, is called Chicken Sausage Filé Gumbo. Filé is a powder made from ground sassafras leaves. It is added to a serving of gumbo once it is already in the bowl to thicken it.

This particular recipe comes from a book given to me by my mother-in-law fifteen years ago. It’s called Cajun Men Cook and was first published in 1994 by the Beaver Club of Lafayette, Louisiana. Not only does this book contain the best gumbo, I’ve ever tasted, it has a number of other great recipes and I highly recommend it.

If you’ve ever come over to my house for gumbo, this is probably the recipe I used. One thing you’ll note if you pick up Cajun Men Cook is that many parts of what you see below is different from what’s in the book. Over the years, I’ve tweaked and adapted the recipe quite a bit.

Chicken Sausage Filé Gumbo

Cast Iron Required
  • 7 Quart Dutch
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • 1 cup medium brown roux
  • 1 three lb. chicken, boiled in 2 1/2 quarts of water and deboned (save stock for gumbo).
  • 1 lb. andouille or smoked sausage, cut in 1/2 inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onions, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons browning sauce
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • salt and red pepper to taste
  • filé powder.

Note: I always make this gumbo in a cast iron. A seven quart Dutch oven is probably the best choice, although it will fit in the five quart, leaving only about one inch of room at the top. If you make a double batch, I recommend a nine quart Dutch oven. The Dutch oven in these pictures is a five quart because that’s all that I had with me at the time.

“First, you make a roux.” This recipe like many Cajun dishes assume that you know how to make a roux already. A roux is really nothing more than flour that’s been allowed to cook so long that it begins to turn brown. Technically, it’s burning, but you want to be careful that it doesn’t burn too much. You’re also going to burn your wooden spoon, so just get over that. I don’t recommend using anything plastic to make a roux, but a silicone spatula would be up to it.

There are numerous methods for making a roux, but what I did for this recipe was to combine 3/4 cup of flour with 3/4 cup Wesson oil to equal roughly one cup of finished roux. Note that I did not measure out an exact cup afterwards. The roux cooked in the pot never left it. Also, if you’re planning for guests and making a roux from scratch add about 45 minutes to an hour to your cooking time. And keep stirring no matter what!

After the roux reaches a nice chocolate brown color, slowly stir in two quarts of broth.

Add vegetables except green onions, parsley, and garlic and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. You may want to use a whisk to blend roux with stock. Stir until everything is well blended, and be careful that the roux does not sink to the bottom of the pot and stick.

In a cast iron skillet, fry andouille sausage with water and oil, allowing water to evaporate before frying begins [skip this step if the sausage is already cooked].

When sausage is light brown put into stock pot. Put chopped up chicken, garlic, and seasonings except pepper. Cover and simmer for one hour.

I tend to come back to the pot and stir the gumbo every 15 minutes or so. The gumbo should be simmering, but not at a full boil. As always, make sure that nothing is sticking at the bottom of the pot.

Add pepper, parsley, green onions, Worcestershire sauce, browning sauce and resalt as needed to adjust taste. Dissolve corn starch in 2 tablespoons of water; stir into gumbo. Simmer 5 minutes and then turn off fire and keep covered. If necessary, skim off excess oil.

Serve over fluffy long grain rice as a soup (I prefer Zatarrain’s Enriched Long Grain Parboiled Rice for any gumbo or étouffée because when prepared correctly, it will not get mushy).

Add filé to each individual serving of gumbo. Do not cook in gumbo as it will make soup stringy.

You’ll have to pardon the fact that the bowls said “seafood gumbo.” They seemed appropriate nonetheless, and our chicken sausage filé gumbo was just as good anyway.

Alternate Method #1: To save time, I have bought rotisserie chickens and use the meat pulled from them. Then you can use two quarts of store-bought chicken stock.

Alternate Method #2: To not only save time, but also for a healthier version of this gumbo, I’ve made it with Tony Chachere’s Instant Roux Mix on a number of occasions. It won’t be as good as a real roux, but it’s still good and a smart option if you’re craving gumbo but watching your weight. If you decide to go this route, stir together one cup of the roux mix and two cups of the chicken stock. Slowly add the mixture to the rest of the stock and vegetables after they have already started boiling. This will require a good bit of stirring with a whisk to make sure the instant roux fully blends with the broth.

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Experimenting with Scallops

Posted by Rick Mansfield

The vast majority of my experience with scallops comes from eating them, not cooking them. I’ve also noticed that scallops are often the foil on Gordan Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen as he screams at the competing chefs that the scallops are either raw (undercooked) or like rubber (overcooked) before hurling them against the wall. So, in light of the fact that I do like scallops quite a bit, and because I took Ramsay’s rants on television as a bit of a personal challenge, I decided I would see if I could cook them myself.

I scanned the internet for methods as well as asking for input on the Castiron Cookware discussion list. I wanted to start out as basic as possible knowing that I can later expand from there. After reading as much as I thought was necessary, I settled on a very basic method.

First, I decided upon using a skillet a bit larger than my normal 10 1/4” that serves as my primary cast iron instrument. Having read that scallops need to have room when they cook, I chose a Lodge Pro Logic 12" skillet so that the scallops would not be crowded together. Also from my reading and discussions, I learned that the scallops I normally enjoyed in restaurants were sea scallops as opposed to the smaller bay scallops. Every source I read or person I talked to made preference for sea scallops over bay scallops.

The only daunting aspect to the scallops was the price. Keep in mind that we now live in Kentucky, so sea scallops are not a native resource. They have to be shipped in. Although I’ve now found a slightly less expensive source for scallops, the ones you are looking at in the picture above cost more than a dollar each!

As I mentioned, I chose a very basic method for cooking the sea scallops. I heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the 12” skillet. Then I cooked the scallops about two minutes each side, lightly sprinkling them with salt and pepper. When cooked properly, the scallops will have a light golden brown color to them. The finely manicured hand in the photo above is not mine, but Kathy’s as I took the picture; but you can see the eight that have been turned and the four remaining to be turned.

On the night that I experimented with scallops, we had brave guests over for dinner who sampled them with me. I chose to make the scallops an appetizer rather than the main dish not only because of their price, but also due to the fact that I was experimenting with them. Nevertheless, they came out perfect which makes me really wonder about the competence of those competing on Hell’s Kitchen. I mean, I really cannot overemphasize how easy these were to prepare.

With the scallops, I simply provided two dishes of melted butter and garlic for dipping, one of which had a few drops of Habanero Tabasco. Everyone thought the scallops were great, even Kathy who rarely strays from steak, burgers, or catfish.

Now that I’ve successfully cooked the scallops with the most basic of methods, I can begin experimenting with new recipes. What about you? How do you prepare scallops? Do you have a favorite recipe? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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More on the Lodge Cast Iron Grill

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Last month, I posted a review on the Lodge Sportsmans Grill (LSG). Yesterday, I got an email from a reader named John. He wrote:

I recently got the Lodge grill due to my need for a grill. Your review was very handy in explaining what to expect (I ordered via Amazon). I even bought cinder blocks and tiles to create a very similar setup (see attached photo)!

Here is the picture of John’s cinder block setup and mine for comparison below it.

The LSG gets extremely hot, and it’s very important to have some kind of surface below it that cannot be damaged. If you place one of these grills on a wooden deck surface, it will definitely leave burn marks. Patio stones, cinder blocks, etc. provide good protection. Plus, it gets the grill off the ground which is easier on one’s back!

John asked a few questions in his email which are in bold below, followed by my answers.

I used it once and am trying to figure out how to clean the parts other than the grill top, which I cleaned inside. I will try the aluminum foil tip next time (I forget to line it before using). I read some guy used a shop vac.

The shop vac is ideal. Small shop vacs are available that would be perfect even if only used for the LSG (assuming you grill enough to justify the purchase). When I clean mine, though, I remove the top grill and set it aside. Usually the fire grate still has coals on it, although these are really nothing more than ash themselves. I try to carefully pick this up to include as much of the ash as possible and pour this off into a trash bag (it’s very important to make sure none of the coals are still live!). Then, I take off the draft door and the fire door and simply turn the fire bowl over, dumping out any loose ash. I also keep a little brush inside one of the cinder block holes that I use to brush out extra ash. It’s really not a big deal if there’s a coating of ash remaining on the sides. As long as the grill is not getting wet, the ash is not going to harm the inside of the fire bowl. However, ash can be very corrosive on cast iron if it gets wet. Of course, keeping any cast iron item out of a wet environment should be assumed anyway.

At the end of last summer, I gave the fire bowl a really good thorough cleaning with hot water and a scraper. Grease will build up and carbonize on the sides and in the bottom. This itself will not really hurt the grill, so I don’t worry about it during the summer months of prime grilling. At the end of this year, after two years of use, I may put the fire bowl in the oven and turn on the cleaning cycle. Afterwards, everything but the top grill can be repainted with black stovepipe paint to look as good as new.

How do you light the coals? I used a chimney starter and transferred them over when they turned gray. But I realize that probably didn't give enough time for the cast grill to get hot enough.

If you don’t use a chimney starter, the other obvious is charcoal lighter fluid. Some feel that lighter fluid can affect the taste of grilled food. This is definitely true if the lighter fluid is a cheaper brand. It may not be as true with some brands. Regardless, it’s worth the effort to experiment. Most folks like a chimney starter. When using one of these, after putting the coals on top of the fire grate, place the top grill in place and let it sit for at least ten minutes before placing anything on the grill. This should give it enough time to heat up.

Any tips on the using the draft door?

I always have the draft door slightly open to allow air to circulate underneath the coals. This allows them to stay very hot while cooking; but if the coals are too hot, I close the door to allow less oxygen to get to the coals.

This is probably completely obvious, but the product descriptions say there are 2 adjustable levels. Do they mean you flip the top grill over (so the feet are sticking up)? Or is there some other way that I didn't notice to change the height?

Yes, you’re exactly right. If the grill is turned over, it will be lower and closer to the coals. Honestly, I rarely do this because the grill gets so hot with the top grill turned up right. However, I’ve learned (the hard way) that when grilling round hot dogs, the lower setting keeps them from rolling off. However, you must use less charcoal if cooking something like hot dogs, brats, or even smoked sausages on the lower setting.

I hope that helps some. I know that John is going to enjoy his grill. I am sold on the LSG, and will never purchase any other grill unless I simply get a second one to use beside the first one!

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

Lodge Mfg. Expands Web Presence with YouTube & Twitter

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I don’t collect cast iron simply to collect it. I’m not knocking those who do, mind you. Cast iron cookware has a wonderful history, and if anything is worth of collection for hobby or investment, it’s cast iron. But for me, it’s a more practical issue. I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to put it. We bought an entire baker’s rack just for our cast iron. In addition to that, three cast iron skillets are kept on our stove at all times.

So, if I’m going to add a new piece of cast iron cookware to what we already have, I have to justify it. That means, I have to ask if we really need it, if we really will use it. Just last week we had some guest over for dinner. I noticed one of our guests staring at the growing number of items on our baker’s rack. She turned to me and said, “I just realized--you actually use all this cast iron!” Looking at the assorted skillets, dutch ovens, cornstick pans, sizzle skillets, loaf pans, and more, I asked “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, a lot of people who collect something like this just do so to show it off, but you actually cook with all this.”

Of course I do!

What’s more, the great majority of the cast iron we own was made by Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Oh, I also have a couple of Camp Chef items, and I have no idea who made my prize skillets handed down from my grandmother which are at least seventy years old if not much older. But the first skillet which was my very own was made my Lodge. In fact, the three skillets that permanently reside on our stove are the two skillets I inherited from my grandmother and my own Lodge skillet--the first cast iron I ever owned, given as a gift from my mother in the mid-nineties.

I honestly have nothing against other cast iron companies. In fact, I welcome quality cast iron in any form, regardless of its source. But Lodge has been very good to me, and I’ve been able to make food over the years that simply wouldn’t have tasted quite as good in other kinds of pans.

All that to say, I’m very pleased to notice that Lodge Manufacturing has been expanding their web presence lately. For the longest time, they’ve had a top quality website--an indispensable source for finding that right cast iron tool for a particular cooking need. My normal habit is to find it first on the Lodge site, and then I often order it from

Now, Lodge has also created their own page on YouTube. Already there are videos that allow the viewer to tour the cast iron foundry (something I’ve been fortunate enough to do in person) and learn how cast iron is made. There’s a video of Johnny Nix showing off his skill with outdoor cast iron cooking. Watching Johnny Nix cook is the cast iron equivalent of seeing a high profile magician. Both have put in the time and effort to know their craft well, and it simply comes across as if it’s real magic.

Lodge has also joined in with the current Twitter craze by setting up their own Twitter account. I only allow a handful of the folks that I follow on Twitter to come directly to my iPhone and Lodge Manufacturing is one of them. Lodge has been sending out a lot of interesting tweets. Sometimes they’ve used Twitter to promote particular products or specials. Sometimes they send links to articles or internet reviews of their products. They even tweeted about my review of the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill a few days ago. Today, they posted a link about re-seasoning cast iron. I believe that Lodge has discovered that Twitter is a great way to stay in touch with their customers while allowing loyal fans to stay connected with them as well.

There are also some pages about Lodge cast iron on FaceBook, but I’m not sure if they are official or not. Perhaps someone from Lodge will let us know.
Update 9/16/09: Lodge's official Facebook page can be found at

Lodge has been around since 1896, and they are still family owned. They are also the only remaining cast iron company with a foundry in the United States to my knowledge. So, I’m very impressed that a company with such traditional roots can also stay up to date with current technology in an effort to to communicate with their customers.

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Confessions of a Tabasco Addict Aficionado

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I debated exactly what to title this post. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aficionado as “a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.” At the same time, the word addict is defined as “one who is addicted esp. to a substance.”

It’s a thin line, isn’t it?

No doubt some regular readers of this website can identify with the dilemma of distinction when it comes to cast iron. Most who are really “into” cast iron would like to think of themselves as aficionados, but deep down they know how strong the pull of “just one more piece” of the black iron can really be.

In the end, I opted for aficionado because addict has such negative connotations. An addiction to something often results in very negative results for the person directly involved and for those around him or her. I’ve never known my predilection for Tabasco to be harmful for myself or anyone around me. I don’t use enough to cause stomach ulcers. I’ve never accidentally splashed Tabasco in the eyes of the person sitting next to me at dinner. No one’s ever caught me drinking it straight from the bottle (I assure you, I’ve never done that!).

And yet, I nearly always carry it with me. Stop me any day of the week and I usually have a miniature 1/8 oz. bottle (or two) in my pocket. During winter months when I can wear a jacket, I usually carry a full 2 oz. bottle. Besides carrying it on my person and having it in plentiful supply at home, I keep a bottle in my filing cabinet at my office and during cooler months when there’s no danger of it going bad (Tabasco turns brown when it’s old or left in a hot vehicle for days), I keep a bottle stashed in my truck. In fact, my truck has its own “I Love Tabasco” sticker on the bumper. I have one bottle that always remains on my stovetop (you may have noticed it in some of the pictures on this site), and a completely separate bottle for the dinner table.

On a rare occasion away from home when I don’t have a bottle on me or if my miniature bottles are empty, I’m not beyond stopping at a supermarket or convenience store to grab a bottle before meeting a friend for lunch even knowing I have brand new, unopened bottles at home. When buying a bottle from a convenient store, I carefully open the box and hold the bottle up to the light to determine if the hue of red is just right. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes a grocery item can sit on a convenient store shelf too long to be of quality.

Further, I’m always careful not to run out of Tabasco and keep a solid supply in stock at home. Below is a photograph taken in April of my current supply at that point. You may or may not know that Tabasco comes in six flavors. Although I prefer what is often referred to as the “original red,” every variety is represented in the picture along with Tabasco flavored soy and teriyaki sauce.

The picture above doesn’t even account for my current stock of about 50 miniatures that I have in the freezer. I keep them in the freezer because I usually buy them in large supply and I’ve noticed that the miniatures seem to expire faster than Tabasco in larger bottles.

How long have I been a Tabasco aficionado? I don’t know. That’s hard to say. That’s like asking someone when he or she started liking chocolate. I do remember as a child watching my father add Tabasco to the ketchup he ate his French fries with. I picked that habit up quick enough. Probably it was some point in the nineties that I discovered the miniature bottles and began carrying Tabasco with me regularly. But I often carried it on occasion a decade earlier. I know by college (twenty years ago), I often carried it with me--perhaps not quite obsessively as I do today. But I distinctly remember sitting around a table with some friends and one of girls said, “Rick, please put the lid on that Tabasco. It’s burning my nose!” I also remember a Texaco station (of all places!) in my hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, that offered the best biscuits and sausage gravy I could find anywhere. One day I discovered while adding black pepper to my gravy that taking a bite of the food, followed by a quick chaser of black coffee created the most unusual and exquisite sensation in my mouth. It wasn’t just taste--as good as that was--it was somatic, a physical sensation. I knew I could make my new gravy “crack” even better. The next day I came back with a bottle of Tabasco in hand. Rather than adding black pepper, I added Tabasco. Incredible! Words cannot properly describe the ecstatic sensation of Tabasco-laced biscuits and gravy with black coffee. To this day, I will only eat biscuits and gravy if Tabasco is handy.

At this point, you may be wondering a couple of things (at minimum). You might wonder why I would carry bottles with me when most restaurants carry Tabasco. Well, I’m surprised at how often some people just don’t know the difference between Tabasco and other hot sauces. Not too long ago, I was in one particular local eating establishment that serves Louisiana food, and as I looked around the tables, while I found a variety of hot sauces, there was no Tabasco to be seen. I asked the waitress, “Do you have ‘real’ Tabasco?” She looked at me dumbfounded and said, “What do you mean? All of them are real.” In her mind any hot sauce was Tabasco--no doubt a misconception that the McIlhenny Company, the makers of Tabasco, would highly object to. Some restaurants simply don’t take such things as seriously as they should. Some will opt to buy a case of whatever hot sauce their supplier sells the cheapest. And I’ve also had occasion to ask for a bottle of Tabasco in a restaurant only to be handed a bottle which although contained the Tabasco label, was filled with a noxious looking brown liquid--a telltale sign that the bottle is quite old.

if you’ve ever had your own bottle of Tabasco go brown, throw it out and buy a new bottle. I recommend that most people keep Tabasco in the refrigerator. It will definitely last longer. I don’t have this problem--even with keeping a bottle on the stove next to high temperatures. I tend to simply use it long before it would go bad.

I’m also a Tabasco purist. All those other brands simply don’t cut it for me. The McIlhenny family has been making Tabasco essentially the same way since 1868. There are only three ingredients in original red Tabasco: tabasco peppers, salt, and vinegar. There’s no “xanthan gum” (whatever that is) or food coloring added like in many other hot sauces.

While most food companies from the 19th century (such as Heinz) have been sold long ago to large corporations, Tabasco is still made by the same family. In addition to the quality of the product itself, there’s something very attractive to me about the fact that the family still runs the company, that a person can still go to Avery Island, Louisiana, to see how the sauce is produced. It’s very much like another company I admire for similar reasons: Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. They are the only US based cast iron foundry left, and they are still run by descendants of their founder.

You may also be wondering what my wife, Kathy, thinks of my obsession with Tabasco. A few weeks back, without her knowledge, I ordered a six-bottle Tabasco caddy--the same kind you might see in a restaurant--and put it right in the center of our dining room table before she got home.

A few years ago, before Kathy came home from work one day, I placed a lime green iMac on kitchen counter next to the bread machine. I figured it would be handy for recipes, checking email, or looking up something quickly on the internet. I created a screensaver that rotated a few hundred family pictures. I wasn’t sure what she’d think, but I was almost certain she would say, “That’s not staying in my kitchen!” However, to my surprise, when she walked in and saw it, she exclaimed, “I love it!” It’s still there to this day.

So when Kathy saw the six-bottle Tabasco caddy in the middle of our dining room table, rather than saying “That’s not staying on my dining room table!” she instead declared, “I love it!”

No, Kathy is not the Tabasco aficionado I am. While I often cook with Tabasco--something Kathy never objects to--you won’t ever see her adding an extra dash of Tabasco to her eggs on Saturday morning. In fact, the only variety of Tabasco I’ve seen her use to any significant degree is the new Tabasco Sweet & Spicy sauce. It happens to be the mildest of all the Tabasco varieties. It’s very good with Asian food or as a dipping sauce. Other than that, Kathy doesn’t use a lot of Tabasco.

However, Kathy likes the Tabasco brand. She likes having our unopened bottles sitting on the corner of our bakers rack where we store our various cast iron pans. She likes the logo. In fact, she says one day when we have a bigger house, she’d like to decorate a game room with Tabasco themed wall prints and other paraphernalia. So while she might sometime sigh when I have delivered a new or different Tabasco coffee mug I’ve procured on eBay, deep down, she doesn’t mind. And often, she’s the one who diplays it to be seen by all who visit. Tabasco is, if nothing else to Kathy, a connection to our home in Louisiana where we both grew up.

Now, you may thinking “That Rick--he really likes hot food.” Really, that’s not true. I’m not a chili-head. I can’t stand to eat food that’s been spiced so much all of its flavor is lost. Believe it or not, I like the “mild” sauce at Taco Bell, simply because I prefer its flavor over the hotter varieties.

Yes, I admit that I’ve got a higher tolerance for spicy food that some. Adding Tabasco to one’s food for most of one’s life will do that. But that’s not the point. I don’t put Tabasco on everything. We made breakfast at home this past Saturday morning, and while I added Tabasco to my eggs (eggs just don’t seem right otherwise), I didn’t add them to my grits. I did, however, add cayenne pepper to my grits. What’s the difference? Well, the vinegar in Tabasco would offset the flavor of the grits, but the red pepper by itself added a little kick without overwhelming the taste.

Historically, I rarely ever add original red Tabasco to Mexican food, although I have discovered that the new Chipotle Tabasco is quite good and have added it lately. But I can’t imagine the aforementioned eggs without Tabasco. A tuna fish sandwich not flavored with Tabasco? Well, you might as well leave out the tuna as well! I find Tabasco greatly enhances any food with cream--whether clam chowder or the dressing for a Caesar salad.

Here’s the thing--Tabasco brings two qualities to food: flavor and spice. For me, I use Tabasco instead of black pepper in my food. Yes, that’s right--the same way you add pepper to your food, I simply add Tabasco. You will not see me seasoning my food first with pepper and then with Tabasco. That’s overkill. Early advertisements for Tabasco a century ago often referred to it as “liquid pepper.” That’s exactly how I use it.

There’s a scale for measuring how hot a pepper is known as Scoville units. Original Red Tabasco sauce measures only about 2500-5000 on this scale. Compare that with habanero-based sauces which can measure almost twice that (there is a habanero-flavored variety of Tabasco who indeed do like their food extremely hot). Regular Tabasco is not hot enough to hurt anyone when used properly in normal amounts. There may also be health benefits to it as seen in one recent study (scroll down to the sixth paragraph).

And here’s what’s interesting, if you read a book like Shane Bernard’s Tabasco: An Illustrated History, notice than none of the early advertising for Tabasco was about how spicy Tabasco might be, how hot it was. For me, and I believe historically for the product, Tabasco is not about heat so much as it’s about flavor. In fact, looking at the historical ads in Shane’s book, I don’t know if the McIlhenny Company ever promoted Tabasco as something hot until the famous Superbowl mosquito commercial.

I like Tabasco so much that I considered creating another website devoted to Tabasco. However, keeping two websites current is enough for now. Instead of yet a third site to write for, I believe I’ll simply add the occasional Tabasco post here on Cooking in Cast Iron. After all, the subjects of Tabasco and cast iron are certainly not mutually exclusive.

For more information on the history of Tabasco I suggest the following:
• Shane Bernard’s Tabasco: An Illustrated History
• “History Tent”

Want to discuss Tabasco more? Want to share your own experiences? Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Review: Lodge Sportsman's Grill

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Greg’s recent post about the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill over at Black Iron Dude made me realize that while I’ve posted pictures of my grill a number of times here on Cooking in Cast Iron, I’ve never offered a formal review. Perhaps that is because technically, I’d already written a review on about two months before we started this website.

Therefore, I want to revisit some of what I wrote last year on Amazon, making a few modifications and updates now that I’ve had this little cast iron wonder for a little over a year.

I've always been particular to charcoal grilling over gas. But in my adult life, I've previously been satisfied getting the cheapest charcoal grill available and using it until it fell apart. Now, however, since I have the Lodge cast iron Sportsman's Grill (from this point forward, simply LSG), I anticipate that this will be the last grill I ever own. Because it's cast iron, as long as it's well cared for, it should last a lifetime.

My wife got me this grill for an anniversary present. Having developed a passion for cooking in cast iron like many of you, I had been eyeing it for quite some time. When it arrived, it came in a box unassembled, but I had it put together within a couple of minutes. All of the pieces simply stay in place with gravity with the exception of the bottom which is screwed into the fire bowl.

I enjoyed this grill so much last year, I believe we grilled out more last summer and fall than in the previous five or so years combined. While almost anything can be cooked to perfection on the LSG, I’ve also since discovered Omaha Steaks. We enjoyed them so much last year, we had to adjust our monthly grocery budget just to make sure we could place at least one modest order a month. I’ve known for a while that their steaks and burgers are great, but on Memorial Day earlier this week, I also discovered that Omaha Steaks also carries some of the best hot dogs and brats I’ve ever tasted. The brats were much more flavorful than many I’ve tried, and the hot dogs were three times the size of a normal frankfurter with great taste to boot.

Three brats, four burgers, and one ribeye--merely part of all that we grilled on Memorial Day this year.

Here are some things I've discovered over the last year or so cooking on my Lodge Sportsman’s Grill:

1. If you're going to use this grill a lot, you don't want to have it sitting on the ground. Or at least I don't with my sore back! So rather than finding some weatherproof pre-made table, I constructed a little grilling platform out of cinder blocks and patio stones. As you can see in the pictures, it looks much more attractive than it sounds. The materials cost me merely $17 and I guarantee you I have a more sturdy grilling area than anything I could have purchased. There’s no strong wind that’s going to blow over this grilling stand! Plus, I can temporarily stow tongs and spatulas in the open spaces of the cinder blocks.

2. Because cast iron heats evenly, the entire top grill is hot. I don't have to worry about colds spots on the grill as I've had to in the past assuming that I’ve distributed the charcoal fairly evenly. I read about one user of the LSG spraying the grill with olive oil-flavored Pam, which I often do, too. And with the oil based marinade I sometimes use, food sizzles when I set it down on this grill, just like when I put it in a cast iron skillet. I never get tired of the sound of cast iron sizzle whether it comes from a skillet or the LSG.

3. Speaking of a cast iron skillet, this grill is the best of both worlds. The grates of the top grill are flat on top and the slits are fairly narrow. It really is like grilling and cooking in a skillet combined. By oiling the grill before use, I've yet to have anything stick to it. And the slots are much more narrow than grills I've used in the past, so the danger of a burger falling through into the coals are a thing of the past.

4. The LSG will cook just about anything you throw on it. I’ve cooked steaks, burgers, chicken, pork chops, brats, hot dogs and more. I really like the control I get over the food. So many times with a traditional charcoal grill, I've scorched food if I wasn't paying attention. Because this is made of cast iron and because of the flat cooking surface, it's much easier to control the cooking. Pork chops I cooked on the grill were nicely browned on the outside, but not burnt and juicy inside. The burgers were perfectly done as well. It's much easier to control the fire on this grill than others I've used.

5. Warning: be careful with perfectly round hot dogs. There's no side to the grill surface and a round hot dog can simply roll off if you're not careful. Hot dogs that are a bit squared are much easier to control, and it helps to not crowd them so that they can be turned over. Notice the attractive brown (but not black and scorched!) stripes. Another solution as suggested by Greg on Black Iron Dude is to simply turn the top grill upside down so that there’s a small protrusion at the edges to keep your dogs from falling off. I haven’t tried this yet, but now I wonder why I hadn’t thought of that!

6. Don’t think that this grill is not up to cooking for large groups--it is! My wife was concerned that the grill was so small that we wouldn't be able to adequately entertain guests. As you can see here and in the pictures in our gallery, I easily fit eight quarter pound burgers from Omaha Steaks on the grill. That's perfectly adequate for any entertaining that we will do, and even if we have more folks over, two or three rounds of eight won't take that long.

7. Due to the LSG's flat surface on top, I could easily cook in a skillet or dutch oven on top of this grill without the pan wobbling. I’ve cooked food in 8” skillets, 10 1/4” skillets, sizzle skillets, and even dutch ovens. It’s the perfect grill to take camping as it allows for a wide diversity in what kinds of food can be prepared.

When camping, the LSG can be used with a dutch oven as an alternative to placing the dutch oven directly into live coals.

“Mountain Man Breakfast” made in a dutch oven on top of the LSG.

Baked beans in a rolling boil right next to hamburgers. The beans are in a 10 1/4 Lodge skillet

Cheeseburgers and corn on the cob (yeah, I know that’s not a cast iron pan, but it wasn’t my pan!)

Mushrooms & onions in olive oil on a sizzle skillet

8. To clean the top grill, I've used a stiff plastic brush and the nylon scrapers you can get from any Pampered Chef rep for cleaning a baking stone. As with any cast iron, you don't want to use soap as it can strip the seasoning or even leave a soap taste. I simply take the top grill to the kitchen sink and scrub it down with the brush and hot water. I use the scraper to get any food between the slots. It can be a bit tedious to clean between every groove, but it's really not difficult to clean.

9. It may not be clear from the pictures, but the coals sit on a removable fire grate about an inch and a half above the bottom of the grill. This allows for air flow under the coals via an adjustable draft door. As the coals turn to ash, some will fall through the grate.

10. For cleaning the bottom part below the fire grate, I've experimented with lining the bottom with aluminum foil to make removing the ashes a bit easier. I did this a lot when I first bought the grill, but I do it less often now. If you try this, you want to be careful not to let the foil block the vent behind the draft door so that you can have air circulating under your coals. After I lift out the ashes, I've simply been sweeping out the ash dust that remains. As with any grill you don't want to leave heavy amounts of ash in place as it can become corrosive if it mixes with moisture.

11. As mentioned above, I clean the top grill like I would any cast iron skillet. If necessary, the grill top could even be re-seasoned in the oven or perhaps simply by covering it in a thin layer of lard or other cooking oil and placing it over hot coals. I haven’t had a need to do this yet, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

12. For the start of this year’s grilling, I covered the bottom part of the grill with black stovepipe paint. The idea of painting cast iron would certainly be taboo for many, and I would agree if we were talking about the cooking surface. However, everything below the top grill--the fire bowl, the bottom, the fire grate, the fire door, the draft door--never comes into direct contact with food. Interestingly, when a LSG arrives brand new, every piece of the grill is covered in Lodge’s pre-seasoning. Again, this makes perfect sense for the top grill, but not for the rest of the grill. By this spring, the bottom part of my grill had lost all the pre-seasoning in quite a few places (the grill does get extremely hot, after all). I even had a couple of minor rust spots. While I could have simply re-seasoned it, this seemed neither practical or necessary. Instead, I cleaned everything really well before my first grilling of the year, and then I covered everything except the top grill with black stovepipe paint that is good for up to 1200° Fahrenheit. I am very pleased with the results and the painted grill makes it look brand new again. If this is something I need to do every year or two, I don’t mind at all. And my hunch is the paint will act as a better protection from weather than the mere pre-seasoning from Lodge.

This is a shot of my grill that I took last week. Even though I’ve had it for over a year, it still looks
brand new because I completely painted everything but the top grill with black stovetop paint.

13. If you're going to keep the grill outside, you must get the Lodge Sportsman's Grill Cover. The cover is long enough for the elastic bottom to fit under the legs of the grill keeping water out from all sides in the case of rain. Outside of that, I’d recommend bringing the grill inside if it’s not going to be used for a while, perhaps during the winter months.

14. For travel, I purchased a couple of extra patio stones that I'm keeping in the back of my truck. This grill is portable enough that I’ve taken it with me on a number of occasions. But what do you do if you’re through tailgating and the grill is still hot? The extra patio stones were the answer. This way when the grill is hot after I've cooked with it, I won't have to worry about the hot feet eating through the liner in the bed of my truck. I can simply set it on the patio stones.

15. Yes, you can carry it with the handle, but it’s only balanced if all extra pieces are removed. Don’t try to carry this grill by the handle for any long distance if it is fully assembled. The grill becomes much lighter and easier to carry if the top grill, fire door, and draft door are removed first. Then it remains fairly balanced simply with the wire handle itself. However, I would note that I was grilling one time last fall when a sudden downpour threatened to end our grilling all together for the day. With the careful help of a friend, we picked up the grill with live coals and carried it (protecting our hands with gloves and hot pads) through the house to the front where I had cover from the rain.

Again, I'm thoroughly delighted with this grill, and as I said anticipate it will last me the rest of my life. That is, unless I decide that I need two of them. While grilling on Memorial day (steaks, burgers, brats, and hot dogs), I thought to myself, maybe I just need a second LSG to fire up beside the first one...

Have questions about the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill? Want to share your own experiences? Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Breaking in the New Wok

Posted by Rick Mansfield

In his book Cast Iron Cooking: From Johnnycakes to Blackened Redfish, A. D. Livingston famously says, “If you’ve got a dutch oven, you don’t need no damn wok.” And while in essence that’s true--that you can cook just about anything in a dutch oven that you can cook in a wok--it doesn’t mean that a wok isn’t of tremendous value or even that a wok won’t be a better choice for any kind of stir-fry dish.

Kathy and I have been having our own “Asian night” for a while. A few years ago, her brother, Clark, gave me a traditional steel wok. We’ve used it for stir-fry on many occasions, almost always with rice and whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator. Lately, we added a very basic egg drop soup to the menu as well, and at this point I decided I really needed a second wok.

Of course, if I was going to buy a wok myself, knowing that Lodge makes a cast iron wok, I knew this was the one I had to have. In looking at customer comments on and other places, while some folks raved about the Lodge cast iron wok, I also discovered there were wok purists who decried it for being too heavy or that the cast iron was simply not the right kind of metal for stir-fry.


If you’re reading this post, you would probably agree with me that most food is simply better in cast iron! With this assumption in hand, I ordered the Lodge cast iron wok.

My first impression regarding the new wok was how large it was! In the picture above, you see it next to a standard 10 1/4” cast iron skillet. The weight of the cast iron makes for a pan that stays still. I don’t have to hold on to one side of it as I stir.

And as I’ve mentioned before, unfortunately, our current home has an electric range (never again!), but the diameter of the base is small enough that I can actually use the wok--as big as it is--from the smaller burner. As with any wok, by concentrating the heat at the bottom, food that needs less heat can be pushed to the sides.

Cast iron required: cast iron wok

When I make stir-fry, I usually start with sesame oil which I allow to get hot at the bottom of the pan over a medium heat. The sesame oil will give a dish a nice Asian flavor. As I mentioned, we often add whatever is available from leftovers, but if we are including ingredients like uncooked bacon, shrimp, or even raw vegetables like onions (green, white, or yellow) or broccoli, it’s best to add these ingredients first to the oil. I want to always be careful that any meat is fully cooked. Any meat or raw vegetables should be added before the rice which should already be cooked. When adding broccoli, I generally cook it to a bright green, but Kathy often wants it cooked a bit longer.

At this point, I will add in rice that is already cooked. Usually we have leftover rice from another meal, which is often our excuse for stir-fry in the first place. Soy sauce is added to taste. Now the primary purpose is to heat the rice to the same temperature as the rest of the ingredients. The final touch is to add a bit of egg. If raw egg is added to the mixture at this point, it will simply be lost. A better method is to lightly scramble a couple of eggs in another, smaller skillet and right before they are a the point I might serve them as a breakfast item, I take them and add them to the stir-fry, mixing them in without mixing them so fine that they are lost. White pepper and a little more soy sauce or even sesame oil can be added if necessary to taste.

Cast iron optional, but a wok (steel or cast iron) is a nice touch

We now use our original steel wok for the egg drop soup. Technically, you don’t need a wok to make egg drop soup, but it certainly seems appropriate to make it in one. The recipe is a very basic one by Rhonda Parkinson which I found a while back on the internet. Although cast iron isn’t really required, I include this recipe here for the sake of completeness. This recipe is basic and easy to make, and to us, it’s as good or better than any egg drop soup we’d get in a restaurant.


  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-2 green onions, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • A few drops of sesame oil (optional)

In a wok or saucepan, bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Add the white pepper and salt, and the sesame oil if using. Cook for about another minute.

Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form.

Garnish with green onion and serve.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

THAILAND PEANUT PESTO (shown here with optional shrimp & broccoli)
Cast Iron Required: Wok

Another recipe we’ve made recently in the wok is Thailand Peanut Pesto which I found on the Tabasco website. This recipe requires one to make a homemade peanut sauce which is just as good as anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Kathy generally doesn’t care for peanut-flavored Asian recipes, but she loves this one.


  • 1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup Tabasco brand Soy Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Original Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sesame oil
  • 1 pound bowtie pasta, cooked according to package instructions
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions

Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. With motor running, add remaining ingredients except pasta and green onions, one at a time, through feeder tube. Process until a thick, smooth paste has formed.

Transfer mixture to a bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Toss with hot cooked pasta and garnish with green onion.

Makes 4 servings.

Try adding vegetables such as steamed broccoli or snow peas to this, or turn it into an entrée by adding cooked chicken or shrimp.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Ultimately, I’m quite pleased with the cast iron wok from Lodge. It’s heavy so that it doesn’t move on the stovetop while stirring food in it, and everything I’ve cooked in it has been wonderful so far. Whether you are a cast iron aficionado or whether you simply enjoy Asian food, I highly recommend this wok for your cooking enjoyment.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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Is It the Cast Iron or the Cook?

Posted by Kathy Mansfield

Rick is a little too humble to post this, but I have no qualms bragging on what a wonderful cook he is! For the third consecutive year, Rick has been named Chili Cook-Off Grand Prize Winner at the annual Simpsonville Baptist Church Family Football Night (because they can’t call it a Super Bowl Party!) and Chili Cook-Off. I’m a pretty finicky eater, and even more so about any tomato-based recipe, so when I say Rick makes good chili, I mean it. And, I suppose, enough other folks agree, too, since he is a three time champ in our little hometown. But, is it truly the cook? Or might it be the new enameled cast iron Dutch oven? Hmmmm. I think maybe a little bit of both.

Rick makes what he calls his “Louisiana Chili.” The “Louisiana” part comes from his use of Andouille sausage as one of the ingredients. The actual recipe is some deep, dark secret, so you won’t see it posted here. So that’s the Cook part of what makes the chili so good. The Cast Iron contribution is the new enameled Dutch oven Rick used this year. Tomato-based recipes can wreak havoc on cast iron, but the enameled pieces sold by Lodge are the perfect answer when you want the consistency and feel of cast iron without the damage to your well-seasoned cookware.

Enjoy the pictures, but don’t look for the super secret recipe anytime soon!

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Kathy directly at


Range Kleen 12" Inch Deep Fryer Winner


Slow Cooker to Dutch Oven Conversion

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Slow cookers are wonderful things. Of course where I grew up, we simply called them “Crock Pots.” But since that’s a trademarked brand name, they are usually referred to as “slow cookers” when speaking of the devices generically. They are great for cooking an entire meal by planning a few hours ahead. Just throw in the ingredients, set the temperature, and let it go. However, as any cast iron aficionado will understand, sometimes you just prefer to break out the black iron.

And as any experienced cast iron cook knows, you don’t really need special cookbooks geared to cast iron cookware--although they are certainly nice to have. In reality, most recipes (with a few exceptions) can be cooked in cast iron. This is especially true of slow cooker recipes since a slow cooker is really nothing more than an electric dutch oven if you think about it. However, some conversion of cooking time is required.

Last summer, Kathleen Purvis of The Charlotte Observer wrote an article (no direct link remaining to my knowledge) on this exact subject that I saw reprinted in a number of papers around the country. To convert from cooking times from a slow cooker to a dutch oven, she offered this basic principle:

A recipe that is cooked on the low setting in your slow cooker will take about a quarter as long in a Dutch oven in a 325-degree oven (if it cooks for 8 hours on low, it will take two to three hours in the Dutch oven). A recipe that is cooked on high setting will take about half as long. But remember, that's only an estimate, so leave yourself a little extra time.

Although the math is pretty straightforward, I thought that some of you might appreciate a quick cheat sheet, so I created one based upon Kathleen Purvis’ suggestions:

12 hours/Low
3 hours/325° F
10 hours/Low
2 1/2 hours/325° F
8 hours/Low
2 hours/325° F
6 hours/Low
1 1/2 hours/325° F
5 hours/Low
1 hour, 15 min./325° F
4 hours/Low
1 hour/325° F
4 hours/High
2 hours/325° F
3 hours/Low
45 min./325° F
3 hours/High
1 1/2 hours/325° F
2 hours/Low
30 min./325° F
2 hours/High
1 hour/325° F
1 hour/Low
15 min./325° F
1 hour/High
30 min./325° F

None of the above times will be exact, so pay attention to the food cooking in your dutch oven that you don’t undercook it or overcook it. Kathleen Purvis also suggests adding more liquid to food cooked in dutch ovens because she says that more steam escapes from them than from a slow cooker. However, my experience has been just the opposite--the heavy lid of a dutch oven will sometimes hold in too much moisture. But your experience may vary, so be sure to watch out for this.

Finally, what about the obvious advantage that slow cookers have over dutch ovens when it comes to portability? Taking food in a dutch oven to the church potluck may not stay warm as long without the added heating element. Well, there is a solution for this; you can simply use a portable single burner such as the one from GE pictured below:

These single burners run a little less than $20 and can be used in the kitchen as an extra burner or even while camping (assuming you have access to electricity). Don’t expect them to get as hot as a burner on a stove, but they function well to keep things warm to hot, much like a slow cooker.

Earlier this week, we had about 15 people over to the house for dinner, and I needed to make room on the stove. As part of the meal, we were having Taco Soup. I had made it in advance, and it would have been very appropriate simply to transfer it to a slow cooker since I needed the space on my stovetop. However, I kept the soup in my new red enameled dutch oven I cooked it in, and simply moved it to the counter, sitting it on top of the single burner.

This worked out perfectly, and demonstrates quite well what you can do if you want to show off your cast iron at the next potluck, but keep it warm, too. In fact, as we were getting ready to eat the other night, one of our guests looked at my dutch oven sitting on top of the single burner and asked, “Is that some kind of new fancy Crock Pot?”

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Seafood & Rice

Posted by Rick Mansfield

This recipe was used in our review of the RangeKleen 12” Deep Fryer. It comes from the cookbook, A Skillet Full of Traditional Southern Lodge Cast Iron Recipes & Memories compiled by the Historic Preservation Society of South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

A Skillet Full is one of my favorite cast iron cookbooks, and I’ll post a full review of the book at a later time. I like the book because it uses an icon system to immediately identify what kind of cast iron cookware is needed in a particular recipe. Perhaps only true cast iron aficionados will truly appreciate this, but sometimes I want to make something in a particular cast iron pan. I can take A Skillet Full and scan the pages for an appropriate recipe for that pan.

This particular recipe reminded me of a cajun étouffée. It uses butter and flour, but they aren’t browned as would be necessary in a traditional roux. Therefore, it’s a bit milder than an étouffée.

I selected this recipe because I was looking for something to cook in a deep fryer besides something simply fried in oil. Technically, this recipe could be prepared in any cast iron skillet of at least 10 1/4” in size. However, the advantage of a deep fryer allowed me to stir the ingredients more briskly without worrying about it going over on the sides of the pan.

I also found it interesting that this recipe is called “Seafood & Rice” when it only calls for shrimp. Why not “Shrimp & Rice”? There are no additional notes about adding anything else, but there’s no reason you could not. The shrimp are good alone, but it might be fun to experiment with crab meat, clams, scallops, crawfish, or any combination of them.

The recipe is extremely easy to make and the final result is quite impressive.

  • deep fryer (chicken fryer)

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • hot cooked rice, enough for six

Put butter in chicken fryer and melt over medium heat. Add onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add shrimp, salt, peppers, onion powder, and Tabasco. Cook 5 minutes; then add flour.

Cook 2 more minutes, stirring constantly.

Add water gradually.

Reduce heat to low and cook an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mix in green onions, parsley, and cook for 3 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Source: A Skillet Full
Mildly modified by Rick Mansfield

Onion, bell pepper and celery cooking in butter.

Cooking with shrimp

After the flour has been added.

Adding in the green onions and parsley.


Finally, over rice.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Review: Country Bob's All Purpose Sauce

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Not too long ago, we received two review bottles of Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce. The label on my bottles read “Steak • Hamburger • Fries • Barbecue.” Visitors to the company website are told that “You can grill, cook, and marinate with it, or put it in your soups, stews, baked beans, and your other favorite dishes.” I’ll admit up front that I just assumed this was just another barbecue sauce I had received (and we all know that of the making of barbecue sauces, there is no end!). Boy, was I wrong.

I’ve jokingly said before that I never met a barbecue sauce I didn’t like. But technically, Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce is not the same as a regular barbecue sauce. In fact, the company makes a separate product called Country Bob’s Barbecue Sauce (which is not the product reviewed here). But to put the All Purpose Sauce to the test, we decide to use it as a marinade for grilled chicken.

As I opened the bottle, I caught a whiff of the sweet smell of molasses. I had not expected that. I put just a drop of the sauce on my finger and tasted it, and WOW, I knew we were in for something incredible. This was definitely not like any steak sauce, barbecue sauce, or marinade I’d tried before. In fact, Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce is literally in a category all by itself.

The first thing I did was to heat Country Bob’s sauce in a Lodge cast iron melting pot on top of my cast iron Sportsman's Grill. I wanted to apply the sauce while hot to the chicken breasts to immediately “shock” the outer layer and seal in the natural juices.

We had invited some friends over who also brought their twin four-year-olds. After we set down at the table, everyone marveled at the unique flavor of the chicken. Again, I think everyone expected this to be just another barbecue sauce, but Country Bob’s has its own distinct taste. One of children who is sometimes finicky with new foods, quickly said “More sauce!” So, I retrieved the bottle from outside, and everyone passed it around the table adding more of the sweet sauce to their chicken.

Again, although I now knew that the All Purpose Sauce wasn’t the same as a barbecue sauce, I now wanted to know what it would taste like on pork ribs. So I bought some boneless baby back ribs at the grocery store, and dropped them in a Lodge 5 qt dutch oven and then smothered them with Country Bob’s. I cooked them at a low 250° for two or three hours (see picture above taken after I pulled them from the oven). They were incredible! I don’t know if I can go back to “normal” barbecue ribs again.

There’s no way I can adequately describe how good this sauce is. And I’m not saying that because they sent me two free bottles. Actually, they’ve now made a paying customer out of me. But you can get a free bottle, too. Right now, if you go to Country Bob’s website, there is an offer for a coupon for a FREE bottle of sauce simply for signing up for their email newsletter. While you’re at the site, click on the link for “Retail Locations” to see where your nearest supplier is located. I was very pleased that all of our local stores near us here in Kentucky supply Country Bob’s.

If your stores don’t carry it yet, you can place an order on their website or get a six pack of Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce at You may be thinking to yourself that could never use six bottles. But that’s only because you haven’t tried it yet!

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Recent Cast Iron Acquisitions

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I’m not sure how much heavy cast iron affects Santa Claus’ gas mileage on his sleigh, but Kathy and I were very excited to receive a number of new cast iron cookware items for Christmas.

First up is a Lodge Sizzlin’ Chef Platter. My mother-in-law gave me this. I often complain that food gets cold on my plate too quickly. This will be the remedy.

Kathy bought me this Lodge Square Grill Pan. You may have seen this in the pictures of the cast iron on our baker’s rack in an earlier post. Kathy bought it early, but wouldn’t let me use it until Christmas! It will be perfect for steaks this winter when I don’t want to cook outside in the cold on our Sportsman's Grill.

I’ve been wondering for a long time how some of our classic casseroles would cook in cast iron. I’ve experimented with good results using both our skillets and our dutch ovens, but I wanted something more to the size of a traditional casserole pan. Mom gave us this Lodge Color Enamel 4 1/4 Quart Roaster and I can’t wait to use it. However, at thirteen pounds and even heavier when full, using this pan will be a real workout!

The two pictures above show off our new Lodge Enamel 5 qt. Dutch Oven. This will be our first enameled cast iron piece and perfect for foods that traditionally are hard on a cast iron pan’s seasoning, such as chili.

We’re very excited to add to our cast iron cookware. I’m sure you will see these items in pictures of upcoming recipes that we post online. What about you? Did you receive any cast iron recently or for Christmas? Let us know in the comments.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Review: RangeKleen 12" Deep Fryer

Note: This review was supposed to have been published months ago. RangeKleen sent us this deep fryer for review purposes and then unforeseen circumstances interrupted our regular posts here on Cooking in Cast Iron (but we’re now back!). Regardless, we want to honor the good faith of RangeKleen in sending us the fryer and offer the review, albeit much later than we intended. Check back in a few days for an opportunity to be part of a drawing for the fryer we were sent.

RangeKleen is a nearly four decades old company that “supplied consumers with top quality Range Replacement Parts.” But recently, like a number of companies recognizing the benefits of cooking in cast iron, they have ventured into cast iron cookware. To put the fryer through it’s paces, three of our writers took turns using the pan. Here are their reviews below.

Kathy: We don’t actually have a deep fryer, and when we occasionally do fry something, I have to use either one of our cast iron skillets (which isn’t deep enough) or a dutch oven (which can sometimes be too deep). I was immediately drawn to the RangeKleen deep fryer, and could think of nothing better for it’s initial use than to fry chicken in the same manner that my mother taught me years ago.

Turning the chicken with tongs helps to hold in the juices.

Rick made delicious milk gravy for the rice. (I have no clue how to make gravy!)

The final meal: Fried chicken, rice, milk gravy, black-eyed peas, cornbread. Yum!

I really liked the heaviness of this skillet. I don’t want to have to hold the handle while I stir things or move food around, and this skillet was just the right weight to allow me to concentrate on the food, not the cookware. The deep sides also allowed me to fry in more oil than what I would in a shallow skillet. This made the chicken much more crispy -- just like it should be!

Rick: Since Kathy used the deep fryer for it’s normal intended use, I decided to do something different. I love the little cast iron cookbook, A Skillet Full, for many reasons including the fact that every recipe includes an icon for what kind of cast iron cookware to use. Looking for recipes that required a deep fryer, I finally settled on a recipe, “Seafood and Rice” (I will post the actual recipe separately in a few days). This dish, which combines shrimp and vegetables served over rice, is very reminiscent of a Cajun entree but with a slightly different character and milder flavor.

Sautéing the onions, celery and bell pepper in butter.

Adding in the shrimp.

Adding in the green onions and parsley

Essentially the final product. Note height of residue on the sides from stirring.

Seafood and Rice in the bowl.

I discovered something similar to what Kathy had enjoyed about the RangeKleen deep fryer: it’s weight kept my left hand free from the handle as I often have to do with a regular skillet. But my real question had to do with the need for a deep fryer to begin with. Although the ingredients would have easily fit into a traditional 10 1/4” cast iron skillet, the advantage of the deep fryer came in the stirring, which I had to do frequently for this recipe. As you can see two pictures up, I needed that extra inch or two for all the stirring. Although this recipe could be done in a regular skillet, it is easier to cook it in a deep fryer such as this one from RangeKleen. Incidentally, the lid to my Lodge 7 qt dutch oven fit the RangeKleen deep fryer perfectly.

JT: For the price, cast iron’s versatility is unmatched in my estimation. The RangeKleen 12” Deep Fryer, like most cast iron cookware works in the oven as well as on the stovetop. We used the RangeKleen pan in the oven for several baked items, and while the pan functions well, the diameter was too large for cakes and bread puddings. The combined ingredients spread out too far making the baked item too thin, and for bread pudding the liquid portion spreads too low allowing the bread to sit too high. This is more a use of the wrong tool for the wrong application than a problem with the pan. For other applications, like potatoes, or sautéing vegetables then finishing them in the oven, the pan will work extremely well.

One of the comfort elements was evident when picking up the pan for the first time. The handle is rounded more than most pans, so there is less edge pressure on the users hand when gripping the handle. This is especially beneficial considering the size and weight of the pan.

From an esthetic standpoint the pan has a rougher texture than most pans, which may be a result of the sand mould used to cast the pan. This doesn’t impact the cooking function of the pan, but does effect the clean up and appearance.

Below are pictures of two variations of bread pudding that JT’s wife, Jenn, made in the RangeKleen Deep Fryer:

A Final Note: [Rick writing here]-- Accompanying the RangeKleen 12” Deep Fryer was a warning not to use it on smooth top ranges. Kathy and I currently have a smooth top range (much to our chagrin), but we decided to use the fryer anyway. The reason for the warning is obvious upon holding the pan: it is heavy and the exterior a bit rough as JT noted above. It could easily put scratches on a flat surface stovetop if it was moved around a good bit. We were both very careful not to move it. And it’s weight kept it from easily being jostled.

Unfortunately, by the time we finally posted this review, this particular pan is no longer in production. But you can find the current RangeKleen selection of cast iron frying pans and dutch ovens at their website.

Click here for all pictures taken of the RangeKleen 12” Deep Fryer in action.

Your comments and questions, as always are welcome.


Crawfish Étouffée (Lite)

Posted by Rick Mansfield

If I had to pick my favorite Louisiana dish, it might just be étouffée. Like gumbo, étouffée can be made with crawfish, shrimp, crab or chicken. My favorite is crawfish which I believe have much more flavor than shrimp, but I once even tried a ground meat étoufée, which I found to be a bit unusual. Like many Louisiana dishes, étouffée is served over rice. I usually don’t put andouille or smoked sausage in mine, but I’ve seen others include it. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually tried an étouffée I didn’t like, although some are definitely better than others.

This past week I discovered a new kind of étouffé when I visited a local Cajun restaurant, J. Gumbo’s and tried their vegetarian chili cheese étouffée. I always taste before I add Tabasco, but in my sample taste of this new kind, I didn’t get one of the jalapeño peppers the dish, so after I doctored it up with the hot sauce, it was EXTRA hot!

Yesterday, I reviewed MacGourmet Deluxe (see post here). However, I’ve been using the software, a recipe database program (and so much more), since early July learning the ends and outs of it. For the week of July 4, we visited friends and family in Louisiana and had a shrimp boil on the holiday. Afterwards we had a good bit of shrimp leftover, and I suggested we use some of it for an étouffée.

Wanting to try out my newly acquired copy of MacGourmet Deluxe, I looked for an étouffée recipe. When I had installed the software, it asked if I wanted to include some sample recipes, some of which were from the website, Real Cajun Recipes, including the étouffée recipe seen below.

Now, there are two distinctions in the étouffée recipe below. First, to make it lite/diet, it forms its base from canned soup instead of a traditional roux. This is not wholly unusual, and I’ve found a couple of really good étouffée recipes that use cream of mushroom soup before, but if you’ve never had the dish, realize that what is below is not necessarily standard fare. I also feel the need to point that this is a Creole dish, not a Cajun one. At the most elementary level, what makes this Creole is the inclusion of tomatoes. My favorite étouffée dishes are the ones without tomatoes, but this one is good nonetheless (for a dozen different recipes for étouffée from Real Cajun Recipes, go here). This recipe also calls for 4 tablespoons of ketchup, which although I found to be unusual, included for the sake of trying the recipe as close as possible to its original directions.

Below is my mildly adapted version of the original. The accompanying pictures in this post show shrimp, rather than crawfish.

  • Dutch oven (4 or 5 quart recommended)
stirring the onions, bell pepper and celery
(above: sautéing the onions, bell pepper, and celery)

  • 1 pound crawfish tails or shrimp
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 bell pepper chopped
  • 2 stalks celery (chopped fine)
  • 2 tbsp butter or canola oil
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (reduced calorie)
  • 1 can cream of celery soup (reduced calorie)
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes original or spicy
  • 2 cans water
  • ½ cup parsley
  • ½ cup green onions (onion tops)
  • 4 tbsp catsup (large dollop)
  • 1 pod of garlic (optional)
  • black pepper - to taste

In smaller Dutch oven over medium heat, sauté onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic (optional) until onions have wilted. Add the Rotel tomatoes and stir until tomatoes are heated.

Add the cans of cream of mushroom and cream of celery. Stir and then add enough water to dilute the mixture to form a thick gravy. Remember, your crawfish or shrimp will give off water in the final steps of the cooking. Lower the heat and cook until mixture is heated, stirring as needed to prevent scorching. Add black pepper if desired. Note that the soup provides enough salt for this dish. Easy on the salt if you do decide to use it.

Rinse the crawfish in a colander to remove the crawfish fat that they were packed in. Drain well. Add crawfish to the mixture along with the parsley and green onions. Cook no more than 10 minutes. In the last couple of minutes of cooking, add a large dollop of catsup mainly for coloring but does give a nice taste to your dish. Serve over rice.

Shrimp étouffée in the dutch oven

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Review: MacGourmet Deluxe

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Click on image above for larger view.

Recipe database programs have been around in one form or another as long as personal computers have been in homes. Some of these are standalone programs dedicated to recipes, but even standard database programs such as FileMaker Pro come with recipe templates. I’ve been using personal computers since 1982, and I’ve kept recipes saved electronically (in word processing documents or PDF files) since the first computer we had with a hard drive, way back in 1988. But I’ve never been impressed with recipe database software...until now.

Now, let me say up front: yes, you can see a MacGourmet Deluxe (MGD from this point forward) advertisement in the sidebar. But what you must realize is that I first contacted Mariner Software in regard to their advertising with us because I was incredibly impressed with this software. In fact, as I already mentioned, recipe database software is nothing new, but in reality, MGD seems to me to be the mature end result of nearly three decades of this kind of software that has gone before it. I strongly encourage you to download the MGD user manual as I will not be able to nearly touch upon all of MGD’s features in this review. I’ve jokingly said to a friend that MGD seems to do everything except cook the meal for you, but maybe that’s projected for version 2.0.

Of course, MGD does what you would expect--it allows you to keep a database of your recipes. The interface is iTunes-esque, allowing you to create your own categories in the left sidebar. And like an iTunes smart playlist that automatically expands as new songs meet pre-set criteria, MGD allows the user to create “smart recipe lists” that look for certain criteria as the user adds new recipes.

One of the most impressive features of MGD is the multiple ways that recipes can be added to the database. Certainly, the user can enter ingredients and directions manually, but there are also a number of ways to add them automatically from other sources. There are “supported” websites such as,,,, and in which all a user has to do is select the URL on a recipe’s webpage, go to the services menu: MaGourmet, and choose “Import Recipe from Web Page.”

MGD automatically parses the information, separating the ingredients from the directions, the description of the recipe and even includes the picture:

But what if a website is not supported? Well, to test this out, I went to one of my favorite cast iron related websites, “Black Iron Dude.” About a month ago, there was a recipe at this website for Arbol Chile Salsa. To import the recipe from Greg’s website, I first highlighted all the text in his post and then I dragged it to the “Clippings” window in MGD. This is a great little window in MGD that allows the user to drag over recipe after recipe and then go back and format them later. After I had dragged over the text for the salsa, I double-clicked on it to import it in my recipe database.

All of my captured text is gathered at the top of the import window. From the drop down menu, I can select “Ingredients” and MGD knows that this information is separate from the preparation directions. And of course, I can do the same with the directions, information about the recipe, etc.

What impressed me further is that in parsing the list of ingredients, MGD could distinguish between number, actual item and special instructions. Notice for example in the list below, taken from this recipe, that “25” is separated from “dried Arbol chiles” which is separated from “remove stems and shake out some seeds”:

For those watching what they eat (and who isn’t these days?) MGD comes with the abbreviated USDA National Nutrient Database. Ingredients are automatically evaluated by this database and if MGD is unsure about a particular ingredient, the user can open up the USDA database and manually map ingredients. Once all ingredients are mapped and servings are figured, MGD calculates an extremely accurate breakdown of nutritional data.

This information is calculated for 45 separate items:

And when printing out recipes for personal use or to share an abbreviated box with nutritional information is included such as this breakdown for JT’s Family Pancake Recipe:

This kind of information would be extremely helpful not only for the person watching what he or she eats, but also for the personal chef or any person in charge of providing meals for groups of people. MGD includes a weekly meal planner that can be exported to iCal, and shopping lists can be created from planned recipes.

Kathy and I have an older iMac we keep in the kitchen for easy access to recipes we’ve collected electronically over the years. Whether you have a dedicated kitchen computer or simply a laptop on the counter, MGD offers a “Chef’s View” that enlarges ingredients and directions for easy access:

Almost every church group or civic organization has produced a cookbook at one time or another. There are publishers who specialize in this. These publishers should be a bit concerned for their future because MGD includes tools for creating one’s own cookbook with pictures, section dividers, chapters, and more. Once a cookbook has been created it can be exported to PDF ready for publication from a company such as

And of course, when someone asks you for your Garlic Beef Enchiladas recipe after the church potluck, you can print out your recipe according to a variety of attractive built in templates.

As the name implies, MacGourmet Deluxe only runs on Macintosh computers, but the program is so sophisticated, it might be reason enough to switch from Windows if you aren’t already a Mac user. Regardless, MGD can import files in a number of formats: MasterCook, MasterCook Mac, Meal-Master, CookWare Deluxe, Cook’n text, RecipeML, and Yum XML. It can export to iPod notes, MasterCook, MealMaster, RTF and text files.

Our Cooking in Cast Iron website is still fairly new, but as we add recipes in the future, we will also make them available in MGD format which means that if you want to add one of them to your own collection, it will be as easy as dragging an icon from our website directly into your MGD database.

MacGourmet Deluxe is available from Mariner Software for $44.95.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Tips for Cooking in Cast Iron

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Not too long ago, a friend of mine handed me a couple of cast iron skillets which were rusted and had odd stains and asked me what I could do to get them back in shape. If you’ve seen our first video podcast, you saw me use one of them as a demonstration for restoring a rusted pan. After I cleaned and re-seasoned the pans, I gave them two initial run-throughs--one in the oven with corn bread and one on the stove top with bacon.

After I gave the pans back, I offered a few tips for keeping them in good shape. Below is an adaptation of what I suggested. You should know that not everyone is in 100% agreement with all of these suggestions and that’s okay. These suggestions are what I do to keep my cast iron pans “healthy” and looking good.
  1. Use your pans and use them a lot.  If your pan has just been seasoned fresh (as opposed to factory pre-seasoned) or re-seasoned it will probably be a shade of brown, BUT it should be completely black within a year if it is used frequently. There's very little that cannot be cooked in cast iron. Rethink the kinds of pans you use. If you normally cook something in the oven on a cookie sheet, it might cook just as well in the skillet. On the stovetop, skillets can be used for much more than frying, but obviously, they're good for that, too. Breads and desserts cook well in cast iron skillets, too.
  2. I would recommend that you keep them handy, either on the stove top or in the oven when not in use. Don't stack them or place them under other pans in the bottom of a cabinet. Cast iron pans stacked in closed up cabinets for long periods of time often develop rust rings where one pan is sitting on another. If you do need to stack your pans, put a cloth between them or a pan protector.
  3. Since cast iron distributes heat so well, under normal situations, you don't need to turn a stove burner above a "medium" heat. Always let the pan heat as the burner heats or let the pan heat in the oven as the oven heats. Don't put a cold pan on a hot surface or a hot pan in cold water. Either has the potential to crack or warp the pan. 
  4. The seasoning/carbonizing process needs to continue, so, I would recommend that initially (perhaps a year or so), avoid highly acidic foods in the pans such as tomatoes, wine, and citrus fruits. 
  5. Avoid metal utensils that can scrape and damage a pan’s seasoning. I use a lot of wooden spoons and silicone spatulas that can withstand high heats. See Delia’s post, “Spats & Spoons: What’s Best for Cast Iron?
  6. When you clean them NEVER* use soap as it both breaks down the seasoning and can change the taste of the pan. Clean them with hot water and a good stiff brush. If food is stuck on them, use the kind of scraper that you can get from Pampered Chef for baking stones. Don't worry about sanitary issues in regard to not using soap. Heating a pan on a medium heat will raise the temperature to nearly 350 degrees which is more than twice the temperatures needed to kill any microbes. *Some on our panel of writers will disagree to the NEVER in my first sentence. Once a pan has reached a “mature” seasoning after much use, a mild dishwashing soap will usually not harm it. However, I just prefer cleaning my pans the old fashioned way with a good brush and hot water.
  7. After cleaning a skillet, you need to prepare it for it's next use. Make sure it is dried thoroughly. Sometimes placing it on a still warm burner or in a still warm oven will help with this. After the pan is dry, wipe a thin layer of cooking oil over the entire cooking surface to prepare it for the next use. I use olive oil because I cook primarily with olive oil and it will not turn rancid if left out in the air for long periods of time (of course, if you use your cast iron regularly, there’s no such thing as a “long period of time” ). 
  8. If your pan starts to show signs of rust, significant loss of seasoning, or gives off a metallic taste in your food, it needs to be re-seasoned.

This may sound like your pans will require a lot of high maintenance, but not really. All of this becomes simply routine. Most modern pans wear out, but cast iron is designed to last beyond an entire lifetime. There's no reason that with the proper care, you wouldn't be able to pass these pans on to your children or grandchildren years from now

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

Green Iron: The Environmental Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Around here, we often refer to our cookware of choice as “black iron.” But in many ways, cast iron is green if you think about it, too. No, I’m not referring to enameled cast iron such as the skillet pictured to the right (but it makes a great image for this post!). Rather, I’m referring ot the environmental benefits of cast iron.

Perhaps you’ve never thought about it. I mean, most folks who have been cast iron aficianados for a while are familiar with the other benefits. Of course there are healthy benefits to cast iron. Cooking in cast iron is a great way to introduce trace amounts of iron into one’s diet. Plus, there’s no flaking Teflon to worry about getting into one’s food. Then, on another front, there are economical benefits to cast iron because these pans--except for the enameled variety--cost MUCH less than other kinds of cookware.

Bur you may or may not have ever thought about the environmental benefits of cast iron. These benefits can be divided into at least three main areas: (1) Toxicity (or lack thereof), (2) production, and (3) longevity and recyclability.

First, as mentioned above in regard to health, cast iron cookware is a smart alternative to Teflon-coated aluminum pans. According to the Environmental Working Group website,

Statistics reported by the Cookware Manufacturers Association indicate that 90 percent of all the aluminum cookware sold in the United States in 2001 was coated with non-stick chemicals like Teflon (Cooks Illustrated, September 2002). Chemicals and tiny, toxic Teflon particles released from heated Teflon kill household pet birds. At least four of these chemicals never break down in the environment, and some are widely found in human blood.

This is obviously not a concern with cast iron cookware which builds its non-stick surface naturally through the carbonization process of heating oils and fats on the cooking surface. What about the cast iron that comes pre-seasoned--is that coating harmful? Not at all. Pre-seasoning is nothing more than vegetable oil (and it’s Kosher vegetable oil if you get a Lodge pan!) heated at high temperatures. Yes, it can flake off, but it won’t hurt human beings or animals and this vegetable oil coating is fully biodegradable.

Second, many cast iron foundries incorporate steps in the production of cast iron that greatly reduces waste and impact on the environment. My wife, Kathy, and I were able to tour the Lodge Manufacturing Plant in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, in April. We found that the production of the cast iron cookware Lodge produces was eco-frindly in all stages. The picture on the left shows the scrap iron used in the process before it has been melted to be poured in the sand casts. Part of the production of cast iron also involved pounding the pans with rocks to create a smoother surface on the molded cast iron. Lodge uses rocks taken directly from the Tennessee River bed for this process. Production of cast iron dates back to 600 AD in China, and even though the process is more mechanized today, it is still essentially the same process that has been around for over a millennia. Lodge also has a special page devoted to Eco-Responsibility, incorporating measures even down to the cardboard packaging they use.

Finally, cast iron pans can last for generations. Pictured on the right is my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It is at least seventy years old, and it may very well be older. Now tell me--if you had one of the original Teflon pans from the 1940’s, would you dare eat from it? Are there any of those pans even still around? Well, my grandmother’s skillet is still in use and has a prominent and permanent place on my stovetop where it is used regularly in our cooking.

Since cast iron, if treated well, gets better with age, my grandmother’s skillet actually has a greater non-stick surface than the skillet I got brand new in the nineties. Certainly, the cast iron in the pan itself can be recycled, but the best way to recycle a pan is to pass it on down to a family member. I fully intend that my grandmother’s pan will outlast me, and I’ll be able to pass it down to my children or grandchildren.

Consider this as well: because cast iron is a lifetime investment (and a low-cost one at that!), you won’t have to completely replace your pans every decade or so as some people have to do with cookware made of other materials.

So, if you’ve been sitting on the fence in regard to whether or not you should make the jump to cast iron, now you have even more reasons to do so. And if you already use cast iron, you can feel good about the fact that cast iron is a smart, economical purchase, is healthy for you and your family, and is friendly to the environment as well. That cannot be said of any other kind of cookware.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Friday Night Grilling: Cast Iron Style

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Friday afternoon, some friends called to see what Kathy and I were doing for dinner. We said we had planned to grill a couple of steaks, but they were welcome to come join us. I said that if they wanted to bring something to throw on the grill, they could or we would have enough for them.

Well, they brought brats and we found a few burgers and added them to the steaks. We all shared a little bit of it all.

The picture here on the left features my Lodge Sportsman's Grill. This is a great grill that is completely cast iron from top to bottom. I’ll have a full-featured review of the grill in the coming weeks.

One of my initial concerns when getting this grill was whether or not it would be big enough for entertaining. However, in spite of its small size, I’ve found it to be quite adequate. I can grill up to eight hamburgers at a time and four to six steaks, depending on their size.

However, in this picture, you see my new record! Here we have four hamburgers, two steaks, and five brats, all at once. In fact, the crowded grill was quite helpful for grilling the brats on four sides. I was able to prop them up against other food cooking on the grill.

Of course, I was trying to photograph the food, not my basset hound Bessie Mae. But notice her head in the bottom left corner of the picture below. There was quite a bit of canine coveting taking place on the back patio yesterday afternoon.

Notice also the Lodge Sauce Kit to the right of the grill. This Sauce Kit is basically just a cast iron melting pot and a nylon brush (the bristles are actually nylon themselves and can withstand up to 400° heat). I’d been wanting one of these for a while, and Kathy and I stopped at an outlet mall earlier in the day where they had them for $14.99 ($5 off the Lodge list price).

There was nothing fancy in the pot--just some olive oil that I had brushed onto the steaks to seal in their flavor before sprinkling them with a bit of my homemade cajun seasoning. When I’ve done this in the past, I always hated the fact that there’s been a little bit of olive oil left that I had to throw out because it had come into contact with raw meat. But tonight I had an idea. I took a chopped up vidalia onion and placed it on a cast iron fajita skillet. I poured the remaining olive oil onto the onions and cooked them alongside our grilled brats and steaks.

Everyone marveled as I brought the skillet in last, sizzling restaurant style. And the grilled onions were wonderful on the brats, steaks, and hamburgers. Kathy told me she will be expecting this every time from now on when we grill.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Welcome to Cooking in Cast Iron

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Cast Iron Is Hot (Pun Intended)
We’ve now come full circle. Everywhere I go--whether a neighbor’s kitchen, the gourmet kitchen store, or a campfire in the woods--I’m seeing more and more cast iron. Now, even celebrity chefs have their names on their own lines of cast iron. But it wasn’t always that way. In spite of the fact that cooking in cast iron was the only way for most people to prepare meals for centuries, cast iron began to fall on hard times in the 1940’s with the development of modern artificial nonstick surfaces. And so in recent years, cast iron went into a kind of teflon-inspired exile. If you wanted to find a good cast iron pan, often you had to visit the hardware or sporting goods store (in the camping section, no less) or simply resort to mail order.

But of course, great cooks such as your grandmother who would have never dreamed of giving up her cast iron skillet or Uncle Ted who can’t imagine camping without his dutch ovens have remained true to the black iron. So, they aren’t surprised when recent studies tell us that those artificial non-stick coatings may not be so safe and healthy afterall. And suddenly lots of folks are starting to come back to cast iron.

A Cast Iron Renaissance
I believe we’re in a bit of a “cast iron renaissance.” I began to see signs of this two and a half years ago when Mark Bittman published an interesting article in the New York Times, titled “Ever So Humble, Cast Iron Outshines the Fancy Pans.” In the article, Bittman traces his own journey through twenty years in which after using more modern cooking surfaces, he had returned to an old standby: cast iron--in both his own cooking and in regard to what he recommends. And he’s not alone; suddenly there is lots of talk in the food industry about cooking in cast iron.

So what brought about this return? Well, perhaps a number of things, not the least of which is the sudden concern over chemically-based nonstick pans already mentioned above. But years ago, those modern pans also brought a seemingly bad rap for cast iron. The new pans were marketed as being much easier to use and care for than cast iron. And there was probably some truth to that. In the past, when buying a cast iron pan, the pan had to be “seasoned”; that is, you had to add a cooked on layer of oil or fat to the pan before it could be used. Plus, you had to be very careful how cast iron pans are cleaned. You can’t just throw them in the dishwasher like the “fancy pans.” And as people began to eat out more often, the lessons from the previous generations about how to care for cast iron were less frequently passed down to the next.

Then, just in the last four or five years, cast iron companies did something truly new for the first time in perhaps hundreds of years: they introduced pans that were pre-seasoned. While still in the factory, a coating of vegetable oil is sprayed onto cast iron pots and pans and then baked in furnaces creating that sought after black coating so eagerly sought after in cast iron pans before they even hit the stores. Now, I’ll admit, that initially I was not crazy about pre-seasoning. I thought that I could do it better on my own (and I still do). However, there’s one thing I can’t argue with. Companies like Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, state that during the period in which they had both pre-seasoned and non-seasoned pans on the market, the pre-seasoned pans far outsold the non-seasoned variety by a significant and wide margin. Resellers started ordering the pre-seasoned pans to the exclusion of the original non-seasoned pans. The differrence in sales was so significant that Lodge now no longer even sells anything but pre-seasoned and enameled cast iron.

I still think I can do the seasoning process better myself, but I’ve come to peace with pre-seasoning which I’ll write about at a later date. What’s important for right now, however, is that pre-seasoned pans have allowed cooks who were previously intimidated by cast iron to come back to the basics. That, and inflating fuel prices, which give way to higher food costs are allowing smart consumers to cook for themselves more often than perhaps in previous years. The family meal is making a comeback, and we’re discoving that the pilgrims, pioneers, and grandma had it right: cast iron is best for preparing almost any meal.

A Black Iron Romance
If you cook with cast iron long enough, it slowly wins you over. There’s something attractive about cast iron; it has its own culinary kind of seduction. I reach for a cast iron pan first now. If I don’t have something I need for cooking, I look to see if there’s a cast iron variety of whatever it is. I now even grill on the back patio completely on cast iron.

Since I got my first computer in 1982, I’ve always considered myself technologically savvy. But there’s something decidedly (and wonderfully) low-tech about cast iron. It’s solid in the oh-so-most-literal sense. I don’t have to worry about replacing it because a newer, more powerful, and more efficient model might come along. It is what it is, practically immutable with the exception that one way cast iron does change is that it gets better with age. The more you cook with it, the more non-stick it becomes.

I can pick up a cast iron skillet or a dutch oven, and I know that I hold in my hands a quality instrument that, baring great clumsiness on my part, will certainly outlast me. If the house burns, I can grab my family members, the pets, and the picture albums if time allows. The cast iron can be retrieved after the fire because it’s that tough. In the event of apocalypse, we can still cook in cast iron! Cast iron is solid, and its weight when I hold it in my hand says to me that it will still be with me when I come to the end of my days, waiting to be passed on to the next generation.

Striking While the Iron Is Hot
So why this website? Well, I and my other contributors consider ourselves “cast iron advocates.” As stated in our purpose statement, our goal is “to promote the use of cast iron cookware across all spectrums of culinary pursuits--from the gourmet kitchen to the old fashioned campfire and everything in between. Our goal is to both educate and advocate cooking in cast iron.” There are a lot of great cooking/culinary-related websites out there, and there are also quite a few sites that talk about the use and care of cast iron. We hope to provide something a bit unique by offering new articles every few days about the use and care of cast iron. Our goal is not meant to simply be informative in our primary posts, but to be personal as well.

Some of our contributions will come in the form of news, interviews and reviews. We will also post informative/how-to articles. Our goal is to create a monthly video podcast devoted entirely to cooking in cast iron--something that I haven’t found anywhere else. We’re setting up the home page of this site in the form of a blog, but it’s so much more than a blog. Nevertheless, you will be able to interact with the writers and other cast iron users through the comment system.

And perhaps you even have an idea for which you might want to submit free-lance style yourself. We’re not set up to pay for submissions yet, but we hope to be there one day. Regardless, we welcome your ideas now.

We hope that you will bookmark, subscribe to our RSS feed and/or check back here often. Whether you’ve been cooking in cast iron all your life or have a skillet rusting at the bottom of your pantry, we believe that we have something to offer you, and you have something to offer us.

Come back and check for new posts soon.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at