Cast-Iron Inspiration

cast iron

A friend recently decided to outfit a new kitchen and asked for my advice. She was getting ready to purchase a high-end set of cookware, she informed me, and wanted to know what brand I recommended.

I dismayed her by telling her that I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one full set of ANYTHING. Instead, I thought (and still think) that a kitchen needs a little bit of a lot of types of cookware.

I like my stainless-steel saucepans. I like to have both a nonstick and a regular frying pan. I like a huge pot for stocks and soups. And I believe that every kitchen needs a bit of cast-iron.

In my case, that cast-iron consists of one enameled Dutch oven in a convenient size (about 5 quarts; larger is hard to lift!) and black cast-iron skillets of varying sizes.

Most of my skillets came from relatives or tag sales, although I do have one new one, from Lodge Manufacturing Company.

I use my skillets for a variety of tasks—most commonly for toasting nuts or for baking cornbread, frittatas, or upside-down cake.

Reading Dominique DeVito’s brand-new Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook, which publisher Cider Mill Press sent me for review, has given me a number of additional ideas for cast-iron cookery.

In addition to my favorites, DeVito provides cast-iron-friendly recipes for unexpected dishes: casseroles; coffee cakes; vegetable roasts; and a variety of breads, from dinner rolls to Indian naan.

I have to admit it would NEVER have occurred to me to try preparing General Tso’s Chicken in my cast-iron pans—or to bake a giant chocolate-chip cookie.

Most helpful of all, DeVito provides hints on caring for cast iron. I knew one wasn’t supposed to wash these pans with soap. It turns out that I have been seasoning my pans incorrectly all these years, however!

If you’d like new ideas for your old pans, or if you are thinking of adding a cast-iron pan to your cookware collection, leave a comment below. The comment can describe your own favorite use of cast iron—or anything else you would like to express.

Cider Mill Press has generously promised to send a copy of the cookbook to one of the commenters. Please comment by next Tuesday, March 24. The next morning I will select one comment (randomly, I promise!) and get in touch with the winner to get his or her mailing address.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a recipe from the cookbook suitable for this week. I have already made my own favorite soda bread, but I’m seriously considering trying this savory take on a Saint Patrick’s Day favorite as well.

Let me know if you make it—and don’t forget to sing a few sentimental Irish (or Irish-American) songs today. My solo for our local Saint Patrick’s Day concert will be George M. Cohan’s “Mary.”

And the whole assembled group will sing “An Irish Blessing.”


Cheesy Chive Soda Bread

   Courtesy of The Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook


3 cups white flour
2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
2-1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped chives
1-1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
freshly ground pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Whisk to combine thoroughly. In another bowl, combine the butter, buttermilk, and egg.

Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture, and stir vigorously to blend. Dough will be sticky. Stir in the chives and 1 cup of the grated cheese.

Liberally grease a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with butter. Scoop and spread the dough into the skillet. Grate pepper over the top; then sprinkle the remaining cheese over it. Using a sharp knife, make an “x” in the center, about 1/2-inch deep, to settle the cheese further into the dough as it cooks.

Bake in the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes until the bread is golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to sit in the skillet for a few minutes before serving.

Makes 1 loaf.

A Saint Patrick's Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

A Saint Patrick’s Day image from the past: my mother kneading soda bread

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36 Responses to “Cast-Iron Inspiration”

  1. I cannot believe I’m going to cave and actually try, for the first time in my life, making Irish soda bread. It’s about time I suppose, but what caught me was your initial observation that one should never purchase an entire set of cookware. You’re right. Far, far better to select the very best single item from the vast array of manufacturers. Staub has its virtues, Mauviel its qualities, All Clad its many fine aspects and Lodge cast iron always appeals because of its price, its rustic all-American patina, and the fact that my mother once said (of her cast iron skillet), “I wouldn’t give this up for anything!” Smitten by Julia Child, she succumbed in the early 1960s to Le Creuset’s flame “Doufeu” and produced some epic dishes, but as a kid it was the perfection of her cast-iron skillet’s fried chicken that made a permanent and indelible impression on my palate and my memory. Of course it’s the best way to bring civilization with you – on a camping trip in the Adirondacks.

  2. Georgette says:

    Thank you for reminding me about this book! I was intending to add it to my inherited collection of cookbooks. As you know, Tinky, I cannot cook to save my life, but I nevertheless am very partial to the cookware that my mother used and I refuse to part with it: The old style Revere Ware and the cast iron skillets.
    In my new house, I am eschewing fossil fuels, which means I’ll have an electric range. I’ve seen a lot of people online issuing dire warnings about using iron skillets on smooth-top stoves. I’m NOT giving up my iron skillets and intend to use them carefully and frequently. Does anyone here use iron cookware (not ceramic-clad) on a smooth cooktop?

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    Your question is fascinating, Georgette. I have used my cast-iron skillet on a traditional electric range (that is to say, one with the coils), but I have NOT tried it on a smooth cooktop. I hope someone can comment about this! Meanwhile, I will ask around. And Flaneur, I’d camp with you anytime–and I’m NOT a camping girl.

  4. Margie Orr says:

    i never thought of making a giant cookie in my cast iron skirt, either.
    Would love to win the cookbook! Sounds like a great one!
    Thanks, Tinky, for the contest.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  5. Donna says:

    Ooh, I have never made soda bread, but a savory cheesy version sounds right for me! It will give me an excuse to debut using my cast iron pans

  6. Janice Sorensen says:

    I recently read an article about using course sea salt if you need to scrub your cast iron for any reason. It is less abrasive to the seasoning you may have taken time to establish.

    Here’s a question, if one makes a soup in cast iron will cooking liquid that is watery loosen the seasoning? It seems to me it would. The seasoning would get soaked and sodden. I never make anything thinner than a stew in mine for this reason.

  7. Pat Lowell says:

    My mother cooked with cast iron and I used cast iron also. My daughter inherited my mother’s cast iron Dutch oven and now one of my grandsons asked if he could have my cast iron skillets. I am still keeping my Dutch oven. Cast iron cooks food like nothing else can. I also have a smooth stovetop and unfortunately, the rim under the skillets prevent even heating of the pan so I have discontinued using the cast iron. I am sorely tempted to go back to the coils! My Dutch oven has a smooth base so I still use that one for stews or recipes that require long slow cooking. We also have a good set of cast iron skillets and a large Dutch oven that we use at camp.

  8. I love my iron skillets too! Reposting with thanks.

  9. Judy Newberry Ashley says:

    My grandmother used to wax nostalgic about baking cakes in her cast iron Dutch oven when they homesteaded in Oklahoma prior to the dustbowl. She made cakes on the top of the stove, they didn’t have an oven. I have her cookbook and get it out from time to time to thumb gently through the worn pages. Wish I had her Dutch oven; I bought one a couple of years ago and now don’t know what I’d do without it or my skillet.

  10. I have just about the same complement of pots and pans as you do, including the cast-iron Dutch oven and skillets of various sizes. I use my cast iron a lot, more than any other flat pan I have, so this cookbook is just up my alley. Also love the Irish soda bread recipe and will give it a whirl. We’re having a bake-off at work today, but I played to the crowd with a traditional carrot cake with cream cheese/butter frosting. Wish me luck! And top o’ the mornin’ to ya, Taffy, wherever you are!

  11. Mary Shea says:

    Thanks Tinky! I’m a cast iron frying pan too, plus I love Irish soda bread. And you are a pro for dreaming up such a post on St. Patrick’s Day!

  12. Tinky, cast iron will work perfectly well on induction stove tops. Copper and aluminum don’t perform, but anything iron-based (and stainless steel) will work well. Manufacturers will also indicate whether or not their porcelain enamel coated iron will work.

  13. tinkyweisblat says:

    Oh, Judy, I hope you’ll share a cake recipe with me one of these days! I’m so glad to hear that so many of you are using cast iron, which as you know I love. Janice, I don’t know the answer to your question. Now that I think about it, I usually use my enameled cast iron for soups. I do know that DeVito doesn’t include soup recipes in her book. I’ll see what I can discover.

  14. Lydia says:

    I love cooking with cast iron! Can’t wait to try the soda bread recipe.

  15. Mary Shea says:

    Tinky! No, no I am NOT a cast iron frying pan!! I can only boast of being a fan!

  16. Favorite use for cast iron skillet: pineapple upside-down cake [despite what I wrote earlier about fried chicken]. Fried chicken, not Mom’s but still splendid, is available coast to coast, but a good pineapple upside-down cake is nearly impossible to find. It is the tart Tatin of America (also possible in a cast iron pan).

  17. tinkyweisblat says:

    I could not agree more, Flaneur. Pineapple (or of course rhubarb) U-D Cake is one of my faves as well.

    Georgette says that she has been told by her friend Cara that the friend uses an iron skillet on her smooth cooktop. “She says so what if the glass gets scratched, just don’t bang the skillet down and you won’t break the cooktop.” Georgette adds, “They’ll have to pry my iron skillets out of my cold dead hands, so pointers from people who DO use them would be helpful. I suspect they will echo Cara’s advice.”

    If I had to choose one comment instead of doing it randomly, I would select Mary for being a cast-iron pan despite her denial.

    And of course I wish Marilyn the best in her contest. I love carrot cake!

  18. Pam Matthews says:

    Hi, Tinky! I have a cast iron dutch oven that was my mom’s, but never use it. I have the same question as Janice about destroying the seasoning, especially if you make something with tomatoes (acidic). I probably need to buy this cookbook to answer all my questions!

  19. tinkyweisblat says:

    Pam, the book doesn’t address acidity, but Lodge does. Here is what it says on its website:

    Foods which are very acidic (i.e. beans, tomatoes, citrus juices, etc.) should not be cooked in Seasoned Cast Iron until the cookware is highly seasoned. The high acidity of these foods will strip the seasoning and result in discoloration and metallic tasting food. Wait until cast iron is better seasoned to cook these types of foods. Lodge Enameled Cast Iron is not affected by acidity and can be used with all foods.

    So I guess the answer is that if you season really well (and both the book and Lodge tell you how to do this), you’re good to go.

    Here are the Lodge FAQs:

    By the way, Lodge says a flat electric cooktop is FINE, unless one drops the pan on it.

  20. Moni Hancock says:

    That soda bread sounds wonderful! Perfect excuse for me to try spelt flour! And I adore cast iron. I always remembered the giant cast-iron skillets of Carne Guisada simmering on grandma’s stove with homemade flour tortillas made on her cast-iron griddle, so when I started to cook, I went for pan’s like hers. MY favorite thing to cook in it is cornbread (no sugar please), dropped into a screaming-hot skillet where you’ve melted some bacon grease and then finish it in the oven. Mmm. mm, mmm.

  21. Rob Chirico says:

    Apart from my age-old frying pan and my Lodge griddle, I also use a Lodge cast-iron wok. Since I cannot get the proper BTUs to cook Chinese–even on my Viking–this wok can get up to over 600° and maintain the heat. The only drawback is, naturally, it’s very heavy. Like my griddle, it is a permanent fixture on my stove top.

  22. tinkyweisblat says:

    I didn’t even know they MADE woks in cast iron, Rob! And I have to admit that I keep my Dutch oven on the stove all the time. A person can lift only so much!

  23. tut-tut says:

    I used my 10-in. skillet just last evening for two-corn corn bread!

  24. tut-tut says:

    The Lodge Outlet store is worth a detour from I-24 between Nashville and Chattanooga, should you find yourself traveling that route with some time on your hands. And you can have a bite at the Dixie Freeze, also in South Pittsburg, TN.

  25. tinkyweisblat says:

    Ah, if only I were in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, two-corn corn bread sounds great!

  26. Erin says:

    ooh I would love a copy of this cookbook!! We did make the bread tonight and it was amazing!!!

  27. tinkyweisblat says:

    You are FAST, Erin!

    By the way, I heard back from the author in answer to some of your questions. (Thanks, Ms. DeVito!) She has no problem with ANY cooktop; she says one of the advantages of cast iron is its flexibility that way. And she isn’t concerned at all about very thin liquids and cast iron.

  28. Barbara Hardin says:

    I enjoyed your story. I too require different types of cookware. Thanks for
    the soda bread recipe but I think the best part is the picture of your

  29. Carolyn Beers says:

    I too have a selection of pots and pans. My smallest cast iron one is 4” which I use exclusively for my morning sunny-side up egg cooked in bacon grease. My next sizes are 8,10,and 12 inch pans. I have one 10 inch ceramic pan, and all my pots are stainless steel. Also have 1 small 2qt enamel Dutch oven. The larger ones have taken up residence in my oldest son’s home, and he makes very good use of them, and quite often brings me leftovers after his creations have been tested on his unsuspecting friends. He is a very good cook, and has increased his collection of cast iron.
    Most of mine belonged to my Grandmother at one time, and have been used on woodstoves, campfires, gas and electric stoves,and most recently the bbq.
    My favourite uses are baked beans and slow baked back ribs, but also have many other uses. Great for baking bread, spuds,and veggies. The pots seem to get used mostly for making soup.
    I am passing the recipe for the soda bread on to my son, and let him bring me some.I only eat bread about once or twice a month.

  30. Georgette says:

    Just a quick thanks to all who commented. Pat was the first commenter to point out that she uses cast iron on her smooth top.May you someday get some smooth-bottomed skillets for your birthday!

    Tinky, I have to confess that I donated an only-used-once cast iron Dutch oven to the Sons and Daughters tag sale, after I hurt my back lifting it! I had to remove temptation from the house.

  31. Kathleen says:

    I love my cast iron – inherited and yard sale finds – I have a 7 inch pan to make a single stove top pizza for the nights I dine alone – I also love this thread of comments – put me in for the cookbook – XoX

  32. Paula says:

    Cast iron is just so right for…the long, slow braised ox tails…the deep-oil fried chicken…the sausage corn bread…I could go on…
    Love to have the cookbook.

  33. Linda Duplessis says:

    I’ve used a cast iron frying pan and Dutch oven forever – they are essential for some dishes and I look forward to learning more recipes that will work to advantage!

  34. tinkyweisblat says:

    Thanks to all who posted comments! I’ll contact the winner tomorrow and announce him or her in a blog post next week. Happy spring!

  35. Mardi Smith says:

    David MUST be your cousin! He loves his cast iron skillets. (I’ve bought him several for various occasions….what a romantic gift!) He teases me that I plan to use one to finish him off…….my other bad habit is watching crime/murder mysteries……….we’ll have to try this recipe.

  36. tinkyweisblat says:

    I have both of those habits, Mardi! But I hope you resist the actual crime.

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