Monday, January 18, 2016

Article: Why Does My Cast Iron Seasoning Crack and Fall Off?

Cracked and flaking seasoning on a cast iron griddle
When I travel to the homes of friends and relatives, I'm always excited to see a cast iron skillet (or two, or three) in use. Nothing makes me feel at home... especially if it's well loved!

When visiting folks who know of my passion (obsession?) with cast iron cookware, it's natural to get a few questions about care and maintenance. One of the issues I've seen quite a bit over the years is a good, thick seasoning on a pan that then cracks and flakes off.

This has always stumped me since I've never had the issue on any of my skillets or dutch ovens... and when I ask about their care and use of the pan, everything seems to check out. They clean with hot water and plastic bristles... they dry with heat... re-oil before putting it away... and so on. I've never encountered a smoking gun on this issue. Until now!

My gas range with the "native" griddle in the
middle, and my spare off to the left
I have a gas range with a griddle that sits over the center burner (in the middle between the four main burners). Over recent months, I've begun to see this cracking-off of the seasoning. Interestingly, I have a stand-alone cast iron griddle that has some of the same problem.

This led me to a theory: that an otherwise-healthy cast iron seasoning will crack and flake off if the cookware is never used for roasting. These two griddles are the only bare cast iron I own that I never use for baking or roasting... whereas my skillets and dutch ovens are ALWAYS in the oven roasting something.

To try to confirm this theory, I recently asked an acquaintance who suffered from this malady... and sure enough, she never roasted with her skillet.

The only oven-roasted dishes I don't put in cast iron are baked goods like pies, cookies, and muffins (which have their own shape requirements), lasagna or tuna casserole (glass works better here), and pizza. Everything else goes in a skillet, or maybe a dutch oven.

This includes:
Oven-roasted french fries
Roasted vegetables
Roasted chicken
Buffalo prime rib
Standing rib roast
Roasted beets
Roasted squash
... and just about any thing else you put in your oven!

Using your skillet or dutch oven to roast food at 350 degrees F or above effectively gives the pan an oven-seasoning, with a meal or side-dish as a bonus. I typically use organic canola oil when I roast or season.

So, if you've noticed your seasoning flaking off... give your skillet a good scrape with a metal spatula,  oil it down, and use it more often in the oven. I'd love to hear how it goes!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cast Iron Rescue Mission

A few days back, I got the following comment from Silvia on my post on Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware:

"Hi Derek, was wondering if I can send a photo of my cast iron and see ur opinion on what should I do about it. I tried seasoning after messing it a bit (I am new to cast iron cooking and care so I didn't take proper care of the initial factory seasoning). I used corn oil and the pan became sticky and kinda had streaks of oil, maybe I was too "liberal" with the oil or maybe corn oil is not ok. The pan turned brown:( (1hr 15 min at 450 in the oven) I then tried cooking in it and food got stuck real bad..

Nothing helped cleaning it so I popped the pan on the BBQ and the burned food kinda turned to ash (most of it) and I scraped off most of it. At this point I understand seasoning is GONE and my pan is in a bad shape. I need ur advice if I need to clean it more (based on photo) and re-season it with canola oil or what to do:( I know the good thing about cast iron is that it can be saved:) 
Please help!!"

I asked Silvia to send in some photos of her pan (first she sent me her email address via a comment that I did not publish). I thought I'd share the photos and conversation in hopes that it is helpful to others.

A few observations from Silvia's initial comment:

1) She notes that the pan is sticky after using corn oil to season it. This almost certainly means that the seasoning hasn't cured yet, and instead of a hard, dry coating, the oil has thickened only enough to be sticky. More time in the oven should fix the problem. I use organic canola oil for all of my seasoning, and am not as familiar with corn oil. It may be that corn oil takes more time to harden in the oven. Flaxseed oil is also a good choice.

2) The food stuck badly when she tried using it. I've found that food will readily stick even to well-seasoned cast iron if two things aren't done: The first thing is to always start with a shiny pan. Drizzle some oil into the pan and wipe it all over with a paper towel. The second is to make sure the pan is good and hot prior to putting the food in.

OK, on to the photos:

My initial thought is that the pan looks pretty good. With a solid oven seasoning, I think Silvia is on her way to a well-seasoned skillet.

New cast iron can turn brown or other colors in the early stages, but as you use it it will gradually turn black.

Silvia, please let us know how your pan turns out after an oven seasoning and some good use. Thanks for writing in!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Buffalo Wings

Buffalo wings ready for serving

Buffalo hot wings were invented to use up an otherwise hard to sell chicken part. Despite these humble beginnings... hot wings, when prepared correctly, are a divine experience on a par with tandoori chicken, oysters on the half shell, and fried calamari. This recipe provides a clear path to buffalo wing divinity.

Buffalo wings would be nothing without their accompaniments: blue cheese dip plus celery and carrot sticks. This recipe details a tasty from-scratch blue cheese dip. If you need help with celery and carrot sticks... then perhaps ordering takeout from your local pub is a better idea.

WTF? "natural butter type flavor"?
When I made this recipe, I was in a pinch on ingredients because it was Super Bowl Sunday. I used Frank's RedHot Wings Sauce because that's what we had. I'm not actually a fan of how they describe one of their ingredients: "natural butter type flavor". In the future, I would recommend a simpler hot sauce like Tapatio or Cholula. After all, we're adding butter... we don't need whatever chemicals comprise "natural butter type flavor."

This recipe makes a dozen wings, and serves 2-4 as an appetizer. It takes about 40 minutes to make. It can be doubled, tripled, or sextupled... you'll just need a large enough skillet and/or multiple skillets to avoid over-crowding in the oven.

Similar to when I barbecue... I find that the best way to get a flavorful glaze on the meat is to constantly re-baste it during cooking. Timing on that is provided below.

I've also left the degree of spiciness up to you. This recipe produces buffalo wings of a spiciness you'd expect if you ordered "regular" buffalo wings at your local pub. Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper per dozen wings for each degree of "hot", "super hot", "on fire", and "nuclear" spiciness that you wish to inflict on yourself or your guests.


  • 6 whole chicken wings (these will be cut into 12 pieces)
  • 7 ounces hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Bleu Cheese Dipping Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (gorgonzola, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Celery Sticks:
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into sticks
  • 2 carrots, cut into sticks


Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

While the oven is warming, cut the joints of your wings so you end up with three sections: 1) a meaty single-boned section... the part closest to the breast on a whole chicken, 2) a smaller two-boned section... the "middle section" one joint farther from the breast on a whole bird, and then 3) the tip. Discard the tips.

While the oven continues to heat, make the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients. If you're starting with a block of blue cheese or things seem too chunky, feel free to pulse the sauce in a food processor for 10-15 seconds to smooth it out. Taste your sauce. Each brand and style of cheese comes with different salt content. Make sure you adjust seasonings as necessary to develop an outstanding dipping sauce. Pour the sauce into a serving bowl and refrigerate (covered) until serving time.

Wash and cut the celery and carrots into sticks, and refrigerate (covered) until serving time.

Constant turning over and re-basting of the wings with
hot sauce as they cook is the key to a flavorful glaze
Once the oven is almost at 500 degrees F, place oil and butter in a medium cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and begins to bubble, toss in your raw wings, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir things around for a minute or two, and then add enough hot sauce to coat all the wings thoroughly (2 ounces).

Put the skillet in the 500 degree oven, and let the wings cook for 2-3 minutes. Pull them out, turn each wing over with tongs, and baste the top of each wing with more hot sauce. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. Continue the cycle of cooking, turning over, and re-basting the tops for about 20 minutes. At this point the wings should be fully-cooked.

Prepare your serving plate with celery and carrot sticks, blue cheese dip, and a spot for the wings.

Cast iron buffalo wings plated, garnished, and ready!
Pull the wings from the oven, add another plentiful splash of hot sauce (2-3 ounces, enough to thoroughly coat all of the wings), stir things around, and then place the wings on the serving plate for immediate consumption.

If you really want to pro it up, garnish the dipping sauce with a sprig of celery leaves, or parsley.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Article: Farmed "Frankensalmon" Coming Soon to a Meal Near You

Meet the Eelpout, whose DNA has been added to Atlantic Salmon to force it to grow twice as fast as normal

Just when you thought farmed Atlantic Salmon couldn't get any worse, the FDA has now taken a huge step toward approval of a genetically-modifed Atlantic "salmon" that grows twice as fast as real Atlantic Salmon. It's called the AquaAdvantage (sounds like a penis enlargement pill), and is made by a company called Aqua Bounty.

Why is the AquaAdvantage a horrible idea? For starters... this new creature is not a salmon. It's an Atlantic Salmon crossed with a Chinook (a/k/a "King") Salmon crossed with an "Eelpout" (see image above). While the health benefits of eating wild salmon are clear, these benefits are more dubious with farmed Atlantic Salmon.

Why? Farmed atlantic salmon is fed a stew of fishmeal from all over the world, as well as gentically-modifed soy and canola oils. Studies have found higher levels of PCBs and mercury in farmed Atlantic Salmon, most likely due to the food they eat. Also, because these farmed fish are trapped in massive pens with way too many other fish, they are also plied with cocktails of antibiotics.

All of this is why I refer to Atlantic Salmon as the "sewer rat of salmon." I recommend you stay away from it. It's a damn shame what we've done to a once-awesome food source.

When I lived in Alaska, I used to watch the sockeye salmon jumping up the Russian River falls after swimming 70 miles up the Kenai River. It was breathtaking to watch these fish try over and over again to leap three, four, and five-foot waterfalls. They'd usually fail the first 10 or 20 times, but most would eventually make it. Once above the falls, they'd spawn in their ancestral waters, and then die--their decaying bodies providing essential nutrition to the rest of the food chain. That food chain in turn provided the food on which their spawn would feed after hatching in the spring.

It's only a matter of time until the genetically-modified AquaAdvantage salmon get out and breed with wild salmon populations.

I'll venture to guess that the Eelpout isn't quite as adept at waterfall jumping... and salmon muscle that's been artificially forced to grow at twice the natural rate isn't going to power those beautiful fish up to their spawning grounds. What happens next? Wild salmon runs that get polluted with AquaAdvantage Salmon DNA will collapse.

So here's the kicker: think about the economics of this scenario. If the only salmon left on the planet are AquaAdvantage... who's making all the money? Where's the incentive to keep the wild stocks safe from genetic pollution?

Just say no to "frankensalmon."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recipe: Outstanding Tuna Casserole (gluten free)

Tuna casserole topped with cheddar and breadcrumbs

In my opinion, tuna casserole should be a taste of heaven. I make my tuna casserole from scratch (no cans of soup!), and stick to the classic ingredients (no bleu cheese or olives!).

This tuna casserole recipe is gluten free, but you could just as easily make this recipe full of gluten. To make it gluten free, I use Tinkyada gluten free pasta, and Bob's Red Mill gluten free all purpose flour.

Tuna casserole is all about the fundamentals: properly-cooked pasta, well-seasoned sauce, and appropriately-crunchy cheese and breadcrumb crust.

This recipe calls for making a basic white sauce that includes flavor-building ingredients like tuna, celery, onion, black pepper, and dry white wine. We'll then mix that with the pasta, and top it off with more cheese and bread crumbs (gluten free in our case).

IMPORTANT NOTE: this recipe is really easy! Don't be alarmed by having to make a "white sauce". If you can add hot cocoa mix to boiling water, you can make this white sauce.

This recipe serves 8, and takes about an hour to make. Here's how it breaks down:


  • 16 oz. (dry) pasta (I recommend hollow pasta like macaroni, ziti, or penne, and I use gluten free)
  • 5 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour (gluten free if you like)
  • 3 cups of milk (or 2 cups milk and 1 cup sour cream)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) kosher salt
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 (7 oz.) cans tuna packed in water (keep the water!)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan/romano cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups breadcrumbs


Begin by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F. Then boil water for pasta. The pasta water should be well-salted... and taste like an overly-salty broth. Remember, the vast majority of that salt will stay in the water and go down the drain... so don't worry (too much) about your blood pressure.

Lightly toast enough bread for 2 cups of breadcrumbs. This amounts to about two slices of regular sandwich bread, or three slices of Udi's gluten free sandwich bread. Once the bread is done toasting, let it sit on the counter until you're ready for it (just prior to putting the casserole into the oven).

Sauteing the aromatics
While the oven and pasta water heat up, dice the onion and chop the celery into 1/4-inch slices. Begin your "casserole sauce" in a medium stainless steel saucepan by melting 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.

As soon as the butter is partially melted, add your aromatics (the onion and celery). Saute the aromatics for 5-7 minutes or until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown.

Add the flour, and stir for 10 seconds. Add the milk, tuna with water, and white wine. Stir things around for another 10 seconds until everything is well-mixed.

Continue heating the sauce on medium heat to thicken it, stirring occasionally.

The casserole sauce prior to thickening
At some point while your sauce thickens, your pasta water will boil. When it does, toss in your pasta to cook it.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente (it will continue to cook in the oven) and then drain it and toss it lightly with oil to keep it from sticking. Set the pasta aside until you're finished with the sauce.

Once the sauce has just started to bubble and has thickened noticeably, remove it from heat.

Combine the sauce with the pasta. Add in the parmesan/romano cheese and stir everything around again to combine the ingredients.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. For this recipe, I find that I need about 1 to 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (1/2 to 1 teaspoons of table salt), and 1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. Taste this mixture. It should taste GOOD. If it doesn't, add salt until it bursts with flavor.

Casserole mixture ready for topping with
cheddar and bread crumbs
Place the pasta/sauce mixture into a lightly-oiled 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish. Top it with the cheddar cheese. Chop your slices of bread into half-inch cubes, and add those on top of the casserole.

Bake the casserole in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove it from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes... and serve.

Viva la comfort food!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Article: New GE Profile Gas Range Comes With a Pleasant Surprise

The GE Profile gas range makes its debut in my kitchen
For those of you who follow this blog, you're probably used to me complaining about my electric glass-top range, the Frigidaire Gallery. Well, the kitchen gods have smiled upon me (or at least smirked): The Frigidaire is dead!

The glass-top range had been basically new when we moved into the house 8 years ago... but my years of restaurant work meant I was always secretly planning for a gas range (while my wife may never believe me, I didn't actually sabotage the glass-top).

My primary complaint about the glass-top electric was that the stovetop burners were completely unresponsive to having the heat turned down. It was literally impossible to cook simple foods like pasta, oatmeal, and rice—without standing there the whole time shuffling the pot between on and off burners. If you left the pot on a recently-turned-to-low burner for even a minute, it would boil over and make a mess.

I toyed with the idea of getting a "real" stove... a commercial range like a Wolf or a Vulcan. But those typically come in 36-inch widths, and I wasn't up for an extensive kitchen remodel just now. Having to move the gas line from the old range location was enough hassle.

Having settled on a household range, I hopped on Consumer Reports to do some research. I  found two likely contenders: the GE Profile and the LG LRG3097ST.

The convection oven will probably never
again be so clean!
My primary selection criteria were high heat and low heat. I wanted enough BTU output to sear foods and boil water without waiting all day. Even more important, I wanted to be able to simmer foods at very low temperatures without burning delicate sauces or making boilover messes.

The GE Profile and the LG LRG3097ST are at the top of their class on both high heat and low heat. They both feature convection ovens, stainless steel finish (to match my other appliances), and decently-rated broilers—which are usually not as good on gas models compared to electric. I also wanted continuous grates on the cooktop to make sliding around heavy pans (like, you know, cast iron) easier.

I had a slight preference for the LG range since it had two high capacity (~17,000 BTU) burners versus only one on the GE model. But when I learned that LG needed to re-tool a factory and wouldn't have them available for weeks, the GE (which could be delivered in 2 days) won out.

A real Lodge cast iron griddle was a nice surprise
The GE Profile has five burners, with the middle burner having an elongated shape. This should come in handy when using my oval enameled dutch oven. It also comes with a custom-shaped griddle that fits inside the four outer burners in a tapering, curved pattern. I was sure this griddle would be some teflon-coated piece of junk that I'd never use. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a Lodge cast iron griddle!

After getting things hooked up and tested, I was ready to rock. I gave the griddle a scrub with hot soapy water, rinsed it thoroughly, coated it in organic canola oil, and gave it a good oven seasoning.

While I've only used the new range a handful of times, I've found the central griddle to be perfect for cowboy eggs, french toast, and quesadillas. I was also able to cook the boys' morning oatmeal on a nice low simmer with no boilovers.

I'll keep you informed as I use it more and discover its strengths and weaknesses. For now, I'm a happy camper cooking on natural gas.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Article: Cast Iron Bottle Opener Arrives

Exactly one year ago today, I contributed a hundred bucks to a Kickstarter project called Cast Iron Skillets by Borough Furnace. I wrote about their sustainable approach and ergonomic design in a previous post.

They've gotten their foundry up and running in Syracuse, New York, and are now cranking out cast iron goodies.

As a thank you for helping them get off the ground, I received two cast iron bottle openers. As you can see in the photo, these aren't your standard "church key" bottle opener. They're more the sort of thing that would open the Temple of Thor.

In a quick quality assurance test, both bottle openers performed flawlessly on bottles of Stone IPA.

Good work, fellas! I look forward to seeing you guys get into production with your cookware.