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In Praise of a cast iron skillet

I’m a firm believer in “less is better” and when it comes to kitchen ware and gadgets (and since I work in small galleys with little storage a lot of the time) I tend to stick with the best pans I can get for the dollar and I use them all the time. Sometimes, some pans fall through the cracks. Even for those of us that concentrate on such things.

Too yucky out to BBQ and the NW fall weather has brought more than a few surprises this week. I’m not gonna stand out in the rain (although I have done my share) to grill something. Sooooo…I pulled out my Dad’s old cast iron pan and started dreaming up what I could/would/should make. Hmmmm. It all started with the best damned Beef Tenderloin Burger. Crispy crust on the outside, moist meat on the inside, and oh such perfect consistency throughout. I moved on to make crispy sweet potato fries in the pan too. The best consistency of those fries ever!!

This is what happens in a cast iron pan.

The reasons for using cast iron are many. In today’s fat conscious world, a well seasoned cast iron pan needs little or no oil or liquid. Cut the fat!! The pan heats evenly and quickly so you save on energy. It’s dark and porous so it absorbs more heat and conducts it evenly to heat your food throughout (hence the cooked through burger). Sorry grill, even you can’t do that. The pan I have was my Dad’s and is probably as old as the hills with no wear and tear. It just gets better every time you use one and season it a little more. To top it all off, I have some VERY expensive pans that I use and love, but this one probably cost my Dad less than a dollar back in the day.

I think for a good quality cast iron pan today you’d be pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive they are. You might even find one at a flea market (I’m off this weekend to look for a teeny tiny one to do eggs in). The best thing is that you can do a multitude of things in a cast iron pan. You can fry, bake, saute, campfire cook,griddle and you can use it on more than one type of heat surface. The possibilities are endless.

To that end I thought a few good recipes for a cast iron pan would fit just right…until better BBQ season anyway. I’m thinking Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy. . .

Country Ham and Orange Red-Eyed Gravy


1-3-pound) country ham, store bought

3 tablespoons fat from the ham

1/2 cup coffee

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup orange marmalade


Heat a cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ham and pan-fry until golden brown on the bottom. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes to render the fat from the ham. Remove the ham from the pan and set aside on a plate and keep warm. To the pan, add the coffee and water and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the butter, orange marmalade and the beef stock and stir. Serve the gravy over the ham.

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