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Old-fashioned cast-iron cooking still has place in modern kitchen

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By Greg Summers

There's a shiny, new cast-iron skillet above the refrigerator in our kitchen. But that's about to change; I'm ready to knock that sheen off by seasoning it and putting it to good use.

To me, the pride of every southern kitchen is still a cast-iron skillet.

In a day when stainless, copper-coated cookware is the rage, that old dark skillet has lost its appeal to many.

Why?

I'm not really sure, considering that it can be used for a wide array of roasting, frying, sauteing and baking.

The heavy iron cookware that was first brought to North America by the early settlers remains one of the most versatile utensils in any cook's arsenal.

According to Diana Rattray of "Your Guide to Southern Food," heavy iron cookware is a great heat conductor.

"Heat is evenly distributed and held, making it ideal for deep frying, searing and even baking," she writes. "The versatility of the iron pot or skillet is unrivaled; use it on a stove top, grill, or in the oven."

If that doesn't pique your interest in cast-iron cookery, consider the cost.

A cast-iron skillet usually sells for less than $20, making it quite a bargain.

Well, at least it's a pretty good deal at times when you don't get into a bidding war for one.

Auctioneer Cotton Cole said he's noticed that most cast-iron skillets that make it to the Buford Feedmill Auction block don't last very long. In many cases, Cole said they fetch a higher price than when they were new.

"You have folks who collect cast-iron skillets as well as cook with them," Cole said. "When a skillet is seasoned right and isn't pitted up, you'd be surprised by what it brings. There is a big difference in what you can buy today and what you used to could buy."

Then, there is the longevity factor. A cast-iron skillet doesn't require special utensils to cook with, it won't warp and clean-up is a snap.

If you take care of that skillet, chances are it will outlast your grandchildren.

I don't know about the quality of the skillet I just bought, but I'm about to find out.

But first, I have to season, or cure it. That's the trick to properly maintaining cast-iron cookery.

Seasoning a skillet

On the Web site, about.com, Jean Brandau of Huntsville, Ala., offers the following directions on how to season a skillet:

– Scrub a new skillet with steel wool and the hottest water you can stand to remove the protective, food-safe wax the skillet is coated with. Wash it with mild soapy water, rinse thoroughly and dry completely.

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

– Apply a thin coat of melted shortening or vegetable oil to the skillet with a soft cloth or paper towel.

– Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place it on the bottom rack of the stove to catch the drippings.

– Place skillet (upside down) on the top oven rack and bake in oven for 1 hour.

– Turn the oven off. Do not open. Allow skillet to completely cool down in oven (several hours). There may be a film on the skillet, but this should come off after using it a couple of times.

Cleaning a skillet

– Clean skillet after use while its still warm with hot water and a plastic scrub brush.

– Once a skillet is seasoned, avoid washing it with soap or dishwashing detergent when possible. Clean it with hot water, a plastic scrub brush and a damp cloth. If you must wash it, use a mild soap, avoiding detergents and scouring pads. Rinse it and wipe dry immediately after washing, then oil lightly with a spray-on vegetable oil. This protects it from rust, provides a nonstick cooking surface and keeps food from interacting with the iron.

Cast-iron cooking tricks

– Always preheat your cast-iron skillet before adding the food you want to cook. Water droplets should sizzle, roll and hop around in the skillet once the surface is heated.

– If you choose to do so, you can begin a recipe on the stove top and move it to the oven to finish.

– Do not use a cast-iron skillet in the microwave unless you want to destroy both and enjoy inside fireworks displays.

– The most common gripe of cooks who use cast-iron skillets, is that the food sticks. If everything is sticking, the skillet isn't correctly seasoned and needs to be re-seasoned. Any time a skillet shows signs of rusting or picks up a metallic taste, it should be reseasoned.

– Remember that every time you cook in a cast-iron skillet, you are actually seasoning it by filling up the microscopic pores and valleys that are part of the cast-iron surface.

– Don't cook tomato-based recipes in cast-iron cookery. The acid in tomatoes reacts to the iron and turns the food a darker color.

– Never use a cast-iron skillet as a pot for boiling water. Water breaks down the seasoning and can make it rust.

– Never store cast-iron cookware with the lid on it and do not use cast iron to store food.

Apple Bake

Ingredients

2 large baking apples, peeled and cored

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup quick rolled oats

1/4 to 1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar

Ground cinnamon

Directions

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice apples into thick slices

– In your cast-iron skillet, melt butter. Layer apple slices on top of melted butter. Sprinkle with rolled oats, brown sugar and cinnamon.

– Bake for 20-30 minutes or until apples are tender when poked with a knife. Remove from oven and serve either warm or at room temperature.

– whatscookingamerica.net