The Essential Kitchen: Cast Iron Grill Pans
Inexpensive, Versatile and Powerful
One of a city cook's best tools is the cast iron fry pan. They're inexpensive, easy to take care of, they cook evenly, and with the right care, a cast iron pan can become as non-stick as Teflon with none of the fears about surface chemicals getting into your food. With good care, a cast iron pan will also last for generations.
The cast iron grill pan takes this nearly perfect tool a step higher.
Some grill pans are round, some rectangular, and others are large rectangles that can fit on two stove-top burners. But all share the characteristics of being made from heavy cast iron and having deep ridges that will both add grill marks to your food and also let small amounts of fat or other liquids cook off. The larger two-burner grill also reverses to have a smooth griddle on its other side, adding even more versatility.
Cooking With A Cast Iron Grill Pan
And what to cook with a cast iron grill pan? It's perfect for searing a steak or lamb chops, grilling halves of juicy in-season peaches, to give a brown surface to halved red onions, and anything else that you may think you need an outdoor grill to cook.
My favorite way to use my rectangular, well-seasoned Lodge grill pan is to cook fish. Begin by placing an empty pan -- with no fat, just a clean pan -- in the oven about 5 to 6 inches below the broiler and then turn the broiler on. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, still empty, until it becomes blazing hot. Then add a piece of tuna or swordfish or other meaty fish that's been rubbed on both sides with a light touch of olive oil (you're oiling the fish, not the pan) and its upper surface sprinkled with salt, pepper and paprika and about 2 teaspoons of unsalted butter that's been broken into pieces and scattered over the top of the fish. As you place the fish on the grill pan's blazingly hot surface you'll hear the snap of a wonderful sizzling sound. Close the oven and cook for about 5 minutes -- there's no need to turn the fish because the hot pan will cook the under-surface as the broiler cooks the top. The fish will be perfect every time.
For fish that is thicker, such as halibut fillets, increase the cooking time to about 7 minutes.
Both Lodge, which is the leading and most respected manufacturer of cast iron cookware, and All-Clad make and sell cast iron grill pans. All-Clad makes one for the Emeril Lagasse brand that is a one-burner reversible grill/griddle pan that is really useful in small city kitchens that have small four-burner gas stoves.
As with all cast iron cookware, these grill pans need to be seasoned before you cook with them. This is easily done by coating your brand new pan with vegetable oil and placing it in a hot oven to cook for a few hours. We've added a link to an on-line video that shows you how.
Cast iron is never washed in a dishwasher but instead simply rinsed with hot soapy water, using a brush or scrubby if there's any cooked-on food that sticks, and dry the pan immediately so to prevent rusting. If any piece of cast iron cookware becomes rusty, simply give it a thorough washing and season it again. It will be not only as good as new -- but better.