(McIlhenny Company) (McIlhenny Company)
A Black Iron Haven

More on the Lodge Cast Iron Grill

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Last month, I posted a review on the Lodge Sportsmans Grill (LSG). Yesterday, I got an email from a reader named John. He wrote:

I recently got the Lodge grill due to my need for a grill. Your review was very handy in explaining what to expect (I ordered via Amazon). I even bought cinder blocks and tiles to create a very similar setup (see attached photo)!

Here is the picture of John’s cinder block setup and mine for comparison below it.

The LSG gets extremely hot, and it’s very important to have some kind of surface below it that cannot be damaged. If you place one of these grills on a wooden deck surface, it will definitely leave burn marks. Patio stones, cinder blocks, etc. provide good protection. Plus, it gets the grill off the ground which is easier on one’s back!

John asked a few questions in his email which are in bold below, followed by my answers.

I used it once and am trying to figure out how to clean the parts other than the grill top, which I cleaned inside. I will try the aluminum foil tip next time (I forget to line it before using). I read some guy used a shop vac.

The shop vac is ideal. Small shop vacs are available that would be perfect even if only used for the LSG (assuming you grill enough to justify the purchase). When I clean mine, though, I remove the top grill and set it aside. Usually the fire grate still has coals on it, although these are really nothing more than ash themselves. I try to carefully pick this up to include as much of the ash as possible and pour this off into a trash bag (it’s very important to make sure none of the coals are still live!). Then, I take off the draft door and the fire door and simply turn the fire bowl over, dumping out any loose ash. I also keep a little brush inside one of the cinder block holes that I use to brush out extra ash. It’s really not a big deal if there’s a coating of ash remaining on the sides. As long as the grill is not getting wet, the ash is not going to harm the inside of the fire bowl. However, ash can be very corrosive on cast iron if it gets wet. Of course, keeping any cast iron item out of a wet environment should be assumed anyway.

At the end of last summer, I gave the fire bowl a really good thorough cleaning with hot water and a scraper. Grease will build up and carbonize on the sides and in the bottom. This itself will not really hurt the grill, so I don’t worry about it during the summer months of prime grilling. At the end of this year, after two years of use, I may put the fire bowl in the oven and turn on the cleaning cycle. Afterwards, everything but the top grill can be repainted with black stovepipe paint to look as good as new.

How do you light the coals? I used a chimney starter and transferred them over when they turned gray. But I realize that probably didn't give enough time for the cast grill to get hot enough.

If you don’t use a chimney starter, the other obvious is charcoal lighter fluid. Some feel that lighter fluid can affect the taste of grilled food. This is definitely true if the lighter fluid is a cheaper brand. It may not be as true with some brands. Regardless, it’s worth the effort to experiment. Most folks like a chimney starter. When using one of these, after putting the coals on top of the fire grate, place the top grill in place and let it sit for at least ten minutes before placing anything on the grill. This should give it enough time to heat up.

Any tips on the using the draft door?

I always have the draft door slightly open to allow air to circulate underneath the coals. This allows them to stay very hot while cooking; but if the coals are too hot, I close the door to allow less oxygen to get to the coals.

This is probably completely obvious, but the product descriptions say there are 2 adjustable levels. Do they mean you flip the top grill over (so the feet are sticking up)? Or is there some other way that I didn't notice to change the height?

Yes, you’re exactly right. If the grill is turned over, it will be lower and closer to the coals. Honestly, I rarely do this because the grill gets so hot with the top grill turned up right. However, I’ve learned (the hard way) that when grilling round hot dogs, the lower setting keeps them from rolling off. However, you must use less charcoal if cooking something like hot dogs, brats, or even smoked sausages on the lower setting.

I hope that helps some. I know that John is going to enjoy his grill. I am sold on the LSG, and will never purchase any other grill unless I simply get a second one to use beside the first one!

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

Lodge Mfg. Expands Web Presence with YouTube & Twitter

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I don’t collect cast iron simply to collect it. I’m not knocking those who do, mind you. Cast iron cookware has a wonderful history, and if anything is worth of collection for hobby or investment, it’s cast iron. But for me, it’s a more practical issue. I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to put it. We bought an entire baker’s rack just for our cast iron. In addition to that, three cast iron skillets are kept on our stove at all times.

So, if I’m going to add a new piece of cast iron cookware to what we already have, I have to justify it. That means, I have to ask if we really need it, if we really will use it. Just last week we had some guest over for dinner. I noticed one of our guests staring at the growing number of items on our baker’s rack. She turned to me and said, “I just realized--you actually use all this cast iron!” Looking at the assorted skillets, dutch ovens, cornstick pans, sizzle skillets, loaf pans, and more, I asked “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, a lot of people who collect something like this just do so to show it off, but you actually cook with all this.”

Of course I do!

What’s more, the great majority of the cast iron we own was made by Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. Oh, I also have a couple of Camp Chef items, and I have no idea who made my prize skillets handed down from my grandmother which are at least seventy years old if not much older. But the first skillet which was my very own was made my Lodge. In fact, the three skillets that permanently reside on our stove are the two skillets I inherited from my grandmother and my own Lodge skillet--the first cast iron I ever owned, given as a gift from my mother in the mid-nineties.

I honestly have nothing against other cast iron companies. In fact, I welcome quality cast iron in any form, regardless of its source. But Lodge has been very good to me, and I’ve been able to make food over the years that simply wouldn’t have tasted quite as good in other kinds of pans.

All that to say, I’m very pleased to notice that Lodge Manufacturing has been expanding their web presence lately. For the longest time, they’ve had a top quality website--an indispensable source for finding that right cast iron tool for a particular cooking need. My normal habit is to find it first on the Lodge site, and then I often order it from

Now, Lodge has also created their own page on YouTube. Already there are videos that allow the viewer to tour the cast iron foundry (something I’ve been fortunate enough to do in person) and learn how cast iron is made. There’s a video of Johnny Nix showing off his skill with outdoor cast iron cooking. Watching Johnny Nix cook is the cast iron equivalent of seeing a high profile magician. Both have put in the time and effort to know their craft well, and it simply comes across as if it’s real magic.

Lodge has also joined in with the current Twitter craze by setting up their own Twitter account. I only allow a handful of the folks that I follow on Twitter to come directly to my iPhone and Lodge Manufacturing is one of them. Lodge has been sending out a lot of interesting tweets. Sometimes they’ve used Twitter to promote particular products or specials. Sometimes they send links to articles or internet reviews of their products. They even tweeted about my review of the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill a few days ago. Today, they posted a link about re-seasoning cast iron. I believe that Lodge has discovered that Twitter is a great way to stay in touch with their customers while allowing loyal fans to stay connected with them as well.

There are also some pages about Lodge cast iron on FaceBook, but I’m not sure if they are official or not. Perhaps someone from Lodge will let us know.
Update 9/16/09: Lodge's official Facebook page can be found at

Lodge has been around since 1896, and they are still family owned. They are also the only remaining cast iron company with a foundry in the United States to my knowledge. So, I’m very impressed that a company with such traditional roots can also stay up to date with current technology in an effort to to communicate with their customers.

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Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at


Confessions of a Tabasco Addict Aficionado

Posted by Rick Mansfield

I debated exactly what to title this post. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines aficionado as “a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.” At the same time, the word addict is defined as “one who is addicted esp. to a substance.”

It’s a thin line, isn’t it?

No doubt some regular readers of this website can identify with the dilemma of distinction when it comes to cast iron. Most who are really “into” cast iron would like to think of themselves as aficionados, but deep down they know how strong the pull of “just one more piece” of the black iron can really be.

In the end, I opted for aficionado because addict has such negative connotations. An addiction to something often results in very negative results for the person directly involved and for those around him or her. I’ve never known my predilection for Tabasco to be harmful for myself or anyone around me. I don’t use enough to cause stomach ulcers. I’ve never accidentally splashed Tabasco in the eyes of the person sitting next to me at dinner. No one’s ever caught me drinking it straight from the bottle (I assure you, I’ve never done that!).

And yet, I nearly always carry it with me. Stop me any day of the week and I usually have a miniature 1/8 oz. bottle (or two) in my pocket. During winter months when I can wear a jacket, I usually carry a full 2 oz. bottle. Besides carrying it on my person and having it in plentiful supply at home, I keep a bottle in my filing cabinet at my office and during cooler months when there’s no danger of it going bad (Tabasco turns brown when it’s old or left in a hot vehicle for days), I keep a bottle stashed in my truck. In fact, my truck has its own “I Love Tabasco” sticker on the bumper. I have one bottle that always remains on my stovetop (you may have noticed it in some of the pictures on this site), and a completely separate bottle for the dinner table.

On a rare occasion away from home when I don’t have a bottle on me or if my miniature bottles are empty, I’m not beyond stopping at a supermarket or convenience store to grab a bottle before meeting a friend for lunch even knowing I have brand new, unopened bottles at home. When buying a bottle from a convenient store, I carefully open the box and hold the bottle up to the light to determine if the hue of red is just right. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes a grocery item can sit on a convenient store shelf too long to be of quality.

Further, I’m always careful not to run out of Tabasco and keep a solid supply in stock at home. Below is a photograph taken in April of my current supply at that point. You may or may not know that Tabasco comes in six flavors. Although I prefer what is often referred to as the “original red,” every variety is represented in the picture along with Tabasco flavored soy and teriyaki sauce.

The picture above doesn’t even account for my current stock of about 50 miniatures that I have in the freezer. I keep them in the freezer because I usually buy them in large supply and I’ve noticed that the miniatures seem to expire faster than Tabasco in larger bottles.

How long have I been a Tabasco aficionado? I don’t know. That’s hard to say. That’s like asking someone when he or she started liking chocolate. I do remember as a child watching my father add Tabasco to the ketchup he ate his French fries with. I picked that habit up quick enough. Probably it was some point in the nineties that I discovered the miniature bottles and began carrying Tabasco with me regularly. But I often carried it on occasion a decade earlier. I know by college (twenty years ago), I often carried it with me--perhaps not quite obsessively as I do today. But I distinctly remember sitting around a table with some friends and one of girls said, “Rick, please put the lid on that Tabasco. It’s burning my nose!” I also remember a Texaco station (of all places!) in my hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, that offered the best biscuits and sausage gravy I could find anywhere. One day I discovered while adding black pepper to my gravy that taking a bite of the food, followed by a quick chaser of black coffee created the most unusual and exquisite sensation in my mouth. It wasn’t just taste--as good as that was--it was somatic, a physical sensation. I knew I could make my new gravy “crack” even better. The next day I came back with a bottle of Tabasco in hand. Rather than adding black pepper, I added Tabasco. Incredible! Words cannot properly describe the ecstatic sensation of Tabasco-laced biscuits and gravy with black coffee. To this day, I will only eat biscuits and gravy if Tabasco is handy.

At this point, you may be wondering a couple of things (at minimum). You might wonder why I would carry bottles with me when most restaurants carry Tabasco. Well, I’m surprised at how often some people just don’t know the difference between Tabasco and other hot sauces. Not too long ago, I was in one particular local eating establishment that serves Louisiana food, and as I looked around the tables, while I found a variety of hot sauces, there was no Tabasco to be seen. I asked the waitress, “Do you have ‘real’ Tabasco?” She looked at me dumbfounded and said, “What do you mean? All of them are real.” In her mind any hot sauce was Tabasco--no doubt a misconception that the McIlhenny Company, the makers of Tabasco, would highly object to. Some restaurants simply don’t take such things as seriously as they should. Some will opt to buy a case of whatever hot sauce their supplier sells the cheapest. And I’ve also had occasion to ask for a bottle of Tabasco in a restaurant only to be handed a bottle which although contained the Tabasco label, was filled with a noxious looking brown liquid--a telltale sign that the bottle is quite old.

if you’ve ever had your own bottle of Tabasco go brown, throw it out and buy a new bottle. I recommend that most people keep Tabasco in the refrigerator. It will definitely last longer. I don’t have this problem--even with keeping a bottle on the stove next to high temperatures. I tend to simply use it long before it would go bad.

I’m also a Tabasco purist. All those other brands simply don’t cut it for me. The McIlhenny family has been making Tabasco essentially the same way since 1868. There are only three ingredients in original red Tabasco: tabasco peppers, salt, and vinegar. There’s no “xanthan gum” (whatever that is) or food coloring added like in many other hot sauces.

While most food companies from the 19th century (such as Heinz) have been sold long ago to large corporations, Tabasco is still made by the same family. In addition to the quality of the product itself, there’s something very attractive to me about the fact that the family still runs the company, that a person can still go to Avery Island, Louisiana, to see how the sauce is produced. It’s very much like another company I admire for similar reasons: Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. They are the only US based cast iron foundry left, and they are still run by descendants of their founder.

You may also be wondering what my wife, Kathy, thinks of my obsession with Tabasco. A few weeks back, without her knowledge, I ordered a six-bottle Tabasco caddy--the same kind you might see in a restaurant--and put it right in the center of our dining room table before she got home.

A few years ago, before Kathy came home from work one day, I placed a lime green iMac on kitchen counter next to the bread machine. I figured it would be handy for recipes, checking email, or looking up something quickly on the internet. I created a screensaver that rotated a few hundred family pictures. I wasn’t sure what she’d think, but I was almost certain she would say, “That’s not staying in my kitchen!” However, to my surprise, when she walked in and saw it, she exclaimed, “I love it!” It’s still there to this day.

So when Kathy saw the six-bottle Tabasco caddy in the middle of our dining room table, rather than saying “That’s not staying on my dining room table!” she instead declared, “I love it!”

No, Kathy is not the Tabasco aficionado I am. While I often cook with Tabasco--something Kathy never objects to--you won’t ever see her adding an extra dash of Tabasco to her eggs on Saturday morning. In fact, the only variety of Tabasco I’ve seen her use to any significant degree is the new Tabasco Sweet & Spicy sauce. It happens to be the mildest of all the Tabasco varieties. It’s very good with Asian food or as a dipping sauce. Other than that, Kathy doesn’t use a lot of Tabasco.

However, Kathy likes the Tabasco brand. She likes having our unopened bottles sitting on the corner of our bakers rack where we store our various cast iron pans. She likes the logo. In fact, she says one day when we have a bigger house, she’d like to decorate a game room with Tabasco themed wall prints and other paraphernalia. So while she might sometime sigh when I have delivered a new or different Tabasco coffee mug I’ve procured on eBay, deep down, she doesn’t mind. And often, she’s the one who diplays it to be seen by all who visit. Tabasco is, if nothing else to Kathy, a connection to our home in Louisiana where we both grew up.

Now, you may thinking “That Rick--he really likes hot food.” Really, that’s not true. I’m not a chili-head. I can’t stand to eat food that’s been spiced so much all of its flavor is lost. Believe it or not, I like the “mild” sauce at Taco Bell, simply because I prefer its flavor over the hotter varieties.

Yes, I admit that I’ve got a higher tolerance for spicy food that some. Adding Tabasco to one’s food for most of one’s life will do that. But that’s not the point. I don’t put Tabasco on everything. We made breakfast at home this past Saturday morning, and while I added Tabasco to my eggs (eggs just don’t seem right otherwise), I didn’t add them to my grits. I did, however, add cayenne pepper to my grits. What’s the difference? Well, the vinegar in Tabasco would offset the flavor of the grits, but the red pepper by itself added a little kick without overwhelming the taste.

Historically, I rarely ever add original red Tabasco to Mexican food, although I have discovered that the new Chipotle Tabasco is quite good and have added it lately. But I can’t imagine the aforementioned eggs without Tabasco. A tuna fish sandwich not flavored with Tabasco? Well, you might as well leave out the tuna as well! I find Tabasco greatly enhances any food with cream--whether clam chowder or the dressing for a Caesar salad.

Here’s the thing--Tabasco brings two qualities to food: flavor and spice. For me, I use Tabasco instead of black pepper in my food. Yes, that’s right--the same way you add pepper to your food, I simply add Tabasco. You will not see me seasoning my food first with pepper and then with Tabasco. That’s overkill. Early advertisements for Tabasco a century ago often referred to it as “liquid pepper.” That’s exactly how I use it.

There’s a scale for measuring how hot a pepper is known as Scoville units. Original Red Tabasco sauce measures only about 2500-5000 on this scale. Compare that with habanero-based sauces which can measure almost twice that (there is a habanero-flavored variety of Tabasco who indeed do like their food extremely hot). Regular Tabasco is not hot enough to hurt anyone when used properly in normal amounts. There may also be health benefits to it as seen in one recent study (scroll down to the sixth paragraph).

And here’s what’s interesting, if you read a book like Shane Bernard’s Tabasco: An Illustrated History, notice than none of the early advertising for Tabasco was about how spicy Tabasco might be, how hot it was. For me, and I believe historically for the product, Tabasco is not about heat so much as it’s about flavor. In fact, looking at the historical ads in Shane’s book, I don’t know if the McIlhenny Company ever promoted Tabasco as something hot until the famous Superbowl mosquito commercial.

I like Tabasco so much that I considered creating another website devoted to Tabasco. However, keeping two websites current is enough for now. Instead of yet a third site to write for, I believe I’ll simply add the occasional Tabasco post here on Cooking in Cast Iron. After all, the subjects of Tabasco and cast iron are certainly not mutually exclusive.

For more information on the history of Tabasco I suggest the following:
• Shane Bernard’s Tabasco: An Illustrated History
• “History Tent”

Want to discuss Tabasco more? Want to share your own experiences? Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at

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