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A Black Iron Haven

New to Cast Iron (A Guest Post)

Guest Post from Chris Morin

[Note from Rick: Today’s post is from Chris Morin, who discovered the benefits of cast iron in recent months. Chris and I had corresponded a few times, and I asked him if he would write down some of his thoughts about being a brand new cast iron aficionado. Below he describes how his discovery of cooking on a cast iron grill led him to the discovery of the benefits of the cast iron skillet and other cookware.]

About one year ago, my wife and I talked about activities we could do together. We have three wonderful children ranging in age from six to sixteen. Most of our activities revolve around them. After discussing some alternatives, we settled on cooking together. Throughout our marriage, my wife has done the lion’s share of the cooking. My part was outside on the grill. Like most suburbanites, my affiliation with the grill had been recreational at best; and my wife’s cooking compensated for my occasional burnt offerings. If we were to cook together, I had some learning to do.

Since the bulk of my cooking experience was outside, I started educating myself on grilling. That led us to buy a new grill. Our old Weber kettle grill was way past its prime. I purchased it used from a family member about twelve years earlier and it was already fifteen years old. I was not going to just head down to the local big box chain store and buy the first grill I saw; so it was time to do some research.

My research resulted in out purchasing a grill with cast iron grates. I read in various online forums people’s love of these grills. They raved about how well cast iron seared the meat, retained heat and was naturally non-stick. Neither my wife nor I had any experience with cast iron, but the enthusiasm of other owners sold us. We made our purchase. I had some initial trepidation with the grill as I had to season the grates. Once again, I turned to the online forums for instructions. After a few blazing fires and a few applications of oil, my grates had a deep, even black patina and the interior of the grill had a nice mahogany color. I had done my job and done it well.

We started cooking in earnest. Steaks, chops, chickens, burgers, brats and hot dogs all went on the grill. Soon, I was also raving about the virtues of cast iron. I was also paying closer attention to how I was grilling the meat. Direct heat, indirect heat, and Mesquite wood chunks soaked in water became part of our vocabulary. Now my contributions to our meals were more enjoyable. The real proof was in the comments from my family and requests for more food from outside.

That led us to consider other foods we could prepare outside using charcoal and fire. The cast iron grates got us thinking about other cast iron tools. If we were to cook things like eggs and pancakes, we needed other cooking surfaces. Once again, I turned to the Internet to research the best cast iron.

Some explanation about how I interact with my tools is in order. I am someone who needs to be as passionate about the tools I use as I am about the activity in which they are used. My work is all on computers and I am passionate about computers from Apple. I also have a passion for writing, so I am equally passionate about the pens and journals I use. My new passion for cooking required tools that would complement and not hinder that passion.

My research resulted in finding Rick Mansfield’s site Cooking in Cast Iron. There I saw he used quite a few pieces from Lodge Manufacturing. Other reading confirmed Lodge to be a quality brand of cast iron that had the bonus of being American made and environmentally friendly.

Our first purchase was a cast iron griddle. Soon, we were enjoying more than lunch and dinner prepared with charcoal and cast iron. Breakfast was even more enjoyable when prepared with these elemental tools. My wife and I have since added several pieces of cast iron to our arsenal of cookware. Old copper-bottom and artificial non-stick cookware was retired. In their place, we are discovering the added taste benefits provided by cast iron. Almost everything we make tastes better when prepared in cast iron cookware. Our family finds new enjoyment in old standby recipes. Pot roast tastes better from a cast iron Dutch oven than it did in our old aluminum pot. Cornbread is much, much better from a cast iron skillet than our non-stick cake pans. The list goes on and on.

My wife and I found an added bonus. Not only are we spending more time together cooking but also we are learning together. We ask, “What about this recipe,” or “What about that recipe?” Invariably, we just try it and discover one more meal that tastes better when prepared in cast iron. When we went on vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we took our cast iron with us. We were so excited to plan all the meals we would cook outside using only the utensils we took with us. Everything turned out wonderfully delicious.

Needless to say, my wife and I are now cast iron converts and look forward to new culinary discoveries with great anticipation.

Feel free to interact with Chris in the comments below.

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Mamme's Chicken & Dressing (modified for cast iron!)

Posted by Rick Mansfield

A Yes, I know that the holidays are now behind us, so who wants to talk about dressing? Well, I’m going to post this recipe anyway because it’s something that some of you might want to experiment with during the year before the holidays are upon us again. Frankly, I don’t know why more people don’t use cast iron to make their Thanksgiving or Christmas dressing. Think about that wonderful crust that comes from cornbread in a cast iron skillet. What’s the main ingredient in dressing--cornbread! It’s time to rethink how we make this dish.

A few months back, I shared my maternal grandmother’s cornbread recipe. With the holiday season square upon us, I want to share my paternal grandmother’s (pictured on right) dressing recipe. This is an interesting recipe because rather than a dressing that can be served with a turkey, this dressing can be served as a main course since it has chicken in it already. Or the chicken can be left out and it can be served traditionally with turkey. I made this dressing recipe from my paternal grandmother using my maternal grandmother’s cornbread recipe. To me, this brought together traditions from both sides of my family into one dish.

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of this recipe, but I find it unusual that it already has chicken in it--similar to something you might find in a cafeteria. My grandmother was a single mother of three children working on a teacher’s salary in Arkansas during the mid-twentieth century, so this may have been a recipe designed to fit with a modest budget. However, this makes it a great dish to take to a potluck this time of year because it is complete in itself. My memories of my grandmother making this particular recipe are starting to fade--she died in 1988--so I was very glad to get a copy of it from a family member. It is still being made annually by my relatives as a way to keep my grandmother’s memory alive.

My grandmother’s name was Maureen Mansfield, but we simply called her “Mamme.” Even though she’s been gone over two decades, I can still remember her voice and the distinct way she would tilt her head upwards and close her eyes when she laughed. The picture of her that I have in this post would probably date from the early 1960s I would guess.

I was very excited to get my grandmother’s recipe, so that I, too, could continue the tradition of making her dressing. But as mentioned earlier, I wanted to try it in cast iron. To me it only seems to make sense that a dressing recipe would be made in cast iron; yet I don’t know anyone who does it. This is probably because most people don’t have cast iron casserole pans (which I highly recommend). I used a Lodge enameled roaster pan and the recipe came out absolutely perfect with a nice crispy texture on the outer edges, just like perfectly cooked cornbread. If you don’t have a cast iron casserole pan, you might try a couple of cast iron skillets or a large dutch oven. However, if using a dutch oven, you’ll want to make certain that the dressing is done in the middle.

Technically, you can make the gravy for this dressing in any regular pan and transfer it to a gravy boat on the table. However, I used a Lodge 2 qt. serving pot which was very nice looking on the table without even needing a separate gravy boat.

So you’ve got plenty of time to experiment. Try making this dressing recipe or any other in cast iron in the coming months so you can perfect your method by Thanksgiving. Then, don’t be surprised if you like it cooked in cast iron so much that you don’t ever go back to those old pans again!

Mamme’s Chicken and Dressing
(modified for cast iron)

Cast iron required:
  • Cast Iron Skillet
  • Any cast iron roaster/casserole pan or try two skillets or one large (9 quarts or larger) dutch oven.
  • 6 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1.25 quarts broth from cooking chicken, separated
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 skillet cornbread, (not sweet)
  • 10 saltine crackers, crumbled
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 slices toasted bread, crumbled
  • 2 can cream of chicken soup
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp poultry season, (or to taste)
  • 2 boiled eggs, chopped
After cooking chicken breasts, debone if necessary, and chop up into bite-size pieces.

Sauté onions and celery in a cast iron skillet.

Mix together crumbled cornbread, sautéed celery and onions, 10 crumbled crackers, 4 crumbled slices of toasted bread.

Add 1 can of cream of mushrooms soup, beaten eggs, black pepper, poultry seasoning, chicken broth, and cooked chicken pieces. Chill overnight.

Set out in the morning and let sit for a couple of hours to get some of the chill off. Pour into a casserole pan (preferably cast iron or a large cast iron dutch oven). Cook at 350° uncovered for approximately 45 minutes or until the center is set and dressing is slightly brown.

To make the gravy, combine 1 can of cream of chicken soup with 1 cup of chicken broth, chopped eggs and 1 to 2 tbsp of cooked dressing. Heat in over a medium heat. I use a Lodge 2 quart serving pot, but a sauce pan works, too. When thoroughly heated, it's ready. If you have the Lodge cast iron pot, serve it in that. Otherwise, pour into your favorite gravy boat.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

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

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Queenie's Cornbread

Posted by Rick Mansfield

As most cast iron aficionados know, there's more to cast iron than cornbread. However, having said that, the ability to make good cornbread is essential—foundational—to any cast iron cook's repertoire. There are many different cornbread recipes out there, from basic to elaborate. Northern cornbread tends to be sweet, while Southern cornbread is not. I've often said I've never met a cornbread I didn't like, but I'll quickly admit that I don't want sweet cornbread in my bowl of purple hull peas!

Most cornbread recipes are fairly easy to make whether using a pre-made mix or making it from scratch. For folks just learning to cook, cornbread is something that can easily build confidence. It's difficult to mess up cornbread unless you burn it! And even overcooked cornbread can still taste good with a little butter or in a bowl of peas or beans as long as it's not too burnt.

While cornbread mixes are okay (I can't knock them too much because they usually taste pretty good), it doesn't take much more effort to prepare cornbread from scratch. I really encourage folks to find a cornbread recipe they like and use that instead of the mixes. And as mentioned a couple of posts back, any baking in the oven, including cornbread, is very "healthy" for your cast iron skillet's seasoning.

This particular recipe belonged to my grandmother on my mother's side, Queenie Pennington. We simply called her "Mammaw." The ingredients are fairly common, and she may have simply adapted a standard recipe over time. I have the advantage of not just having her cornbread recipe, but also having the skillet she used to make cornbread in on nearly a daily basis. I recall many wonderful meals at her house accompanied by her cornbread. When cooked in her pan, there is a particular texture to the outer crust which I cannot duplicate in any other cast iron I've tried. It's not that this particular texture of the crust is superior to other cornbreads; rather, its taste and feel in my mouth so strongly reminds me of my grandmother who died last year at the age of 88. This cornbread doesn't just taste good to me; it also has sentimental value. Every time I cook Mammaw's cornbread, it's like having her back again.

Greg from the "Black Iron Dude" blog recently identified my grandmother's skillet as a product of the Birmingham Stove and Range (BS&R) company. Her skillet is at least 70-years-old and may be older than that.

Above is a picture of my grandmother, Queenie Pennington, and me--probably
taken around 1970. Doesn't she look like someone who would be named Queenie?
Doesn't she look like someone you'd call Mammaw?
And doesn't she look like someone who could just naturally make good cornbread?

My grandmother's recipe below uses a combination of both cornmeal and flour, creating a light and moist cornbread. A basic trick for making any cornbread is to allow your cast iron pan to warm up in the oven while it preheats. I grease the skillet and place it in the oven before I set the temperature. That way it heats up with the oven itself. Then when pouring the batter, the hot iron immediately starts cooking the outer layer making a perfect crust.

If you try this recipe, you'll notice that it creates a very moist batter. Don't worry that's it's too moist. After twenty minutes in a 450° oven, it will be absolutely perfect. Of course some folks like their cornbread a bit more well done, and if that's you, simply keep it in the oven a little while longer.

In the recipe below, note the occasional footnotes. I'll add the notes to the bottom of the post.


Cast Iron Required:

  • 10.25" cast iron skillet1
  • 1 1/2 cups white corn meal2
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda3
  • 3 level tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp bacon drippings4
Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add buttermilk and egg, stirring until combined. Grease skillet with shortening and preheat in 450 oven. Melt drippings and add to batter. Pour batter into very hot skillet and bake at 450 for 20 minutes.

My grandmother's cornbread in the same pan she used for well over six decades.

Notice how nicely the cornbread came out of the pan without sticking. This is testimony to a pan seasoned over decades of use. My mom says that when she was growing up, many times she saw my grandmother flip the cornbread straight from the pan into the air before putting it on a plate. I haven't been brave enough to try this yet.

And finally, the pièce de résistance--my grandmother's cornbread in a bowl of purple hull peas!

I have one more fond memory of my grandmother's cornbread. After we'd finished the wonderful meal she cooked, one or two slices of cornbread always remained. My grandfather would take a slice and submerge it in a glass of ice cold milk. This was essentially his dessert, or his way to cap off a good meal. When I was a boy, I tended to do everything he did when I was around him, so I'd take the other remaining piece of cornbread and ask for a glass of milk myself. I never liked this as much as he did, so I rarely finished the entire glass. But when I was young, a slice of cornbread in a glass of milk seemed like pretty exotic fare.


1If you prefer cornbread muffins, this recipe yields 12-14 muffins in a standard-sized muffin pan. I haven't experimented yet to see how many cornsticks the recipe will make. I'll determine this and update the post at a later date.

2 My mother wrote down the essential recipe when she was 18 and had just married. In the original draft, as dictated by my grandmother, it specifically says "Aunt Jemima" white cornmeal. We sometimes have difficulty finding this brand, so we often use something different. I haven't discovered any discernible difference in taste or quality.

3 The original recipe as dictated by my grandmother called for "3 pinches; 4 if buttermilk is old" in regard to the baking soda.

4 Kathy and I normally cook with olive oil and don't keep a whole lot of bacon grease around. However, I always use bacon grease for my grandmother's cornbread. I've learned through experience that cooking four slices of bacon yields about one tablespoon of grease. Cooked bacon keeps for a while, so fry up eight or so slices to use in sandwiches throughout the week.

MacGourmet users, click image to download recipe (or simply drag image to your MacGourmet recipe box).

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

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Mimi's Biscuits

Posted by Leila Wells

As the mist was rising off the fields just outside the small cinder block house my grandfather built for his family, my grandmother would rise and make her way into the kitchen to begin her breakfast ritual. She would pull out her biscuit mat--a worn, malleable, waxy plastic powdered from constant use--and the mixing bowl wherein she would combine the simple and few ingredients to be flattened and reformed upon that mat.

She made quick work of the biscuits, unceremoniously cutting lard into flour before dousing it with buttermilk to knead into the mix. With the dough formed in the bowl, she would roll the ball out onto the mat and pat it out on a frosting of flour. Next she would pull a small metal cutter out of her cluttered utensil drawer to portion the biscuits. With a sharp jerk of her knee, she could shift the weight in the drawer and slide the pieces back into their confines enough to force the drawer back into place. Before long, the biscuits have found their way to a baking sheet and into the oven.

Next her attention would turn to the refrigerator; with one hand on the door and a back crooked just enough to peer inside, she would search the crowded shelves for a package of sausage. In a moment she located it and placed her hands upon its half-frozen contents. She muttered a question about the age of the meat and wondered when they’d get that fridge fixed so everything in the back of it wouldn’t have to be thawed out before she could cook it. She breathed a sigh of resignation, dismissed the thought and moved to the sink with the package in hand. She took a step backward and simultaneously bent forward to open the cabinet below the sink where she would pull a skillet from the assortment stashed haphazardly.

The old skillet was heavy and greasy to the touch, but the sturdiness of this cast iron piece was unparalleled in her kitchen. How many times had she used this particular skillet and browned meat or scrambled eggs or mixed red eye gravy for her family? It seemed somehow ironic that the years showed on her face well before they started to show on this skillet. Still, she was comforted; despite the wear and accumulated grease on the outside, the inside was smooth, shiny and conditioned for its task. Once upon the heat, it would react quickly and evenly. She still had something of that tendency in her, she mused.

Soon the sausage was sizzling and popping. My grandmother took her wooden spoon to the skillet, pushing the meat about with determination as the first pangs of hunger were starting to reach her stomach. My grandfather was now seated at the table in anticipation of the morning’s repast after having taken the walk up the gravel road to the mailbox and to retrieve the paper. He was stirring his instant coffee in a chocolate-colored mug chipped on both its rim and handle. A faint coffee ring was beginning to form where droplets had trickled down the side of the mug.

He cleared his throat and commented on the sale paper’s announcements for the day. “They’ve got butter half off at the Piggly Wiggly. And looks like it’s two for one on Cokes.”

My grandmother nodded and mentioned she wanted to stop by the nursery for some flowers this afternoon--if they went out. She’d been wanting to get herself a hollyhock lately. She asked if Ronnie had gotten there yet. He was easing down the driveway even as she inquired and soon entered the room with an amplified “Mornin’” to be heard by the household.

Uncle Ronnie was deaf in one ear. Since my grandparents were also slowly going deaf, the general decibel level of the household had increased two fold in recent years. Each morning on his way to the woods, Ronnie would amble in for breakfast. After a little conversation, a cigarette, a satisfied stomach, and a glance at the paper, he would climb into his tractor trailor and drive a great distance to the patch of land that he would be clear cutting for the day. If a piece of equipment had broken the day before, he and my grandfather would debate the best means of eradicating the problem, which would often entail a special trip to a hardware store. My grandfather would generally accompany my uncle either way.

He and Ronnie would push back energetically from the table, leaving it and the chairs sticky with honey or jam, blackened with coffee stains and cigarette ashes, in order to get on their way and begin their work. And once they departed, my grandmother would sigh with a different sort of resignation, hum a familiar melody, and begin the ritual of cleaning up after breakfast.

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

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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


The Perfect Stew for Our Crew

Posted by Leila Wells

One of the advantages of growing up in a large, close-knit family is the access it provides to a variety of activities. The creativity that drives siblings (of any age) in these situations can be inspiring! I recall distinctly the nearly-annual festivity of cooking Brunswick stew in a 30 gallon cast iron pot with my father’s clan. When I say clan, I refer to my grandparents, my uncles and their families, my grandparents’ siblings, and my immediate family. Friends would also drop in over the years for this special cookout. The family would spend days in preparation for this event purchasing the ingredients and preparing them. Whole chickens, hens, pork loins, ground beef, tomatoes, corn, onions, ketchup, hot sauce, Worcester sauce, and other top-secret ingredients would be stockpiled in the kitchen and then guarded carefully until the moment they were prepared for entry in the tremendous pot.

There were particular rules that governed the entire process related to creating this stew. No one under the age of 35 was allowed to stir the pot, although the simmering process would continue for hours and hours. Only a few (rare) exceptions were ever made to this rule to my knowledge. The rationale behind the age limitation was never fully explained, but the best I could conjecture was that 35 marked a level of maturity in which an individual could be found willing to remain still long enough to contemplate the intermingling of flavors occurring in the pot over long periods of time without interruption.

Only the "elder" of the patriarchs of the family hold the knowledge of the top-secret recipe. I’m confident that my grandmother also knew it, as does my mother, but the family maintains the pretense that only the men know it. My dad has always told us that we could only inherit the recipe if we proved ourselves worthy of keeping its secrets. What might be entailed in proving this worthiness is still a mystery. Perhaps now that I am nearing the age during which I might be permitted to stir the pot, my father will share the criteria for inheriting the recipe even if I cannot yet inherit it.

Once an individual met the selection criteria to be allowed to stir the pot, then even stricter rules were applied to that person’s performance at the pot itself. The concoction had to be stirred continuously and only with designated wooden boat paddles. I also observed that the stirring had to be deep and consistent. The sides had to be regularly scraped in the rounds of the pot. All of these measures ensured an even cooking and no burnt stew. Cooking 30 gallons of stew required devotion, attentiveness, willingness to endure the heat (from the stew and from the summer air), and patience; these qualities, once demonstrated, permitted the stew stirrer to enter into the developing camaraderie of the cooking site.

The men of the family would start well before dawn and prepare the cookware and the cooking site. The fire had to be started and monitored. Once the stew was added to the pot, someone had to be on duty at all times to stir and to keep curious insects away. Often, as the stew was cooking, others would bring in an assortment of meats for barbecuing or smoking. One year, my uncle cooked turkeys on stakes by placing them in charcoal pits and covering them with pails. The meat "sides" (as the stew was the entrée) prompted competition among the family. Over the years, we voted on best barbecue sauce, best dessert, best smoked meat, and so on. Rivals sparred good-naturedly and brainstormed the competition that would take place at the next stew cooking.

By mid-afternoon, the stew had been cooking for at least six hours. The scent alone made passers-by hungry for a sample, if not an entire bowl. It was the time of day when the children were ready to pull off their shoes and commence gnawing if they didn’t get a bowl to themselves. The sliced bread, the sweet tea, the side dishes and desserts all appeared on the tables set up outdoors for picnicking. Utensils, bowls, plates and napkins also found their way to the tables and no sooner had they been placed than a line had formed at the cast iron pot. Huge ladles guided by the chefs themselves served up the delightful feast. Once bowls had been filled, plates were soon piled high with barbecue, potato salad, slaw or whatever sides were available. It didn’t take long for these very same plates and bowls to be emptied and for lines to form once again at the stew pot. I wish I could say I remembered the conversations I had over these delicious bowls of stew, but all I remember is wanting more stew.

When no more space was left inside our bellies, we began the clean-up process. Boxes and boxes of storage bags and storage containers were brought out and stew was ladled into them. As a child, I never had to worry about where this stew went since my family always took home enough to enjoy for the remainder of the year. We would store it in the freezer and reheat it. With every bag, I relived memories of the cookout and family togetherness once again.

As an adult living several states away, I traveled from some distance to come back to this event; I always considered myself fortunate if I found that I could transport even a quart bag back home with me. Now that I’m living much closer again, I’ve found that circumstances have kept the family from holding the event as often. I think fondly of the last cookout a couple of years ago and find myself more nostalgic than usual. Since that last event where over 100 people attended (friends and family), we’ve lost several dear ones and now the event won’t seem quite the same. Still, the tradition remains—a family united over the 30 gallon cast iron pot and the incredible mélange it contained.

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


Friday Night Grilling: Cast Iron Style

Posted by Rick Mansfield

Friday afternoon, some friends called to see what Kathy and I were doing for dinner. We said we had planned to grill a couple of steaks, but they were welcome to come join us. I said that if they wanted to bring something to throw on the grill, they could or we would have enough for them.

Well, they brought brats and we found a few burgers and added them to the steaks. We all shared a little bit of it all.

The picture here on the left features my Lodge Sportsman's Grill. This is a great grill that is completely cast iron from top to bottom. I’ll have a full-featured review of the grill in the coming weeks.

One of my initial concerns when getting this grill was whether or not it would be big enough for entertaining. However, in spite of its small size, I’ve found it to be quite adequate. I can grill up to eight hamburgers at a time and four to six steaks, depending on their size.

However, in this picture, you see my new record! Here we have four hamburgers, two steaks, and five brats, all at once. In fact, the crowded grill was quite helpful for grilling the brats on four sides. I was able to prop them up against other food cooking on the grill.

Of course, I was trying to photograph the food, not my basset hound Bessie Mae. But notice her head in the bottom left corner of the picture below. There was quite a bit of canine coveting taking place on the back patio yesterday afternoon.

Notice also the Lodge Sauce Kit to the right of the grill. This Sauce Kit is basically just a cast iron melting pot and a nylon brush (the bristles are actually nylon themselves and can withstand up to 400° heat). I’d been wanting one of these for a while, and Kathy and I stopped at an outlet mall earlier in the day where they had them for $14.99 ($5 off the Lodge list price).

There was nothing fancy in the pot--just some olive oil that I had brushed onto the steaks to seal in their flavor before sprinkling them with a bit of my homemade cajun seasoning. When I’ve done this in the past, I always hated the fact that there’s been a little bit of olive oil left that I had to throw out because it had come into contact with raw meat. But tonight I had an idea. I took a chopped up vidalia onion and placed it on a cast iron fajita skillet. I poured the remaining olive oil onto the onions and cooked them alongside our grilled brats and steaks.

Everyone marveled as I brought the skillet in last, sizzling restaurant style. And the grilled onions were wonderful on the brats, steaks, and hamburgers. Kathy told me she will be expecting this every time from now on when we grill.

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