Green as the Hills, Cast Iron Cookware Lasts Lifetimes
Reviewed by Kate Heyhoe
Consider this: Some of Lodge’s cast-iron cooking pieces made over a century ago are still in use today. In an era when reduce, reuse and recycle are buzzwords, Lodge cookware stands out because it literally lasts for generations. It’s also made right here in the USA*, near the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, by the same original family, the Lodges, in a town barely approaching 3300 people. But history aside, the superior performance endears this cookware to professional chefs as well as home cooks. And though it’s been hard to improve their quality, the folks at Lodge have made some notable changes for the better.
Lodge is famous for their cast iron Dutch ovens, skillets, and other cookware pieces. But one obstacle for many consumers was always the simple but extra step of “seasoning” the pan before use, meaning coating with oil and baking it to seal the finish. Now, all of Lodge’s cast iron pans are sold pre-seasoned, ready to cook with. The more you cook in cast iron, the better the seasoned patina becomes, creating a natural nonstick, non-toxic surface. Plus, cast iron may take longer to heat than other materials, but once hot, it retains heat superbly, with even distribution. You can turn off the burner or oven and finish your cooking just with the iron’s retained heat. After use, simply clean the cookware with hot water and a stiff brush (without soap, biodegradable or otherwise), dry it, and lightly spritz or rub with oil.
New items bring Lodge’s cast-iron wisdom and expertise to contemporary designs and enamel-coated cast iron. I’ve personally tested the pieces below and think they’ve got a place in every home, with every style of cook. Plus, the company’s forward-thinking green practices make me pleased to support them even more. Check these out:
Chef’s Skillet: Loved by both gourmet and home chefs, the all-purpose10-inch skillet with curved edge lets spatulas and spoons glide across the entire surface, with no hard corners or edges, so food slips right out. And again, it’s pre-seasoned so it’s ready to go.
Cast iron is naturally stovetop and ovenproof, so you can sear foods over a burner then pop the skillet into a hot oven to continue the cooking process. The classic Southern cornbread recipe typically requires pouring the batter into a hot, greased cast iron skillet then baking until done. The crust is crisp and crackly, with the center perfectly moist and tender. (Use any cast iron skillet, or their Wedge-Pan and make these Cast-Iron Cornbread Recipes: Coyote Cafe’s Skillet Pinon Cornbread and John Ryan’s Cast-Iron Skillet Cornbread.)
Lodge’s Signature Series brings contemporary design to cast-iron, with shiny stainless steel handles, and a range of pre-seasoned skillets, grill pan, and Dutch ovens handsome enough to go from kitchen to table. I’ve found their Covered Casserole to be especially handy. It’s the size of a 12-inch skillet and can be used on stovetop. With two short side lifts, instead of one long handle, it fits easier in the oven and on the table.
Lodge’s Enamel-on-Cast Iron cookware blends the heat attributes of cast iron with the sleek surface of enamel. Lodge’s Color series of skillets and Dutch Ovens come in three rich hues (Caribbean Blue, Island Spice, and Cafe), and are truly multi-functional. They’ll withstand not just oven and stovetop cooking, but also marinating and refrigeration. While other Lodge cast iron pieces are made in the USA, their enamel cookware is manufactured overseas (which is typical of most other enamelware brands).
Okay, you’ll need a large, heavy-duty stocking to hold the Lodge Cast-Iron Grill Press, but it’s a worthwhile goodie for the cook who has almost everything. Use the press to keep bacon from curling, flatten panini, and quick-cook a spatchcocked chicken or chicken breasts for the “chicken under a brick” effect. I also wrap mine in a plastic bag (to keep it dry), to press liquid from eggplant, vegetables, tofu, or salmon when making gravlax. The round press is 7-inches in diameter (they make a rectangular one, too).
For any size stocking, pick up Lodge’s Miniature Cast-Iron Skillet, about 3-1/2 inches across. Sure, it’s cute, but it also makes a terrific spice toaster, for a couple of tablespoons or less of spices, sesame seeds, or nuts at a time. Or melt butter in it. Or buy several and bake itsy-bitsy little cakes. Lots of good uses for such a tiny little pan.
*Lodge _enamelled_ cookware is made in China.
One benefit of cast iron is that the seasoned surface is naturally nonstick and non-toxic at any temperature, unlike bonded surfaces like Teflon.
It’s not just enough to make products from green materials, or design cookware that’s more energy efficient. The greenness of the manufacturing process also comes into play, and every cookware company makes some degree of environmental impact. But at Lodge, they’re environmentally vested. Here’s the company’s report:
How Green is Our Foundry?
Lodge Manufacturing Company’s Pollution Prevention Success Stories
*Increased Use of Biodiesel:* In 2005, Lodge began using biodiesel to power several pieces of equipment, progressing to a 90% blend before cutting back to 20% in winter months. Biodiesel reduces ozone forming potential and also reduces emissions of sulfur, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and hydrocarbons compared to diesel.
*Cardboard Recycling:* Lodge began cardboard recycling by allowing outside companies to pick up cardboard at no charge. In 2001, the amount of cardboard recycle was 34.5 tons. In 2005, it was 48.1 tons. The program continues today.
*Establishment of Beneficial Use of Foundry Sand:* Lodge Mfg, the American Foundry Society (AFS), and the Environmental Committee of the AFS worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Solid Waste to request and help draft a beneficial use policy for non-hazardous foundry sand. The policy was adopted in April 1996 and is an example of industry and government working together for good of the environment.
Beneficial Reuse of Foundry Sand/Marion County Landfill: Lodge Mfg coordinated with Marion County government to have 9,225 cubic yards of foundry sand to create the required 12-inch protective cover over the liner in the first phase of two new cells. Completed in March 2003, the County saved $191,311.75 by using the sand.
*Settling Ponds Support Plant & Animal Life:* A stream flows from South Pittsburg Mountain through the Lodge foundry and into the Lake Guntersville Reservoir Watershed. Working to enhance the stream’s water, Lodge constructed three storm water settling ponds to support plant and animal life. Water lilies, cattails and fish have been introduced to the ponds and are thriving. Water quality is now above requirements.
*Planting Trees for Site Beautification & Ozone Attainment:* A total of 121 trees have been planted on the Lodge Mfg campus to help improve air quality and beautification. The establishment of 1.4 acres of trees is equivalent to removing one motor vehicle from the highway.
*Lodge Manufacturing receives the 1994 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Hazardous Waste Reduction:* In 1991, Lodge President Henry Lodge replaces the cupola melting system with more environmentally friendly induction melt system. The result was that Lodge Mfg changed its status as a Large Quantity Generator of Hazardous Waste to Small Quantity Generator.
Gourmet Performance Meets Energy-Efficiency
in Pressure Cooker, Pots, and Skillet
Reviewed by Kate Heyhoe
Fissler cookware has me racing to, and through, the kitchen. Their German precision engineering has cooked up some radically efficient features, saving time for the cook and fuel for the planet. If you want to be a greener gourmet, take a look at the energy-saving aspects of these Fissler pieces, and while the cost is high-end, these pieces should deliver a lifetime of quality for the price.
Smart, Solid Base: Starting from the ground up, Fissler’s proprietary CookStar base integrates nifty energy-efficient aspects, while enhancing the cooking performance on all types of cooktops, including induction.
The CookStar base is slightly concave when cool so that it lies perfectly flat when heated, maximizing the contact between pot base and heat source, thus saving energy. Plus, the super-conductive, extra-thick base heats up quickly and retains heat so well, you can turn the burner down (or off) early and let residual heat in the base finish the cooking. Like a bridge, the base features expansion joints, and consists of stainless steel and aluminum bonded by 1500 tons of heated pressure into one single unit (not triple layers as in other cookware), with no hot spots, so it’s guaranteed never to warp and to stay flat on any type of stove forever. The Cookstar base is built into most of their new cookware, including the items below.
Blue Point’s Pressure is On, or Off: Compared to conventional pots, pressure cookers inherently reduce fuel consumption by cooking foods faster, and they retain more nutrients. Fissler’s Blue Point Pressure Cooker design takes the pressure cooker concept a step further: It’s totally silent during operation, because the cooker seals completely and won’t release steam unless over-pressurized. The less steam released, the cooler the kitchen; and less water is needed because of the lower degree of water loss. Nutrients are also less diluted. Result: healthier, tastier eating and improved energy-efficiency (what’s not to like?). In fact, you can save up to 50 percent of the energy used in conventional cooking, and cook up to 70 percent quicker. Plus, the unit does double-duty: the Blue Point pressure cooker can function as a conventional pot and lid, simply by not sliding the pressure seal button forward. It’s like the hybrid model of pressure cookers, like having two pots for the price of one. (Blue Point pressure cookers also benefit from the efficient CookStar all-stove base, and come in several sizes.)
The Intensa Investment: Fissler designed their Intensa cookware (also with the CookStar base) with unique, efficient features not found in other pots. The lids feature a “ThermoStar” temperature indicator, which turns completely red when the boiling point is reached and partially red when liquids are near boiling (good for low-water, lid-on cooking and simmering). Keeping the lids on helps minimize heat loss, maximize nutrition, and lessens fuel consumption. That’s not all though. Turn the lid ninety degrees in one direction and the pot’s completely sealed. Turn it back and you can pour out liquids with the lid on, using the gently curved rims of the pot. And you don’t need potholders to do it, given the stay-cool handles. The handle on the lid is big, comfortable and open (see the picture), so you can grasp it with your whole hand. Okay, I was more than adequately impressed at this point. Then I discovered that the side handles function as lid holders, too, and the underside of the lids are conical, so condensed liquids drip back into the pot. (No more messy drips from a hot lid, or searching for a place to rest it.) Other details, like stackability and measuring levels (in liters) no doubt helped this cookware win multiple awards for design. I use their stewpot and stovetop casserole pots almost every day now, and they also make saucepans and lower-depth serving pans with the same Intensa features.
A Crisp Idea in Fry Pans: Perhaps the most frequently used pan in the kitchen is the skillet, and the German ingenuity in Fissler’s Crispy Steelux Frypan makes it cool to look at and a hot piece of cookware. Again, it’s got the CookStar base so it heats up quickly and holds heat evenly. The interior has a thick honeycomb texture, so you can fry/pan-grill foods with no or little oil. When I cooked salmon in the skillet, the exterior was perfectly browned, and the skin was crispy-delicious.
Optional Equipment: Fissler makes a nifty splatter shield (usable on all size skillets), that mounts upright on their skillet handles, while you’re peeking or turning the food. It’s handy and less messy than standard splatter guards. Their glass lids let you view food as it cooks, and come with stay-cool handles, so no pot-holder required.
Fissler’s Protect Steelux Frypan boasts their Protectal Plus as the strongest of all nonstick surfaces, with the heating benefits of the CookStar base. But the real test of a nonstick surface is how well it endures over time, without bubbling or peeling. Fissler’s confidence comes with a five-year No Peel Guarantee under any circumstances (check back with me within that time and I’ll give you on update). Be sure to temper the pan when you first use it (it’s easy, takes minutes and you only do it once.) As with all nonstick surfaces, avoid cooking above medium-high heat or heating an empty pan for long periods. (Use the Crispy pan above for high-heat cooking.) So what makes Fissler’s nonstick surface better than others? I asked for details, and I got them. According to their spokesperson:
Fissler’s proprietary Protectal Plus is extremely hard because of its ingredients (ceramic, titanium, and microparticles), and durable because the way the coating is applied and bonded (pretreatment, three-layer composition, and pressure). Competitor models may only use two layers of sealing on a smooth pan surface, and many sealings do not have the microparticles that permit a longer, more effective nonstick lifespan. Ceramic and titanium are present in only the highest-quality coatings, and Fissler’s application technique and proprietary blends of materials set us apart from our competition. Protectal Plus won the highest rating as the strongest nonstick coating from the Stiftung Warentest testing body in Germany (comparable to Consumer Reports in the United States).This translates into better nonstick properties for a longer period of time. Even if the consumer scratches one of these pans, the surface damage is minimized because of the pretreating technique and the hardeners in the coating formula (it will not peel). Protectal Plus is not a DuPont product, and is present only in Fissler pans; it contains PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), but is not unsafe, does not release toxins unless heated to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, and is also not digestable by the human body, so if the user manages to remove small amounts of coating through harsh use, the substance will simply be passed through the body. We guarantee that there will be no chipping or peeling for 5 years of use. Bottom line: Consumers who want a premium nonstick product, that diffuses heat evenly, will last a long time, and is less susceptible to damage, then they’ve found a solution in Fissler’s pans sealed with Protectal Plus.
One last word: Fissler’s Steelux skillet handles stay cool, but can only withstand oven temperatures up to 285 degrees F (okay for warming drawers but not ovens or broilers). If you need a skillet for oven use, I suggest augmenting these with a Lodge cast-iron skillet.
(Fissler’s Intensa cookware, Blue Point pressure cookers and Crispy Steelux frypan range from $120-300 MSRP, and also come in sets. They come with a limited lifetime warranty.)