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.