Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

“Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.” –William S. Burroughs

Last night while cooking on my ancient, somewhat crappy electric range I heard an ominous “pop!” Some magic smoke came out, and the circuit breaker tripped. I switched burners, reset the breaker, and went back to cooking. But afterwards, I wondered if this was a Sign that I should be looking at a new range. So after dinner I did what any right-thinking American would do. I did some online window-shopping.

For those of you who haven’t shopped for a cooking range recently, there are basically three options. Putting aside the question of gas vs. electric oven (the answer is “you always want electric”), you still have to pick a stove top. The three reasonable choices are gas, electric coils, or electric-heated ceramic.

Gas stoves are a little more efficient, but generally have dodgy heat control (the lower the heat you want, the dodgier), and are annoying to clean. Electric coils work wonderfully at low heat but are also annoying to clean, and often look cheap. Ceramic stovetops are attractive and are very easy to clean.

I was leaning towards ceramic when I discovered an amazing fact: most manufacturers recommend that you don’t use cast-iron cookware on ceramic stovetops. This, for me, is enough to eliminate them from consideration. I can cook over electric, gas, steam, wood, charcoal, or the scorched flesh of my enemies. It doesn’t really matter where the heat comes from. But you’ll only take away my cast-iron skillet from my cold, dead hands.

If I had to pick only two pieces of cookware for my kitchen, they’d be a cast- iron skillet, and a stockpot. Everything else is negotiable.

Cleaning the Skillet

For a number of years, I was confused about how to clean a cast-iron skillet. It seemed like there were so many rules! Don’t use water! Don’t use soap or detergent! Don’t use steel wool! Anything which violated the sacrosanct and mystical act of seasoning the skillet is verboten, and will subject you to the mockery of sophisticated people. Most of those people can explain in detail how you shouldn’t clean it, but never deign to tell you how you should clean it.

Eventually, though, the magnificent Alton Brown explained how to do it in simple terms, which I will pass on to you:

Heat the skillet a little bit if it is cold. Dump a generous amount of very coarse kosher salt into the skillet. Get a paper towel and scrub the skillet with the towel and the salt. This should take care of even the toughest sticky goo in the skillet. Then you dump the salt out and rub it with another paper towel with a little bit of a neutral-tasting oil on it. That’s it.

Have fun in the kitchen!

The title of this article comes from a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes that has nothing whatsoever to do with stoves. Or skillets. Unless you’re cooking fish roe.