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Old 09-18-2004, 12:32 AM   #1
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Cast iron for stove-top baking? - advice needed!

I recently junked my counter-top electric oven/broiler. (I used it to cook small things when I didn't want to use the big oven - like small cassaroles or 1/2 a chicken.) Now I'm wondering if I could use my cast iron on the stove top for similar dry heat cooking.

I have a #8 and #10 skillet and a 5-qt dutch oven and I have cast iron lids for all of them. I could use round cake racks for a trivet if that's needed. Will I ruin the seasoning if I use them for dry-heat cooking on top of the stove?

Tell me your experience - give me your tips - advise me! TIA

ps: I did try roasting garlic this way (put the bulbs on a trivet in a covered pot) and that worked fine. Too chicken to try anything else.

pps: I have a gas stove

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Old 09-18-2004, 08:08 AM   #2
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If you are trying to mimic an oven, then a trivet will always be essential. Without the air in between the food and the bottom of the pan, it'll be frying, not baking.

The other important consideration is air flow. Depending on what you are 'baking,' if the cover is on tight, moisture might condense on the lid and fall back onto the food. For this reason I would probably leave a little air space between the lid and pot. Not too much, though, since you want heat to collect.

Because of the poor conductivity of iron, in order to get a good roasting temp inside your 'oven' I think you might have to subject the bottom of your pan to temps that will cook the seasoning off. I guess if you were okay with just warming food rather than baking it, then your seasoning should be fine.

Iron also takes a long time to preheat. I've never timeit, but I'd say it could take as long as 15 minutes for your oven to preheat to 250. Once it does preheat, it has a tendency to hold that heat for a while, though.

Overall, though, I think you're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I'm all for DIY/money saving solutions, but this might be too much trouble for what it's worth.
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Old 09-21-2004, 12:12 PM   #3
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I agree with Scott - you're trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You could also make square tires for your car to put more tread in contact with the road than a round one, but I doubt you would like the end result.

A Dutch oven was a portable makeshift on the trail "oven" - not just a cast iron pot. It had a flat bottom with 3 legs, straight sides, a flat top with a lip around the edge, and a bail handle. Since an oven applies heat from more than one direction - to use it as an oven it was either placed over a bed of coals and coals we placed on top (the reason for the lip around the edge - it kept to coals from falling off) - or, you dug a circular pit a couple of inches larger then the oven, lined the bottom with coals, put in the pot, filled in around the side ot the pit and pot with coals, and more coals on top. If you just set it on the coals with the lid on - it was just a lidded pot being heated only on the bottom and would not function as an oven.

Cast iron is not a great conductor of heat - so no matter what you do the top will always be cooler than the bottom. Not a good thing for even baking. And, if you don't have the lid firmly in place you're going to reduce what heat conductivity you get to the top. Take two quarters and stack thim up and when you look down you will see the edges are touching all the way around (greater conductivity) - not move the top coin off to the side a little and you will notice the edges of the coins now only touch at 2 points. So, not only will leaving the lid askew reduce the conductivity from the pot to the lid, you are also allowing the heat inside the pot to escape.

As for ruining the seasoning ... you could. But, before that point you will ruin the food your trying to cook. Think about how you season cast iron ... you heat it to the smoke point of the fat/oil you used to season it, and that fuses a thin film of the fat/oil to the pot - like what happens to the cylinder walls of a car with an internal cumbustion engine during the break-in period. Before you ruin the seasoning on your cast iron it will have to exceed the smoking point and actually burn the fused layer off. But, before you reach the point the seasoning burns off and turns to ash (you can do this by running your cast iron through the cleaning cycle in a self-cleaning oven) you will fill the pot with acrid burning smoke.

I have been trying to figure out why anyone would want to do this and the only explanation I can come up with is one I hear people use to justify a standard nothing fancy (convection or rotissery) counter-top oven/broiler ... they don't want to heat the kitchen up by using the "big" oven. Well, an oven is insulated to retain heat - a cast iron pot isn't. Assuming you could dry-heat a dutch oven on the stovetop to a point just below smoke point and bake 1/2 a chicken ... you're going to be radiating a lot more heat directly into the kitchen than the oven would.

I'm sure if there was a way to use a Dutch oven as an oven by just heating the bottom then someone in the Dutch Oven Society or one of the Chuckwagon Cook-Off contestants would have found a way to do it. To date - I've never read of it. Roasting garlic doesn't take that much heat - but if you can work out how to stove-top roast/bake you could write a book.
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Old 09-28-2004, 10:11 AM   #4
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Wow, I am surprised at your answer regarding the conductivity and heat retention of cast iron. The whole point of cooking with cast iron is that it is an excellent conductor of heat, and that nothing retains heat like cast iron. Everything I have ever read about cast iron says this. I cook almost exclusively on cast iron whether it's my Lodge black iron or my LeCreuset enameled iron. I can verify that it takes forever for food to cool down in cast iron than any pot I have ever used. Once it is heated to the temp you want it, it keeps the heat at that temp all through the cooking process. This is the reason people cook on cast iron as opposed to almost any other material. I know that the Boy Scouts use cast iron to "bake" in and if you want to try something, latch onto the Boy Scouts' recipe for peach cobbler, baked in a Dutch oven over a fire. It is superb. I think they put hot charcoal on the lid to keep the heat in, but the thought occurs to me that you could put this on a BBQ grill and do the same thing.
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Old 09-28-2004, 11:57 AM   #5
 
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This confuses me as well, since I am of the opinion that vegasdramaqueen has stated.

I am open to trying to understand your reasoning though. I just don't get it.
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Old 09-28-2004, 08:07 PM   #6
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VegasDramaQueen - you've answered your own question without realizing it. This should answer your questions too, choclatechef.

A metal that is a good heat conductor will heat up quickly - and on the other side of the coin - it will also cool off quickly. As you have noticed, cast iron takes time to come to temp - but it retains the heat longer than anything else. That is because it is a poor conductor of heat. No voodoo here. But, that is how cast iron does it's magic.

And as for the Boy Scout peach cobbler - yep, you put coals on top of the dutch oven otherwise you wind up with a half-raw "crust". It needs the coals on top to make it into an oven ... refer back to what I said in my previous post.
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Old 09-28-2004, 09:32 PM   #7
 
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Duh! I knew that! I just wasn't thinking! Thanks for explaining.
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Old 01-12-2007, 11:33 PM   #8
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I have been using an aluminum Dutch Oven on camper stove top to bake pies and biscuits, as I have no oven in pop- up style camper. It is a small 10" GSI hard anodized legless style. I put another skillet top on top of it with insulation in it to keep heat from escaping from cast top. Works well with a low flame, it gets to 350º-400º inside with no damage to outside of pot. I put pies etc. on top of small stainless steel trivet. Trying frozen pizza next!
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Old 01-13-2007, 12:29 AM   #9
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Aluminum is a great conductor of heat, unlike cast iron. That is why it's often sandwiched between layers of SS, to carry heat more evenly to all parts of SS pots and pans, thus reducing hot spots. The sides and top of my aluminum pressure cooker get very hot, nearly as hot as the bottom of the pot.

Michael was absolutely correct. I've gone into the thermodynamics of cast iron and ceramics as insulators in other posts and won't do it here. Suffice it to say that your cast iron dutch oven is great for what it was intended for, but will not work as a stove-top oven.

It will work as a stove-top slow cooker though. But you will have to stir the food frequently.

Make stews, or braised foods in it and it will work fine. You can even use it to make a proper pillaf, if you are very carefull and practice a few times. You can make stove-top caseroles, pasta dishes, and braise meats. But you can't roast or bake foods in it, at least not on the stove-top.

And that's the way it is on Friday, January 12, 2007.

Seeeeeeeya; Goodweed of hte North.
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Old 01-13-2007, 05:45 AM   #10
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I know the OP has said cast iron, but I will add that enamel cast iron (like Le Creuset, etc.) should not be heated to high heats with nothing in the pan.
If Sub wants to replace his oven, look on Amazon. I have been using mine a lot more in recent time and enjoy it a lot. Roasting peppers and tomatoes, one or two potatoes, etc.
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