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Old 09-17-2007, 02:41 PM   #1
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Enameled Cast Iron on High Heat

I posted a couple of days ago about searing steak in a cast iron skillet. Basically, my pan wasn't hot enough. The recipe (from Alton Brown's book) said to set the pan on high heat, but the instructions that came with my skillet (a Lodge enameled cast iron) said not to go above medium or medium-high or the enamel would come off. Searing steaks on high heat was what I had in mind when buying the skillet.

I thought cast iron was my best bet since it retains heat so well, but I didn't get the pan hot enough for fear of ruining it. Is it true that high heat can wreck enameled cast iron? (The pan is oven-safe to 400F.) The only other skillet I have is a nonstick one. Should I use that? Get something completely different?

Thanks,
~K

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Old 09-17-2007, 03:24 PM   #2
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Hi, K. The type of cast iron pan that can be heated over high heat is the plain, unenameled iron kind - they're black. When DH makes blackened fish, he heats the pan over high heat for 10 minutes to get it hot enough to blacken. Plain cast iron is much cheaper, too. Non-stick doesn't sear very well - you need some sticking in order to brown properly. HTH.
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:27 PM   #3
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As G'Garlic said, k, plain cast iron is what you should be using. I recommend you buy a nice skillet. Not only will you find it excellent for cooking the fish in the way you wanted, it will be useful for all other jobs. There's nothing like cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet.
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:31 PM   #4
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Ah, darnit. I had bought the plain Lodge cast iron, but returned it when I found out they made enameled. The fact that you can't clean cast iron with soap kinda bothers me, and I'm afraid I'll mess up the seasoning or let it rust.
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:39 PM   #5
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Plain cast iron is cheap enough that you don't have to be too scared of messing it up. if you ruin the seasoning then just re-season it. If it gets rusty then sand it down and re-season it. They are very easy to take care of once you know the few rules.

You can get a brand new piece for $20 or a used one for $1 or less so I would recommend picking one up. You will not be sorry. It can turn out to be one of the most used things in your kitchen. And the more you use it the better it gets.

Your enameled piece is a great thing to have so don't be upset that you bought it.
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:42 PM   #6
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Do not let the no soap bother you. It's the way it is and there are LOTS of people who have survived You won't let it rust if you "dry" it on your stove and rub it down with oil once cooled. It just takes a bit of care. That's not too much to ask for to get that perfect sear on a steak!
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:43 PM   #7
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Alright then. If it means being able to sear a steak properly then I'll go for it. It sounds like plain cast iron is pretty rugged. (I'd never imagined taking sandpaper to a piece of cookware!) Just a question: What happens if you do use soap on it? Do you have to reseason it?

Thanks for the advice.
~K
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Old 09-17-2007, 03:46 PM   #8
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Rugged is an understatement LOL.

Soap will remove the seasoning so yes if you use soap you will just have to re-season it (an easy process). However, once the seasoning builds up and becomes strong then some people have been known to use soap or even put it in the dishwasher with no ill effects.
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Old 09-17-2007, 04:06 PM   #9
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First, never try to sear in a non-stick pan. High heats (about 500F) cause the coating to break down and release poisonous gases.

Lodge and Le Creuset say that their enamel lines are safe in an oven up to 450 degrees (Lodge actually says ďless than 500 degreesĒ).

Obviously, the problem with enamel is that you donít want to heat it past the 450 degree mark. Searing, or more precisely, the Maillard reaction, occurs between 300 and 500 degrees. So, you can sear at 400, and this means you could sear in enameled cast iron. The hard part is controlling the temp precisely so that you donít exceed 400, which I donít think can be done safely.

The problem with enamel is not a high heat source, it is the threat of over-heating or going beyond 450 degrees. Le Creuset says you CAN use high heat on the stove in the cases where you are boiling water or you are doing water based cooking. Obviously, this is because, no matter the heat source (Low, Medium, or High), water can never get hotter than 212 degrees F....after that it turns to steam, so even if you use high heat with water, the inside of the pot or pan stays at 212 or so degrees.

You could use the oven with your enameled cookware so that you maintain a constant 400 degree temp, but that means youíd be both baking and searing at the same time. Or if you took the pan out of the oven, it cools quickly and you canít sear the second side.

On the stove top, you could use Canola or Corn oil which has a smoke point of 400.....but on constant heat, the meat would keep the pan below 400 where it touches, but the spots where meat isnít touching could exceed that. Not to mention even trying this means heating the enamel with no food present, and thatís not a good idea when youíre close to the critical temps of enamel.

So, itís a bad idea to try and use enameled cast iron for searing. Your absolute best bet is to go buy a plain cast iron skillet, season it, and then use it for searing since plain cast iron can handle all of the heat you throw at it. They are very inexpensive, and will last a lifetime. This gives you a great pan for searing and saves your enameled cookware for other chores.
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Old 09-17-2007, 04:43 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k_young221 View Post
Alright then. If it means being able to sear a steak properly then I'll go for it. It sounds like plain cast iron is pretty rugged. (I'd never imagined taking sandpaper to a piece of cookware!) Just a question: What happens if you do use soap on it? Do you have to reseason it?

Thanks for the advice.
~K

Once your pan is well seasoned, it's fine to use dish soap and a scrub brush on it if need be. I do it all the time. It will not remove the seasoning unless you scrub it with harsh detergent or use soap regularly. You need to make sure you dry it well. I usually coat with just a little crisco too, after I use soap.

If you start to see rust or bare spots, reseasoning is pretty simple. I reseason maybe once a year.

I burned some cheese in mine on Sat nite and it really needed a scrubbing. Sometimes you need to use soap and elbow grease.

My mother put hers in the dishwasher occassionally. Hers are like teflon! But please do NOT emulate her in this.

You need a good black cast iron skillet to make a good seared steak or chop.
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