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The Cult of Cast Iron

"Bob," here is my confession. After reeling from the fallout of the Greatest X-Day Evar in the summer of 2010, my life has been turned inside-out. My lifestyle has changed, my diet has changed, my location has changed, my companions have changed…even my interests have changed. For in December of 2010, I found myself quite unexpectedly being seduced by a new, dangerous cult, and I have succumbed completely to it. Lo, "Bob," I speak of none other but the cult of CAST IRON!

It began quite unexpectedly, after I had moved into my new apartment and begun living my new life. They say that the difference between a married man and a bachelor can be seen with the food he eats. A married man looks in the refrigerator and sees three beers and a tub of potato salad, and he thinks, "We have to go shopping now." A bachelor looks in the refrigerator and sees three beers and a tub of potato salad, and he thinks, "Great! I don't have to go food shopping for another four days!" But I was determined to eat better, and this caused me to be smitten on the day I broke out a cast-iron pan that had been sitting in my old kitchen cabinet for eight years, unused. The pan had a thick layer of dust on it, and it still had the original tag from the store on it. It had been given as a wedding gift, and it had been entirely neglected for all of that time. I had decided to cook a steak in that pan, to celebrate my one month anniversary in my new apartment. Cooking it in that pan, for the first time after ignoring it in my old life, would be a symbolic gesture to show how my life had changed. I cooked the steak entirely wrong, but it still came out tasting well; but something else happened when I cooked with that pan. I enjoyed it. I didn't just cook that steak because I was hungry – I had a lot of fun cooking it. There was something different about it that I'd never felt before, and I really enjoyed cooking in that pan.

That was enough to get me hooked. Like a true geek in the modern era, I took to the Internet and started looking at cast iron – entries on Amazon, videos on YouTube, and even Yahoo groups dedicated to cast iron cooking…and I realized that there really is a genuine religious cult dedicated to cast iron cooking. There's a cadre of hardcore cooking fans called "foodies" – and the foodies will tell you that hardcore cast iron afficionadoes are fiercely dedicated to their pans, with all of the zeal and fervor that you'd see in a genuine religious cult. If you dare try to diss cast iron with a statement like, "Teflon nonstick pans are better!" then you'll be certain to find yourself deluged in flaming spam of the type you might expect if you went onto the abortion forums or the political groups. Cast iron has its unshakable religious devotees who expound on the Sacred Truth of these holy pans: Thou Shalt Not Wash Thy Cast Iron Pans With Soap. Thou Shalt Not Put Thy Cast Iron Pans In The Dishwasher. And Thou Shalt Not EVER Say Anything Nice About The Unholy Teflon! Cast iron groupies can be grouped in with hardcore anime fans, Marvel zombies, political junkies, Christian fundamentalists, Objectivists, and Lyndon Larouche's followers.

But like most religious cults and their lure, there's a carrot that they use to entice you…and this bait certainly hooked me. You can cook some GREAT tasting food in cast iron, and it takes very little effort at all. Even a cooking novice like me could whip up something in a cast iron pan, and it would taste good! You may have heard that "things taste better when they're cooked in cast iron," and I will certainly testify that this is true. With my apprenticeship in the X-Day Coven and Ladies' Finishing School, I have been learning my lessons, and I have embarked upon a cooking odyssey that has encouraged me to buy fresh and healthy foods, especially so I could sacrifice them on the altar of cast iron. I've been losing weight and somehow managing to keep it off, while at the same time trying recipes for the first time that I never would have been allowed to try before, back in my old life when I cooked almost exclusively from cans.

And I've been afflicted with the dreaded condition known as castironitis – the urge to acquire more and more cast iron. Suddenly, I've found my cast iron pans acquiring a life of their own. They've been sneaking around behind my back as I've been away from home, or when I've been asleep. Sometimes I've woken up at night and heard them rutting away, fornicating in my kitchen cupboard, making metallic scraping sounds that you might only hear if you try cross-breeding a Japanese mecha sex toy with a Silver Bullet. My cast iron collection has bloviated from one rusty, eight-year-old skillet to a 10-inch skillet, a 12-inch skillet, a cast iron "double dutch" oven with skillet cover, a huge eleven-pound cast iron wok, an enamel-coated cast iron grilling pan, and even a cast iron teapot. (And thanks to the luck of "Bob," I've paid very little money for all of this ordinance – most of it came about due to gift certificates and donations!) It's growing beyond my control, and I'm finding myself having to cook more and more in order to keep my pans sated and satisfied. I'm already making plans to do a cast iron cook-off at X-Day, in preparation for the oncoming Rupture; and I'm making plans for Wisteria that include uncovering the long-suppressed knowledge that SubGenii rarely discover – the Secret of Fire.

And, I've been having a great time making roast chicken, jambalaya, steaks, vegetables, corn bread, and other great tasting dishes in my cast iron pans. As I write this (February 10, 2011), it's been less than 24 hours since I succumbed to temptation and nommed a big bag of Doritos for the first time in months…and was punished for it by waking up this morning with a bad taste in my mouth and a groggy, foggy feeling in my head. I intend to do penance tonight for this sin, by cooking up a stir fry in my cast iron wok with rice, broccoli, green beans, soy sauce, and probably worcestershire as well. And I'm revelling in the birth throes of the new SubGenius group on Facebook, "Bob's" Food Porn. Who says Slackful cooking has to involve ramen noodles and Spam? Nay! While those dreaded foods are a staple for many SubGenii, I say to you that you do not have to be satisfied with a diet of ramen noodles and Spam – not when you can cook them up in a blazing hot cast iron skillet (purchased for five bucks or less at your local flea market or Goodwill!), seared in hot canola and sesame oil, enhanced with fresh vegetables, and flavored with cashews, parsley and black pepper.

Walk away from those canned and microwaved Wal-Mart TV dinners and frozen pizzas, and ENJOY your meals! Look to Connie Dobbs and her Cast Iron Skillet of Doom, and let her show you what it's like to have FUN with cooking…while you defy the Conspiracy's programming ("Eat this cheap junk food!") and eat something GOOD!

Would you like to be sucked into the Cult of Cast Iron? Come on over to Cast Iron Cooking on Facebook, where cast iron enthusiasts are enjoying themselves, indulging in their obsession with cast iron, and cooking lots of great meals.

See also: SubGenius Food Pr0n

Cast Iron Science

The tried-and-true traditions of maintaining cast iron pans have been challenged by new modern-day techniques, and the following links show how modern-day science! is being used on cast iron. (Even though cast iron cooking pans have been around for hundreds of years – and many mass-produced pans from the 19th century are still in use today – cast iron has made a recent comeback in the United States, due to the surge in popularity of cooking shows and the Food Network. Celebrity chefs like Emeril, Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and others have all raved about cast iron, and this has helped bring it into the mainstream once again.)

A very strong sub-cult of the Cult of Cast Iron is the Cult of the Dutch Oven – the big heavy iron pot that everyone uses to cook over a campfire. You can use a dutch oven to cook anything…and by "anything," I mean anything! Dutch oven cooking is addictive, and dutch oven fan swear by their pots…then they back up their claims by cooking an astounding number of dishes in them. What's more, a dutch oven is an essential tool to use in your kitchen. If you can only own and use two pieces of cast iron in your kitchen, then one of them must be a dutch oven and the other must be a cast iron skillet – it's that basic, and that easy. Furthermore, dutch ovens can be found in all sizes, from tiny little two-cup and three-cup lots all the way to the gigantic iron cauldrons used to cook huge meals for entire crowds of people.

Cast Iron Wiki

A wiki site gathering together useful information on the care and feeding of your cast iron collection: how to season your pans, how to take care of them, and how to have fun cooking lots of great recipes.

Wagner and Griswold Society

The hardest of the hardcore cast iron fanboys. These are the people to go to if you want to know anything about classical cast iron pots and pans – identifying a strange-looking pan, discovering rare facts about that old pan sitting in the back of your cabinet, or showing off collections of rare and valuable pots that would make the Smithsonian Institution jealous.

Heavy Metal - The Science of Cast Iron Cooking

Scientific experiments that bust the myths surrounding cast iron, especially the idea that it always provides an even cooking and heating surface for your food.

Rust Reduction Electrolysis Setup and Electrolytic derusting (Video: Cast iron rehabilitation with electrolysis)

A very simple method of using electricity to restore rusty old iron pans.