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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seasoning New Cast Iron and a Review of Lodge's Pizza Pan

Steve and I have been making pizzas at home for a long time, and we're pretty good at it, but we still hadn't nailed down the crust yet.  We've been using a pizza stone for a long time and have tried it in all the positions in the oven; from the bottom to the top and everything in between.  We've tried different temperatures, different baking duration, different recipes, different amounts of water in the recipe we like, topping the pizza with cheese before putting it in the oven, baking the crust with the sauce for a few minutes, and then topping it with cheese, etc.  The crust would come out either too underdone for the bottom to be crunchy, or it would come out like hard tack- it was never just right. Until last Friday.

I read about pizza steels on, but they are really spendy.  Then somehow, and I can't remember how, I wound up on Amazon looking at Lodge cast iron, and found they make a pizza pan. And their pizza pan had great reviews.  Out of 764 reviews, 694 were five stars. I found the ones by A. Stribling and S. Peterson (their reviews are near the top) were the most fun and useful, and didn't read much more.   That, and the high number of five star reviews was enough for me, so I went ahead and ordered one.

However, when it showed up, it had the same problem all new cast iron has anymore, enameled cast iron excepted; it has a really pebbly cooking surface.  I have a really old Wagner pan that I've had since my late teens that has a very smooth cooking surface, which is really non-stick.  When Steve and I got our wood stove, his sister gave us a small cast iron frying pan for Christmas that would fit on the wood stove.  I haven't really used it because it too, had a pebbly surface.  Then I found out that you can sand cast iron and smooth some of that out.  Who knew?

So I attacked both pans with sandpaper- first 80 grit, then 150, and then 220.  I also did this on the stove with the hood fan running full blast, because inhaling that stuff would give a new meaning to iron lung.

This is the small frying pan:

You can see what I mean about pebbly; in this picture I only took off the top of the surface on the sides of the pan because I didn't feel like wasting time on a surface that will only occasionally get food on it.  All the action really occurs on the bottom of the pan:

Even after sanding most of the high spots off the pizza pan, you can still see the low spots that were left. That's okay, because it would really take a long time and a lot of iron off the pan, and besides I know the best way to season cast iron, because after all this sanding, I was going to need to do that anyway:

The absolute best oil to use for seasoning a new cast iron pan is flax seed oil.  I learned it here, and I'll let her explain why it works, but I will say that it does do a great job.  It will also let you heat your pan to the 500F you need for baking a pizza.  700F is better, but I don't have a brick pizza oven, so I have to settle for what my ovens will give me, and 525F is the top end on one of them. 

This crust was the closest we've ever come to pizzeria pizza- crunchy on the bottom as well as on top, but nice and soft and thoroughly cooked all the way through:

This works because cast iron, while being a lousy conductor of heat, holds on to what heat it gets for a long time.  Some folks have tested it and found that outside of the exact spot where the burner on your stove is, the rest of a cast iron pan doesn't really get as hot as the part over the burner, and you can test this yourself on any of your pans by spreading flour evenly over the cooking surface and cranking the hell out of the burners.  In fact, after a late turn on the seasoning, I turned off the oven and left the pans in the oven, and they were still warm when I got up the next morning six hours later.  At any rate, in the oven, getting blasted by heat from all directions, cast iron heats up pretty well and stays hot for a long time, so if you preheat it well before putting your dough on it, it will start baking the bottom of the crust while you are still topping your pizza.  And you don't have to leave the whole pizza in the oven for a really long time, drying out the crust and burning the cheese just trying to get the center of your crust baked through.   

I love this pan!


Chris said...

My wife found me a pizza stone that works on the grill over direct flame -- most of them will crack almost immediately in those conditions -- which is *great*. I just crank the grill to high for an hour with the stone on, and can cook a pie to perfection in about two minutes. I'd love to see how this performs on the grill -- it's definitely something I'll be looking into if my beloved stone ever breaks. (It's now in its third year of approximately monthly use, still going strong.)

Paula said...

We've also used the stone on the grill and had good enough results to be able to have pizza during the summer, but I wouldn't call it pizza perfection.

One of the best reasons for getting this pan is that you save a lot on fuel with it- stones take a lot more time to heat up than the iron pan does. I'm also looking forward to see what it can do on the grill.