For me and my grill
November 13, 2008 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Convince me to keep my cast-iron grill pan.

A couple of years ago, on a lark, I bought a Lodge pre-seasoned cast-iron grill pan much like the one in the link above. I've mostly tried to use it for things like burgers (meat and veggie), chicken breasts with onions, and bacon when I had just moved and didn't have any other pans yet. I've never really been happy with it: stuff doesn't cook evenly and gets stuck on the little grooves, it's been hard to clean, etc. At this point I've probably ruined the seasoning trying to remove stuck-on veggie burger bits. I've just about decided to give it away.

But with all the cast-iron love I see, I'm tempted to give it another chance, and do it right this time. So I'm seeking recipes and recommendations. Why should I keep this thing? What can I cook in it that other cookware just can't do properly? What techniques can I use to make the most of it? There are a few posts already about cast iron care and re-seasoning, but do you have any grill-pan-specific care tips? Convert me!
posted by doift to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
America's Test Kitchen just did an episode about cast iron grill pans, the verdict? Hard to clean and no real flavor enhancement. I love my cast iron skillet, but I think I'll stick with my outdoor grill. They did find that the George Foreman grooved grill scrubber worked well in cleaning them though.
Hope that helps!
posted by Echidna882003 at 8:02 AM on November 13, 2008

Best answer: I like it for steak and other large hunks of meat that don't fall apart. And paninis with a weight on top. I don't do anything to messy in it.
posted by captaincrouton at 8:05 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love mine but I don't use it for a lot of things. It's great for panini and for grilling meat or fish. I pre-heat it and rub the raised bits with a paper towel well saturated with oil. I don't cook things with lots of little bits in it because the pieces get stuck in the grooves.

panini - assemble sandwich, butter outside of bread and put in pan with weight on top. Turn 90 degrees after a few minutes then flip and repeat. I like to fill a sandwich w/cheese, tomato, onion, mushrooms, mustard, maybe some ham. Key to good results is good hearty bread.

I grill meat or fish after rubbing with garlic, lemon, herbs. I'm most successful using fish steaks and firm fleshed fish like tuna, halibut, salmon - cook delicate fish another way and make any sauce or veggie topping in some other pan.
posted by leslies at 8:07 AM on November 13, 2008

You generally don't want a grill pan. It just reduces the amount of the surface of the food that gets browned (because, unlike on a real grill, the parts between the grill lines generally don't get hot enough to brown properly). For the things you mention a flat-surfaced pan would be better. I did pick up a cast iron grill pan myself as part of a bunch of cast iron I got at a yard sale. The one thing I find myself regularly using it for is roasting chickens.
posted by madmethods at 8:09 AM on November 13, 2008

Yeah, seconding the suggestion that grill pans mostly suck. It's best used as the top half of a jury rigged sandwich press.
posted by electroboy at 8:21 AM on November 13, 2008

Is it taking that much space up? If not I would keep it. Some recipes call for them. It is good for certain things. In boy scouts we cooked on them all the time. We mostly used them for things that would not break apart and leave nasty bits and pieces on them. In the middle of the woods they were a royal pain to clean. However, I swear grilled cheese was the best on them.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:25 AM on November 13, 2008

I had one for a while, and didn't like it. I use my cast iron frying pans every day, so I'm big on the cast iron love, and I grill all summer long, too. But the grill pan was kind of neither fish nor fowl -- the grooves meant it didn't work as well as a regular cast iron frying pan for the things I wanted to cook, while at the same time it wasn't at all like grilling on the barbeque.

I hadn't thought of cooking panini in it, though -- I think that that sounds like an ideal use of that kind of pan.
posted by Forktine at 8:28 AM on November 13, 2008

Best answer: I have a sort of modified grill pan, really a flat griddle that's got raised lines on one side. I use it in conjunction with my gas grill, because the grill on its own is incapable of delivering enough heat to nicely sear the outside of a steak before the interior is overdone. I leave the this cast-iron grill pan inside the closed, lit grill for perhaps 15-20 minutes so it gets good and hot before food gets anywhere near it. By the time I bring the steak(s) out, that massive grill pan has stored up a lot of heat which it can deliver to the food very quickly. Thus I get my nicely seared, yet rare, steaks, from a grill that is otherwise underpowered.

I've occasionally tried the same technique indoors, but it's tremendously smokey. I agree that these pans' usefulness is very limited.
posted by jon1270 at 8:36 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hate my grill pan on the stovetop. I use it mainly for things I'm putting in the oven -- it's a good roasting pan because the grooves keep whatever you're roasting out of the fat. Cast iron is a little overkill for that, mind you, but I have the pan already, as you do, and I don't know how I'd get rid of it if I didn't want it anymore (I don't think my garbage man would pick it up) so that's what I use it for.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2008

Rather than a cast iron I use a non-stick version - it's fabulous and gets a lot os use in my kitchen. Two other things also help.

1. Marinading meat in some olive oil (or similar) and flavours of your choosing.

2. Get the pan way hotter than you think is sensible before you drop anything into it.

posted by mandal at 9:27 AM on November 13, 2008

I post this in every cast-iron pan question, but I have a nickel-plated cast-iron grill pan and it's excellent - all the heat-distribution and -retention advantages of the cast-iron pan but it's easy to clean - you can just soak and scrub it since it doesn't rust. Not cheap, but awesome.
posted by nicwolff at 9:50 AM on November 13, 2008

Best answer: I use my cast iron grill pan (the same one you have) to make flatbread sandwiches. It's one of those things that always satisfies and takes exactly ten minutes to make.
Turn heat to high and place pan on the burner.
Place slices of cheese (i usually use swiss or american) all over the flatbread.
Spread mustard over the cheese. Top with deli sliced meat -- roast beef or salami. Let the sandwich heat through and the cheese melt.
Add mayonnaise and tomato slices/sprouts/sliced onion at that last minute.
Fold the flatbread over using tongs. You should see nice grill marks.
Press down on the sandwich using the tongs.
Transfer to plate and slice in half.
posted by peacheater at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2008

It's about soaking before cleaning though, letting the soap loosen the scraps in the grooves of the grill.

Aaack! No! Do not soak cast iron!

To reseason your pan after soaking, place it in a hot oven until it is good and hot through and through, then rub it down with some grease or cooking oil and allow it to cool at room temperature.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:52 AM on November 13, 2008

Best answer: I have one of those. I mostly use mine as an indoor grill. It's great for things like steaks because you can get it really hot and it makes nice grill marks.

As far as cleaning, yes, it can be a pain to clean. It took me a while to figure out the best way to do it. Here's the ritual I use for mine:

1. As soon as you're finished cooking, while the pan is still hot, pour in some water. It helps soften up the burnt on bits. (Watch out for hot steam!)

2. After the pan cools enough to handle (but is still warm), run it under hot water and clean it with a soap-less sponge. This gets most of the big stuff off.

3. Dry the pan, put it back on the stove, and turn the burner on to medium - high. As the pan heats up, the last stuck on bits flake off. Turn the burner off and brush off the flakes.

4. While it's still hot, pour in a little vegetable oil and rub it around. You don't need a lot, just enough to put on a light coating. Let the pan cool, then store. It will be ready to go next time you use it.
posted by geeky at 10:55 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are having trouble cleaning yours try re-seasoning it. Just heat it up a little bit and wipe on some oil. When you clean it never use soap. Fill it with water and let it soak for a few minutes and then scrub with a scrub sponge or something that has no soap on it. It should clean easily. If it ever starts to look dry then re-season again.
posted by caddis at 11:05 AM on November 13, 2008

I agree that cast iron frying pans (properly seasoned) are 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. However, the grill pan you are describing does not sound worth keeping. Grill outdoors.
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2008

Response by poster: PANINI! Why have I never made a sandwich on this pan? Especially since I'm pretty sure that was one of the reasons I bought it in the first place.

If I can find space for it, it's probably worth keeping just for sandwiches, but I will also be using many of your other tips. It is reassuring, though, to find out that I'm not alone in my meh. And my interest in getting a regular cast-iron skillet is sparked anew.

Thanks, all. Best Answers all around!
posted by doift at 5:07 PM on November 13, 2008

If you want an iron skillet, consider buying an older one from ebay or a flea market. The interior surface is machined smooth on many of these, whereas the new ones (Lodge brand, typically) are left with the rough, sand-cast and sandblasted finish which I find less pleasant to cook with and more difficult to clean. Griswold and Wagner are the brands to look at. Compare, for example, this one to the newer stuff.
posted by jon1270 at 5:10 AM on November 14, 2008

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