Cooking on a cast iron grill... without smoking me out?
June 29, 2005 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Every time I attempt to use my stovetop cast iron grill, I can't seem to thoroughly cook meats without producing an intolerable amount of smoke. And i'm not talking about the usual smoke inherent in any stovetop cooking, but huge billowing clouds of smoke setting off smoke alarms and hazing up the apartment.

What am I doing wrong? Is this much smoke normal? I've followed instructions on properly 'seasoning' the pan prior to cooking on it, and have carefully maintained it. But still... the smoke! It's more than my range exhaust fan can handle, and I've had to discontinue using the pan for the moment.

For reference, I'm using this exact Lodge grill/griddle pan.
posted by FearTormento to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I use a 12" Lodge pan and had the same problem as you.

My solution is as follows:

1: Using the gas stove's exhaust fan (you may or may not have this option)

2: Seasoning and cooking with the pan with an oil with a high smoke point, or doing these at lower temperatures

A higher smoke point means that the oil will smoke less, all else the same. I've used butter and canola to cook and season. I also use a little filtered bacon drippings to season, as this adds a lot of taste. Season at low temperatures to reduce smoking.
posted by Rothko at 12:17 PM on June 29, 2005

Oops, sorry about the exhaust fan suggestion. Oh, and I've found olive oil has a low smoke point and burns easily. It's a common ingredient in my cooking but I avoid using it for frying.
posted by Rothko at 12:19 PM on June 29, 2005

What setting do you use it on? It took me a while to get out of the habit of always using "High" for burgers and steaks. Now I set it for medium high or lower and the smoke problem has mostly gone away. If you give the pan time to heat up enough that should be high enough for most things.

I too set off many a smoke alarm.
posted by bondcliff at 12:20 PM on June 29, 2005

Forgot to mention that I had that same problem with may Lodge cast iron skillet and grill pan.
posted by bondcliff at 12:21 PM on June 29, 2005

Good suggestion about the smoke points, Rothko. I usually cook with extra virgin olive oil, but can't recall whether I've seasoned the pan with the same. I will try experimenting with a canola oil to see if it makes a difference.

Bondcliff, I've been using a Med-Med High setting for the cast iron.
posted by FearTormento at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2005

Same problem, my solution: I heat up the cast iron grill pan on the stovetop to a high temp, add the food and then put the whole thing under the broiler. Smoke stays in the oven (for the most part) and I can turn the item halfway to get sexy grill-marks.
posted by garbo at 12:41 PM on June 29, 2005

That's too hot for EVOO. Try Canola or peanut oil. You may want to clean it well and re-season it with something.
posted by bondcliff at 12:42 PM on June 29, 2005

It's definitely your choice of oil. Olive oil has a smoke point of around 400 (this varies depending on the kind of olive oil). Go with Safflower, which is around 500. Don't forsake high heat- your pan is built to take it!
posted by mkultra at 12:47 PM on June 29, 2005

+1 mkultra. Olive and safflower are the two ends of the smoke-point spectrum.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:50 PM on June 29, 2005

I usually cook with extra virgin olive oil, but can't recall whether I've seasoned the pan with the same. I will try experimenting with a canola oil to see if it makes a difference.

Yep, I'll bet it's the oil. And worse is that seasoning in that burnt oil into the griddle will make the rest of your cooking yucky. My advice is to reseason with a mild-flavored, higher smoke-point oil.
posted by Rothko at 1:03 PM on June 29, 2005

If your grill pan is well-seasoned, you don't need very much, if any, oil when cooking. The food will release by itself when it's ready.

I let the pan get very hot and don't add any oil to it at all. If I'm cooking something that's very low-fat (vegetables, sometimes chicken), I'll rub a VERY small amount of oil directly on the food before putting it on. Forget olive oil for this. Canola's okay, but I MUCH prefer grapeseed oil. It has an extremely high smoke point, it's light in flavor, and while it's more expensive, you don't need a lot at all. It's worth the extra cost.

You need high heat, otherwise you're not "grilling".

(Also, don't forget to salt the food before you add it to the pan.)
posted by Caviar at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2005

Also keep in mind that this sort of billowing smoke is rather expected when searing things in cast iron. It's a huge thermal mass, and the typical manner of use involves getting it real hot (which turns out to be too hot) and then placing raw meat on it. This will cause billowing smoke no matter what you do. Especially if you use the "grill" side, which will concentrate the heat transfer.

My suggestion? Put the meat on the pan well before it's reached a high temp. This way more of the heat will be used up cooking the meat, rather than making the pan initially too hot.

Or even better, get rid of the silly hunk of metal. What you really want is a real grill. You just don't want to (or can't) fire up the big-ass barbecue. But a better option is the indoor grill. This is closer to real grilling, is easier to maintain at temp, and will smoke much less.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:26 PM on June 29, 2005

My suggestion? Put the meat on the pan well before it's reached a high temp. This way more of the heat will be used up cooking the meat, rather than making the pan initially too hot.

Don't do this, in any kind of cooking. You don't put food into an oven that's not preheated to the correct temp, and you don't put food into a pan that's not heated to cooking temperature. It makes things cook unevenly, and meats will not "seal" properly. At the start of any cooking, meat needs to be "browned", which carmelizes sugar on the outside and forms a coating that retains juices as it cooks. This needs to happen at a high temperature so that it occurs before the inside starts cooking and losing juice.
posted by mkultra at 1:46 PM on June 29, 2005

(though, yes, technically, you're not "browning" on a grill, the principle is the same)
posted by mkultra at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2005

I third (fourth? whatever) the suggestion to re-season with a higher-smoke-point oil. You'll still get an initial burst of smoke and steam when you put the food on, but you won't continue to get clouds of smoke as you cook.
posted by desuetude at 2:15 PM on June 29, 2005

Not true. Searing or browning does not help retain any juices at all. Not one drop. And browning (The Maillard reaction which results from heating sugars and amino acids together) happens to meat when it reaches 300 degrees. This is well below the temperature which would produce anything close to the smoke described by the OP.

I would lobby you that preheating a grill pan over medium high heat until it's reached max temperature will not produce proper Maillard carmelization since it will be over 500 degrees. At 500 degrees you aren't browning, you're burning. This can be demonstrated by placing a small pan of grapeseed oil on a burner dialed in to medium high. Use a candy thermometer and you'll see the temp rise to over 500 degrees.

Thus, you want to place your meat on the grill pan before it's reached this 500 mark. Said another way - If you are getting billowing smoke pouring off the pan when you place the meat down, the pan is too hot. Place the meat before it gets this hot.

The comparison to preheating an oven isn't very good. Since it can take 15-20 minutes for an oven to reach proper heat range, it would be very bad to let something bake for all that extra time. Especially something sitting on a metal pan. And unlike meats, baked things like breads will actually seal in moisture, and you need initial high temp to do that. In addition many baked items require an initial "spring" which isn't applicable to meats.

But with pan grilling, the pan is the only heat source, and proper cook temp will be reached rapidly. Additionally, even if you put the meat in a cold pan (not what I was suggesting) and placed it on the burner, you would easily reach the Maillard temp of 300 degrees well before the meat was done.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:34 PM on June 29, 2005

Leaving aside any debates over proper browning techniques, the basic problem is what people like mkultra have pointed out--you've got low smoke-point oil seasoned into your pan. Basically, to salvage this one you've got two can either put up with the smoke until the extra-virgin oil cooks out, or you can re-season it from scratch. (That would basically mean scrubbing down the existing "bad" seasoning first, asnd re-oiling and re-baking it.)

Given that a new, pre-seasoned Lodge pan costs about $12, you might also just start again with a new pan, and just make sure to use oils like canola, grapeseed, etc., from now on. After all, until it's perfectly seasoned 20 years from now, it's just a hunk of cast iron fashioned into the shape of a pan. There's no point getting emotionally attached to it until it's actually well-seasoned, and this one's already started down the wrong path.
posted by LairBob at 7:53 PM on June 29, 2005

Does safflower oil have a higher smoke point than peanut oil? I'd always heard that peanut was the oil of choice for high-temp cooking.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:18 PM on June 29, 2005

Nevermind. Just clicked on Rothko's helpful link.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:21 PM on June 29, 2005

This might be stating the obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned:

Use less oil. Specifically, brush it onto whatever you are cooking just before you throw it on the grill. You can
use olive oil with this method. It will still smoke, but
there will be much, much less.
posted by hifimofo at 8:46 PM on June 29, 2005

Thanks for the help, all. It's apparent my liberal use of olive oil in this pan might be to blame. Come to think of it, my small outdoor grill is a smoke bomb as well, probably due to my marinating steaks in a olive-oil based marinade. Hmmm.
posted by FearTormento at 9:47 PM on June 29, 2005

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