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Hypothesis: Cast Iron Hotspot Has Its Uses


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Hypothesis: Cast Iron Hotspot Has Its Uses

HabaneroLady | Feb 10, 2018 03:10 PM

Just about every published list of essential cookware includes a cast iron skillet and an ECI Dutch oven. But lately it has become fashionable among certain hounds to aggressively attack cast iron cookware, typically by jumping into every thread where someone posts a question about cast iron to suggest to the poster that their problems are all because they used cast iron and those problems would disappear if they switched to using anything else. One of the most popular lines of attack being that cast iron does not heat evenly and tends to have hot spots.

That cast iron does not heat evenly is beyond doubt. It has been documented extensively, with possibly the best discussion of that coming from Dave Arnold here:

The idea that cast iron heats evenly and conducts heat well is popular, widespread nonsense.

But that does not mean that cast iron is bad cookware. It is often assumed that even heating is a necessary attribute of good cookware. But people generally fail to note that other materials also produce hot spots, albeit less pronounced in many cases.

More importantly for purposes of this post, no one, so far as I know, has put the idea that even heat produces superior results to the test. And, in fact, grilling on a charcoal grill is very popular. But grilling with charcoal frequently involves deliberately creating uneven heat by, for example, putting all of the burning charcoal on one side of the grill, creating a hot side and a cold side. The chef then exploits the temperature difference in the cooking process.

It seems odd that the same thing could not be done with the uneven heat of cast iron by moving between the center and rim. So I thought about how to prove this.

I could post about how I cook on cast iron. The fact is that I move hints from center to edge and vice versa all the time to give a little heat to things that are cooking slowly or take the heat off things that are cooking too slowly. If I posted that, I would get a hail of posts about how if only I used stainless, I would get completely even cooking, and I would have no issues with some things cooking too fast or too slow.

That would be, at best, half true. In fact, things cook too fast or too slow for a variety of reasons including variations of thickness, moisture content, and density. And actually, I do the same thing when I cook in my Demeyere, Industry5 skillet. See above note about how other materials all have hot spots.

Then I realized there is a type of steak for which heat differentials are quite useful. The T-Bone, or Porterhouse, steak is half strip steak and half tenderloin. The tenderloin tends to cook markedly faster than the fattier strip side. So recommendations for cooking a t-bone on a grill frequently include something along the lines of: "Arrange steaks on cooler side of grill with tenderloins (the smaller medallions of meat) positioned farthest from the coals." This step is designed to take advantage of the fact that the farther from the coals you go, the cooler the temperature. In other words, this is a way to exploit the temperature differential.

So I hypothesize that a cast iron skillet will allow the opportunity to do much the same thing.

I decided to see what would happen if I tried doing the same thing with a cast iron skillet--positioning the tenderloin closer to the rim to exploit the fact that the rim is cooler and the center is hotter.

So today, I bought a T-bone steak (pictured). I dragged my #12 Wapak skillet out (pictured). And I'm gonna see how it goes. Will post my results.


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