Sunday, November 28, 2010
Griswold and Rolf's Are the Only Two Names in Serious Bacon Cookery 'Round These Parts (Another Blog Post about Cast Iron)
Cast Iron cookware is big fad on the internet right now. A simple google query will result in an untold amount of articles concerning the topic, and in my opinion, people get a little precious (read pretentious) with their theories and opinions. There exist myriad strategies for seasoning and cleaning, people argue about what and what not to cook in them, etc... ad infinitum. However, there is one thing that most cast iron enthusiasts, including myself, do agree about. This is that Griswold (link is to an association of knowledgeable collectors and enthusiasts) products are the undisputed Rolls Royces of the cast iron universe.
You can read all about Griswold on the internets if you are so inclined, but basically it was a company that operated in Erie, PA from the end of the 19th century through the 20th. Sometime in the 50s or 60s they were bought out, or changed hands, or the owners were abducted by Canadians and forced over the border. I am not an expert in the history. Long story short, if you want a quality Griswold skillet, then you are buying it used and it is probably going to be in excess of 50 years old. I own two examples.
The first is a #7, bottom with trademark pictured above. Griswold's are numbered according to size, a #7 is 8 1/4". This is the first Griswold I bought, and is the one that made me fall in love with this brand of cast iron. You see, Griswolds are machined flat on the cooking surface, not dimpled and rough like lower quality pans. After careful seasoning they become oil slick and smooth as glass. This pan was probably manufactured sometime around the second Great War.
A word on "seasoning" cast iron. I have seen all sorts of prescriptions for rubbing the things with Crisco and baking in the oven, blah, blah, blah. I don't think all of this is necessary. Careful cooking of many high fat items, and liberal use of lipids at the outset of use will do you just fine. Just devote your cast iron pan to bacon duty for a couple months, and then move on to more varied use. The above pan has a very nice seasoning going on resulting only from regular use. I will say that my cast iron is mostly devoted to frying, browning, sauteing, and other cooking processes resulting in the caramelization of food. I tend not to cook highly acidic stews or sauces in the cast iron, or for that matter, do any sort of braising or stewing. I leave those methods to the much less fragile surface of my Le Creuset (which is really just enameled cast iron).
Now, the #7 is a great bachelor pan, just big enough to put a sear on a single steak or to fry up a couple sausages. But for family style applications it is a little lacking. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the #7 is a just a little too wee to fry up a goodly amount of full length bacon. Recently, this led to my purchase of a second Griswold. This time I found a #10 (10"). This bad girl does righteous bacon. As I obtained this skillet completely stripped of any seasoning, I have been making regular trips to the undisputed king of locally made bacon, Rolf's Pork Store (an establishment about which I have sung the praises on this blog several hundred times) to get supplies to break her in.
Rolf's bacon, like all of their other house made products, is superb. Nitrate free, nicely meaty, with just the right amount of cure and smoke. It might not be an entry level bacon if you are used to grocery store bacon or the insipid crap that passes as "gourmet" bacon in the City, but trust me, Rolf's product is superior by every metric. Even my wife likes it and she is a tough customer. I figure that once about 10 pounds of this salty pig gets fried up in my new #10, we should be good to go.
There you have it, now you might be thinking that this is all bullshit and how much of a difference will a Griswold really make? Trust me. Obtain one, fry up something simple, chicken cutlets or even a burger. You will look at the delicious brown crust that the heat conducting properties of that thick hunk of iron can create and you will be sold. It really does make that much of a difference. They just take a little more maintenance and care, but it is my opinion that most everything worth having should take a fair amount of maintenance and care. From kitchen utensils to significant others, I don't trust anything you can just put in a cabinet and not worry about.