I prefer using a grill pan for cooking shrimp over an outdoor grill. Shrimp cooks so fast that it doesn’t really have time to benefit from a charcoal fire. If you cook these guys on an outdoor grill you have to use skewers or risk losing the shrimp between the grates. A grill pan lets you easily get some nice grill marks on your shrimp without the hassle or risks of an outdoor grill.
I started with a half pound of peeled and deveined 30 count shrimp. I marinated the shrimp for thirty minutes in a mixture of the juice of two lemons, a tablespoon of hot sauce, a tablespoon of minced garlic, ½ cup chardonnay and ¼ cup olive oil.
I drained the marinade and patted the shrimp dry with paper towels. I added the shrimp to a pre-heated cast iron grill pan and cooked them for about three minutes per side. The shrimp took some nice grill marks, did not stick to the pan and did not smoke up the kitchen.
I used the shrimp to top off some seasoned rice although they would also be excellent over pasta.
I spent some time looking through the Lodge catalog the other day and was surprised at how many grill pans they offer. You would think that a phrase like “Lodge cast iron grill pan” would be pretty specific but apparently it is not. I have added all of these pans to an Amazon product wheel below so you can see them side by side. It is a pretty slick tool that lets you “wheel around” and see the different items.
Lodge offers three 10 inch grill pans; round, square and enameled. The enameled pans are available in blue, red, green and brown. These are the enameled versions of the square pan. The 10 inch pans are okay but I feel they are a little small. You could grill two pork chops at a time without over crowding the pan. I am also not a fan of the enameled pan. The enameled pans are easier to care for and come in different colors but they lose the non-stick properties of cast iron. I don’t like that trade-off.
Lodge offers two 12 inch grill pansand both of them are extremely nice. I have already written that my favorite is the 12 inch square pan. The size is just right and the low sloping sides make for the perfect balance between easy flipping and easy cleaning. Lodge also offers a 12 inch round grill pan from their Signature Series. The Signature Series differs from the Pro-Logic series in that Signature items have stainless steel handles. Personally I think the combination of cast iron with stainless looks sharp. This guy is pretty and I would not mind having it in my kitchen at all! In addition to looking good the handle is designed to stay cool while the grill pan gets hot. This is an extremely nice feature that you can only really appreciate if you have ever grabbed the handle of a hot cast iron pan. Like cast iron, the stainless handle is also oven proof. If you have the extra money the Signature pan would be something to seriously think about.
Lodge also offers two versions of the double burner reversible grill/griddle pan. If you are in the market for a double burner pan make sure you measure your stove first and avoid my mistake. One of these grills is 16.75 inches long while the other is 20 inches long. Both grills have a nice edge on them which provides a little bit of depth (should help with cleaning). I was surprised when I looked at the shipping weight for the double burner grills, they are much lighter than I expected. My cast iron double burner grill (from Cajun Cookware) weighs at least 25 lbs and is a bear to handle. The Lodge 20 inch grill only weighs 16 pounds while the 16 inch grill only weighs 10 lbs. The 16 inch double burner grill pretty much weighs the same as my 12 inch single burner pan. Weight is a major consideration for these grills. I am surprised they were able to cast something this size and keep the weight down in the manageable range.
Enameled cast iron is made by coating raw cast iron with a glass dust, then firing the piece at approximately 1400F. At this temperature the glass powder melts and fuses into a smooth surface covering the cast iron. By including different metal oxides with the glass dust it is possible to incorporate colors with the enamel finish. The extra time and material required for enameling means a good enameled cast iron grill pan will always cost more than its seasoned equivalent.
The cooking surface in an enameled grill pan is essentially a very tough form of glass giving the pan exceptional resistance to chemical attack. That is, they don’t rust! Although the surface is very tough it is still glass and is subject to cracking and chipping if roughly handled or scraped with metal utensils.
An important detail about enameled grill pans is that they are not inherently non-stick. This is a point of major frustration for many people who shell out the extra money for an enameled grill pan over a seasoned one. Manufacturers of enameled grill pans instruct users to make sure their food is lightly oiled before adding to the pan as this will help with food release.
The trick to using an enameled grill pan is to let it get dirty. Le Creuset instructs that over time a Patina, an oily brown or black residue, will form on the grill surface which will enable truly fat free cooking. Really all we are saying is that like cast iron, enameled cast iron will need to season to become truly non-stick. So, use your grill pan often with lightly oiled food and gently clean it after each use. Clean it enough to remove bits and flecks of food but not so much that it looks brand new. One manufacturer summarizes the process very well by instructing users to “respect the Patina”.
Other manufacturers of enameled cast iron grill pans will go ahead and coat the enamel with a non-stick polymer. I believe GreenPans, makers of the Martha Stewart and Todd English grill pans, uses a coating of Thermolon. Another manufacturer, Staub, has the interior enamel be black so people don’t get concerned about discoloration.
The major benefits of enameled cast iron over seasoned cast iron are appearance and care. Some people just love the look of enameled cast iron and I can see their point. Personally I think Les Creuest cookware is beautiful. Additionally, if you don’t get enameled cast iron completely dry it is not going to rust on you like seasoned cast iron will.
Well seasoned cast iron has incredible non-stick properties that are similar to Teflon. Properly maintained cast iron will last for decades. When you combine this with the fact that cast iron is incredibly cheap, you see that it is an excellent and inexpensive addition to your kitchen.
The downside of cast iron is that is does require more maintenance and care than most casual cooks are willing to provide and that it is very heavy. If you are in the habit of throwing everything in the dishwasher or even of putting your pots away when they are still damp then these pans are not for you. As far as weight is concerned this is even more of an issue if you have an induction or flat topped electric range. If you drop a twelve pound pan onto your range how much damage do you think it will do?
Raw cast iron becomes seasoned through the absorption of oil into the pores of the pan. It is the process of seasoning which makes cast iron a natural non-stick surface. It is easy to distinguish between raw cast iron and seasoned as raw iron appears grey or brown and metallic while seasoned cast iron is jet black.
There are different levels of seasoning. Although cast iron grill pans are marketed as seasoned they have typically only been through a single seasoning step. As the grill pan gets more and more seasoned the non-stick properties of the grill will improve. There are several things you can do to improve the seasoning of your grill pan.
Season the grill pan again: You can season the grill pan yourself a few times. The procedure is pretty straightforward. Lodge makes great grill pans and recommends coating the entire pan in vegetable oil (or rubbing with shortening) and placing the pan in the middle rack of an oven with a larger pan on the lower rack to catch dripping oil. Heat the oven to 350F and hold for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven but leave the door closed. After the oven has completely cooled remove the grill pan, wipe it clean and repeat the process. After two cycles of seasoning you should notice that the grill pan has significantly darkened.
Use your grill pan: Increased seasoning happens as the iron is exposed to oil at high temperature. As long as your food is slightly oiled, the more you use your grill pan the better the seasoning should become.
Protect the seasoning: There really is no reason to work on improving the seasoning if you don’t protect it. There are a few key things to keep in mind for protecting your grill. The first rule is to never scrub your grill pan with abrasives, do not let anyone touch the grill with anything resembling an SOS pad. The second rule is to avoid soap if possible. Once well seasoned the pan should clean easily with warm water and a brush. If soap must be used it is preferable to use a mild (cheap) soap like Ivory instead of an Ultra Grease Cutting type soap. Remember, you just want to remove food particles, not the underlying oil based protective coating. Lastly, once the grill has been cleaned make sure it is wiped completely dry to prevent any chance of rusting. A very light coat of oil is not a bad idea at this point.
Cleaning considerations for seasoned cast iron grill pans: Ideally you will clean your grill pan by adding hot water to the pan while the pan is still hot. Hitting the grill with a stiff nylon brush while the water boils will dislodge most if not all of the grill crud while not damaging the seasoning.
You will note that the above procedure really isn’t possible with a reversible griddle/grill as the water would spill out all over the stovetop. Your best bet with the reversible grills is to use a squirt bottle and do targeted spraying. Spray a crud laden area of the grill and while the water steams quickly scrub it with a brush. This is a little tedious but is still better than trying to deal with the crud once the grill has completely cooled.
Below is another approach to cleaning your cast iron compliments of Alton Brown; use salt! I’ll let you watch the video for details.