Why You Need a Cast-Iron Grill Pan
I love to grill. As soon as the nights warm up, you can catch me outside, charring zucchini and sausages. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of an almost burnt crust on a piece of meat or vegetable. As much as I love grilling, there are two things that keep me from it year-round: Grilling in the cold sort of sucks, and I don’t actually own a grill. That’s why I got a cast-iron grill pan. Technically, it’s a double-sided griddle and grill pan, which is all the better. Regular cast-iron skillets are the best tool to use for browning food and when treated well they’ll last basically forever. Cast-iron grill pans are pretty similar, only with more bells and whistles.
Smooth cast-iron griddle on one side, thick slatted grill on the other, this pan is ingenious, yet super-simple. So simple in fact that one brand of isn’t necessarily better than another. I own a pre-seasoned, double-burner model from Artisanal Kitchen, which I got at Bed Bath and Beyond but is also sold on Amazon. Popular affordable cast-iron pan company Lodge makes a great one, too. And if you’re looking for a nice gift or an investment piece, this Le Creuset model is more expensive, but there’s just something about heritage brand pieces that makes me want to hand over my credit card.
Cast iron grill pans are a dream when it comes to cooking summer classics like burgers, hot dogs, and sausages. They’ll put a much-needed char on vegetables and will make skewers (steak, seafood, pork, even cheese) so much better than if you cooked them in the oven or a skillet. You might not know it, but some fruit does very well after a trip on the grill—try it with some softly whipped cream. And then there’s breakfast. The griddle side of the pan is basically like a flat top at a diner—grease it well and you can cook eggs, pancakes, and bacon at the same time. If that isn’t the dream, I honestly don’t know what is.
Like all cast iron, the grill pans are oven-safe, which will allow you to seal in heat to finish cooking your food, just like closing the hood of a grill. This is especially handy when making thicker proteins, like a spatchcocked chicken (follow this method for a cast iron-cooked bird), or dishes that should cook fast at a high temperature, like pizza. To get the best sear on the bottom of these dishes, preheat the pan in the oven before placing food on it.
Double-burner griddles are quite large, so if you just don’t have the room I recommend a single-burner griddle like this Artisanal Kitchen model. You could also go for a cast-iron grill pan like this affordable one from Lodge, or this investment piece from Staub. It does the same work as the griddle, but is the size of a standard skillet. You might have to cook in batches, but the end result will be the same.
The one unfortunate difference between a grill pan and a real grill is that you can’t scrape the leftover burnt debris between the grates when you’re done cooking. To keep grill pans clean, the best course of action is to hand wash the skillet with a bit of soap and hot water (yes, you can wash cast iron with water. Just don’t leave one soaking in the sink for hours). If there’s a lot of caked-on food, you can scrub the pan with a paste of coarse salt and water. You can also buy a cast iron brush, like this one from OXO.