I am a man who loves to cook. I particularly love to cook beef. Burgers, steaks, and roasts — if it was once happily chewing cud on a farm somewhere, I want it in my belly. If you’re reading this review, I suspect you’re familiar with several well-known aspects of cooking or ordering meat. For instance, we are all used to specifying temperature (rare, medium, or —gasp— well done), as well as the cut (rib eye, filet, strip, etc.). However, most people miss one crucial element to cooking. It is so critical to the flavor of meat that we should add it to our standardized testing.
Let me introduce you to the Maillard Reaction. Simply put, a chemical reaction takes place under high heat and gives browned foods their incredible flavor. Do you know the brown, crispy crust on a cheeseburger or the flavorful, delectable crust on the outside of a beef roast? That’s the Maillard Reaction, folks. It is one of the greatest chemical reactions on the face of the planet. There’s one problem: the Maillard Reaction takes heat, and heat will quickly overcook your beef. At which point you will be eating a grey lump of meat that brings shame to your family. So, how do you get a great Maillard Reaction without overcooking your burger, steak, or chop?
Best Cast Iron Skillet
To do it right, you must have the best cast iron skillet. Your wimpy little non-stick pan doesn’t come close to cast iron. Trust me, I’ve done the research. The best cast iron skillet is actually in your grandmother’s kitchen; it has decades of use you can’t replicate with any new skillet. If you don’t have a 50-year-old skillet, the next best option is the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet. Lodge cast iron gets super hot and stays that way for a long time. It’ll brown your steak like a champ by quickly searing the exterior and leaving you with a nice, perfectly-cooked center. Stop cooking burgers on a grill. All of that rendered fat is dripping through the grill to collect uselessly in your grease trap. If you cook your burgers on Lodge cast iron, you’ll get a salty (if you properly salt), crispy, brown crust and a pink center as that ground beef bathes in its own juices. Man, I am hungry.
Lodge cast iron is an incredibly versatile, must-have kitchen item (it’s not just for meat). It’s probably the most durable item in my entire house. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to mess up cast iron, but I’m confident that my grandkids will be cooking cheeseburgers on our best cast iron skillet recommendation.
While the Lodge skillet performs admirably in every task, breaking it in takes a long time. Lodge sells their products as “pre-seasoned;” don’t buy into the hype. If you snag the best cast iron skillet, you must take the time to properly season it. Before you know it, though, you’ll have a virtually non-stick pan. Use your Lodge a lot. The more you cook in it, the better it gets. The modern Lodge cast iron has a decidedly rough texture. While this isn’t a deal breaker, Lodge previously polished their cast iron pans to a smooth, buttery surface. Lodge no longer polishes the pans, we assume for cost-cutting purposes. Lodge suggests using sandpaper to smooth the surface and then re-season the skillet. I hear mixed results from people who tried this. Long-term use is probably the best way to improve the performance of your cast iron. I’d like to see Lodge go back to a product with a silky smooth surface, even if it costs a little more.
Even with the extra time required for the best performance, the Lodge wins our recommendation as the best cast iron skillet. It’s readily available, worth every penny, and guaranteed to improve the flavor of whatever you choose to cook. Spend a lot of time with it. Your grandkids will thank you.