Home cooks and hallowed chefs share their secrets for cast-iron cooking.
The first time we met Evan Tate, he wasn’t standing over cast iron but a massive stainless steel stock pot, filled with 60 pounds of pork, at least one bag of oranges, and a cornucopia of seasonings and spices. It was a hot summer day in Lockhart Texas, and before a live-fire grill with a wide straw cowboy hat, a thick dark mustache, and a bottle of Asian hot sauce labeled with a piece of painter’s tape that read “not just sriracha,” we knew this third-generation cattle rancher was our kind of people.
At 28 years old, Ivan Guillen is an old soul—a toro antiguo, as he puts it—and it comes across in the art that is his cooking. It was a romance born in his native Mexico, that then lured him to Los Angeles, and eventually into the vast western wilderness of Mosca, Colorado, where he is now the executive chef at the Zapata Ranch of the conservation-minded Ranchlands. When not hogtied by local drought, his food sings over an open flame. “I think of the old ways of doing it,” says Guillen. “I always say that it’s a primitive thing.”
North Carolina chef Katie Button shares the secret of pan-seared scallops.
D.C. chef Opie Crooks puts cast iron to work in a restaurant kitchen.
“We use cast iron everywhere,” says chef Opie Crooks of No Goodbyes in Washington, D.C.—from the open hearth to a French top range to gas burners to the oven to induction. “My advice to home cooks is don’t’ be so precious with it. Use it all the time. Use it for everything. It’s a tool, and it’s meant to be used that way.”
Virginia chef Travis Milton shares the wonders of Appalachian cooking.
When Elliott Moss left his hometown at the age of 20, he made one simple declaration: “I’m never eating rice again.” The Buxton Hall Barbecue chef had grown up on the eastern edges of South Carolina, much of which was once riddled with rice plantations, with the grain irrevocably rooted into the local cuisine today. And with it came many iterations of one-pot Southern staples.
Wade Truong didn’t grow up cooking wild game. From a young age, the Virginia native worked at his parents Saigon Café in Harrisonburg, then climbed the ranks to become executive chef at the popular Kybecca in Fredericksburg. But it wasn’t in these restaurants that he learned how to smoke turkey, sous vide duck, or roast venison—the kind of cuisine he’s become known for today.
For North Carolina chef-turned-farmer Jamie Swofford, there are more than four seasons in a year. Thirteen times more, to be exact, with the Piedmont native abiding by the ethos that every week—52 in total—brings a new peak for local produce, and with it, an opportunity to savor that fleeting moment’s sense of place. Particularly when roasted in a cast-iron pan.
There are certain things in life that just go together. Eggs and bacon. Blue jeans and t-shirts. Dogs and humans. And, of course, campfires and a cast-iron pan. To Denver chef (and bona fide meat master) Justin Brunson, this is a universal truth, learned over a lifetime of cooking meat over an open flame. ““There’s just something so primal and raw about it—almost romantic.”
If M.F.K. Fischer were still alive and well today, we’d think she’d want to share a sherry and pâté with Kara Mae Harris. Few writers have spent more time deeply considering the art of the recipe, with the Baltimore historian devoting the last decade to collecting some 60,000 of them for her online database and regionally beloved blog, Old Line Plate. But more than just archiving these meals for the culinarily curious, she also delves deep into the history behind them, discovering the ways in which they have shaped the Mid-Atlantic’s sense of place along the way. Just in time for Thanksgiving, we caught up to talk about the weird and wonderful of what we eat, especially around the holidays.