The most-used pan in my kitchen is a 10-1/4-inch Lodge chicken fryer. Here’s why you might need one, too.
by Leon Pantenburg
In 1983, I was living in Vicksburg, Mississippi and working for the local newspaper. Journalists never make any money, and this first job gave new meaning to the term “starvation wages.”
There was always a lot of the month left at the end of the money, so I economized. When it came to buying kitchen ware, I invested in one pan: a new Lodge 10-1/4-inch, cast iron, deep dish chicken fryer with a self-basting lid.
Luckily, Vicksburg is a hunting and fishing paradise. Being single at the time, that’s all I did on weekends. I was very successful, and had to rent a space at the local frozen food locker to hold the harvest.
I ate everything I brought home and enjoyed experimenting with Cajun spices and recipes. Subsequently, the deep skillet was used to cook venison, duck, squirrel, rabbit and a variety of fish. It worked really, really well for cooking jambalayas, gumbos and stews.
That pan is a well-traveled component of my camp cooking gear. The fryer has fried fish over a campfire in Minnesota, and along the John Day River in Oregon. It’s been used to cook venison on the tailgate of a pickup along Idaho’s Lochsa River. I baked sourdough biscuits in it at a deer camp in Oregon. I used it last night to make popcorn.
Here are the specs:
- Heavy cast-iron for superior heat retention
- Tips on underside of lid allow condensing liquid to moisten food
- Pre-seasoned for nonstick finish
- 3-quart, 10-1/4-inch diameter, 3 inches deep
- Small handle opposite larger one
Lid: The self-basting lid, with the little tips on the inside, works really well for frying, and for baking. Most people assume indoor cast iron can’t be used successfully outdoors. (Check out these tips.) But the fryer is at home anywhere.
Size: For two to three people, the 10-1/4 inch fryer is the perfect size for the main dish. It is also great for making bacon and eggs for breakfast. It will make enough biscuits to feed three to four adults, or me and my brother Mike after a hard day of elk hunting.
Handles: The fryer, full of food, is too heavy to carry with just the handle. The opposing handles are well designed and make handling the fryer safe and easy.
Durability: Cast iron is bullet proof, and all it requires is some minimum care to make it last forever. My friend and cooking partner Linda Stephenson, of La Pine, Oregon has her grandmother’s camp oven. It got to Oregon in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail in 1845. That old oven is still very usable, and could make the trip again.
Not so hot on:
Pre-seasoned cookware still needs to be seasoned, IMO and that of several experienced Dutch oven cooks I know. While the coating is a great idea, and gets the pan started toward a patina, it still needs some seasoning. If you don’t want to go to the trouble, fry bacon or deep-fry fish or chicken the first few times you use it.
Weight: Cast iron is heavy, but you know that going in. The fryer is not something you want to backpack, but it is fine to take on a canoe trip or car camping.I season all new or restored cast iron. It’s easy and helps start the classic black patina.
Rust: Any cast iron utensil can rust, even if it is pre-seasoned. You have to do some preventative maintenance with any cast iron, and if a piece is used and put it away without cleaning, you may regret it later. If this is going to be an issue, you might consider an anodized aluminum fryer.
I’m not the only one who loves the chicken fryer. Karla Moore, a homesteader-type and my kid sister, is an avid Dutch oven cook.
“My 10-1/4-inch cast iron chicken fryer skillet is the most used pan in the house,” Karla commented. “Something is being cooked in it at least four times a week. Food tastes better. You don’t have to worry about Teflon flaking into your food like you would with modern pans. A properly seasoned cast iron pan is the ORIGINAL non-stick. It can go from stove top to oven, to a campfire if need be. Cast iron can last literally a lifetime if you care for it properly.”
You can depend on cast iron. Several decades ago, I tried to make a good impression on a beautiful southern belle, by cooking dinner for her. I used the fryer and this recipe.
Obviously, cooking isn’t everything. But apparently, something in the package worked – we’ve been married going on 27 years. I relied on cast iron then, and still do!
Leon Pantenburg is an avid Dutch oven cook, judge, teacher and a charter member of the Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society. Along with team mates Linda Stephenson and Michael Pantenburg, he is a two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.