How much heat can I use to sear in enameled cast iron?

Discussion in 'Cooking Equipment Reviews' started by cabosailor, Mar 11, 2010.

  1. cabosailor

    cabosailor

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    OK, I lucked out.  My enameled iron dutch oven popped a part of the enamel but the store just exchanged it for a new one.  I had blamed poor QA/QC on the old one but now I'm not too sure.  As a preliminary to braising I usually sear the meat in a touch of oil in the dutch oven.  I tend to use relatively high heat to get a nice crust -- too high maybe?  It's a rinky dink electric range with the control knobs going from 1 to 10 and I frequently use a setting of about 8-9 for searing.  Typically, while gathering my goodies I'll preheat the pan on a setting of 4-5 for a few minutes prior to adding the oil.  A minute or two before adding the meat I'll crank it up.  If this is wrong, what should I do to get a good sear but without damaging the pot?  Of course, after searing it gets popped into the oven at around 275-300 for several hours and I can't believe that any damage occurs during this part.

    I'd just as soon not wreck another pot so any sage advice would be welcome.

    Rich
     
  2. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Rich, just a wild guess but it could be the stove.

    Electric burners tend to concentrate their heat in just a small circle the size of the element. Even though cast iron is a good conductor it might be that the enamal isn't heating evenly. So you have a situation where different parts of it are heating at radically different rates. That's bad enough. Then comes the shock of adding the meat, which can cause it to craze.

    That aside, cast iron---whether raw or enamaled---should be slowly heated anyway. Ideally you would put it in a cold oven, set the temperature you wanted, and let the pot heat evenly. Then transfer it to the range and do your thing.

    The fact that there's probably only three people in the world who actually do it that way is irrelevent. That's the right way.

    Alternativley, the pot or pan should be heated on low, initially. As the heat spreads you start cranking it up. Eventually you have a pot that is heated evenly at the working temperature you want.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2010
  3. schmoozer

    schmoozer

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    KY is essentially correct.  However, you really shouldn't be using high heat on an enameled cast iron pan when searing. medium to medium-high at the most is all you need.  I'd drop that temp knob down to around 5 or 6 and see how it goes.

    HTH,
     
  4. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Good point, Schmoozer, and something I should have mentioned.

    The same applies, btw, to stainless.

    In fact, if you think of it, most home cooks would do well to forget there is a high setting on their burners.
     
  5. cabosailor

    cabosailor

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    KYHeirloomer,

    Actually I thought that was what I was doing by putting the pan, pot, whatever, on a cold range and setting the temp to something about half way to what I wanted.  As to the electric having hot spots, I wouldn't be surprised but I'm stuck.  I'd dearly love a gas range but natural gas is not available in my area.  I suppose I could go propane but I'm told they are a bit tempremental.  Besides, I'd have to do a complete kitchen remodel which is not in my future in this house unless I win the lottery.  I will have enough money, I think, to replace an antique circa 1990 combo oven/microwave with a nice double oven.  Upper convection/lower conventional with digital controls.

    I do occassionally use the oven to preheat but usually only for things like the cast iron molds for cornbread or to preheat cooking sheets to do oven fries.  The only real problem in this case, of course, is the enamel liner.  My regular cast iron I could probably leave on high heat all day and the worst I would do would be to screw up the pan's seasoning.  My stainless gear works just fine also by putting on to a cold burner and then partially pre-heating.  I'll probably go to my grave remembering a line from some chinese cooking show, perhaps Yan Can.  It was "hot pan - cold oil food not stick".  Hey seems to work, I rarely have a problem with cleaning after some pretty messy dishes with cheese etc.  So OK, next time I'll set the cold dutch oven on a cold burner and proceed to pre-heat through several stages instead of just two.  If there is still a problem, I can let the store replace dutch ovens until they get tired of me or just go to the good old fashioned cast version minus the enamel.

    Thanks for the reply though,  the longer I watch this board the more impressed I am with the extent and quality of knowledge and the willingness to pass it along.  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif

    By the way, my wife is from around Manchester KY.

    Rich
     
  6. cabosailor

    cabosailor

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    I agree Schmoozer,

    With the exception of trying to get a really good sear on something I very rarely go above the halfway setting.  I know I've saved a fortune in toasted nuts by keeping the knob turned down to 2 and letting time do it's thing.  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

    Besides not having to toss what should have been good food into the trash, I gradually learned I had better control and the tasks became more pleasant.  The results turn out better, items are not overcooked or worse, charcoal on the outside and raw in the middle.  Along the journey I've also learned to meats and such warm up a bit before cooking instead of straight from the fridge to the pan.

    I love to learn, which makes cooking so much fun.  It's like sailing.  I can teach anyone to sail a boat in an afternoon but after a lifetime they, and I,  will still be learning.

    Thanks guys,
    Rich 
     
  7. schmoozer

    schmoozer

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    Last edited: Mar 11, 2010
  8. cabosailor

    cabosailor

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    Schmoozer,

    A diffuser plate, for searing??  Now I do use them on the boat because it's really a rather primitive 2 burner propane.   Now that I think about it....... I plan to upgrade the range/oven on the boat and will prob still use my diffuser for the more "saaaannnsitave" dishes but for a "rinky dink - best I could affford GE cooktop and for searing.  I just can't see it.  Thanks for thinking of it though.  I'd be better off, methinks, to do the searing in an old fashioned cast iron skillet and then transfer to the dutch oven.   Be a bit tricky though, I'd not want to lose the fond.

    Rich
     
  9. schmoozer

    schmoozer

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    I wasn't thinking of it for searing but for the cooking since you said that your heat was uneven - at least that's what I understood you to mean.  Searing in a separate cast iron pan is a good technique, and is used by many cooks and chefs.
     
  10. nicko

    nicko Founder of Cheftalk.com Staff Member

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     I was going to also suggest a diffuser plate but as you both noted it would be tough to sear. I would opt for the sear in a cast iron pan and then transfer to the braising dish. 

    Since remodeling your kitchen is out of the picture what about possibly purchasing an induction cook top? You can get a single unit relatively cheap (150 - 250). 
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2010
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Gas burners even cheaper than that. Single-unit set ups range from $25 to about $80.

    These are butane burners, not propane, and they can be really handy.
     
  12. oldsubman

    oldsubman

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    What is the BTU/hr rating on the portable butane burners?
     
  13. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Haven't a clue, OldSubMan. I only use mine for cooking demos (and, rarely, if I need an extra burner in the kitchen).

    Certainly it's not the equal of a commercial cooktop. But it burns pretty hot, and I there hasn't been a cooking task yet that it was unable to handle efficiently.