By Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Last month I wrote about cooking on a flat-top grill I recently acquired. I have been cooking on it non-stop and have even joined a few Facebook pages for flat-top cooking enthusiasts. Like many food sites they have rules, “be kind,” “no politics,” etc., and these sites request that no one ask about how to season a grill. Many new members fail to notice this request and the trolling ensues. But the fact is that many people don’t understand what seasoning is, or do not follow instructions of how to properly season their new grill. My cardinal rule, when in doubt, read the directions.
What is seasoning? When I was a young my grandma would put a little oil and salt in her cast iron skillet and scour it with a paper towel and give it a quick rinse. She’d say, “I’m seasoning the skillet.” What she meant was she was preserving the seasoned surface by using a paste of salt and oil to remove any food bits, but for me, I thought she was “seasoning” the pan with salt. In actuality, seasoning is the polymerization of fat cells on the cooking surface. When the oil is heated the chains of fat cells elongate, and as they cool they bond to the rough surface (of cast iron or carbon steel) and create a smooth, non-stick cooking surface.
How to maintain that hard patina of seasoning? The best way is to regularly cook with your iron and gently wash, or like my grandma, scour with a salt and oil paste. Gently washing with soap and water will not remove the seasoning unless you scrub hard with a steel pad. I like to pour some water on a hot grill and use a metal spatula to scrape off stuck-on bits as the water steams away. I use a $5 metal putty knife for cleaning my grill. When done cleaning be sure the surface is dry and add a very thin layer of oil to keep the carbon steel surface from rusting while not in use.
What is carbon steel and how to season? The quick breakdown is – cast iron is mostly iron and about 3% carbon; carbon steel has less carbon ironically. They both are seasoned in a similar way. The way to season an outdoor flat-top grill is exactly like the manufacturer directions read. The grill will have a thin layer of “packing” oil on it to keep it from oxidizing in the box. Turn the grill on full heat and burn off that oil. The surface will change color as it heats, and it will start to smoke. Once it stops smoking (after 15-20 minutes) add a tablespoon or an ounce of oil (depending on grill size) and use tongs to smear the oil around with a lint free cloth or paper towel. A very thin layer of oil should remain, no pools or puddles of oil, then let that layer burn off. Once that layer stops smoking repeat three to four times according to directions. I did this process a total of six times, and I can fry an egg on my grill as if it were on a Teflon pan. Flaxseed or grapeseed are recommended by grill seasoning “aficionados,” but vegetable oil is just fine, and you probably have some in your kitchen.
This weekend we are frying a turkey and the side dish will be teppanyaki-style fried noodles made on the flat-top grill.
Teppanyaki-style noodle recipe
- 1 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1/4 cup rice cooking wine, or sake
- 2 ½ tablespoons oil, vegetable or olive
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Combine all ingredients in a squeeze bottle or lidded jar. Shake before using.
- 1 pound lo mein noodles or angel hair pasta, cooked al dente
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- fresh ground pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 ½ tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin, or rice wine vinegar
- sesame seeds (optional garnish)
- 3 scallions, sliced thin (optional garnish)
Cook noodles in salted water, the water should taste slightly salty. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place noodles in a bowl and season with a few grinds of fresh ground pepper (or sprinkle with ground pepper) and toss with sesame oil. Heat flat-top grill to medium. Add a ¼ cup cooking oil, butter, garlic and ginger and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add noodles, teriyaki and mirin. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until heated through. Add additional cooking oil to taste. Add garnish if using. Don’t forget to clean off your grill while it’s still hot and apply a thin layer of oil to keep that nice seasoning.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.