Myths and Benefits of Cooking with Cast Iron

When you think of cast iron cookware, you probably picture a campfire. Maybe some cowboys out on the range, sizzling up some steaks while swapping tall tales of legendary heroes and lost loves. But while it’s true this material has very humble beginnings, there’s actually a lot of ways you can use cast iron – in a lot of places. You can even use cast iron in restaurants!

Now you’re probably thinking, “That can’t be true. It’s impractical to use a cast iron skillet in a restaurant.” But the truth is that this age-old material is becoming more and more popular for commercial settings. Let’s explore some of the benefits cast iron has to offer and some of the myths that prevent it from being used as widely as it could be.

Myths About Cast Iron

Can you use soap to clean cast iron?

Yes! This is probably one of the most common misconceptions about cast iron. While it’s true that cast iron pans do need to build up a coating in order to stay non-stick, using a little bit of dish soap won’t hurt anything. The more important thing to remember is to always dry your cast iron immediately after washing it. Otherwise, you run the risk of rust.

Another thing to keep in mind here is that routine re-seasoning is recommended. You should coat your pan with a thin layer of melted vegetable oil or shortening and bake it between 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. That level of heat should kill any bacteria just as effectively as soap, if not more so. So while you can use soap to wash your cast iron pans, you don’t necessarily need to.

Cast Iron Serveware

Can you use cast iron cookware for restaurants?

Yes. In fact, many restaurants love using cast iron cookware because (in most cases) you can both cook and serve in the same pan. One of the most common restaurant uses you might see are “sizzle platters” where fajita fillings (like steak and peppers) are brought out on sizzling hot cast iron platters, usually on top of a heat-resistant underliner made of wood or silicone.

Is cast iron expensive?

Because the process of creating cast iron cookware is relatively simple, it tends to be very affordable. And when you think of the cost of cast iron in relation to a comparable non-stick pan, you’ll find that cast iron is a very cost-effective option. That’s because while most non-stick surfaces cannot be repaired after they’ve been scratched, cast iron can be re-seasoned again and again to repair any damage. If a cast iron skillet is seasoned routinely, its lifespan will far exceed that of a typical non-stick pan.

Advantage of Cast Iron Skillet

My cast iron pan is rusty. Is it ruined?

No. If your cast iron cookware is showing signs of rust, simply remove the rusty layer with steel wool. Even a paste made of coarsely ground salt and water on a paper towel will do the trick. You can use anything that’s abrasive enough to scrape the rust off. Just make sure it’s non-toxic because you don’t want to risk any harmful chemicals leeching into the surface of your pan.

Does cast iron heat evenly?

Unfortunately, no. While it may seem like the thickness of cast iron would distribute heat well, this material is notorious for cold spots. The best way to ensure even cooking while using a cast iron pan is to heat it really well either on the stovetop or in the oven prior to use.

Can traces of iron get into my food?

Cooking acidic foods (like tomato sauce) in a cast iron pan is not recommended because acid can wear down the seasoned coating and is more likely to absorb iron into the food itself. Although it's nontoxic, these traces of iron can leave a metallic taste in your sauce. So if you find that a particular recipe comes out tasting like iron, consider the acid levels of the ingredients and try making that dish in a different pan.

Why Use Cast Iron?

Cast iron lasts forever

As mentioned above, one of the best things about cast iron cookware is that it’s extremely durable and can usually be repaired if scratched or damaged. So as long as your pan doesn’t chip or crack, you can remove any rust and re-season it again and again.

How

Cast iron is oven safe

Probably the best thing about cooking with cast iron is its versatility. This material can be used with pretty much any heat source—from open flame to induction. This, of course, includes use in commercial ovens.

Not only will you be able to enjoy the effect cast iron can provide for your baked mac and cheese and fruit cobblers, but you can also experience the convenience of a naturally non-stick surface for making eggs and more.

Cast iron is natural

Unlike some non-stick pan coatings, cast iron pans are generally made of 100% natural materials—namely iron and oil. This is a fantastic benefit for farm-to-table restaurants or any establishment that focuses on clean cooking and natural ingredients.

New features for cast iron are being developed

Companies like Lodge have been developing new techniques of manufacturing and treating cast iron that are healthier for factory workers and provide convenient qualities, like dishwasher-safe finishes. By combining ancient casting techniques with cutting-edge technology, Lodge has developed a heat-treated line of rust-resistant cast iron cookware. They cast these products using the same process they’ve been practicing for over 100 years. Then, they expose the items to a heating process that penetrates the outer layer of the pan, which deoxidizes the iron, making it resistant to rust. This means that, for the first time ever, you can actually clean your cast iron in the dishwasher! And even better yet, there are no harmful chemicals used to coat the surface of these products—just oil, and heat.

Since this technique is still so new, the number of rust-resistant products available is mostly limited to small, oven-to-table serving pieces. However, Lodge plans to expand their selection of heat-treated products in the near future.

Serve

Cast iron is a visually appealing presentation piece

Let’s not forget that the classic look of these products can contribute to an eye-catching presentation in a variety of settings. From country-themed restaurants to modern rustic establishments, customers love serving pieces made of natural materials that are designed with a classic appearance.


While you may have thought you knew everything there was to know about cast iron, keep in mind that this centuries-old material is still being developed in new ways to make it more practical for commercial environments. It’s durable enough to withstand scratches and other wear and tear, and versatile enough to be used with any heat source. And the introduction of rust-resistant products has opened even more doors for new possibilities at restaurants and in other commercial settings. So if you’re thinking of replacing your existing cookware (or stocking your restaurant for the very first time), consider incorporating cast iron into the mix.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips | By Jessica Wieser

What is Restaurant Week? (and Why Should Your Business Participate?)

Over the past few decades, an event known as restaurant week has grown into a nationwide phenomenon. But, what is restaurant week and how did it start? Many foodservice establishments may also wonder if it's worth it for their business to join the event. We'll discuss how restaurant week got started, how it can benefit your business, and how your restaurant can get the most out of the event.

What is Restaurant Week?

Restaurant week is an event where restaurants offer reduced or fixed price menus, so customers can try many different types of food that may normally be out of their price range. Typically, it is mid- and upper-range establishments that join restaurant week, but any restaurant can take part in the event. Restaurant week appeals to locals and tourists alike, and most operations that participate see increased traffic during the occasion.

The History of Restaurant Week

A steak dinner with wine

Restaurant week was created in New York City in 1992 by Tim Zagat, the creator of the Zagat Survey, and Joe Baum, a famous New York restaurateur. The promotional event was originally lunch-only and was set to coincide with the Democratic National Convention to draw visitors, reporters, and politicians attending the event to local restaurants. The first restaurant week saw huge success, and it has since spread to cities large and small all over the country.

How Does Restaurant Week Work?

Restaurant week can take place any time of year, and timing varies by location. Typically, restaurant week is held in either early winter or sometime in spring, which are periods that are usually slower for restaurants. Additionally, while the original event was only one week long, nowadays most restaurant week events last anywhere from two weeks to a month. Many large cities will also hold multiple restaurant weeks per year. The event is typically organized by the chamber of commerce or local tourist organizations, so check out those resources to find out when your restaurant week is.

During restaurant week, many operations choose to offer several package meals at different price points. Providing several meal options is important because it makes guests with varying budgets feel welcome in your restaurant. A common practice is to have a menu that highlights three price packages. The most expensive option may include a better cut of meat, one cocktail per person, or a bottle of wine for the table. The cheapest option may be as simple as a signature soup or salad complemented by a dessert.

How Does Restaurant Week Benefit My Business?

Man on a computer

Restaurant week is a great way for businesses to draw in new customers, while also keeping existing customers satisfied and interested. However, many owners question if giving out a week of deals will actually help their operation or if the specials will eat up any potential profits. Here are a few reasons why joining your city's or region's restaurant week is a good idea:

  • Although you are offering your meals for reduced prices, restaurant week brings in more traffic than usual, which will make up for the lower dollar amount.
  • Restaurant week gives you a chance to impress customers with your food and service, and the experience may persuade some guests to come back and become repeat customers.
  • Taking part in restaurant week can boost your reputation as a high-quality and fashionable restaurant in your community.
  • Participating in your city's restaurant week can also help improve the local economy and build your city's reputation as a foodie destination, which will improve tourism.

How to Get the Most Out of Restaurant Week

Friends sitting around a table eating

Once you've joined your city's restaurant week, you want to make the most of the opportunity. During the event, guests are going to visit a lot of different restaurants, so you want to be the one that everyone remembers and comes back to after the occasion has ended. Here are a few tips for taking full advantage of your city's restaurant week to benefit your establishment:

1. Create a menu that helps you reach your goal. If your goal is to stand out from the crowd for your creativity, use the event as an occasion to serve experimental and unique dishes. If you're looking to appeal to new audiences and bring in new diners, you can fill your menu with your most popular dishes to wow guests.

2. Give customers more than they expect. Make sure that guests feel like VIPs from the moment they enter your operation. Additionally, creating an attractive table setting and having a clear menu can make the experience that much better.

3. Appeal to different target audiences. People of all ages, demographics, and walks of life take part in restaurant week, which gives you a chance to appeal to a wide audience. When you are creating your menu, you should also be considerate of dietary restrictions and offer at least one option for vegetarians and people with food allergies.

4. Partner with a local business. Consider teaming up with a local winery, brewery, or distillery and offer a complete food and drink package. You can also use fresh produce from local farms and markets. This is a great way to help another business increase its branding, and it will show that your restaurant is a true part of the community, which is what restaurant week is all about.


Starting out as a week-long event in New York City, restaurant week has grown into a nationwide phenomenon that draws millions of visitors to restaurants in cities all over the country. Restaurant week is an exciting, fun, stressful, and beneficial event all wrapped up in one. And whether you're a veteran to the tradition or this is your restaurant's first year participating in the event, there is something to gain from joining restaurant week.

Posted in: Advertising & Marketing | Management & Operation | By Richard Traylor

Making Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Sugar Whipped Bakery

When it comes to summer desserts, most people think of ice cream or snow cones. Little do they know that there’s a flavor of cupcake that’s as light and fun as summer itself. And that flavor is honey lavender.

We met with Stephanie Samuel, owner of Sugar Whipped Bakery, to get an inside look at what it’s like to run an independent bakery and to find out how to make her signature honey lavender cupcakes. Her bakery and cupcake shop is located on a quiet street in Lititz, PA—a small, historic town in Lancaster County.



The Start of Sugar Whipped Bakery

Stephanie

After pursuing a career as an event coordinator, Stephanie decided to seek a different path in order to spend more time with her three kids. She had always enjoyed baking with her mother, so in 2010, she decided to join a local community kitchen and find out if running a bakery was something she’d like to do professionally.

When her work at the community kitchen really started to pick up, she decided to invest in a food truck to make it easier to transport her product and promote her brand. The food truck also helped her get a sense of the market and find out if a cupcake business was something the area needed. The response was wonderful, and she eventually realized it was time to find a permanent location all her own.

With an artsy vibe and small-town charm, Lititz was the perfect place for Stephanie to set up shop. While her current facility comes with its challenges (like limited electricity that can’t support a double oven), she has enough space to prepare for large events, and she even has a separate room for making gluten free desserts. But probably the best part of her current location on Main Street in Lititz is that she gets a decent amount of foot traffic and knows the mail carrier by name.

The Inspiration Behind Honey Lavender Cupcakes

Storefront

Stephanie first got the idea for a honey lavender cupcake while she was on vacation with her family. They went to an ice cream shop that made honey lavender ice cream and she thought it would be a great flavor combination for a cupcake! And thus, the honey lavender cupcake was born.

She always tries to use local ingredients in her recipes whenever possible, so for this recipe, she sources locally made honey and locally grown lavender to give her cupcakes that extra special flavor element.

How to Make Honey Lavender Cupcakes

We don't want to give away all of Stephanie's secrets, so this recipe is a tad different from the cupcakes you'll find at Sugar Whipped. But, just like with any recipe, it's best to experiment with your own techniques until you come up with a recipe that you love.

Yield: 18 (2 1/2 inch) cupcakes

Finished Cupcakes

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons dried lavender

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

2/3 cup milk

Directions

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

    2. Line your muffin tin with cupcake liners.

    3. Beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and honey and mix until creamy.

    4. Add eggs one at a time, mixing between each one.

    5. Alternate adding milk and flour a little bit at a time while mixing on low speed.

    6. Once all the ingredients are combined, use an ice cream scoop to portion your batter into the muffin tin.

    7. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

    8. Once the cupcakes are cool, use a piping bag to apply your honey buttercream frosting.

    Frosting

    9. Sprinkle with dried lavender.


So next time you’re looking for a sweet summertime treat, think beyond the ice cream cones and popsicles. Sugar Whipped’s signature honey lavender cupcakes have a delicate flavor that’s perfect for the warmer months. The honey cake isn’t overwhelmingly sweet and the buttercream frosting has a smooth texture that’s light as air. Add a sprinkle of lavender, and this dessert has all the whimsy of flowers and bees.

Posted in: Recipes | Interviews | By Jessica Wieser

How to Host a Fundraiser Night in Your Restaurant

As a restaurant or bar owner, you may get requests from local groups who want to host a fundraiser night at your venue. Hosting a fundraiser night can be an excellent opportunity for your restaurant or bar to give back to the community and create some regular customers. If you're on the fence about hosting these types of benefit nights at your establishment, then take note of some of the following tips, and see if hosting a fundraiser night would be a good idea for your restaurant or bar.

Why Host a Fundraiser Night?

Hosting a fundraiser night in your bar or restaurant is a big commitment. Not only do you have to set aside a certain amount of time for the event, but you may also have to create special menu items and advertise your event. But, the pros of holding events in your space outweigh the cons. Here are a few reasons why you should host a fundraiser night in your restaurant or bar:

mingling
  • You can interact with your community. Partnering up with local organizations like schools, PTA groups, sports teams, and booster clubs allows you to build brand recognition and loyalty in your area.
  • It can bring in new business. Hosting a fundraiser can be a great way to advertise your establishment and bring in new clientele that have never visited.
  • It can boost your profits in the short and long term. While you are donating a portion of your profits toward a charity or cause, typically you will see increased traffic on fundraiser nights, so you can still increase your short-term profits. Plus, by hosting an event, you're creating goodwill with your community and convincing customers to come back, helping to increase your profits in the long term.

How to Plan a Fundraiser Night

Once you have decided to host a fundraiser night and have picked an organization to work with, there are some other things to consider. For example, how you're going to donate the proceeds of the event and how to advertise your event.

Decide How You're Going to Donate

It's very important to be upfront and clear with the leader of the group wanting to host their event at your venue. While you want to donate a fair portion of the proceeds to your cause, you need to make sure that hosting a fundraiser night is fiscally viable for your establishment. When deciding how much you want to donate and how you will divide the earnings, there are a few options you can consider:

mingling

1. Donate a certain percentage of the night's total sales. Typically this amount ranges between 10 and 25%. Donating a percentage is the most convenient option, as you can simply offer your regular menu items and then donate a portion of your profits for the night toward the charity or cause of your choice. While this is the easiest option, it also depends on a sizeable turnout to be a profitable idea.

2. Create a new menu item and donate all sales from that specific dish. This option gives you an opportunity to show off your creativity. You can also customize the recipe to reflect the organization or cause that you're supporting, such as Cajun food for hurricane relief in the Gulf region or pink lemonade and vodka to support breast cancer research. Creating a drink special is an excellent idea because each guest can order more than one, whereas with appetizers and main dishes, each person typically only orders one.

3. Offer a prix fixe menu at different price points. For example, you can offer an affordable option that includes a sandwich, side dish, and a drink and a more expensive option that includes an appetizer, entree, and cocktail. This is an appealing choice because it makes customers with varying budgets feel welcome in your establishment. It also gives guests an option on how much they want to donate to the cause. Depending on your menu items and which meal package your guests choose, this option can have a large profit margin.

Choose a Time for Your Event

When you host a fundraiser night at your establishment, you want to acknowledge the request of the group, but you need to make sure you're not interrupting your busiest night. Generally, you'll want to host a fundraiser night on one of the slower days of the work week. That way, you're not missing out on potential sales, and you're bringing in more business on a typically slow night. You'll also want to set a timeframe for your event, so you don't interrupt your regular business too much. The ideal timeframe would be four or five hours in the evening, like from 5pm to 9pm.

How to Advertise Your Fundraiser Night

Once you've made plans for your fundraiser night, you need to get the word out so that people show up to your event. Here are a few tips on how to advertise your fundraiser night:

Use Social Media

Your best tool for free advertising is social media. You can take advantage of your establishment's various social media accounts to notify the community of your upcoming event. Additionally, people who see your posts on social media can share them, helping amplify your reach.

Use Print Advertising

Old fashioned advertising methods like printing flyers work wonders, as well, especially for engaging with your community that is not connected with you via social media. To make your flyers stand out from the pack, use bright and colorful paper with big, bold lettering that will grab people's attention. You can also use door hangers to advertise in nearby neighborhoods.

Offer Incentives

Another way to bring customers to your event is to offer an incentive or discount. For example, you can mail out coupons for the event that are good for a free appetizer or drink. While this will cause you to lose some money upfront, the increased traffic and orders will make up for the loss. Additionally, you can sell tickets ahead of time for your event. Selling tickets for your event makes it feel more exclusive and creates a sense of urgency. Plus, if someone buys a ticket, they are more likely to attend the actual event and make purchases.


After your event has ended, make sure to post on social media how much money your fundraiser raised. You can also thank your guests for coming and donating their time and money, leaving them with a good feeling and encouraging them to become repeat customers. Hosting a fundraiser night is an excellent option for restaurants and bars, as you can increase your short-term profits and cultivate long-term customers while supporting a worthy cause.

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