A cast iron chaudiere is the queen of outdoor cooking vessels. Round-bottomed, with short legs and a thick lid, the chaudiere retains and radiates an even heat, perfect for cooking outdoors over an open flame. Jambalaya for a crowd, red beans for an army, or a big batch of gratons– the chaudiere cooks all to a turn. But only if the pot is well-seasoned! And any cajun cook recognizes that a properly seasoned cast iron pot is a true family heirloom.
Seasoning is the key: it is the process of converting raw cast iron into a blackened, sealed, non-porous cooking surface. With smaller pots and pans, the process is easy: wash the vessel, rub with a light coating of solid shortening or lard, place upside down in a 250-degree oven for 3 hours. The fat will polymerize, sealing the pan’s surface. As long as the fat used for seasoning is a solid at room temperature, the process is foolproof. Just know that liquid oils result in a sticky, tacky surface unsuitable for cooking. For the cook seeking instant gratification, pre-seasoned cast iron is sold by Lodge, Krazy Kajun cookware, and other manufacturers.
On the other hand, really big pots require a different approach, and chaudieres are sold in sizes up to 30 gallons. One time-honored method: build a sizeable hardwood fire, grease the pot, and toss it into the fire. Easy, direct, but impractical for the backyard: it will blacken a big patch of lawn and requires lots of firewood.
A more controlled approach is just as effective: rub the pot lightly inside and out with grease, place on a propane burner, and light it up. As the pot heats, spread coffee grounds around the inside and keep heating the pot. Eventually, the grounds will burn, depositing a nice layer of carbon on the pot’s cooking surface. Depending on the burner’s heat output, the whole surface of the oiled pot may flame up, giving a great overall coating of carbonized fat & coffee grounds.
Now what to do with the pot? Traditional wisdom says to rinse it well, wiping out any ash & soot, then to fry in it, soaking the whole surface with boiling oil. I seasoned my 5 gallon chaudiere last week–so now it’s high time to make gratons!