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Cast-iron fans say there's nothing it can't cook

Cooking with cast iron is a way of life for Dawn Mills and her family. Before she turns on her home oven, she has to relocate all of the cast-iron cookware that she stores inside.
"I probably have upwards of 50 pieces; a majority of them are Dutch ovens used for outdoor cooking. Many are skillets," Mills said. "But I have my favorites ... the pieces that I want to cook with no matter where I am cooking."

In March, she and her husband, Jim, will be competing for a third time in the International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cookout in Utah. For the preliminary competition, they will cook Chipotle Chicken Rolls - a variation on chicken cordon bleu - Italian Cheese Bread and Southern Pecan Pie.

If the Newkirk couple advances to the finals, they will cook a recipe called Three Little Pigs - a pork tenderloin stuffed with ham and wrapped in bacon - Parmesan Herb Rolls and Very Berry Cherry Pie.

Learning to cook outdoors developed as a welcome distraction from her empty nest, she said.

"When our sons left home, it started to be a hobby for us," Mills said.
Mills, assistant principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Ponca City, is the secretary of the Heartland of the Prairie Dutch Oven Society in Oklahoma. The group meets monthly for Dutch Oven Gatherings and hosts a benefit for the American Red Cross every spring.

Cast-iron cooking has many benefits, Mills said.
"If you have it seasoned correctly, it is a very nonstick surface. The cost is also decent and it lasts forever, and you don't have to worry about the lining peeling out," Mills said. "And when you put the lid on, it is like its own little convection oven."

Certain foods, such as cornbread, taste best cooked in cast iron, Mills said.
"You need to take the skillet and get it pretty hot first with a good oil base and then put the batter in there," Mills said.

Some cooks swear that you can tell the difference between fried chicken that's been cooked in cast iron and chicken that hasn't. Cast iron also gives a nice sear to a steak, and many chili cooks prefer to use cast iron.

During demonstrations, Mills tells people that "there's nothing you can cook on the stove or in the oven that you can't cook in cast iron" outdoors. She even made a coconut pie once and whipped the meringue by hand.

Ken Jones, another member of the Heartland of the Prairie Dutch Oven Society, said there is an art to cooking with cast iron.

"We use recipes that are made for the Dutch oven, but I like to take regular recipes and adapt them," Jones said. "Cobblers are very popular - so are cakes. Casseroles also convert to Dutch ovens, as well as biscuits and breads."

It does take longer to cook outside using briquettes for heat, Jones said. But there are benefits to that, too.

"It's the original slow cooker," Jones said. "We do a lot of talking while we cook."

Jones said anyone interested in learning more about cooking with cast iron outdoors can watch a demonstration by the Oklahoma Dutch Oven group based in Tulsa. The group gathers at Haikey Creek Park during the warm months and can be reached at blackettle66@att.net.

Here are some recipes made for cast-iron cookware.

Dawn Mills said her mother made this family recipe for her when she was little and she has gone on to win cooking competitions with it.

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