Review: The Joys of Cooking With Smithey’s Carbon Steel Round Roaster
The hand-forged pan is not ergonomic, trendy or flashy. That’s a good thing.
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When I was doing research for a cast iron story recently, I came across the argument that no one needs a cast-iron skillet because chefs don’t use them. No professional cook would ever take the time to use such an ancient pan, they argued, so neither should you.
That argument begs the question: Who said home cooks want to replicate the restaurant kitchen experience? Chefs and their comrades thrive off efficiency and speed. At home, especially during the pandemic, I thrive off taking my sweet time and slowing down in the kitchen. Cooking is the rare activity where I allow myself the luxury of untethering from distractions, daily annoyances and the simmering dread that comes with living in the 21st century. I put on a cooking podcast — my favorite these days is Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio — and then, if I’m lucky, dive into a recipe that will take much too long.
The piece of cooking equipment that has mosty recently aided me in my quest for a longer, more relaxing cooking experience is the Carbon Steel Round Roaster from Smithey. OK, so it’s not a cast-iron skillet, but it is from one of my favorite cast iron producers, and it has much of the same unwillingness to bend to the will of modern convenience.
Released last month, the carbon-steel pan does not feature any trendy colors, nor does it employ handles designed for superior grip, promote itself as a magical all-in-one cooking contraption or tout some proprietary lightweight, space-age construction. Instead, it’s a hefty, deceptively simple, seasoned metal piece that harkens back to an older time; if that pitch sounds familiar, considering America’s neverending obsession with “heritage” products, know that Smithey actually backs it up with impressive expertise via Robert Thomas.
Thomas has made a name for himself as a blacksmith revivalist, hand-forging everything from furniture to metal flowers in North Charleston, South Carolina. This pan is actually the third piece in a collaboration with Smithey (all of which are available as part of the Forged Farmhouse Set), where Thomas had a hand in the designs and, of course, the forging. The handles in the Round Roaster are also hand-hammered. That means this piece, and the two others, are all unique and only available in limited quantities.
Carbon steel has been gaining prominence among home cooks as it offers properties similar to cast iron without being as heavy. The first thing I cooked in this pan was a vegetable paella, definitely a no-no for cast iron out of the box because it requires simmering liquids, but here it stood up to the multi-surface task with aplomb — sautéing on my induction stovetop (yes, it cooks just as well there as on an open flame), cooking the rice and then moving to the oven for the bake. And when it was done, I just kept the steaming dish in the pan and plopped it on the table, because while it doesn’t promise to be everything, it does do the cooking and the serving both.
Other dishes I tested include a number of roasted vegetables, which I make every other night, and a simple dill-and-salt Norwegian salmon recipe, which called for using parchment paper to keep it from sticking to the recommended sheet pan. But here, the skin came off Smithey’s pan easily and then I just washed it with a little soap and wiped a bit of grapeseed oil on the surface to season it before putting it away. If I had hooks in my kitchen to hang this pan, I certainly would.
If you’re looking for something to get you excited about cooking again, I highly recommend the Round Roaster. If you’re still not sure what cooking problem it solves, that’s not really the point. Whatever food you’re roasting, whatever meat your cooking, whatever dish you’re making, fit it into the process, and take comfort knowing that in preparing your handmade meal you’re using a piece of cookware that comes courtesy of the same handmade care. And if it takes a little longer to get to the table because this pan isn’t engineered for speed, don’t think of it as lost time, think of it as more me time.
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