Black iron is red-hot both inside and outside Carter Shelton’s Mission kitchen. A cast-iron culinarian, Shelton gets back to basics using simple skillets.
Married to Jennifer for seven years, Shelton, a former Marine, now travels the area as a personal trainer. Much like Shelton’s approach to health, his cooking style employs common sense without gastronomical gimmicks.
Q: Your cooking style seems tightly aligned with your personality. How would you define it?
A: I am the kind of person in that what you see is what you get. I think that’s why I like making food using cast iron, because it’s an honest way of cooking. It doesn’t require the latest gadget or marketing fad. Cast iron can move from the grill to the table without a lot of fanfare.
Cast iron is virtually indestructible, browns great — both on the stove and in the oven — because it conducts heat evenly. In one simple skillet, I can make both spinach cornbread and sautéed green beans topped with pecans.
Q: Some people find cast iron too cumbersome because of its weight.
A: I’m not going to cast off cast iron for the latest in cookware trends. When it comes to physical fitness, my philosophy revolves around taking advantage of the environment around you to build strength. I like training people outdoors using items such as sand, sticks and bands. I think the best gym is the earth itself and the opportunities the natural environment provides for engagement.
If using cast iron makes you stronger because of its heft, all the better. My cast-iron pans get a regular workout when Jennifer and I entertain friends. One of the greatest things to find is an old rusty cast-iron skillet at a garage sale and bring it back to life again. I don’t believe you have to be rich to own a great piece of cookware, and cast iron has the kind of durability that can be passed from generation to generation.
Q: Why did you share this particular recipe?
A: I really want people to realize it’s not that expensive to feed your body good, wholesome food. Get a cast-iron skillet for less than $20 and buy a package of chicken thighs for around $3, and you have the start of a really great meal. In the long run, it’s cheaper than a fast food drive-through and so much better for your body.
The reason I’m sharing my wings recipe is because they are so popular that people will donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on my behalf when I deliver an order of these wings to them. I also really like cooking outside and do so all year long. When you’re outside cooking, you don’t have to worry about food stains and grease popping out of the pan like you do when you’re indoors. Plus, I think food tastes so much better when you’re outside in nature.
Q: Do you view caring for your cast iron as a metaphor for how you care for your health?
A: As you can tell, I’m not one to give in to fads. I don’t believe you need a certain gym membership or special piece of cooking equipment to lead a healthy lifestyle. When it comes to healthy eating, shop the outer periphery of the grocery store.
When you talk about health, a lot of people confuse losing weight with being healthy. While maintaining your weight is part of a healthy lifestyle, I like to focus on strength. When I say that, I’m not talking about developing a cut body like a body-builder, I’m talking about having strength and endurance to live your life to the fullest. If you want to travel, walk on a beach, play with your children — all of these require strength.
Like staying physically fit, it’s about doing the simple things to keep your cast iron from getting rusty. And the more you use both your body and your cast iron, the better it gets.
After I use the cast iron, I clean it with water, then dry it and coat it with a thin layer of oil. I put the same care into my body after I work out, feeding it an assortment of whole foods. And like the seasoning that develops on my skillet with use, I feel like I’m just getting better with age.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a cook.
Parmesan Ranch Cast-Iron Chicken Wings
Makes 30 servings
1 (8-ounce) container grated Parmesan cheese
3 (1-ounce) packets ranch dressing seasoning mix
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil or bacon fat
2 to 4 teaspoons garlic salt, divided usage
30 chicken wingette (with tip removed) and/or drumette pieces, rinsed and patted dry
Prepare a hot fire on one side of a charcoal grill and set grate on highest setting. To imbue a smokier flavor, add favorite wood chips to fire. If charcoal or wood is unavailable, set gas grill to a temperature of 325 degrees. Coat a large disposable aluminum pan with nonstick cooking spray and place on grate over indirect heat and close lid.
In a large mixing bowl, stir Parmesan cheese, ranch dressing seasoning mix and black pepper together until well combined. Set aside.
On an outside burner, or over direct heat on grill, or inside on stovetop, heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, until pan is nearly smoking.
Using a pastry brush, spread oil or bacon fat on bottom of skillet and sprinkle 2 teaspoons garlic salt over all. Do not allow the garlic salt to burn.
Place 15 chicken pieces in hot skillet and move with tongs, shaking pan occasionally, so pieces do not stick to bottom. Fry about 10 minutes, or until chicken is deep brown in color. Turn pieces over in pan and fry other side until browned, or another 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove pieces from heat and immediately place in bowl with Parmesan mixture. Toss to coat each piece evenly with mixture and place in prepared aluminum pan on grill.
Continue frying process with remaining chicken — adding another 2 teaspoons garlic salt to hot pan to prevent sticking, if needed — and toss in Parmesan mixture, adding pieces to aluminum pan.
Close lid on grill and allow wing pieces to smoke and cook over indirect heat in aluminum pan for about 45 minutes, or until the internal chicken temperature on a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees.
Wings should be served immediately, after being transferred back into a cast-iron skillet for presentation, if desired.
Chef’s note: To finish cooking wings in oven, preheat to 325 degrees. An oven-safe dish can be used instead of an aluminum pan, and the cooking time remains the same.
Per serving: 94 calories (56 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 433 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber