The Single Best Thing You Can Buy for Your Cast Iron Skillet

updated Dec 29, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I don’t always admit when I’m wrong, but, boy, was I wrong this time. I learned how to cook from a French chef at a classic culinary school, and cut my chops as a line cook at a busy Manhattan restaurant. These days, I’m “just” a home cook, but my daily kitchen routines are peppered with habits from my past life as a professional. A prime example? I cannot begin cooking until I’ve prepped all of my ingredients, placed them in tiny bowls, and lined them up next to my cutting board — upon which my knife always rests at a perfect parallel to the edge of the board. Mise en place is a hard habit to kick.

Something else I’ve carried with me from my time in restaurant kitchens is my disdain for pot holders. Instead, I hoard simple, thin kitchen towels like they are the last avocado at Trader Joe’s. As any line cook worth their salt will tell you, these side towels make fantastic pot holders and because I have plenty handy — tucked into my apron strings, flung over my shoulder, rumpled in a pile on the counter — there’s always one close by when I need to remove a pan from the oven or shift it to the back burner. This technique has worked well for me for years, and I’ve been a vehement member of the Anti-Pot Holder Movement (not a real thing) because clutter and excess tools make me feel generally enraged. I’m constantly purging my kitchen of unnecessary things to make room for what really matters: snacks.

However, there’s one major problem with using towels as pot holders. Because towels are also incredibly useful for drying dishes and mopping spills, they are often wet. And if you’ve ever grabbed a fresh-out-of-the-oven pan handle with a wet towel, you know why this isn’t the right move. The dampness creates steam, which is very hot. You’d think I’d learn not to do this, but I haven’t. My calloused palms bear testament to my stubbornness. 

I’m telling you all of this to properly express how distressed I was when I moved in with my boyfriend last month and discovered he had not only a handful of potholders, but multiple silicone pan handle covers for his cast iron pans.

I was shocked.

How could the person I love be a pot-holder hoarder? How could I have overlooked this? Had he been hiding it? Wait — was I the one who was wrong?

I began scheming ways to rid our kitchen of these extraneous tools. Could I “accidentally” drop them in the wood-burning stove while he was at work? Offer them to the squirrels in the garage for nesting material? I was convinced that I could make my boyfriend see the light and embrace his pans with kitchen towels alone.

But then something happened: While browning tofu in our heaviest cast iron pan, I needed to get a firm grip on the handle at a time-sensitive moment, and couldn’t find any of my trusty towels. Or at least not a dry one. So I used one of those slip-on silicone handle covers.

Ugh. I loved it. 

Unlike towels and traditional pot holders, these silicone covers completely enclose the pan’s handle. That means there’s absolutely zero chance of the fabric slipping and exposing your delicate paws to hot metal. I thought they would be fussy and tricky to wiggle on, but they’re not. Somehow, they’re loose enough to slide on with no resistance and snug enough to stay put. 

I began researching the product, to better understand its sorcery. Although there are copycats on the market, Lodge was one of the very first to offer this tool, and it’s no surprise: They’ve been a pioneer in the cast iron game since 1896. So, why silicone? It’s a synthetic rubber made from a mixture of silicon — an element naturally occurring in both sand and rock — and oxygen. Silicone is flexible as well as strong (just like you, my friend), which makes it a great choice for cooking tasks. It can handle temperatures of up to 450˚F, so you can confidently handle your pans and pots after high-heat cooking. Just remember that you should bake and cook without the sleeve, sliding it on once you remove the pan from the oven. They’re also not meant to be placed over direct flame. 

Another great thing about these things? The sleeves come in several colors, like blue, orange, and yellow. Lodge also offers a few variations on their original design, including mini sleeves for small pans, and ones for cast iron Dutch ovens and specialty pans. 

Now I store one of these covers in the drawer right next to the stove. Which means it’s always there for me when I need to handle a hot pan — unlike my beloved towels that tend to wander about the kitchen. So, I guess people can change. I am now a woman who loves silicone handle covers.

Before we go, there is one more thing I like about them. And I’ll share it with you, as long as you promise not to tell my boyfriend: They are so small and thin that they take up virtually no kitchen real estate. Which means maybe I can get behind the idea of owning more than one.