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The United Skillets of America

In 2011, artist Alisa Toninato created a spectacular map of America made from 48 state-shaped cast-iron skillets. Now, she’s launched a $45,000 campaign on Kickstarter to have the patriotic pans mass-produced and made available to home cooks under the name American Skillet Company. Here, Toninato tells F&W about her quirky cookware project.

Why did you choose cast-iron?
For me, it represents a kickback to the pioneering days, the beginning of America and the beginning of all cooking. Cast-iron is healthy; it doesn’t contain Teflon or aluminum and it aligns well with the message of buying locally and eating home-cooked meals together.

How useful are these for a chef? Do you need a state-shaped burner to use them on the stovetop?
In fact, we’ve done some fun tests and found that they work really well for baking. Making pies, brownies, quiches and corn bread has been very successful, and these also tend to remove from the pan more easily. Also, Montana has been great as a griddle for cooking potatoes! Braise restaurant in Milwaukee is creating a brunch menu every Saturday using the Wisconsin skillets [made during an earlier pilot production run] and local ingredients.

What foods have you heard of people cooking in the skillets?
People in Washington have been making strawberry-rhubarb pie. In the South, people are using the pans to make corn bread and other comfort foods, and in Vermont, a lot of people are making pancakes, which go great with their native maple syrup.

Do you have a favorite state? Least favorite?
Some of the states I wouldn’t have thought much about before but really enjoyed working with (even despite long hours spentsanding edges) are New York and Florida. Most difficult would be Texas: It’s huge and took multiple cutting sessions and some tricky math.

What changes will be made to the commercial versions of the skillets?
Unlike the art piece, which fits together, these skillets will be scaled down; Rhode Island will be the same size as Texas. The handles will be placed strategically for functionality. We’ve also partnered with a manufacturing company in Tennessee to have the skillets pre-seasoned. We had a fun party here in Wisconsin seasoning skillets over an outdoor fire using goat and pork lard, but it was definitely labor intensive.

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