Japan Enters Cookware Fray
The Internet is an endless source of vital information, provided you are a seasoned Boolean-logic miner. Today I found some good news concerning cast iron cookware.
First, the current status of my collection. I have Griswold large-logo skillets in sizes 6 through 9, although I haven’t been able to make myself season and use my #7, because the bottom appears to have been damaged by sitting liquid. I have three Benjamin & Medwin skillets from Target (a set). I have a couple of big Lodge skillets. Other than that, I have a Dutch oven and some other irrelevant items.
The #9 is the ultimate breakfast skillet. Eggs slide right out, and they have that “cast iron fried egg” taste.
I wanted to complete the Griswold collection, but it looks like that won’t be possible. Sort of. I like the skillets without heat rings, because they sit directly on the range top. A heat ring lifts the skillet up a fraction of an inch. I just looked in my Griswold and Wagner reference book (why are you staring at me?), and it turns out my skillets were never made in sizes larger than 10. So I can get a 10, but that’s about it. I have no interest in the smaller sizes. I can’t figure out what they’re for.
If I want to go bigger, I’m going to have to pick a new brand, and it looks like Wagner will do. Their skillets sell a little cheaper, but they’re just as good.
I was considering fly-cutting the insides of my Lodge skillets to make them as good as my old Griswolds. They heat unevenly, and they’re rough. I may still do it, but it’s a perilous enterprise. I have no idea how uniform a skillet bottom has to be to conduct heat evenly, so I don’t know what I’m shooting for. I’m not sure how flat the undersides of the skillets are, either, and if I used the fly cutter, the undersides would be my references (think about it), so if they’re screwed up, the machining will also be screwed up. Even more aggravating: I have no tools suitable for measuring skillet-bottom-thickness.
Lodge skillets are just no good. I’m sorry. It’s that simple. I’d give mine away if I knew anyone who would want them. I only have two, plus a Dutch oven. I guess the oven is okay, since the finish is not as critical. Also, I never use it.
Oddly, the Target skillets seem okay. I had to polish them with a drill and an attachment, but they seem to work all right. Maybe they were made in a nicer part of China. Unfortunately, only one is in a useful size. One is really small, and the other is just barely wrong for cornbread. If you make cast iron skillets, you should know 9″ is standard for cornbread.
Speaking of the Far East, it turns out the Japanese make excellent cast iron pans. If you root around on the web, you can find a company called Iwachu. Like, “You better not shoplift in my convenience store, because Iwachu.” Or something. They make skillets. One size, as far as I can tell. I haven’t seen one up close, but people on the web say nice things about them.
I found another Japanese company called Nakedpan that makes skillets.
The Japanese make very high-quality cast iron. Big shock there. You can even get fancy teapots. Girly stuff. Very nice, if that’s what turns your crank.
I also checked Wagner’s site. They still exist, and they sell crappy Chinese (I assume) skillets. But wait! All is not lost! A few years back, I bought a new Wagner polished skillet. They take the crappy skillets and mill out the insides. They’re not as smooth as a Griswold, but the one I have has performed perfectly. It’s a #6, and I use it for cornbread.
I wanted to get more of these, but there was some reason why I didn’t. I think they only offered one size, or their website went down. I can’t remember. But now the site is up, and they offer skillets up to 13.5″ across. I’m inclined to get a couple. They won’t increase in value like Griswolds, but they may actually work better, and I won’t care if I destroy them, and I won’t have to sit watching Ebay for nine months to get a good price.
Here’s why I think they may work better. New cast iron is thick; that’s good, because it means heat retention and, maybe, better heat distribution. Old cast iron is thin. That’s good, because it reflects the high quality of the castings. The new stuff is cruder. My theory is that a new skillet that has been machined will have the heating qualities (and maybe warping resistance) of a new Lodge, with the smoothness and uniformity of an old Griswold.
I think it’s worth fifty bucks to find out. That’s what a big Wagner costs.
I wanted to tell Mike this important news, but for some reason he is wasting his afternoon cooking dinner for his family.
I came across a cast iron know-it-all on a forum. He was telling everyone what iron to get and how to treat it. He seemed to know absolutely everything you could want to know about the subject. He talked about polymers and other things I know nothing about. Interesting thing: his conclusions were pretty much identical to the ones I’ve come to via trial-and-error, bullheadedness, and pure ignorance. That happens to me a lot.
1. Season iron at 450, not 350.
2. Lodge is no good.
3. Pork fat for seasoning. He also recommended Crisco. He did not like light oils.
He also said you can’t remove seasoning with soap and water. That may be true, but you can definitely wreck the nonstick qualities, so it still seems like a bad idea.
He said the finish you get at 350 degrees isn’t even seasoning. You have to burn the fat to get the kind of molecules that make real seasoning. I guess the 350-degree finish is more like varnish. It certainly smells like it. It gets rancid when you don’t use the skillet.
Okay, to sum up:
1. Mike has ridiculous priorities.
2. Wagner polished skillets seem okay.
3. I am right about everything that matters.