Cast Iron Pan Picture Improves

January 3rd, 2010

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.

18 Responses to “Cast Iron Pan Picture Improves”

  1. Edward Roland Bonderenka Says:

    To figure the thickness:
    Tram your mill using a collindicator.
    Bring your quill down to the table and measure your height.
    Raise your quill.
    Set the pan on the table (absent vise).
    Lower quill and “tram”.
    Like all things I suggest:
    1) It should work.
    2) It probably won’t.

  2. Heather P. Says:

    I’ve been meaning to pass along thanks from my mom for the tip about cleaning the cast iron with salt. She says it has made a very big difference.

  3. dmurray Says:

    “Why are you staring at me?” That was worth reading the whole post.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. baldilocks Says:

    Of course you could have been like me and inherited a bunch of cast iron skillets from your black-Indian-German Jewish matrilineal great-grandmother.

    One of the skillets even has a legend attached to it. Granny hurled it at one of her sons–my great uncle Bill. Don’t know if she connected but Bill was an adult at the time. In addition, Bill and all of his siblings, including my grandmother, were bat guano crazy, so it was probably his fault.

  5. rightisright Says:

    I’ll take the Lodge skillets. I’m really undemanding when it comes to cookware. And my results reflect that.

  6. pbird Says:

    Oh, ok, now I feel dumb. All my old skillets say Erie on the back and so they are just Griswolds after all. Some of them say Griswold instead. I guess I have some very old ones.

  7. FATKAT Says:

    Yard sales and auctions are a great place to find these skillets!

  8. blindshooter Says:

    I have two Lodge pans one 9(or 10?)inch with high sides and a 13/14 inch regular pan that work fine after smoothing the rough inside finish. Checking with calipers they seem to be pretty uniform, don’t remember how much they varied from edge to edge but it did not give alarm.

    They still don’t work as well as the old iron my Mom left me.
    You might want to check into a large “wash pot” now that you will be cooking for the Church. I love making stews in my 15 gal cast Iron pot.
    Its been cold here long enough for me to be inside and cooking so I have had the pleasure of messing up and cleaning nearly every pot and pan I own. They say it might get above freezing today and that will be be a great blessing as I have to go back to work.
    Happy new year and good iron hunting.

  9. TC Says:

    Dead right about the 450 temp thing. I have no earthly idea why so many recommend seasoning at 350. It’s almost as though they want you to fail when seasoning cast iron. I’ve had excellent results using Crisco.
    My technique is to get the cast iron item fairly warm and rub a lot of the Crisco on it. Then take a clean cloth and wipe it. That leaves the thinnest of films. I’ll do this twice and the seasoning is good to go. I’ll scrub and re-season my cast iron every couple of months. Keeps things working beautifully.
    I think Lodge products, at least some of them, are still cast at their foundry in South Pittsburg, TN. I’ve been to their factory store a couple times.
    I have some cheap, Chicom made Dutch ovens for camp cooking that I bought for dirt cheap at Harbor Freight. They work very well. I also got a heavy griddle from there as well. Love that thing for cooking steaks and searing a roast before putting it in the crock pot. (I do that outside so I don’t smoke up the house.)

  10. pbird Says:

    I’m going to try lamb fat. It is abundant also.

  11. greg zywicki Says:

    I’ve seen it suggested that wheter or not you ruin your slippyness (My instincts say NOT,) there’s also local porosity to worry about, so you get soapy residue trapped in your coating.

  12. Milo Says:

    I have been cooking with cast iron going back to the late 70s and I love the stuff! + because we also have birds=NO Teflon in the house.
    Here is a suggestion for cleaning cast iron without detergents that will not remove the seasoning, Hot Black Coffee! Doesn’t have to be a gourmet blend either, cheapest stuff in the store will work just fine.
    Pour the coffee in the pan and let soak for a few minutes, then use a nylon scrub brush and hot water to remove the gunk, rinse with hot water and dry with paper towels.
    I don’t re-oil or grease the pans after washing either, if it has been properly seasoned there is no need to do so, the seasoning ‘crust’ will keep the pan from rusting.
    I learned this little trick many years ago from a professional chef and it has served well. HTH

  13. pbird Says:

    Milo I will try that.

  14. pbird Says:

    Woo. House is full of burning sheep fat! Boy there are a lot of silly instructions out there. For the first 40 years of my married life I just cooked with my old ones and kept em dry. Worked ok, but I think they could have a more non stick surface.

  15. JeffW Says:

    All my old skillets say Erie on the back and so they are just Griswolds after all. Some of them say Griswold instead. I guess I have some very old ones.
    I had to go look at mine too (inherited from my Grandma). What I have been thinking of as “Erie Skillets” are really Griswolds (I have a 6 and a 9 with the Erie Logos).
    Humph. Guess I’m a cast-iron noob.
    Did some google searching to see if I could complete the set and discovered it would probably be cheaper to go buy the Iwachu’s.
    Doesn’t seem right though; mixing Erie and Iwachu…sounds like some weird Japanese Cartoon.

  16. pbird Says:

    I am definitely going to buy an Iwachu just to get a look at it. I have so much iron now, there is no use holding back.

  17. John Says:

    I had very bad luck using pig fat, which seemed odd as everyone I knew, and a couple sources from way back, insisted it was the best fat for the job.

    Turns out you need the right pig. Modern practices have changed the fat. Suggested alternative: Flaxseed oil or any other food grade drying oil.

    I wonder if wild pig would work.

  18. Turtle Says:

    I and my family have cooked with cast iron for a long time. Heat of at least 450 is needed to season cast iron. Any food grade oil or fat will work but a second round of seasoning maybe required. When I was growing up, some folks would re-season their ironware in the autumn in burning leaf piles. Time and use are what make a great pan or pot. Our oldest pan has been in use for over a 100 years, it’s like glass.