Cast iron heats up again
One of the hottest items on cooks' holiday lists this year is one of the oldest types of cookware around: cast iron.
But today's skillets aren't necessarily the same as your grandmother's. While you can find antique cookware — and there is a growing market for it — new cast iron is increasingly accessible, both to find (you no longer have to go to a hardware store or camping outlet to buy it) and to use straight off the shelf.
About 10 years ago, Lodge Manufacturing Co. introduced pre-seasoned cookware (and now seasons all of its cookware). It's seasoned at the foundry using vegetable oil, perfect for any cook new to — and understandably intimidated by the thought of — cooking with and caring for the temperamental metal.
Sales have grown. The past five years have been the best in the company's history, according to Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager for Lodge. Its most popular items are the 10¼-inch and 12-inch skillets. The company, founded in 1896, is the sole remaining major manufacturer of cast-iron cookware in the United States, although there is heavy competition from foreign manufacturers.
Why is cast iron so big? Well, it easily lends itself to almost any kind of cooking. Cast iron heats evenly, without hot spots, and retains that heat better and longer than other types of cookware. Properly cared for, cast iron can last years — centuries even. Plus, it's reasonably priced, especially compared with other cookware.
Cast iron is made by pouring the molten metal into individual sand molds. After the cookware is cast, it needs to be “seasoned.” Because iron corrodes so easily, a fat — oil, lard or grease — is used to build a protective layer. Properly applied and heated, the oil hardens over time (polymerizes) to form a dense, slick layer on the surface of the iron. Cast iron is, if you will, the original non-stick pan.
“People are tired of Teflon and all that other stuff,” says David G. Smith. An avid collector and dealer of antique cast iron, he's known as “the Pan Man” and is co-author of two bibles on collectible cast iron.
He's noticed a major resurgence in cast iron, particularly antique and other collectible types — old cookware from manufacturers such as Griswold, Wagner and Lodge. He asserts that antique cast iron was first sought after mostly by collectors: Many manufacturers varied the style and logo on pieces over time, making certain hard-to-find pieces and years highly valued — and expensive. Smith related a story about a bread pan that sold at a local auction house a couple of years ago for $87 and later went for more than $25,000 to a high-end collector.
Not all old cast iron is so expensive. According to Doris Mosier, who has been collecting and dealing in antique cast iron for more than 30 years, most of her new customers buy three things: a skillet, griddle and Dutch oven. Prices will vary depending on the style, age and quality of the piece. Mosier says a basic skillet will set you back about $50, a basic griddle $45 to $50, and a Dutch oven $85 and up, depending on the size.
Mosier and her husband, Bob, run the Griswold Cookware website, named after a particularly popular antique brand. She's noticed the uptick, too. Most of her customers are not hard-core collectors but those new to cast iron. Many are from outside the United States. Antique cast iron claims only a sliver of total sales, but some connoisseurs believe that it's superior to much of the cookware on the market today.
The difference is in the manufacturing process. Composition and quality of the iron can vary by manufacturer. And, because the cookware is cast in sand molds, the pieces naturally have a slightly grainy surface. In the past, many manufacturers, including Lodge, would grind and polish each piece after it was cast, removing the top layer of iron, making for a smooth surface. Many cooks prefer this smooth surface, arguing that grinding opens the “pores” of the iron, allowing the seasoning to soak in for a better seal. They feel a rough surface doesn't season as well.
Others say this is not so. Kelly maintains that Lodge no longer grinds its new cookware precisely so the seasoning will have something to stick to - that grinding inhibits seasoning.
But if there's one thing cast iron fans do agree on, it's that nothing cooks quite like it.
Noelle Carter writes for the Los Angeles Times.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Chiefs pass rush to test Steelers
- Stock market makes biggest gain in 3 years
- Starkey: Pederson had to go at Pitt
- Developer reveals Buncher plans for 400 Strip District apartments, townhomes
- Steelers, young and old, thirst for opportunity to reach the postseason
- Navy developing robotic fish drone
- Judge delays January trial on Penn State sanctions
- 2 longtime Pittsburgh nonprofits agree to merge
- Hays ‘eagle cams’ reinstalled for 2015 nesting season
- Penguins’ Crosby details his mumps experience
- Chryst returns home, named football coach at Wisconsin