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Cast Iron - "good" brands, vintage, etc...

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Shamefully, the only cast iron I have is my enameled Le Creuset and 1 "emeril" grill pan.

I'm looking for an everyday cast iron pan, in the store.....the casting of newer pans just look horrible, bad casting, not smooth in the least.

what brands, of the past, have had a good reputation, so I can search for some older cast iron. Griswold? the reason I ask for brands, knowing that the "brand" does not matter much, is it make it easier to scour the internet/ebay.
post #2 of 24
Lodge, MACA Camp Chef, Wagner are the best current brands.

Wagner is highly regarded but scarce. I don't think I've ever seen it in stores new, just used. I'm not sure they're still in production?

Lodge is commonly available, but they are a bit pricey for cast iron. Good quality and a good pre-seasoning.

MACA focuses on dutch ovens and I don't recall seeing a skillet from them. Mostly seen in the Mountain West.

Camp Chef makes good pans but they often have a decorated bottom which makes them inferior for some cooktops (glass) where they won't make the best even contact. They too are another Utah company but seem to have good penetration into the national market.

Amazon often has free shipping deals which is a good way to pick up any of these brands. They are reliably of good casting quality.

Griswold is also good quality but I've never seen those in the store, nor used. Very popular iron.

My two 12 inch skillets are Lodge and Camp Chef. Slightly different pan angles and the Camp Chef has a more curvy handle.

New cast iron isn't as smooth as old. I have a monster 16" spider of ancient vintage that is amazingly smooth. I even stripped it totally of all seasoning and I've never seen any iron as smooth as that.

However, the newer slightly grainy castings are very good in their own right. As you build up the patina, they smooth out and get as slick as the old ones though never as perfectly smooth. Smooth is good, but the slightly grainy isn't bad as you might be thinking.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #3 of 24
Phil - With Griswold what significance does the numbering on the skillets have? Size, model?


Willie
post #4 of 24
Should be size in inches as I recall.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #5 of 24
I'll sing the praises of Lodge skillets, both my 10 and 12 inch ones are Lodge. They are great when it comes to even heating, they have a great amount of thermal inertia, good at retaining heat when off the flame, ovenproof and can be used at pretty much any temperature found in a kitchen. They should outlive you and your children. When was the last time you saw a plain old cast iron skillet that was worn out to the point of being useless?

On the downside they are not happy in a dishwasher, take a modest amount of maintainence now and again, are heavy [ Somedays I feel like I need a brace of oxen to move my 12" around the kitchen ] and have a great amount of thermal inertia, not a good choice when you need a responsive pan for dishes that require fairly quick changes in temperature. Yes, I am claiming that one of their features is one of their drawbacks. It depends on what you are cooking.

When you do get a new skillet, either a pre-seasoned Lodge Logic type, or a 'raw' one you have to season yourself, I'll suggest the first three things to cook in it to start it off:

  1. bacon
  2. bacon
  3. bacon

For those who don't do pork, frying chicken is good as well. In my opnion you want to get the pan seasoned as much as possible with good, natural fats early on in its life. Avoid tomato sauces, wine reductions and such until you have a decent patina built up.

mjb.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #6 of 24
Phil, the reason you don't see Griswold in stores is that it hasn't been produced in a great many years.

Griswold is very big with collectors. So much so that much of it is not affordible by those of us looking to cook with it, rather than hang it on a wall. I mean let's face it; a hundred bucks or more for an 8" skillet is enough to make grown men cry.

Griswold markings, btw, are very well documented, and both the numbers and logo changed over time, particularly after the company was sold the first time. Generally speaking, though, the numbers refer to both size and style.

In practical terms, Lodge is the only American company still producing cast iron cookware. Wagner was reintroduced (after the company folded several years back) two or three years ago, but I've never seen any of the new stuff in stores.

Most raw cast iron, nowadays, is made in Asia (i.e., China) and the castings are nowhere near as fine as in the old days when the stuff was made in Europe and the United States. A lot of Asian iron, in fact, is open-grained, contains all sorts of oclusions, and is often difficult to cure properly.

"I have a monster 16" spider....."

Although we all do it, the word "spider," technically does not apply to cast iron. The word did not come into common usage until the American War of Succession, and applied to tinplate skillets on rather long legs (so long that the thing resembles a spider, donchasee). The long legs were used to get the pan high enough so it was above the flames of an open fire.

The short legs on cast iron served a similar, but different purpose. Legged iron was used on the hearth, itself, rather than over the actual fire. Coals were raked out of the fire and swept under the piece. The legs provided clearance for that purpose.

In colonial days there was different nomenclature for legged and nonlegged pieces. Those without legs were skillets, those with were frying pans.

The only exception to the way legged iron was used is kettles. Kettles were designed to be hung over the fire---either in a fireplace from a crane or ginpole, or over an open fire with a tripod. So they didn't need legs for the cooking process. But because most of them were round-bottomed, they needed the legs for stability when they were taken off the fire and shifted somewhere else. Cauldrons, of course, were used on the ground, and had to have the legs for stability.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #7 of 24
AFAIK, Lodge cast iron cookware is still made in the USA. Are you saying that may no longer be the case? Their enameled line is made in China.

What do you think of the Signature series, the cast iron cookware with stainless steel handles? Not for me - I much prefer the plain cast iron.
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
I have to be honest, looking at the Lodges over the past couple of months in the stores, I'm just not impressed by the castings, which is what drove me to this post.
post #9 of 24
The spider I refer to has the legs for hearth cooking. I mostly use it over charcoal. Sometimes on my big 30K BTU outdoor stove.

MACA casts their pots in Utah and India. Camp Chef has their foundry in China, but it's of good quality, as good as Lodge. These are consistent castings and will perform well.

Another brand to consider is Harbor Freight, the mostly do camp ovens, but I've seen their skillets now and again and there are some good ones at good prices. Inspect before you buy though. Harbor Freight is a hardware store. The cast iron is on clearance this time of year and usually doesn't reappear until spring.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 
I frequent Harbor Freight...at least 2-3 times a month! best place to get "throwaway 1 time use" tools....and sometimes they have a really good deal on some good equipment. (depending on what it is....gotta watch). I'm a snap-on tool guy (equivalent to all-clad in the cooking world), but Harbor Freight has a place in my heart. haha.

I never saw a pan there though, I'll look next time!
post #11 of 24
Thread Starter 
interesting haha.

Harbor Freight Tools - Quality Tools at the Lowest Prices

and i could use my 20% off coupons in get in the mail.

there is something to be said about buying a pan new, and seasoning yourself, making it "yours" but also something to be said about a good smooth cast, vintage iron.
post #12 of 24
They're usually by the patio/outdoors stuff. Quite often it will be an unlabeled box or three just laying there looking like parts boxes for other things.

Do inspect. Harbor Freight does not have consistent quality cast iron. But there are good pieces to be had.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #13 of 24
>AFAIK, Lodge cast iron cookware is still made in the USA. Are you saying that may no longer be the case? <

Not at all, Shel. Just the opposite. What I said was that for most people Lodge is the only U.S. made cast iron readily available. (The words I used were "for all practical purposes")

>What do you think of the Signature series, the cast iron cookware with stainless steel handles?<

I try not to think about it at all, Shel. Frankly, I don't understand the point of it.

>The spider I refer to has the legs for hearth cooking.<

That's what I understood you to mean, Phil. Almost everybody I know who uses them (and that's quite a bunch, as they are very popular among living historians) calls them spiders. But spiders are technically a different creature.

>MACA casts their pots in Utah and India.<

True in theory. But those made domestically never seem to get very far from the factory. Almost everyone who wants new, American-made, raw cast iron is almost definitially confined to Lodge.

The fact is, though, you can do better both quality and price-wise by haunting the antique malls, flea markets, and estate sales.

>Camp Chef has their foundry in China, but it's of good quality, as good as Lodge. These are consistent castings and will perform well. <

I'll take your word for it. But the one set I saw left me rather unimpressed.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 24
Well, I'm feeling smug. I have three nice Griswold pans, all picked up at garage sales or flea markets for a pittance before they became unavilable and collector's items.

I have a "Tite-Top Dutch Oven No 9" with lid, a cute little "Cast Iron Skillet No 3" about 5" on the bottom, and a Chicken Fryer No 8 also with lid. All are in excellent condition (how could you wear out a cast-iron pan, anyway?)

Could i use these to fund my retirement?

Any bids?

I replaced a no-name CI frying pan with a warped bottom with a Lodge "pre-seasoned" one about a year ago. Not too impressed with with the "pre-season" but I've gotten it into pretty good shape.

Mike :smoking:
travelling gourmand
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travelling gourmand
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post #15 of 24
I think the pre-season is a good idea, but not for the quality of the seasoning. It's a good protective coating and much easier for people to put into service than dealing with the wax and industrial grease of yore.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #16 of 24
I agree with Phil 100%.

The preseasoning is a spray-on oil coating, applied while the castings are hot. As such it's about equal to what you get if you "cure" a new piece as per Lodge's directions.

The preseasoning is by no means a deep cure, and you really should use the piece only for frying the first few times, until the cure really starts to develop.

But, as Phil says, it sure beats the heck out of the wax and edible varnishes used previously.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #17 of 24
Thread Starter 
Just an update, I went out antique shopping yesterday and believe it or not, didn't come across any. I may hit up harbor freight today though (thanks phatch for reminding me about this thread!) I've been scouring the land for an older deal, but haven't come across one.
post #18 of 24
the lodge stuff is very good quality castings. Where current production falls down is in finishing the castings. They no longer machine the insides of pans. The solution is simply to do that yourself. Cast iron is easy to machine, so it'll respond well to sand paper. Wash, then reseason.
post #19 of 24

My girlfriend moved into a new apartment with an induction stove.  A lot of her pots and pans just don't work.  But what does work is my old cast iron camping gear.  Unbelieveable how fast it heats up, and how hot it gets. 

 

An immediate hit with her was my Stansport Cast Iron Wok.  It has made the best stir fry and fried rice that I've ever tasted.  Bamboo steamers fit right on top just like what you would see at a dim sum parlor.  Eggs fry perfectly.  We even use the wok for pasta.  And the wok is the perfect pot for making cioppino. 

But instead of simply taking my old stuff, she insisted that she get a brand new set.  She is just one of those girls that insist on having her own, and she wants it brand new. 

 

So off to Harbor Freight I go, for their cast iron frying pans

 

 

Okay.  First of all, my main motive here was price.  I figured that it would be a passing fad, and that she would grow tired of the weight.  And if she doesn't take care of them properly, she could ruin a very expensive set of Lodge pans.  So this made for a perfect experimental starter set.

 

These pans are not seasoned.  But that is not a problem. 

 

I remember my first pan that I got as a kid.  Don't ask me why I got a pan as a kid.  One day the old man handed me a frying pan and said that it was mine.  Then whenever we went camping, or cooked in the back yard with the bbq, we used my pan.  Nothing fancy.  All that we ever did was cook on it.  First time out, we filled it with water and put the pan over an open flame.  The water boiled and evaporated.  Then we flipped the pan upside down and fired up the inside.  The pan got hot and we flipped it back right side up.  We threw in some bacon, then cooked cooked eggs in the bacon grease.  Afterwards, we took a piece of newspaper and rubbed the leftover bacon grease into the pan (inside and out), and then stuck the pan back in the fire.  Just remember to do this outdoors. 

 

In the kitchen, we did something similar.  We boiled water in the brand new pans.  The pans came with a sort of waxy coating, and this helped melt it off.  Then under running hot water, we scrubbed them with a ball of steel wool.  We heated the pans back up on the stove and cooked some bacon.  With a paper towel, we rubbed the bacon grease into the pans (indide and out).  Then we placed the greased pans into the oven at 350, and let them bake for a few hours (although 1 would probably do).  The cast iron heats up and the pores open, which allows it to absorb the bacon fat.  When the pans cool off, and the pores constrict, they are "seasoned" and ready for use.  We have been using them ever since without any problems.  And with each use, you can see the pan get darker and the patina develope. 

 

Save your money.  Get the Harbor Freight and season it yourself.  They are well made, conduct heat perfectly, go from stovetop to oven, and even work as a serving dish.  Toss some fresh mussels in olive oil, fresh herbs, salt & pepper, then roast them in the pan.  Use the pan for roasting chickens or standing prime ribeye roast.  Pan roast a crab with butter, garlic, and nuoc mam.  Everything taste better when you use cast iron.

post #20 of 24

Wagner and Griswold are your best bet. look for the Erie label if you can find one and season it yourself. Stay away from any made in Taiwan or China, the cast is much thinner and the steel is inferior. I had a skillet actually crack in half right down the middle when I was searing a caribou roast. Lodge brand is ok but lots of pits in the cast so never smooth as the oldies. I love my collection and use them daily. Good luck.

post #21 of 24

I am very glad to finally read a thread on this topic. Perhaps some one can finally answer a question for me. 

What makes used cast iron pans demand such over inflated prices? 

Antiques have been an interest of mine all my life with many hours devoted to the study of what makes various antiques valuable.  

Cast iron pans are the only category that has defied explanation when it comes to why they command such prices. 

I find  them everywhere, antique stores, flea markets, garage and yard sales, old barns. As this thread has discussed, they are also still being made,

mostly in China perhaps but still available. In brief, there is no shortage of cast iron out there. 

     No one in the antique business I have ever tried to discuss this with had any kind of detailed answer.

"Well, it's a Griswold" is the typical response but they only seem to know that because it's says so on the pan. 

This is not the same as saying "It's Tiffany glass". I've never met anyone who can tell me anything about the Griswold company, it's history or why any of that information might make

the cast iron worth any more than any other cast iron. This thread has come closer than any antique dealer I ever met and I've met many. 

Those who seem willing to pay inflated prices always seem to be those who are not buying them to cook with. They buy them to display, or because they think they can sell it to someone else for even more money. But they can't explain what makes the pan worth what they are paying. 

I love cast iron pans but for the love of god, it's just a cast iron pan. 

      Okay, I feel like I'm ranting a bit. Sorry for that. This has bugged me for many years. 

post #22 of 24

Check out the web site "The Cast Iron Collector".  It explains why the old cast iron is desirable and has all kinds of information on vintage cast iron.  Vintage cast iron cookware was hand made and were thinner walled than the newer mass produced cast iron cookware, thus making them much lighter in weight.  Most of the vintage cast iron cookware's cooking surfaces were machined smooth, and the inside bottom cooking surfaces were polished, which after seasoning, becomes essentially non stick.

post #23 of 24

Two words: Supply and Demand.

 

And maybe one more from the buyer's perspective:  Desire.

post #24 of 24

Cast iron cookware was invented in China. They have been doing it for centuries. You will find low quality as well as high quality ones.

 

There is no magic in the manufacturing of cast iron items. It is a very low tech item. China makes the lowest quality products and the highest quality products. Shop wisely.

 

I don't think a very smooth cast iron pan is essential for non-stick. As a matter of fact some of the best non-stick pans are made purposefully with dimples.

 

Pre seasoned cast iron pans may not have the best seasoning. They are seasoned to prevent rusting during shipping.

 

dcarch

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