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cast iron cookware

SIMIHOUND Jul 3, 2009 03:34 PM

Hi all, I am not usually on this board so please pardon my lack of knowledge and
newbieness. I live in So Cal, need a cast iron pan and have no idea where to get one. I don't even know what brand I should be looking at. My uses would be for general cooking at this point. I figure once I get the pan I can see what recipes I can find or come up with. I have already read posts about preseasoning and seasoning pans.

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  1. Honeychan RE: SIMIHOUND Jul 3, 2009 03:44 PM

    Places to look that might surprise you are camping/outdoors retail shops. Army/Navy surplus stores many times stock them, as well. If you have a Bass Pro Shop nearby, take a look in the camping section, they usually have a decent to good selection. I know the Supply Sargent in Burbank (a military surplus/camping store) has them for cheaper. (the last time I checked)

    1. MikeB3542 RE: SIMIHOUND Jul 3, 2009 08:34 PM

      If you are looking for NEW cast iron, your best bet is Lodge. It's made in the USA (most everything else is made in PRC), and the quality of the castings is excellent. Your best prices will most likely be at all your major discount stores (WalMart, KMart, Target), but you can find pans, dutch ovens and griddles at hardware stores, outdoor/camping stores, and even Williams & Sonoma and Crate & Barrel will have a few pieces around. You can buy online, but it's heavy stuff, so shipping can get pricey.

      Lodge gets a bad wrap because they are sold with the factory finish, which is pebbly. It takes a bit of regular use ("regular use" means "every day") to really establish the seasoning and getting the pan to be reliably stick-resistant. The quality of the stuff from China is all over the map -- some of it is VERY good, a lot of it is REALLY bad: uneven thicknesses, poorly fitting lids, sharp burs, inclusions and swirls in the casting, and a surface that is something like sandpaper.

      If you are adventuresome, scour flea markets and yard sales for used stuff. The "gold standards" are Wagner and Griswold -- these were manufactured in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, but I bet a lot of the old stuff made it out to Cali. Cast iron cookware would be the last thing a family travelling cross-country to ditch, so wouldn't be surprised if a few of those old pans turn up. You can try e-bay but there are issues with fakes and inflated prices, as they are actively collected. The old Wagner and Griswold pans are prized because the pans have a mirror-smooth machined cooking surface. There is even an online group that is dedicated to the stuff (www.wag-society.org ).

      Do know that the old stuff isn't always in the best of condition -- you probably will need to scour off a bit of rust and caked-on gunk. Don't buy stuff that is warped, cracked, or has deep rust -- otherwise, the old stuff works great with a little TLC.

      Once you pick some up, we expect to see you back in the forums with all your questions about seasoning, and about all the cool dishes that turn out just that much better! Good luck!

      6 Replies
      1. re: MikeB3542
        Politeness RE: MikeB3542 Jul 4, 2009 06:33 AM

        MikeB3542, although your entire reply was sensible, I must add qualifiers to parts of it.

        MikeB3542: "If you are looking for NEW cast iron, your best bet is Lodge. " I disagree: if you are looking for NEW cast iron, your best bets are Iwachu, http://naturalimport.com/shop_for_cas... made in the former Nambu area (Morioka) of Japan or Hackman Tools, http://www.fjorn.com/iittala-sarpanev... made in Finland, or AGA (an English company, but the AGA cast iron is made by Morsø in Denmark) http://winterberry.com/HTML/Cast%20Ir... . New Lodge cast iron -- admittedly, much less costly than Iwachu or Hackman or AGA -- simply is not finished, as you note with your comment about the pebbly surface, and no amount of seasoning is going to make that pebbly surface behave as seasoned cast iron should. (I know from personal experience: we tried for 29 years to make one piece of Lodge behave like other cast iron, before we finally gave up.) Frustration with its deficiencies cannot be compensated by the lower initial price, IMNSHO.

        MikeB3542: "The 'gold standards' are Wagner and Griswold -- these were manufactured in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively ... You can try e-bay but there are issues with fakes and inflated prices, as they are actively collected." There is a LOT of Wagner and Griswold on eBay, and it falls into two distinct price categories: under $25, and over $75; only the latter is the collector's stuff (it is expensive simply because the collectors bid against each other), and rightly to be avoided from a value standpoint; but as cooking utensils the inexpensive Griswold and Wagner are every bit as good. If there are fakes, they are most likely in the high-priced category, as there is no profit in faking inexpensive cast iron. The best way to search is to look for items marked Erie, as all of the "real" Griswold had the word Erie on the underside: even some Griswold that did NOT have the word Griswold on it still had the word Erie on it. People who follow such matters say that after Griswold was purchased by the same company that previously had purchased Wagner and the Griswold production was moved into the Wagner manufacturing facility in Ohio, the quality of the Griswold-brand cast iron declined.

        The other key phrase when purchasing cast iron on eBay is "sits flat." Cast iron subjected to sudden changes in temperature can warp, and the warping cannot be repaired.

        And to SIMIHOUND, if you are into making Dutch Babies (German pancake soufflés), there simply is no better pan made anywhere for that purpose than the Iwachu Tempura pot (which also is perfect for tempura, as you would expect).

        1. re: Politeness
          MikeB3542 RE: Politeness Jul 5, 2009 11:05 AM

          I was just looking at this from the point of view of someone getting their first piece or two of cast iron. Folks get very "hot and cold" about cast iron -- some folks really enjoy it, others really detest it -- no too much middle ground.

          So the goal for starters is to get the best quality for the minimum price. If you use it and find that it isn't for you, then at least you aren't out a whole lot of money, and it will still look nice hanging on the wall.I still think that means either Lodge for a new pan or combing flea markets for used stuff. For less than $20 you should be able to get a nice pan or two. If you really like, the more expensive stuff is always available.

          My issue with buying used stuff on line is that you can't really see it, touch it, feel it, smell it (yes, smell it -- some pans just seem to get hopelessly rancid). The owner may say that it "sits flat" or whatever, but you are taking their word for it. You are assuming that the pictures accurately represent the condition of the piece. Maybe yes, maybe no. Some folks don't find this type of purchase stressful, I do.

          1. re: Politeness
            m
            mateo21 RE: Politeness Jul 5, 2009 11:18 AM

            One point... it looks like two out of the three sites you link were enameled cast iron (AGA states that it is enameled the other implies it with "ceramic coating"). Which I do not think the OP is looking for. And $52 for a cast iron skillet? I've paid that for a carbon steel skillet before, but I've never seen a CI skillet that costs that much money -- what gives?

            As per Lodge CI, I recently purchased the grill/griddle combo... used it for pancakes the morning after I bought it with not a single issue -- nothing stuck and cleaned up in about 30 seconds. Thus I'm not sure where people take issue with the pebbly surface acting as a hinderance to proper CI non-stick qualities. My experience and two cents, and, I suppose, MNSHO.

            1. re: mateo21
              Politeness RE: mateo21 Jul 5, 2009 02:56 PM

              Mateo21, the three sites I linked to were for Iwachu, Hackman, and AGA. Hackman makes both enameled and "naked" cast iron, both of which are excellent; I should have made it clearer that my primary reference for Hackman was the Dahlstrom 98 fry pan, which is not enameled (but iittala says it is "preseasoned"). The black AGA cast iron differs from the brightly colored pieces in texture; if it is enameled, it is a "different" enamel than the enamel used on LeCreuset or Staub or Lodge --or the other AGA pieces.

              As for the Nambutetsu from Iwachu, the quality of the cast iron from the artisan craftsmen in that region of Japan is something to behold. We have what Natural Import calls the tempura pot (we purchased ours in Japan 40 years ago, and it was simply "Nambutetsu" there; some creative marketing genius came up with the idea of bundling the pot with a rack and straining sieve and calling it a "tempura pot" for export), and it is the one piece of cookware that you would have to pry from my cold, dead hand if you tried to raid our kitchen by force.

              The Natural Import website that sells Iwachu cast iron cookware makes reference to "forged" which is uncommon for CAST iron; Lodge and Camp certainly are not forged after pulling from the casting mold. The following webpage (go to the bottom), referring to the importance of "pounding," suggests that Nambutestu IS forged: http://blog.wabisabi-world.com/?p=9

              I also know that the top cast iron craftsmen in Morioka are designated "National Treasures" by the Japanese Government, the equivalent of being bestowed knighthood by the Queen of England. See, for example: http://hojotea.com/item_e/suzuki.htm That would go a long way to explaining the difference in cost and quality between a high-volume factory piece like Lodge and a hand-crafted artisan piece like Iwachu.

              However, in the greater scheme of things, assume that a Lodge skillet costs $17 and an Iwachu skillet costs $51, exactly three times as much. While 300 percent sounds huge, the dollar differential is only $34, for a piece of cookware that literally will last several lifetimes, and could well be used every day. Even if kept just one year, that works out to ten cents a day; at ten years, it is less than a penny a day. Well worth the pleasure the finely crafted Iwachu will give, I think.

              1. re: Politeness
                kchurchill5 RE: Politeness Jul 5, 2009 04:07 PM

                Well if you consider almost 60 years a lifetime, 3 of mine were my grand mothers, and still mint condition and she cooked with them her whole life. I think that qualifies as a life time. Grandma to Mom and me. Couldn't be better. I'm sure will last many more years. My friend has a Lodge I bought him 30 years ago when I got married, he also got married a wedding gift. He comes over quite often and brings his lodge. Still perfection.

                It doesn't take 51 dollars to last a lifetimes, sorry. I will disagree.

                1. re: kchurchill5
                  Politeness RE: kchurchill5 Jul 5, 2009 05:24 PM

                  kchurchill5, please do not be so anxious to disagree. Nowhere did I suggest that a cheaper pan would not last as long as an Iwachu. I did not suggest that.

                  What I did write is that the Iwachu is a superior product, a hand-crafted artisan product, with more labor put into its manufacture, more attention to detail, and a finer finish -- all in all, a piece of art. The Iwachu is better crafted than any mass-produced casting, period. Therefore, the $34 difference in initial price, amortized over a lifetime, is hardly a consideration.

                  You can get a used VW Beetle that may well have another 20 years of life in it, and a new Lexus that may not last any longer than that, but for the next two years' of driving, which wheel would you rather be behind? For the next 35 years of cooking, you may well prefer the Iwachu cast iron over a Lodge piece that costs $34 less -- or you may not. But the $1/year should not be much of a factor in which you prefer. That is all I was saying.

        2. kchurchill5 RE: SIMIHOUND Jul 4, 2009 07:01 AM

          Well, I totally agree with MikeB. I love my love, 6 pieces total. Now some are old but 1 about 10 years old and 1 I just recently purchased. Target 20 bucks I think. To season ... just use it. Bacon, fried chicken, burgers, steaks. Fried potatoes. I use it a lot. That is the only way I season mine. Politeness wrote:

          <<New Lodge cast iron -- admittedly, much less costly than Iwachu or Hackman or AGA -- simply is not finished, and no amount of seasoning is going to make its surface behave as seasoned cast iron should. Frustration with its deficiencies cannot be compensated by the lower initial price, IMNSHO.>>

          I have never had a problem with it's performance. I love mine, even the brand new one.
          My older ones again are not warped or cracked and have been around for many many years.

          I still enjoy some non stick for scrambled eggs, pancakes and a few other recipes. But love the cast iron for many many dishes. I think you will love what ever brand you choose.

          5 Replies
          1. re: kchurchill5
            Politeness RE: kchurchill5 Jul 4, 2009 08:03 AM

            kchurchill5: "I still enjoy some non stick for scrambled eggs, pancakes and a few other recipes. But love the cast iron for many many dishes."

            That illustrates my point. Ambimom (below) is seeing a nonstick surface form "after a couple of years of daily use." A nonstick surface -- one that I can practically guarantee that you would prefer for your scrambled eggs and pancakes -- would be the condition of an Iwachu or Hackman Tools skillet from the second use. The time frame would be days, not years. Twenty-nine years' constant use of a Lodge skillet that we purchased in 1980 did not bring its surface to the slipperiness that the surface of our Iwachu tempura pot enjoyed from day one, and when we finally replaced the Lodge with a Griswold that we bought off eBay (and promptly took down to the bare metal using the self-cleaning cycle of our oven, before reseasoning it from scratch), the Griswold quickly achieved a nonstick surface orders of magnitude superior to anything that our Lodge ever had achieved.

            1. re: Politeness
              kchurchill5 RE: Politeness Jul 4, 2009 08:20 AM

              My point is my brand new one already is getting a great surface. I just don't use any cast iron for eggs or pancakes, never will. Even my 60 year old grandmothers cast iron. I just don't. My new lodge is already getting a great surface. And it hasn't been long at all.

              There are just some pans I prefer for eggs, pancakes and some fish. Otherwise I tend to use my cast iron.

              So it has nothing to do with the surface. I very happy with my lodge and very pleased with the results just in a short time of use.

              1. re: Politeness
                Ambimom RE: Politeness Jul 5, 2009 03:47 AM

                Perhaps I should have expressed myself better....ALL my cast iron is non-stick after the first seasoning...what is developing after two years is that glassy finish that the antique Griswold's and Wagner's have (or had from the beginning). My cast iron is non-stick about an hour after purchase. Of course, it gets better and better with time. The more it's used, the slicker it is.

                1. re: Ambimom
                  MikeB3542 RE: Ambimom Jul 5, 2009 07:45 PM

                  BTW, despite my differences with Politeness, the link to the Finnish italla Sarapneva 3-qt casserole is priceless. Now THAT is a piece of cast iron to break the bank for. Gorgeous design with the removeable wood handle that doubles as a lid lifter. When you hear people going ga-ga about "Scandinavian design", this is what the (ought to) mean. It makes Staub and LeCreuset look downright clunky.

                  By all means, if you can afford the more expensive pieces, go for it. They are indeed finely crafted and look sharp! Indeed, that is the only way we keep these folks in business -- otherwise we will have nothing but our pick of the PRC litter (blech!)

                  1. re: Ambimom
                    k
                    knet RE: Ambimom Jul 6, 2009 06:13 PM

                    Very good point btw Ambimom - my CI pans performed well right from first seasoning but only time and use develop that glassy surface that we all love. So often we see posts from people trying to achieve that in one weekend. You CAN achieve a pretty good surface within a day or two but only time and use will give that beautiful glassy surface. My second hand ( well, who really knows how many hands it has passed through?) Griswold is that way now and gets used a lot but I did strip it down when I got it. One thing when you're inheriting your grandma's pan but I'm not so casual about it when it comes from strangers!!

              2. Ambimom RE: SIMIHOUND Jul 4, 2009 07:09 AM

                Naked cast iron is gaining in popularity so it is increasing in price, but start with one pan -- a frying pan. If you lived in the South, you'd probably find one in your local supermarket for under $10, but the rest of us can find them at Walmart, Target, or Boscovs. Lodge is excellent but some of the others are just fine to begin. Remember the more you use it, the better it becomes. Find the seasoning and cleaning method that suits you. There are all kinds of opinions all over the place, but what works for you will be fine. Once you get used to the routine, it is no more cumbersome than anything else. Just don't soak them in water. You can "de-glaze" with water, however, but always wipe clean. I use salt to get rid of gunk. I season with canola oil....but that works for me. You may be comfortable with something else. I've also discovered that the "glassy" non-stick finish of the antique Griswold's and Wagner's is beginning to form on my Lodge cast iron, though after a couple of years of daily use, all my cast iron is now non-stick.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ambimom
                  k
                  knet RE: Ambimom Jul 6, 2009 05:45 PM

                  My first Ci was a Lodge ( new) and it got well seasoned pretty quickly. It had a pebbly surface but seasoned easily enough. In Canada we pay upwards of 25 for a basic Lodge skillet. I eventually gave mine up because it was just too big for my needs and more to the point - for my kitchen. I have a 4 ft square kitchen and storage space is at a premium. I manage to cook - make all my own breads, butter, mustard - in fact everything - in my tiny little kitchen. But the Lodge was too darned big and I got tired of constantly moving it around when I needed to use the oven, where it normally lived. I gave it away and got myself a smaller Griswold which is at the very least about 40 years old and I stripped it down to bare metal and seasoned. BOTH of those pans acquired a really good seasoning pretty quickly so I'm with Kchurchill on this one. No difference at all and if a more expensive CI can do anything that mine can't, I don't know about it. The thing I really miss is that I can now only make a smaller pizza. The 12" Lodge made one fantastic pizza stone. Ok, I lifted that idea from Alton Brown but he was certainly onto something there!!

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