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Sep 5, 2009 05:25 AM

Reading about the trevails of cast iron

I have several very old pieces of cast iron. Each one has an almost mirror like finish on the surface and I know that they are well seasoned and sometimes food still sticks. I've looked at new CI in stores and I've noticed that all of them have a very rough, sandlike surface. I assume that this surface is imparted to the metal through sand casting, the process of molding compressed blocks of sand and pouring molten iron into the cavity.

Seems to me that this surface is not conducive to any non-stick cooking no matter how well seasoned the utensil is.

Anyone else have any ideas on this.

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  1. Cheftiger, more than "ideas," experience. My mother had an old Griswold skillet (our son has it now) that cooked anything and wiped clean without washing. After we got married, we purchased a new Lodge skillet and set about seasoning it. For 29 years, we tried and we tried and we tried. It had that slightly rough surface that you describe, and, no matter what we did, nothing ever was able to make it right -- "right," that is, as I remembered cast iron could be.

    Finally, at the beginning of this year, we decided to buy a similarly shaped Griswold Erie skillet off eBay, and (as a precaution) put it through a couple of self-cleaning oven cycles and scrubbed it down before reseasoning using a technique a bit closer to the ThreeGigs approach than to the well-recommended technique of Annabelle (acmorris), (we have no intent to diminish the acmorris technique, which has worked for many). The technique we used was very similar, that is, to the very one that we had tried with the Lodge for so many years without success.

    Long story short, the revived Griswold Erie has performed just as my mother's old Griswold used to do (and still does, in our son's household). We did not throw the Lodge away: some friends, lumbered with only aluminum cookware, were happy to take it off our hands, and they are delighted with it. We bite our lip against telling them the real reason why we decided to give it away. They are happy, so why burst the bubble?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Politeness

      You are model parents - if I had a son he'd have had to pry that skillet out of my cold, dead hands, to quote Charlton Heston! That said, since it looked like Mom was going to live forever (92, as it turned out), I visited flea markets and tag sales 30+ years ago and bought my cast iron pieces that way. Most were already perfect. One was well-used but rusty, so I scoured it with salt and reseasoned.

      1. re: greygarious

        I agree. I have 2 CI pans: one 8-inch pan inherited from my grandmother that is a thing of beauty - jet black, smooth and shiny, just perfect. The other is one I bought new 10 years ago that has, over time, acquired a shiny, black finish but retains it's bumpiness. My grandmother's pan will stay with my until the end, but the other pan I'd like to replace with something smooth and vintage. I like the smooth surface much better. but due to size, I use the newer 11.5 inch pan more often. It's my go-to pan for searing and toasting (tomatillos or peppers for salsa, grilled cheese, quesedillas).

        The ThreeGigs approach to seasoning is certainly the way to go. It will build the same kind of seasoning that my grandmother did by using it every day. Also, as noted in that same post, I think the key to a great season is bacon fat. Cook bacon in the pan, occasionally season it inside and out with bacon fat. It's irreplaceable.

      2. re: Politeness

        I only learned the glories of cast iron three or four years ago so the only pieces I own are the more modern ones with the craggy finish. I admit it took a bit of experimentation and trial and error until I came up with a foolproof method of seasoning, cleaning and maintaining my "naked" cast iron that works for me, but once I figured it out, after daily use, those crags become smoother and smoother, and the pans utterly non-stick. Indeed, the pans I use most are a set of 3 skillets I bought for $9, but my collection also includes Le Creuset enamel, and a selection of different Lodge pieces. They are all a pleasure. Occasionally, just like with any other non-stick cooking surface, food residue might adhere, but it is easily removed by "de-glazing" with plain tap water or with a rubber scraper. I don't know why your Lodge was so problematic. Mine certainly aren't. I know the Wagner and Griswold pieces are sought after and fetch high prices on the open market, but the modern stuff is quite satisfactory...and in my experience, exceedingly non-stick.

      3. The modern castings are indeed much rougher. Sanding them or even having them sandblasted will put you on par with older, better made castings. Work up through 220 grit. Scrub and rinse thoroughly and then season the pan.

        1 Reply
        1. re: CharlieTheCook

          This is one case where I have to say, without reservation: "they don't make 'em like they used to!"

          I have NO new cast iron (non-enameled, that is) any more. Every piece of cast iron cookware in my kitchen now is at least 50 years old and every piece is an absolute joy to cook in...These older pieces are lighter, smoother (they were machined by hand before leaving the factories) and usually did NOT cost much more--if any more--than a new piece of rough, heavy CI. I buy from junk shops and yard sales and Ebay and learned how to clean and re-season what often appears, at first, to be a nasty piece of crudded up junk. <G>

          Why work and work to reinvent the wheel? Just get an older piece and the "work" won't be necessary in the first place.