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What's THE BEST Cast Iron Pan?

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I know there are already 704 posts about various cast iron topics, but I looked through several pages of topics that weren't quite what I wanted -- I just want to know which one is THE BEST, not the best value or the best reasonably priced. (A friend I lived with for 2 years is getting married and I want to get her the best one). Her fiance said they wanted a pan and also a dutch oven shape -- I had no idea that existed in cast iron, but if anyone has opinions on those I'd love to hear them too.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. IMHO the best are old ones heavy with a smooth, black surface. Some like Griswolds, but my favorite one I have is a Wagner.

    My DIL received one from a friend at a shower. The friend had made a label she put on it using their name,"the Smith Kerbonker"

    1. Any Griswold made prior to about 1940. If Griswold's not in your budget, then I recommend Wapak or Favorite Piqua. Modern cast iron is too heavy ( for me, at least! My older stuff is sometimes half the weight of modern Lodge, for instance) and too scratchy and bumpy. The early stuff was hand-polished and thus has satin-like finishes.

      Ebay will set you up with a good one, BUT I'd recommend, instead, that you go over the forum at the Wagner and Griswold Society, and ask them if they're currently selling on Ebay. This is a respected organization, they agree to abide by an ethical code re: conduct when selling cast iron, and they tend to pack their items exceptionally carefully. And, yes, there are LOTS of different dutch oven styles in vintage cast iron: flat-topped, rounded top, from tiny to huge (my largest is a #10 Griswold Tite Top, which holds about 8 quarts). I have a Piqua from 1900 that makes the best pork roasts and pot roasts imaginable....even better than my beloved Le Creuset.

      Here's the link: http://www.wag-society.org/

      Go to the forum and scroll down...near the bottom is an "Items Wanted" folder.

      1. My favorite is Wagner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Td61

          Wagn er is a fine line....I just have trouble with them because they're a lot thicker (and thus heavier) than some of the other venerable brands. I had a large collection of Wagner skillets (and still have a dutch oven) but gave them away to friends when i discovered how much lighter Griswold--particularly the early ERIE line--was. I have arthritis in my wrists.

          I know people who swear by Wagner, and especially believe it is better for searing, cooking on a grill, and high heat applications.

        2. agree: Wagner or Griswold. as far as budgets are concerned, how much is a trendy brand like Calphalon or such even when ON SALE??

          Invest in these wherever you find them. I got all mine (about 10 now) at swap meets and thrift stores, rusty and needing to be rehabbed, but I've used them daily for 35 years, and have already notified neice and nephew of their inheritances. Becky, have you made plans for yours, lest they end up in some junque shop as rusty "planters"?

          9 Replies
          1. re: toodie jane

            We are going to "fall drive" this weekend and last year their was a vendor with beautiful cast iron. I'm going to look for him! I have a smaller "Ozark" dutch oven that belonged to my MIL. Have you ever heard of that brand? It may have been her mother's.

            1. re: wekick

              Ozark was, I think, made by Crescent Foundry in St. Louis. They seem to disappeared early in the 20th century, and little is know about them. I have one Ozark skillet that I'm very fond of. :-)

            2. re: toodie jane

              Hah! I've raved about my vintage cast iron ( I have about 30 skillets, three griddles, a waffle iron, five muffin pans, and five dutch ovens, and four skillet lids) so much to all my family and friends that they're lined up waiting for them. :-) Since I discovered this new passion, I've had an easy time deciding what to give as Christmas gifts, etc. I even like cleaning and seasoning them, so that's good.

              1. re: Beckyleach

                How do you personally go about that task. I've read different thing on line but just generic and was wondering how you as a collector rehab cast iron. What makes them too far gone?

                1. re: wekick

                  Well, this is going to sound insane (it did to me, too, till I tried it) but I keep a large Rubbermaid tub (18 gallon?) in my shed. In it, I have a mixture of about two pounds of lye (yes, LYE! You can buy it for drains at Ace Hardware) mixed with lots of water.

                  When I get a cruddy piece of cast iron, I --wearing rubber gloves--place it in The Tub and leave it for about a week. Take it out: ALL GUNK IS GONE! (I used to do this individually with EasyOff and the fumes were horrible. Straight lye doesn't stink). If there's modest surface rust, I then scrub it with very fine steel wool, then maybe some Barkeepers Friend...otherwise, I go straight to the sink and wash and scrub it with hot water and a Chore Boy pad (whatever those things are called that are yellow sponge on one side; green scubby stuff on the other).

                  Rinse well in cold water, dry with paper towels, and then I heat on the top of my stove till dry. Then, it's into a 450 degree oven *dry* (unoiled) to cook for an hour or so....(this seems to make the finished piece blacker; someone with more chemistry than me explained this on another thread).

                  I then rub the piece down with Crisco (used to use olive oil, but it's so expensive. Some use PAM but if you're not very careful, you get a patchy--but glossy--finish). Yeah, there are trans fats in there, but I'm going to burn them off so I don't worry....and wipe, wipe, WIPE TILL DRY (or so it seems)....or very nearly so. Otherwise, when your oil of choice melts, it dribbles and pools and makes streaks and splotches on the piece.

                  BACK into the oven--this time on 475--500 degrees. If it is a fancy piece, I pull it out (wearing my Ove Gloves; this is dangerous stuff!) and wipe some more, using paper towels held by locking tongs. Otherwise, I just leave the piece in the oven for a full hour and let cool down in there...

                  After cooling, I spray lightly with PAM ( it gives a wonderful semi-gloss finish and yet doesn't get rancid easily) and stand back and admire my handiwork. :-)

                  As to "too far gone" you would not believe the wonders the WAGS (Wagner and Griswold folks) can work with old cast iron. I'm amazed. Many of the devout collectors have set up home electrolysis sets in their garage (using battery charges, pieces of steel, etc.) and can take a piece of cast iron that is totally, completely rusted (orange! ) and it comes out looking like new. One fellow recently bought a very rare piece at auction, and it looked like it had been retrieved from the Titanic, it was so yucky. Within a week, it was black as ebony, shining with a natural sheen (as opposed to oiled up and greasy) and gorgeous. I'm amazed.

                  However, if there is heavy pitting under that rust and grime, none of the chemistry in the world can resurrect the piece. You never really know till you're done.

                  1. re: Beckyleach

                    Very interesting. I have an old Griswold piece that was my Grandmother's. There's probably 80 years of crud on the outside, but the cooking surface looks really good still. The crud on the outside is black and hard and rough, is this how you would remove it? I don't really want to mess up the inside, should I just leave it alone and live with it the way it is?

                    1. re: Beckyleach

                      Thank you so much for going to the trouble of posting this.

                      1. re: wekick

                        I like to get rid of the "crud" because they're such lovely pans; I like to let them shine in all their glory. IF you don't want to affect the cooking surface at all, I suggest you hold you nose and spray EasyOff all over the *exterior* of the pan, place it in a plastic grocery bag--black is best--and set it in the sun for a day or so. Take it out, see if the crud all wipes off. If not, re-spray and leave again for a day. Rinse. Repeat as necessary. :-)

                        Then, you'll want to season it as I described BUT you won't be seasoning a "raw" interior cooking surface, so you won't lose the accumulated additional seasoning that only comes from time, and use.

                        1. re: Beckyleach

                          Thank you for the response. I'll give it a shot, very carefully :)

              2. The selection here is a bit limited but Iwachu cast iron skillets are extremely high quality: http://www.naturalimport.com/inc/sdet...

                1. the reason you have so many value postings is because, generally, cast iron made today is cast iron made today. It's almost like asking which natural gas company has the highest quality natural gas, or which copper vendor has the best 10' wide sheets of pure 100% copper.

                  That said, IMO the best ones are the ones that are smooth and not too thin that have handles on both sides as opposed as one handle only. Some of the cheaper options are thinner and more rough texture wise. This isn't a huge deal as you should be forming a patena that will make the roughness a moot point, but just my opinion.

                  Now enamed cast iron is a whole different game. I'd say Le Creuset or Staub would make a great high-end gift. The lodge color line is probably 95% as good and much cheaper but for your purposes those higher end brands seem to fit the bill! A le creuset should last for a long long time.

                  1. If you want to buy *new* cast iron, I'd recommend the Lodge Signature series or the beautiful Japanese cast iron from Iwachu. I have several pieces of both, and consider them to be of comparable quality. Either would be a nice wedding present, IMO.

                    1. A old well seasoned one...

                      1. Wow, thanks everyone for your responses -- it is really helpful, and I realize that a lot o them are similar. Part of the gift actually was that I would research cast irons in addition to buying it -- I'm also planning a personalized kinko's-published cookbook of recipes that I am going to test out first, with a section for her to add recipes that she and her new husband develop using the cast irons I buy them. So I guess maybe I'm intentionally pouring more labor than is 'necessary' into this just because of the occasion and my relationship with her. Those Japanese pans look fantastic... although I'm not sure whether the tempura one counts as a deep dish in the same sense. Anyway I am going to spend time looking through all of your suggestions, thanks everyone so much!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Adrienne

                          Adrienne: "Those Japanese pans look fantastic... although I'm not sure whether the tempura one counts as a deep dish in the same sense."

                          I am not sure what you mean by "same sense," but the Iwachu tempura pot is the very best vessel possible for making Dutch babies, The great thing about Nambu cast iron is that it is like the music of J.S. Bach: there are so many different pieces that you never have to worry about running out of new ones to fall in love with. Look, for instance, at tanuki soup's gorgeous frypan: http://www.chow.com/photos/355209 or our bail-handle nabe, http://www.chow.com/photos/318813 .

                          In North America, the ready availability of Nambu cast iron -- other than teapots -- is pretty much limited to a few select pieces from Iwachu, but there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of artisan producers of cast iron cooking vessels in the Nambu region (roughly the immediate surroundings of the city of Morioka), among which Iwachu is but one. If you were putting together a theme vacation, you could do much worse than making Morioka your destination and spending your days visiting the artisan foundries of the area. (And if you wanted a dual themed vacation, do the same for the very special sake kura -- breweries -- of Yamagata province to the southwest.) Sure beats staying in a Western-style hotel in Tokyo.

                          1. re: Politeness

                            Helpful, Politeness. Would you say that cooking in those Nambu region vessels is any different from the cast iron pods such as Lodge? A local seller has some beautiful cast iron pans from Japan but in terms of functionality I wonder if they are any better.

                            1. re: epop

                              epop: "Would you say that cooking in those Nambu region vessels is any different from the cast iron pods such as Lodge?"

                              Well, yes, of course. A good cook can make better dishes in a Lodge pot than a poor cook can make in Nambu cast iron. Yo-yo Ma can make better music on a cello from the high school music room than most high school students can make from Yo-yo Ma's Stradavari cello. Equipment does not trump talent and experience. But a good cook can make use of the superiority of Nambu cast iron just as he or she can take advantage of a top notch knife compared to a supermarket knife. High quality tools extend the ability and the acquired knowledge that already is there.

                        2. Just got a Lodge Signature frying pan and it's the most beautiful pan I've ever seen. Very Model T. No desire for Le Creuset et al.