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Really want to start using Castiron...is Griswold the way to go?

So, I have been using stainless steel but I've heard that cast iron is a good way to cook and many of my recipes call for it. So I decided to jump into the cast iron pool. Then I realized that there are a bunch of kinds...le creuset's porcelain pans, old school pans like griswold, etc. I found an old griswold #9 griddle and I am gong to try it but as I start building a collection, should I keep getting Griswold or should I go for the newer brands?
Thanks for your help!

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  1. I am holding out for a Griswold. It was explained to me by my doctor that cast iron made back then was made with better quality material and that health wise, I'd get more iron into my diet. Yes, we get iron from new cast iron, but it is not the same. (shrugging on the why because the Dr is like an encyclopedia and I just can't absorb everything he tells me LOL)

    1. abailor: Before I can advise you, let me ask you two questions: (1) Do you plan to use your collection only on the stovetop?; and (2) Are your hobs gas or induction? If you answer "Yes" to both questions, I would not waste your money on ANY cast iron. The reasons for this are that CI has really bad conductivity, and CI on gas hobs is virtually guaranteed to hotspot and ultimately cause you to junk it all. If you fall into this category you should be looking at aluminum and/or copper, with the POSSIBLE exception of having one small cast iron skillet for searing. [I say this as the somewhat chagrined owner of LOTS of cast iron, and I now wish I had spent my money elsewhere]

      If, on the other hand, your answer to either question is "No", then cast iron is OK, as the heat will be more even under radiant or resistive hobs, and heating in the oven it matters very little what material you use. Even if you fall into this category, you may want to limit your collection to a medium skillet, a Dutch Oven, and/or a chicken fryer.

      But to answer your question directly, if you choose bare cast iron, Griswold is generally regarded as the gold standard, with Wagner a second, and the OLDER Lodge lagging somewhere in distant third. The automotive analogy (back in the day when marques meant something) might be: Packard, Cadillac, Chev, respectively. Older is generally better because older pieces were actually machined better, so that their cooking surfaces are smoother and therefore bore stick resistant. Others here feel that there are Japanese CI lines that are excellent, but I have no experience with them.

      Hope this helps.

      13 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        kaleokahu, when I was a mere slip of a child, our kitchen stove was one of those with the long Queen Anne legs (the dog's bed inevitably was under the stove), and with the integrated oven alongside, not under, the cooktop. It had the general geometry of this http://www.antiquesnavigator.com/ebay... but was much less fancy (and somewhat wider). Of course, it was gas, and on that cooktop I learned from my mother all that I ever needed to know about cooking.

        We had two frypans of approximately the same diameter, larger than a 78 rpm record but smaller than an LP record, which places both of them at about 11". One was a black heavy frypan that my mother called a "spider" that somehow got passed along to our son without ever gracing our home and which I learned only recently is a Griswold. The other was much lighter, and to my young and undeveloped muscles, much more suited to my use. I can still picture it in my mind's eye, though I have no idea where it eventually went.

        I do not have the lighter frypan today to confirm its materials, but the metal was of a fairly thick profile, so that even with my banging it around, it never suffered a dent or dimple; and, given its lack of weight for metal that thick, I assume that it had to have been aluminum.

        To get to the point of this history, I noted that my mother, whenever she cooked anything that required frying or sautéing, always reached for the Griswold; the lighter frypan almost went unused, except by me and the times when my mother had to salvage a disaster that I had started in it. I, on the other hand, always chose the lighter frypan because I liked its weight; but I found that, no matter how many tries I made with no matter how many experimental variations, there were certain things that I simply could not do in the lighter pan that I could do (and rather easily) with my mother's "spider" (if she was kind enough to lift it out of the cabinet for me and place it on the stove).

        The Griswold cast iron spider -- on a gas range -- simply cooked some things better than the (presumably) aluminum frypan, just as now induction cooks things better for us since we have graduated from gas to induction. All of this is, of course, anecdotal. But the anecdotes are true.

        1. re: Politeness

          Politeness: That's great story. And I don't discount your conclusion that certain things may have tuned out better in your mama's spider. Personally, just having my mama there and a boy's dog nearby would've made most anything taste better to me!

          If we had the pans to compare--and the COOL old stove--we could try to systematically isolate some of the variables, like flame pattern and spread, and thickness. I'm no collector of Griswold, but I have heard it praised by others for (aside from being more smoothly-finished) being thinner. I think that thinner CI might actually be LESS likely to throw a high-contrast, central hotspot than would thicker pieces like LC and Staub--albeit at a lower heat setting (Visualize, e.g., a "dome" of heat above the point(s) of the flames, ergo the NARROWER the top of the dome in a thicker gauge CI pan, and the greater the width in the thinner). In any event, knowing the relative thicknesses might be illuminating.

          We have sparred in the past over general pronouncements of "simply better", and I'd prefer not to dance that number again. Still, if you can remember what some of the certain things were that were better made in the spider than the other pan, I'm genuinely interested, so that I may better understand.

          As an aside, my mama often cooked better in 1mm SS Revereware on a resistive hob than I ever have in or on anything else. I can't cook well in that "clad", and Lord knows I've tried. But I still can't bear the thought of getting rid of it, because I fondly remember what good and loving things came out of it..

          1. re: Politeness

            Spiders usually have long legs so they can be set over coals on hearth. Sort of the the fry pan equivalent to the camp 'dutch oven'. If this didn't have legs, it could have 'inherited' the name from true spiders of similar size.

            1. re: paulj

              paulj: I certainly get your meaning, but I'm still unsure that's what politeness meant. Every oId gas rig like he's talking about that I've seen still has "spiders" of its own, and a legged pan is going to have problems mating up to those.

              In my ever-regressing, reprobate life, I've actually fantasized about putting in a real open cookhearth alongside my Duparquet woodstove, complete with crane & trammel and a clockwork spit. Maybe I should start collecting these tripod pans now!

              1. re: paulj

                paulj, actually, after reading some history from the Griswold and Wagner Society, I understand that sometime early in the 20th century, Griswold embossed a spider on the bottom in place of or in addition to the Griswold and Erie marks, and they were the best-selling skillets of their time.

                http://brenbrewer.com/wp-content/uplo...

                Just as for people of a certain age, any cola drink is a Coke and any photocopy is a Xerox, and Xerox is a verb, "spider" was almost generic for "good" cast iron. For young women who came of age at a certain time, "spider" was the the way one referred to the specific kind of black cast iron skillet that a young homemaker aspired to own. Young housewives wanted a "spider" in the same way that a teenage boy in 1990 did not want just "basketball shoes" but wanted Air Jordans.

            2. re: kaleokahu

              I have been using CI on gas ranges for quite some time. I have experienced hot spots in certain cases, but I wouldn't say that it's a dramatic difference compared to other types of cookware. Perhaps cast iron doesn't have some of the *advantages* that people ascribe to it in terms of evenness, but I think it's overkill to say that one should not use cast iron with gas ranges.

              Also, keep in mind that gas ranges vary, so whether you're talking about open or sealed burners, the shape / pattern of the holes the gas comes out of, etc.

              1. re: kaleokahu

                kaleo,

                It is true that cast iron has a poor heat conductivity than aluminum and copper -- and you know I always agree with you on this. However, sometime heat conductivity is not the only important aspect. Let's say someone wants to sear a steak by bringing the cookware to an oil smoking high temperature. Well, a cast iron skillet offers several advantages. It is inexpensive. It has great heat capacity. It provides a relatively nonstick surface. Conversely, aluminum cookware does not have the heat capacity and foods readily stick to it. A tinned copper cookware is expensive, cannot endure high temperature and is also not as stickless as a seasoned cast iron cookware.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Chem: You're totally right. Conductivity isn't everything. For high-heat searing, a cast iron skillet makes good sense. But other than the factors of tradition, price and nonstick/release, it is the confluence of negative factors for OTHER choices makes this so.

                  I think the heat capacity argument for CI is a little overplayed, especially taking into account the hotspots/extremely wide (200F) temperature differentials 'twixt center and edge. I think I remember that Al actually has better specific heat capacity by weight, so that very thick AL pans are at least competitive with CI as a "heat reservoir". But the cost, tradition and ubiquity factors make the choir very loud for CI.

                  Let me give you an example of how close CI and Al are for searing. I seared and pan-fried hamburgers tonight for 2. Both the Ci and Al pans used in this week's scorchprint tests can easily hold two patties. But NEITHER can sear two well at the same time on my gas hob. If I'm cooking one at a time, the CI seems to give the best result. But when it's TWO patties together, I really think the Al pan does a better job overall. So perhaps CI has a metallurgical advantage in specific heat capacity, but even so the "virtual pan" is only about 4", and my AL pan/hob work together well enough to be hot enough over the whole pan to give a 2-portion result that is better overall--for me anyway.

                  I've also discovered recently that this Swiss Diamond nonstick Al pan puts a nice crusty bark on a burger just like the LC ECI. I haven't tried the Al pan for a smoking hot steak sear, though (and I'm not likely to given my views on PTFE).

                  If anyone has risked it, I would like to hear anyone's experience using SS-lined copper for high-heat searing. If the bimetal and budget can take it, it might be ideal.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    I have some very nice multi-ply aluminum core stainless steel pans that conduct heat very well. If I'm doing anything high temperature that isn't candying, I do it in my cast iron. It gives a better sear, and cleanup is way easier. High temperature searing can turn oil or fat into a nasty gum that takes real elbow grease to take off the stainless steel pan. Your observation that the edges of a cast iron pan are not as hot as the middle is certainly correct, but I never have trouble moving steaks or burgers around so they cook evenly. Of course, with all that said, caveats abound: if I'm searing steaks and intend to make a pan sauce, I'll do it in the stainless pans and deglaze with something alcoholic, which pretty much cleans the pan in the process.

                    1. re: SteveG

                      SteveG: "Your observation that the edges of a cast iron pan are not as hot as the middle is certainly correct, but I never have trouble moving steaks or burgers around so they cook evenly."

                      You're a better man than I, Gunga Din! I SORTA don't mind moving 'em around, but if you want them all done the same way and at the same time, I can never remember what "o'clock" position over the hotspot they started in (and need to be moved away from, repeat repeat) On my hobs, 3 burgers need to be clocked 4 times each before reaching the bun. Whenever I try this, the CI pan mocks me like it's singing Disney's "It's a Small, Small World". I guess I could use one CI pan for each burger, 3x the gas...

                      I'm also a cook who likes to sear by leaving the meat alone until it releases. For burgers and steaks in cast iron (on gas), so for me that means one at a time and hope for a decent/warm finish.

                      I guess I could use one CI pan for each burger, 3x the gas...

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        With steaks, instead of rotating, I flip. Then I decide which sections are cooking too slowly based on how the cooked side looks, and I put that side toward the middle the next time I flip. So yeah, I flip more often, but it makes it easy to see what is happening. Steaks and burgers don't stick to my cast iron, which I can't say for my stainless. Burgers get arranged in a circle so they're all touching metal that's about the same temperature, so I think I get away with just flipping once.

                        Are your burners very small? If I have a pan full of meat, my burner is on pretty much full blast and the whole bottom of the pan has flames touching it, so hot spots aren't too much of a problem. If I'm just cooking a smaller piece of meat, there's less to cool the pan and I run the burner lower with the meat in the middle, so the lower conductivity of the cast iron is actually a benefit because the sides of the pan don't smoke as much.

                        1. re: SteveG

                          SteveG: My 4 single-ring gas burners are all the same size, pretty small. I can cover the entire bottom of a 6" pan with blue, but that's it.

                          Maybe I'm expecting too much out of gas and CI. I try to do steaks and burgers like my mama taught me--high heat and wait, flip once, wait, remove to rest, done. I can do that with more than one serving in Al and CI on electric, and in Al on gas. But not multiples in CI on gas. Or maybe I need to buck up and get an $8k range.

              2. I have a mixture of cast iron pieces, some old, some newish, but well-used. To be honest, the one I reach for most is a newish (~10 years?) Lodge Logic, 11" flat skillet. I think it was one of the very earliest pre-seasoned ones. I've used it so much, it has a great patina. I love my old pans, too. But, I don't have an old one of that size.

                I think you should go for a new one, start using it and then replace it when the right old one appears on your radar. The Lodge Logic ones are inexpensive enough to nearly be considered disposable! (But, I won't let mine go... it's become a trusted friend.)

                1. Love my Griswold, and I find it incredibly better than my old Lodge. It's closer to my first CI pan (now broken), which was also old, though not sure what it was specifically.

                  1. I have an old machined cast iron skillet and yes it's slicker but the majority of my cooking is done on newer cast iron pieces. Life's too short to not use the newer stuff if you like what cast iron brings to the table. Heat it low and slow to give it time to provide more uniform heating. Man's been dealing with hot spots since he got his first sunburn and realized it wasn't the same all over.