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A Historical Solution to Cast Iron Hotspotting?

Saw a truly unique pan tonight on auction. http://www.ebay.com/itm/1883-Antique-...

I'm thinking this thing is someone's good idea for evening the heat of cast iron over gas. Who agrees or disagrees?

Aloha,
Kaleo

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  1. I have two thoughts about this: First, that pan looks a lot like steel, as opposed to wrought iron, but I am no expert in the matter. And, I have no idea what the state of iron-based metals was in 1883. Second, the round flame tamer attached to the bottom looks to be cast iron and reminds me of devices designed to minimize heat loss up the sides of the pan, like to coils on the bottom of the Simplex Kettle.

    1. Why are you assuming attaching "cast iron" to the bottom of a "steel" pan would even out the hot spot problems you claim to have with cast iron? *IF* better overall heat distribution is the goal of the design, then surely it is to provide more even heat to the steel pan?

      But a better possibility occurs to me. The diameter of the attached cast iron ring looks to me as if it may be the correct diameter to allow it to replace the round cast iron plates that lifted out of an old fashioned wood stove. That purpose would certainly fit the 1833 market!

      EDIT! On looking at the photos of the pan more closely, I'm sure the disign is to allow home cooks to cook hotter and faster by using it without courtesy of the original cast iron trivet on a wood stove. The vented ring around the welded-on trivet is not directly attached to the pan, thereby promoting a draft around the pan from the wood (or even coal) fire chamber below. I'm convinced! And the style of pan went out of fashion because the market died with the decline of wood/coal stoves.

      Elementary, my dear Watson!!! '-)

      19 Replies
      1. re: Caroline1

        Hi, Car & Jeremy:

        I'm assuming that the integral trivet ring would even the heat over gas by the design--a closed center and an open periphery. I believe this would moderate the heat directly over the flame, yet allow the hot combustion gases to directly tickle the edges. And this effect would be the same whether the pan body is steel or CI (and I think I agree it's steel, an even worse material than CI for conducting heat).

        I have asked the seller to measure the trivet's diameter to see if it will fit a standard 8" lid opening. But even if, as Car theorizes, it was intended to sit down in the opening, then the open lattice around the periphery would be superfluous except to shield the center, thereby evening the heat.

        Sorry Car, but I'm not tracking your edit epiphany. How do trivet and pan together make for "hotter and faster"? On a woodstove, all a trivet (even one that allows air circulation twixt pan and trivet) can do is slow and cool down cooking. If the maker wanted hottest and fastest, they'd have put on a simple circular flange that suspended the pan's bare bottom directly over the firebox, don't you think?

        The more I think about this relic, the more I think: (a) If it was for gas or fit *into* a solid fuel stove, it is a flame-tamer/spreader; or (b) If it was for use on a closed cooktop, it is some sort of specialized pan to allow slower simmering on the hotter areas of the top.

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          The open lattice in the iron base simply reduces the overall weight of the pan.

          1. re: kaleokahu

            I'm not sure gas stoves existed in 1883. Kerosene stoves maybe? My father spoke of a kerosene stove from early in the last century, and not fondly. Surely from this time period the pan would be designed for wood or coal stove. Did cooking stoves ever burn coal?

            1. re: sueatmo

              Hi, sueatmo:

              I looked into it, and here's what I found... 1883 (if the seller is reading right) would have been at the dawn of the gas era nationwide. But New Orleans had piped gas as early as 1835, the gas being manufactured from coal or coke. Gas stoves were first manufactured in England in 1836, but they obviously needed to be fed through pipes which were just starting to become part of the infrastructure. Short NG pipelines were put in the USA in the late 1850s when the first dedicated NG wells were dug. The first lengthy natural gas pipeline (120 miles to Chicago) was constructed in 1891; prior to that gas was manufactured from coke and coal. Bunsen's famous burner came about in 1885. It's in that same general timeframe that kerosene appliances arrived, although it took John D. Rockefeller another 15 years to get Americans many kerosene stoves.

              I'm back to thinking this is just a pan with an integral trivet for stovetop use. The 6.5" diameter just doesn't jibe with the holes from standard 6-, 8-, and 9-inch stove lids, but there may have been some 7-inchers this would have fit.

              "Did cooking stoves ever burn coal?" Why yes. I burned coal in mine this morning.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                I was trying to imagine cooking with coal, and found I couldn't.

                My father bought his mother a stove at some point, because he couldn't stand the taste of food cooked on a kerosene stove. But I don't remember what sort he bought her. This was probably during the Depression.

                I can remember his enumerating the sorts of stoves they had, but I can't remember details!

                I think the pan in question looks like what you think it is. I don't know why someone would weld(?) a steel pan to an iron trivet for any other reason. I also am skeptical of how well it works. It is interesting though.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  Hi, sueatmo:

                  Once you get it lit, coal burns long, hot and consistently. In the closed environs of the cookstove, there is not much odor, but you wouldn't want to grill over it. It can be messy feeding the fire. Heavier firebox castings are a good idea, too. Baking no-knead bread in it tonight.

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    Sounds wonderful!

            2. re: kaleokahu

              Kaleo says: “Sorry Car, but I'm not tracking your edit epiphany. How do trivet and pan together make for "hotter and faster"? On a woodstove, all a trivet (even one that allows air circulation twixt pan and trivet) can do is slow and cool down cooking. If the maker wanted hottest and fastest, they'd have put on a simple circular flange that suspended the pan's bare bottom directly over the firebox, don't you think?”

              * * * * *

              Sugarplum, you OBVIOUSLY have not had to deal with many wood stoves in your young life! ‘-)
              First, do not think that the usual wood burning stove of 1833 was some sort of “fancy” console with an oven? The “oven” was a Dutch oven when baking was done, OR richer folks may have had brick and mortar “wall ovens” built into their kitchens. For families without servants (and possibly some with) cooking was done on a “wood stove” that primarily functioned as a space heater and secondarily as a cook-top, with one or more (I’ve seen up to four) cast iron “trivets” that could be removed by using a “handle” that fit into an inset in the trivet to move it aside for purposes that ranged from adding more wood (instead of opening the fire chamber door on the front of the stove) to allowing more direct heat for a cooking vessel.

              On the model fry pan you offer on eBay, the ring of vents around the outside of the attached trivet would allow a fry pan placed directly over the opening in place of the solid cast iron trivet that was original equipment with the stove to pull a stronger draft from the fire chamber, thereby allowing for higher temperature frying than could be attained by a solid pan placed directly over (and completely covering) the trivet opening. A pan that did not entirely cover the hole would fall through!

              We need to all keep in mind that in 1833, there was NO central heating in most homes, and nearly every room in houses of that era had a fireplace to heat it, including “parlors”, dining rooms, bedrooms, and most other rooms. The heat source for the common man’s kitchen was the dual purpose (no oven) space heater/stove that ALWAYS had a kettle boiling away on top of it to add humidity to the room to compensate for the moisture loss that free-standing hot-all-over wood stoves caused (that fireplaces do not). This type of wood burning stove was used in even the most humble one room houses. It was the most utilitarian multi-use “large appliance” found in homes for centuries. The pan you've found is a pretty damned smart innovation!

              1. re: Caroline1

                Hi, Car:

                Um, I think this pan is 1893, not 1833.

                And you still haven't explained how this shielded pan, set over an open hole, cooks "faster and hotter" than an unshielded pan, set over the same open hole. The "draft" will be the same in either case, because in both cases the hole is fully occluded by the pan itself. I have cooked with a wok set down into the hole, and it alters the draft not a whit.

                If you meant to say "faster and hotter *than a plain pan on the stovetop*", I agree with you. But it'd be slower and lower than a plain pan perched directly over the same open fire. Where this pan holds promise is that the underside will also tend to even the heat in that application (and, I think, over gas).

                My guess is it probably never caught on because washing it would have been a PITA.

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  I really thought I had explained it, but obv iously not! '-)

                  Okay. You have this hot fire raging inside the wood stove. You have trivets on the top of it that can be lifted off. Also, the entire top of the stove is, in most cases, also cast iron of the same thickness as the trivets or better. You following me?

                  Remove ONE trivet and set it aside and you change the whole convection/thermal flow of the fire chamber by providing a more direct vent that will produce more heat under a pan THEORETICALLY.

                  Cover the trivet hole with a pan that is big enough not to fall through the hole and you are (once again) closing off the draft dynamics of the hole and the heat level for the pan isn't going to be much better than just using a carbon steel pan on the trivet when it is in place.

                  BUTTTT.... Replace the original trivet with a VENTED trivet (the holes around the edges of the trivet attached to the pan) and you keep the thermal flow pattern of having the open trivet hole AND have a pan that won't limit that advantage by completely blocking the hole the original trivet normally occupies.

                  I'm too lazy to draw a picture and attach it...

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Hi, Car: I understand now what you're trying to say, but for that to work, the trivet part would need to be an *exact* fit replacement for the lid you removed. And then there's the inconvenient fact that the center of the trivet is solid. and actually shields the center of the pan.

                    I *have* seen aftermarket replacement lids that have very small adjustable dampers built in, whose purpose is to slightly alter the draft. They were marketed not to build up the fire, but to conserve fuel by *lengthening* burn times. On most stoves, opening a lid over the firebox acts more like a check damper--the air goes right on by.

                    When I find a stove into which this 6.5" trivet perfectly fits, I'd think more of your theory.

                    Aloha,
                    Kaleo

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Just so we have all assumptions on the table here: Caroline, for you to be right, you have to assume: (a) the trivet on the pan is at least as thick (i.e. > than or = to) as the stove's trivet AND (b) that there is a gap between the attached trivet and the pan.

                      Regarding assumption (a): If the attached trivet is thinner than the stoves trivet, then the attached trivet will lower into the stove's trivet hole until the pan itself catches the edges of the hole, thereby blocking off all airflow. Regarding assumption (b): if there is no gap between the pan and it's attached trivet, then, even though the attached trivet perfectly matches the space left by the stove's trivet, there is no space between the pan and the trivet for the air to flow into and through the holes of the attached trivet.

                      If either your assumption (a) or (b) is not accurate, then I think Kaleo's assessment will be correct regrading air flow.

                      It seems to me that the difference of opinion here is not fundamentally about about correct reasoning or clarity of explanation, but of misunderstood and uncommunicated assumptions. I'll be curious to see if you agree.

                      EDIT - I see that Kaleo replied while I typed this, so my post is almost redundant.

                      1. re: jljohn

                        I hope this is my last post on the subject! But first, have either of you looked at the photos (all of them!) of the pan that are up on eBay? I'm attaching the one that forced me to the conjectures I have posted here. Maybe a picture *IS* worth a thousand words. But meantime, I say this with all love and respect, but neither of you guys would make a good archaeologist because you carry too many "here and now" biases. The photos on eBay look like they were taken with a cell phone. Or by a bad photographer. They are less than "pristine." I've tried to clean up this enlargement of what I'm talking about by photoshopping it a bit. See the air between the trivet and the pan bottom at the top of the photo? I have now spent more time on the subject than the subject warrants. I have NO self control!!! '-)

                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Hi, Car:

                          You didn't need to go to all that trouble. I don't think anyone missed the space between the trivet and pan.

                          Why do you think there's a solid disk in the center? Wouldn't the pan cook even more "hotter and faster" if it was an open lattice like the periphery?

                          Unless I can find an 8-inch lid with a concentric 7-inch hole, I think I'm gonna pass on this one, even if it would make cooking with it on gas more even.

                          Aloha,
                          Kaleo

              2. re: Caroline1

                I agree with your remark about cast iron stoves. The fact that the iron plate is smaller than the diameter of the pan suggests that it would replace one of the removable inserts on a cast iron stovetop.

                1. re: GH1618

                  HI, GH1618:

                  The seller just got back to me... Would it change your opinion if you knew the plate is 6.5" diameter?

                  And do you agree w/ Car that the plate serves to cook food hotter and faster than you could by just putting a plain pan over the open hole? I guess what I'm asking is: assuming this thing does sit down into the woodstove, what purpose does the plate serve?

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    Kaleo,

                    You are going to buy this thing and try it on the wood stove, right?

                    Jeremy

                    1. re: jljohn

                      I'm tempted to, yes.

                    2. re: kaleokahu

                      The particular diameter doesn't help. You need to know where it was manufactured and what stoves and cookware were in common use in that country in order to put it in context.

                2. I disagree with the hypothesis about evening the heat. You are over-analyzing the problem. Consider that the pan was made in an era when cast iron was in common use, including for cast iron stoves, and steel was not yet in general use. This pan would be lighter than a cast iron pan, yet have a heavy flat bottom which would fit in an opening on a cast iron stove, and which would sit flat on the stovetop when moved to the side, and be stable enough not to tip over because of its weight. The iron base would also retain heat when set to the side, but I doubt the inventor was thinking specifically of the heat distribution.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    Hi, GH1618:

                    There are a few problems with your argument. First, tinned steel was in general use as early as the 1840s. Second. this trivet, or "plate" as you call it, is only attached to the pan by two small studs, which stand it away from the pan. I.e., the pan does *not* have a heavy flat bottom to retain heat--or do anything else but *block* heat from the stove. Third, given its dimensions and geometry ( e.g., 6.5" trivet being much smaller than a standard 8" opening and the pan base itself looking to be no bigger than 8"), the pan would wobble and gimbal on the standard hole.

                    Here's my current thinking, based on using my "new" stove for a couple months. When the firebox is truly full and roaring (as it must be to bake >350F), the *entire* cooktop is too hot for a gentle simmer, and the fold-down trivets and warming cabinet are too cool. This is one of the reasons for stovetop trivets in general, and other wares that stand off the cooktop (e.g., tall-base waffle irons). This pan, it follows, can be used to step down the heat below that which the same pan without the trivet would get. I think it's either for that, or to get more even heat out of a small gas hob.

                    Aloha,
                    Kaleo

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Your making all kinds of assumptions here. The Bessemer process for the mass production of steel was invented in the mid-19th century. It's not clear to me that it was in general use for cookware only thirty years later. This pan is wrough iron, with a cast iron base. It is of rather primitive construction because of the time it was made. It cannot be judged by modern standards.

                      In order to determine the reasoning behind the construction, you have to talk to the people who designed and made it, or at least find their records. I don't think you'll be able to do that.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Hi, GH1618:

                        You might want to check what Mary Middleton Rutledge Fogg had to say about tinned steel in her "The Cook's Own Book" (1832) before you accuse anyone of making "assumptions here".

                        *Of course* you can judge this pan by modern standards. Especially if, as I believe both of us have done, one has cooked on a wood cookstove and primitive gas hobs. All it takes is context.

                        If your input is not to ask questions because we can't know the subjective intent of the dead who leave no memoir, then thanks. My epistemology is a little more elastic.

                        I think I'll buy this pan and see. I have the wimpy gas burner. I have the woodstove, wood and coal. We'll see what works and what doesn't. I think inferences from that empirical exercise will be useful, you may disagree.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          If you have a book reporting that cookware (other than knives and such) was made from steel in the early 19th century, I won't dispute it. That's not an assumption, then.

                          Whether the pan is steel or malleable iron, it looks like it belongs in a museum, not a working kitchen. Enjoy it.

                          1. re: kaleokahu

                            I do not believe that all wood burning stoves had only 8 inch removable trivets. My great grandmother's wood burning stove, as I recall (she died before I started school but I remember her and her kitchen vividly) had at least two different size trivets, if not three.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              That's right. My grandmother's stove had at least one multi-size insert — an outer ring holding a smaller disc.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                Hi, Kids:

                                Yes, lids (usually one per stove) came as a 2-piece concentric lid (the fancier ones had 3 pieces). As I've written before in this thread, stoves came with 6", 8" and 9" lids--which would not have fit this pan.

                                This pan would require a 7" hole to fit right. I have never seen a 7" lid on a stove, nor a 7" inner lid, but maybe such a thing exists. It would have been very uncommon even in 1893.

                                Aloha,
                                Kaleo

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Why do you keep thinking that things like the size of the trivet holes in a wood stove were standardized in the 19th century? Keep this in mind: Using non-standard sized trivet holes in a wood burning stove made that stove PROPRIETARY! If you lost or broke a trivet, you had to come back to them to buy a replacement. This has been common practice through the ages. I'm currently waiting for a latch for my dishwasher because there is no universal one-latch-fits-all-dishwashers. Can you buy a standard knob for ANY brand of gas or electric stove today? I don't think so! Making your product unique enough to require customers to come back to you for parts is not an unusual practice. Even in the 19th Century. '-)

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Hi, Car:

                                    Novel argument. Yes, various makers (those with their very own foundries) could and did *slightly* vary their lid sizes, but my experience is that the variations away from 6, 8 and 9" lids were on the order of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. The Norm Druckers of every American Hooterville (who sold most of the stoves) wanted happy customers, so the lids quickly became more and more standardized. The flipside of the proprietary swindle has always been interchangeability. These lids are much more fungible than stove knobs, although there has always been more similarity than difference in the *shaft*, the knobs being more cosmetic.

                                    Aloha,
                                    Kaleo

                    2. I've been mulling this over, and I have another theory. It is often said that cast iron provides an "even heat." We know that "even" cannot refer to conductivity, but given its historical context probably originally referred to heat stability. i.e. "evenness" here means that even with lulls in the fire below the pan or flareups hitting the pan, the temp in stayed "even" in the pan.

                      With this context in mind, is it possible that this is a retrofit of some sort to a steel pan? Perhaps its owner was trying to "even" out the pans heat retaining properties in the face of flareups and lulls by placing a riveting a cast iron disk on the bottom?

                      Thoughts?

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: jljohn

                        Hi, Jeremy:

                        It is possible it's a retrofit, but it would have been a RPITA compared with just using a separate trivet. The maker had to first machine and weld on those two steel studs so that they passed perfectly through the eyes on the trivet, and then attach the trivet by brazing or peening the steel (welding cast had not yet been perfected in 1893). Frankly, the trivet looks to me like it was cast for this purpose--why else cast in the two mounting holes?

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          Kaleo,

                          The whole thing looks to me to be an afterthought. It's a gut feeling. And, I think the seeming absence of anything else similar out there might support the thought that this was a frankenstein. It being a patent prototype of some sort (see comment below) could also explain it, but notice that the pan is marked with a patent mark and date while the trivet is not.

                          Here is what I am thinking: The owner of the pan perceived some problem or issue with the pan that he though could be corrected by a cast iron bottom. Low and behold, he finds some cast iron part that has been cast off from something else. Who knows where it came from! He places it against the bottom of the pan, drills or punches two holes (where the cast iron trivet holes are), and hand rivets the trivet to the bottom of the pan. I think the cast iron trivet was part of some other piece of machinery before it came to be attached to the pan, and those holes were just mounting holes left over from that purpose. Who would actually design a trivet that required attachment in such a bizarre way, and in such a bad place, if they were not trying to make an odd part fit?

                          Looking at the photos, I thought the trivet was riveted. Do you think the circles on the bottom inside of the pan are heat marks from brazing as opposed to very thinly pounded rivets?

                          Jeremy

                          1. re: jljohn

                            Jeremy:

                            What you say is perfectly plausible--it may be a one-off or prototype. I have never seen one before.

                            But let's be clear: no sensible person would have thought s/he was putting a cast iron bottom on this pan-it clearly stands the pan off from whatever the heat source, and actually shields the pan from heat in the center.

                            Still a mystery to me.

                            Kaleo

                      2. OHaving never seen one in all my years wandering through antique and kitchen supply stores, I would think that this is another Industrial Revolution patent that did not perform as expected or was just silly. Look at the number of mousetrap patents.