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cast iron confusion

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I've had cast iron skillets my whole life mostly lodge some unlabeled and one wok that could break a foot if dropped. And they've all been great but ever since becoming a chef all my peers seem to see griswolds as the pinnacle of cast irons. After trying a couple a friend of mine got in an auction I really couldn't tell any difference. What makes Griswold s so special besides the age?

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  1. I have not used the Griswolds personally, but I have read that the Griswold cast iron pans will have a smooth, machine ground interior that some people seem to prefer.

    As you know, the Lodge pans have a slightly rough cooking surface.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bakon

      I thought most, if not all, pans from the Griswold era were machined smooth. I have a couple of noname pans from the 70s that are machined.

      Lodge could machine theirs, but it would add to the cost. I think they are putting more effort into getting the molds right in the first place, followed by the preseasoning. (Machining not only smooths the surface, it removes molding imperfections).

    2. The finished surface is it. My mother has a barely used Griswold and it's a thing of beauty with its smoothly finished interior surface. The first time I saw a Lodge in a store I couldn't get over how crude it looked. From strictly a cooking perspective, I suppose fried chicken will turn out exactly the same in either. Nevertheless, I don't want a Lodge, I want my mother's Griswold.

      1 Reply
      1. re: GH1618

        Yup, it's the surface. When the skillet is seasoned properly and at the right temp, stuff just slides off.

      2. I have a bunch, ok a hoard, of older CI - Griswold, Wapak, Wagner etc. The older Griswold - (Erie Mark) Wagner and Wapak are very different skillets than a new Lodge - they are thiner, lighter, and the interior surface is milled smooth. The mid-centry ones compared to the early 20th century ones are a bit thicker walled but still milled smooth. These make up the bulk of my most used CI.

        There is debate as to weather these things make them cook better or not, I wont even begin to try to enter that discussion. I have seen claims that that the Iron from the Great Lakes regions was so pure it allowed for a much finer, and better cooking, product than is produced today.

        I buy into it but I am a sucker for old things

        Admittedly to me they are beautiful objects - and the history bit is part of what makes them appealing. If you hold an old American made cast iron skillet up next to a new MIC one - the difference in quality of craft and design is clear, even the new Lodge are pretty crude but still seem better quality than some of the other stuff I have seen.

        They are a pleasure to cook with although I think much of the collectability that drives some prices high is about rare logos and sizes and then you are just paying for art and history not cookware per se.

        4 Replies
        1. re: JTPhilly

          I doubt that purity business. I'm sure advances in metalurgy and refining technology more than make up for regional differences in iron ore. Iron content of ore is measured in terms of a few percent.

          1. re: paulj

            Just wondering if the older ones used virgin iron while the newer ones are recycled from the scrap yards? I wonder if that even makes a difference.

            1. re: Raffles

              Recycled iron is as good or better than newly smelted iron. Any impurities burn off or are pulled off as the iron is melted. It depends more on the skill of the foundry than the source of the iron.

              There are very few foundries left in the US. Most iron casting now is done in Pakistan, India, China & Korea. I have a lot of old CI cookware & I use it a lot. Couldn't say if it's smooth from wear or machining but I also think the new Lodge looks a little crude. It looks to me like they're selling it for camping more than for kitchens.

              1. re: JoeBabbitt

                The original Dutch Ovens (before the enameled French ones usurped the name) where designed for camp (and hearth ) cooking. Now Lodge has to call them 'Camp ovens'. I believe they are the only US maker of these.

                http://www.lodgemfg.com/seasoned-cast...

        2. The Griswolds have a smoother finish, and I think they are better balanced than Lodges. I also think the spouts are designed better.

          I've been trying to get a seasoning on an old Lodge for weeks now. It has been amazingly hard.

          1. Since we're on the topic of griswold s does anybody know anything about chrome colored CI from the good health series?

            5 Replies
            1. re: mrbojangles447

              Were they plated in nickel?

              1. re: Raffles

                Not sure. Been looking up info on the line and I'm having trouble finding anything besides it's from around 1920's

                1. re: mrbojangles447

                  Yah, it is old,didn't expect that old, but that is ok..now is nickel ok to ingest?

                  1. re: Raffles

                    The nickel content shouldn't be an issue when you figure they the pans
                    used now are mostly aluminium which has been said to aid in the cause of Alzheimer's. And most knives contain small amounts of nickel

                    1. re: mrbojangles447

                      Cool, now to hit eBay and spend some money...

            2. Love my old skillets--smoother and lighter than the new ones.

              1. If you haven't used them or if you have used them and have to ask, you wouldn't understand.

                1. And if you can score an old dirty rusty Griswold at a garage sale, flea market, or eBay, often a good cleaning and seasoning will give you a value added useable antique!
                  And those hall marks on the bottom are works of art!

                  1. I have Griswold I picked up at an estate sale for $1.

                    It is indeed much smoother and thinner than my Lodge skillets.

                    My mother's Lodge skillets purchased maybe 55 years ago are smoother than the Lodge sold today, however.

                    1. I have no idea if these are any good, but the price is amazing:

                      http://home.woot.com/offers/cuisinart...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: law_doc89

                        Yow that's a good price!

                      2. Griswold cast iron cookware are machined smooth (smoother) and they are thinner.

                        If your Lodge cast iron cookware have been serving you right, then I won't worry about this.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Chem - thank you.

                          I had already started pricing the Griswolds but was not sure and then -

                          "If your Lodge cast iron cookware have been serving you right, then I won't worry about this."

                          Bless you for your calm clarity.

                        2. With cast iron is thinner better? I thought its main advantage was the weight and high heat capacity. If you want smooth and thin, you can always get carbon steel.

                          18 Replies
                          1. re: paulj

                            This is why I don't really understand the craze for old CI. Although to be fair, I didn't even know of the existence of carbon steel until a fair bit of time after I found out about griswolds etc...

                            1. re: paulj

                              Thin cast iron is not as thin as a heavy carbon steel pan. The densities and specific heats are similar. It's a matter of optimizing all the variables. Too thick a pan is too heavy and wasteful of material. Heavy steel pans (du Buyer Mineral) are also expensive.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                How thin are they though? They can't be that much thicker than the 3mm deBuyers, can they? Otherwise they would be about the same thickness as modern Lodge. As for the cost, a good condition Griswold is nowadays about 3-5x more expensive than a comparably sized new deBuyer (the carbone plus line is just as thick as the mineral, but much cheaper).

                                1. re: Sirrith

                                  Comparing an old Piqua to a lodge from the late 80's. The piqua is almost half as thick and the piqua is almost an inch taller (deeper)
                                  When holding the pan, the Piqua feels balanced compared to the Lodge

                                  1. re: Sirrith

                                    Good point. A no. 8 Griswold is about the same weight as a Mineral of similar size (although the weights of the iron pans vary).

                                    As for cost, my small generic iron pan must have cost no more than about 50 cents at a yard sale in the 1970s. Griswolds in good condition are high because they are collectors' items. My mother's Griswold will cost me nothing.

                                    1. re: Sirrith

                                      the prices for "restored" Griswolds on Ebay can be high but one that needs some cleanup and is not some sort of collector special logo/size can be had for pretty cheap. I recently got a large block logo #7 as part of a set of 5 skillets (the rest were Wagner - which is as good just lest collectible) for total of $20 at a thrift shop in near perfect condition -

                                      Some of the older Wapaks and Piqua Ware skillets that I have that date from the 30s are remarkably thin compared to a lodge - the thinness has its tradeoffs but they are much easier to handle - a lodge is sort of weighted to the stove - these can be used more like a modern sauté pan which was probably very desirable when it was your only skillet.

                                      Lodge and new CI are made to be used more as single-purpose specialty cookware - the old cast iron were much more geared as someone's every day cookware. The even ness of heat distribution probably mattered less on a wood stove too where the whole surface was hot as opposed to the direct flame of a gas stove.

                                      are the old skillets perfect in every way? No, they definitely have their shortcoming but they can be wonderful to cook with if used properly as can all quality cookware. Are they better than a modern Lodge? Depends what you are using it for.

                                      I love my old CI skillets, griddles, chicken fryer,, and dutch ovens and use them often but I also use clad ss for some things and commercial anodized for others - each piece has its purpose and use. I find the Old smooth thinner walled CI pieces have a nice balance between weight, heat retention and non-stickness that makes them a pleasure to use for many things.

                                  2. re: paulj

                                    Hi, Paul:

                                    I'm late to the party, but let me try to explain the thinness tradeoff.

                                    These old pans were designed, for the most part, to be used on low output, wood- and coal-burning stoves and hearths. No one worried about even heat because the pan was placed on a pre-heated smooth cooktop or trivet, the heat from which was already quite even. Back in the day--just as now--you wanted responsiveness. A thick, cold pan would take some time to come to cooking heat on a just-fired stove, and a thick *hot* pan held too much heat even when you slid it to the cool side of the cooktop or removed it altogether. Given that evenness was not an issue on these older stoves, a thicker pan would have been a counterproductive waste of metal.

                                    The demerits of cast iron hotspotting were not fully appreciated until the advent of undersized electric and gas residential hobs, which are, in comparison, high output. With these, getting the pan up to heat quickly was not a problem (we had to wait another 100 years for the induction culture for anyone to see them as "slow"). But suddenly evenness *was* an issue for the first time, and then ordinary people started experiencing both hot spots and wide temperature differentials in the pan.

                                    The response from the pan foundries was thicker heat-muting bottoms, which tended to decrease the hotspotting, albeit at the expense of downward responsiveness. Temperature differentials within the pan were/are still a problem, but that's the nature of CI on a discrete-boundary hob (be it electric, induction, or to a lesser extent gas). It simply wasn't in the founders' power to even the new hobs, so they did the best they could. IMO, it is purely an incidental benefit that a thick CI skillet stores more heat than a thin one. It's only through our lens of modernity that we seek out CI for its heat retention and call it a cardinal virtue.

                                    In 2014, people with less-than-even hobs will likely not like these thinner pans' performance better than their thicker descendants'--if they can tell any difference. Discerning modern cooks with very even hobs probably *will* tend to value their thinness, but only when it comes to responsiveness, which as we all know was never CI's forte.

                                    Personally, I value the smoothness and lightness of these old pans, and they work acceptably well on my solid-fuel cookstove--precisely as intended. I also value the craftsmanship and finish. And if someone has a pan with a family provenance, they also treasure the history.

                                    Aloha,
                                    Kaleo

                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      Excellent write up Kaleo people generally forget that the old cast iron was made for a different technology

                                      outside of performance there is a tactile quality to the old cast iron pans that I enjoy - the line where science meets art.

                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        I never knew that history, Kaleo. Thank you.

                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                          Out of curiosity I attempted to measure the thickness of a couple of my pans. I have inexpensive straight jaw plastic calipers.

                                          - 8" no-name skillet from early 1970s. Smooth interior. Even thickness sides, 0.2"

                                          - 10" lodge circa 2000 (came preseasoned). 0.2" rim, but thinner further down, probably 0.15".

                                          Of course bottom thickness isn't necessarily the same as sides or rim.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            Hi, Paul:

                                            Get a straightedge and a machinist's rule and you can measure the bottoms, too (unless the pan(s) has a flame ring).

                                            I'm not sure we should characterize a 1970s pan as being from a different epoch than a 2000 one, either. 1920s-30s, sure.

                                            Aloha,
                                            Kaleo

                                          2. re: kaleokahu

                                            That's some good info to store in my noggin. Never knew all that. Thanks!

                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                              I have a #12 Griswold and it cooks the opposite of even. Its mostly dedicated to oven use now.

                                              Its mostly dedicated to oven use now and makes a nice large roasting pan. I probably need a copper diffuser to even it up but it has a fire ring so im not sure if that would work out well as only the sides will make direct contact with the surface. I like my smaller Griswold though.

                                              I fell for the propaganda that the thinner Griswolds were superior but now know this isn’t the case.

                                              1. re: HououinKyouma

                                                but it is a fine roasting pan I bet! Its true the larger size skillets don't go great with a modern burner stove I never use my #12 Griswold stovetop but I love it as roasting pan.

                                                1. re: JTPhilly

                                                  Glad to see im not the only one. Always thought it was me. :(
                                                  It is an incredible roasting pan. Plus it helps that everything I cook in it just pops against its black surface. I just keep the food in there as it looks excellent as serveware.

                                                  I guess God doesn't want me to use a pan where bacon will fit properly either. A stove with a burner big enough to support it is my holy grail. Wonder if it exists.

                                                2. re: HououinKyouma

                                                  Hi, HK:

                                                  As I've written many times, CI is a poor conductor (it's actually classified as an architectural *insulator*), so unless your hobs are very even in and of themselves, your experience is probably typical. BTW, a #12 on a normal hob is not exactly stacking the deck in your favor.

                                                  Oven use is not fraught with these problems.

                                                  Aloha,
                                                  Kaleo

                                                3. re: kaleokahu

                                                  What was the preferred cast iron style prior to cast iron stoves? You, know the days of campfire and open hearth cooking?

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    Hi, Paul:

                                                    The style was oriented toward hearth cooking, and so favored footed vessels, round bottoms, bail handles, and rebated/highly rimmed covers. The only common vestige of this style now is the so-called camp ovens or spiders, e.g., Lodge.

                                                    A well-equipped hearth kitchen had a crane and trammel setup, as well as a selection of trivets, so you *could* use flat-bottomed and footless pans. Poorer households couldn't necessarily afford both the trivet and the pan, hence the spider.

                                                    Aloha,
                                                    Kaleo

                                              2. I don't think a Griswold pan is necessarily better. I have 4 old (older than 20 years) CI pans and each of them has a slick, smooth, shiny bottom. They're wonderful to cook with. One is labeled Wagner, the others no names whatsoever. Three came from flea markets or thrift shops, one from my aunt's kitchen.

                                                I like vintage CI pans but doesn't have to be Griswold to be good.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: tcamp

                                                  True. The high value of a Griswold is as a collector's item, because of fine craftsmanship.

                                                  1. re: tcamp

                                                    I agree -- I have some no-name pans, as well as Griswolds, Lodges, and Wagoners. Collectible items can bring high prices unrelated to their merit. Many of the vintage cast iron pieces season up nicely and are a joy to cook on.
                                                    Some of these pans I got 40 years ago, from my grandmother, who used them a good 50 years or more. I don't know where she got them... I have been picking more CI up at yard sales and flea markets for years, so that I can gift them to my kids -- who of course cook as I do -- and because I just like them.

                                                    I might disagree with calling cast iron from the 70s or 80s "old," though ...

                                                  2. We have a Griswold that was my grandmother's and a no name that was my mother-in-law's. The Griswold has a better overall appearance, a smoother bottom (casting), a longer handle, and is quite noticably lighter in weight. In use, it's just more balanced, easier to use with the lighter weight and releases better although it has the most worn seasoning of the two. If both were sitting on hobs, I'd grab the Griswold every time.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: mikie

                                                      I appreciate the nicely formed spouts on the Griswolds. The pans were just made with good aesthetics and functionality.

                                                      I used a no name for several years, and it served me well, but unfortunately it developed a crack in the bottom that kept getting longer. I put in recycling before I moved in 2012.

                                                    2. .....well not sure but now I'll be turning all of mine upside down to see the brands I most have-as no clue ;:-/

                                                      1. Lodge are fine but they need to be sandblasted to knock the roughness down. Vintage cast iron, to the extent it is usually much smoother, is better.

                                                        I skip all the fuss and just use French black steel from Bourgeat. It's the perfect weight/gauge/price point. Other black steel pans come in too heavy and don't offer as supple an exchange of heat as the Bourgeat. Thicker and heavier are not always better!

                                                        Cast iron ghosts flavors, aromatics for sure, and will impart a house flavor to everything you cook. The rougher the cast iron, the more pronounced the bacon-n-garlic problem.

                                                        1. I like my Lodge. I grind all the mold marks down (in the hanger hole too), wire wheel the preseasoning off, hand sand with 60, 100, 200 grits, clean real good with Ivory soap and 00 steel wool, season three times with Crisco. I don't like wiping down a rough Lodge. The roughness and the mold marks tend to tear up even the heavy duty blue industrial paper towels. Better than anything vintage (IMO), after the refinishing. I like the heaviness of Lodge versus old skillets. Thick and heavy for more even cooking. Plus, who knows what an old skillet has been used for.

                                                          However I am shopping around, locally, for a 10" Griswold for my mom, since they are lighter than new Lodge.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Muddirtt

                                                            P.S. Here's a 5 1/2 inch Lodge Wonder Skillet that I just finished today. This pic is before seasoning. As you can see, its very smooth -- Not machined-smooth but smooth enough. I have a theory of ultra smooth cast iron not holding seasoning over time, and easy peeling/chipping, but I could be wrong. I can also see why a lot of people aren't willing to put this work into a new Lodge. I think, at minimum, one should at least do a good once-over with some 60 grit sandpaper on a new Lodge. It really does knock down those high spots. The deburring of the edges and sanding the outside, well, that's for us of a rare breed :)

                                                             
                                                          2. Yep, they were machined smooth. I love my Griswolds, although I do use Lodge also.