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Vintage cast iron shopping?

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What do I need know when looking for a vintage cast iron skillet? Brands? Tips? Advice? Thanks!

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  1. Flea markets, garage sales, auction sites.... They are everywhere. I have a collection of Lodge, Griswold, Carlisle... I picked up a nice #8 Carlisle #8 Dutch oven at a handtool auction last week for $18. It needs a good cleaning though.

    Generally, the cruddier they are, the cheaper they are. I clean the really nasty ones with a wire wheel on an angle grinder but sandpaper would work as well.

    1. I wouldn't worry too much about brand. Look at condition; if it is close to being rusted through, pass. Surface rust, fixable. I'm sure you're aware of the dozens of cleaning and seasoning posts on this board.

      I have 6 CI pieces. My most used, due to size, is a no-name that I've had for 25 years. Slick as a baby's rear. Others are lodge and wagner.

      1. I used to look for the Griswold or Wagner name on the bottom. But after talking to a dealer/collector at a flea market, he said most old pans are made by Wagner or Griswold, but they didn't put names on all of them, to sell them cheaper. He told me to look for the smooth inside. Sign of a well used pan. And to follow this method of seasoning.

        1. Don't worry about crud or surface rust
          Do worry about deep pitting or cracks

          Check if it sits flat on a surface

          Look for USA made vintage cast iron - the surfaces have been machined smooth - It is fairly easy to tell the difference between that and newer Chinese stuff - they are often side by side in the flea market and thrift stores

          If you are looking for use not collector value don't worry too much about brands/logos etc but Wagner and Griswold are common to find.

          I have entirely too much CI - it can get quite addictive to discover, clean and put to use these lovely functional antiques. Enjoy the hunt.

          1. This site answers most questions: castironcollector.com

            1 Reply
            1. re: ellabee

              I've seen that site before. Very excellent place to read. I disagree with some things there but, for the most part, very informative.

            2. First thing to notice is warp. When you spot a pan, take a credit card (or similar), hold it perpendicular to both the inside and outside of pan and be sure to not see any daylight under the bottom of card. Also perform the "spin test" -- Spin the pan on a flat surface -- If it spins freely, it's a junk piece of cookware.

              YouTube is a great teacher, after you filter the users that sometimes don't know what they are doing.

              Here's a guy, that I'm a fan of, who demonstrates a little bit of hunting down cast iron:

              ...And here he is restoring some rusty ones in pretty much the same seasoning way that I practice:

              I also enjoy watching this guy's videos:
              He's a little different but he knows what he's talking about. He also has a popular Facebook page, FYI.

              There's a zillion other videos online that I'm sure you can learn from also. I'm not a collector at all (I like to refinish brand new thicker Lodge stuff) so I'm of ignorance to the oldies.

              P.S. Stay away from vegetable "oil" for seasoning. It just becomes a sticky hassle after time, in my experience. And I just don't like cooking with it either -- Disgusting taste, in my opinion. Modern grocery-store bacon grease has too much sugar to become a reliable initial seasoning base on fresh iron -- It's always chipped off on me. I've learned that plain Crisco vegetable shortening is bombproof for initial seasoning and cast iron care. It's readily available and easy on the wallet, also. Someday, I want to experiment with natural lard and flaxseed oil, however.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Muddirtt

                I like the flax seed oil, left it so slick! Nothing sticks.

              2. Got reunited with CI a few years ago with 3 yard sale skillets... $1 each, totally crusty... a Lodge, Wagner and Griswold. Since warm weather and not about to run thru self-clean cycle of oven... resorted to quick/dirty method to clean up... spray oven cleaner. Once unknown gunk was gone, they cleaned up GREAT!!

                A lot of people almost give away cast iron... don't know how to use it, it's heavy, etc. BEST CI find I made was a square LeCreuset grill pan... $5!! Blue enamel exterior was in PERFECT shape; interior only took a little scrubbing to get rid of unknown schmutz.

                Have found (at yard sales, thrift stores and flea markets) a lot of things... all CI DUtch oven, corn-bread pans, and a little diamond shaped skillet for perfect egg sandwich.

                Would LOVE to find a deep pan for frying chicken and loaf/muffins. Once even the cruddiest things are cleaned up and reseasoned... can be pretty slick.