Cast iron quality

Discussion in 'Recipes' started by spock, Mar 11, 2012.

  1. spock

    spock

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    I just recently became turned on to cooking with cast iron cookware, so lots of shopping to do.

    Lots of advice out there as to who the major players are who do produce quality cookware, but I have still to find any discussion as to what determines quality.

    I am assuming all pieces should be single cast. Ergonomics should play a role... things like having a second lifting handle on larger pieces, but what else?

    Cast Iron is porous... is there an ideal "porousness" and what might that be? What would be the downside if pores were larger or smaller?

    Any thoughts on what other features, metalurgical or other aspects should be considered if we are trying to quantify "quality" for cast iron cookware?

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

    Thanks, Spock
     
  2. thatchairlady

    thatchairlady

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    Not an expert on cast iron, but have come to love it after finding a few choice pieces at yard sales... Lodge, Wagner, Griswold.  Yard sales and thrift shops is where I would shop for name-brand pieces.
     
  3. pohaku

    pohaku

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    You should consider basic condition, especially if you are looking at older pieces.  Is the bottom absolutely flat?  Cast iron pans warp too.  No cracks, no bad pitting.  I like the older Griswold and Wagner pans as the castings are finer than the current Lodge pans.  They also machined the interiors of the old pans, which are consequently much smoother than the new pans commonly available. Lots of nice pieces out there.  I don't think pores make much of a difference since you will be seasoning the pan anyway (and it's kind of non-issue for a pan with a machined interior).
     
  4. spock

    spock

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    Thanks Pohaku and Chairlady, some good points.

    My question, however, is not so much about used pieces as between new name brand and non name brand pieces. Maybe this is even the wrong forum... maybe I need to find one for metalurgy ;D

    It seems to me that cast iron is not space age technology. Surely a foundry in China can do as good a job as a foundry in the states. If so, does it make sense to pay three or four times more for a Lodge pan than a no name one.

    On the other hand, I imagine that raw materials quality may differ, rushing processes could affect the result, Lodge might well have better quality assurance practice, which brings me back to the question, what constitutes quality and subsequent to that, can one determine quality without non destructive testing technologies/is the price difference between a brand name pan and the no name pan justified, or am I likely to be as satisfied with the bargain pan?.

    For those living in an area where Lodge is distributed, this may be less of an issue. A Lodge is fiarly reasonable and doesn't require a second mortgage. I am in Eastern Europe and Lodge is not distributed locally. Any pan I buy will be off the net and will have to be shipped parcel post, basically doubling the price, so a savings on the pan cost becomes more important.

    Thanks again!
     
  5. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    The things to look for in cast iron are:
    • No cracks. This applies mainly to used pieces.
    • Even casting. Same thickness in the base throughout and the sides though they may have some taper and be of a different thickness than the base.
    • Smoothness of the cooking surface. Remember that un-seasoned pans are shipped with a coating of wax or grease to prevent rust and that will hide some of the surface roughness. The exteriror smoothness is not as important.
    • Even lip, one where the lid fits tightly and doesn't rock or gap.
    And yes, you can find pieces of very good quality from any foundry, but some foundries have better quality control than others. If you're buying sight unseen over the internet, Lodge, CampChef, MACA are the only brands I'd buy unseen. they're reliably good quality and pretty smooth. Once you get into Ridgeway, Texsport, WFS, Harbor Freight and no names, you need to inspect them carefully in person.

    Cast iron is heavy. Helper handles are rare in the 12" skillets. Lodge Pro-Logic has one and is a very nice piece of cast iron, pre-seasoned even.

    Griswolds are good pans too, but you generally only find them used.

    As you're in Europe, a carbon steel pan is just as good as cast iron, lighter and more readily available. Something to consider.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2012
    spock likes this.
  6. pohaku

    pohaku

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    Good point.  Given the OP's location, I was wondering if a carbon steel pan would make more sense than paying a fortune to ship a cast iron pan sight unseen.  Unless you really need the pan to hold the heat, carbon steel might make more sense.  It certainly can be as non-stick as cast iron and good pans should be more readily available.
     
  7. spock

    spock

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    Thanks all and special thanks "phatch"! Exactly what I was looking for.

    Just to clarify on availability, I am in Eastern Europe (former Soviet occupied territory) not Western  Europe, where I am sure you can get everything you could get in the U.S.

    Cast iron is also available here, but I have not found any of the brand names. The no name stuff more widely available here is very reasonable, I can get a 10" skillet starting about 14 USD, but did not really know if I could trust the quality, hence the subject of the post. 

    Until Phatch mentioned it, I hadn't even heard of carbon steel and I have no idea if it is available here, or even what to call it in the local language. Heck, until a year ago I had no idea cast iron could be anything near non stick. I thought that teflon pans were invented to address the short comings of cast iron :D

    Based on Phatch's advice, I will look at the pans available locally. At the pan cost + post savings, well worth trying a pan or two!

    Thanks all again!
     
  8. butzy

    butzy

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    I think you'll do fine with a no-name cast iron pan.

    I got a number of them, made at different foundries and definitely not with the best quality control, and I'm happy with most.

    Patch brought up some good points to check. Don't buy the first one you see, just check the inside and all and get the smoothest one.

    I had some that were a bit rough on the inside and used fine sand and water to scrub them down and managed to get them very smooth inside.

    If you cook on gas or open fire, I won't be too worried if the bottom is a bit warped, if you are going to cook on an electirc or induction stove it's a different matter altogether.

    And for 14 U$ it's a no-brainer. Check them out, choose the best one, sand them if necessary, season it, and if you don't like the pan you can always consider importing one
     
  9. just delicious

    just delicious

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    I'm actually trying to convert all my cookware to cast iron. However, throwing out my old (10-25 y.o.) cookware has been difficult, as I'm afraid I might be unhappy with its cast iron replacements. Are there any pieces of my stainless pieces that I should absolutely keep around? Already planning on keeping my stainless stockpot and wok, of course. I have a 3-, 5-, and 7-qt enamel-over-CI dutch ovens, and 6-, 9- and 12-inch CI skillets. And, yes, I mastered eggs in the CI, so Teflon is, hopefully, among the things you'll say I can ditch.
     
  10. nalather

    nalather

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    I find good quality cast has to be old, Griswold, Wagner or Piqua.  Antique shops are usually a good source.  Thin with a glass smooth interior, no pitting.  You can find ebay stores & other online sites that will export. 
     
  11. jr brooks

    jr brooks

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    I  have 20 pieces cast iron,

     I use at home. Got from my Grandmother, that she got from her Grandmother. and so on. No makers mark on them. Seasoned perfect. I can flip eggs in them.
     
  12. antilope

    antilope

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    Last edited: Jul 11, 2013
  13. nalather

    nalather

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    Last edited: Jul 11, 2013
  14. siduri

    siduri

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    I can't get cast iron here either, and with some carpal tunnel syndrome i tend to avoid using the ones i brought in my suitcase years ago (before they invented the wheel for suitcases) - lugging two cast-iron-heavy bags through airports - hmm wonder where i got the carpal tunnel! 

    Anyway, i like the heat-holding quality of cast iron,though i rarely use it, but i wondered if carbon steel is ok as a cooking surface.  How is it?
     
  15. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't know how I missed your question those months ago Siduri. 

    Carbon steel is a good cooking surface. It tends to be heavy, like cast iron, though some what lighter than cast iron. It's usually much smoother to start with than cast iron and it conducts heat better than cast iron, though it doesn't have the ability to hold heat quite like cast iron. It heats more evenly and  responds quicker to temperature changes. 

    You season it up, just like cast iron. It doesn't hold it's patina as well as cast iron in my experience.  It rusts easily of course so keep it dry and oiled. 
     
  16. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    Carbon steel pans feel more porous than cast iron and therefore need to be oiled more frequently.  Like a traditional asian wok, they're really meant for a quick saute/searing as opposed to a long term stewing.