Cast iron

Discussion in 'Cooking Equipment Reviews' started by capsaicin, Feb 12, 2011.

  1. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    I LOVE my cast iron skillet.

    It was old when I got my hands on it.  Really old.  Like my parents got it from their parents, and THEY don't remember how they got it old.

    I really love how it's non-stick without any chemicals or other coating, just with a little cooking oil after each use and scrubbing.  And I don't think I need to list the other things I love about cast iron -- even heating, etc., etc.

    The thing is, I have always wanted to buy other cast iron things -- dutch oven, maybe a paella pan, maybe other stuff.  But all the non-enameled cast iron stuff I see today seem to have very rough surfaces.  The old skillet I have seems completely smooth except for a couple of ripples in concentric circles that I can barely see.  Even Le Creuset's VERY expensive non-enameled stuff feels very rough.

    Is mine smooth just from many decades of use?  Seems unlikely to me, but maybe I just don't know...

    Or does someone make cast iron stuff that is smooth that I have not been able to find?
     
  2. granny smith

    granny smith

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    Most cast iron is rough when it's new. It gets smooth from seasoning and use. I have my grandmother's pan and it's almost like glass. The pans I bought new, about 40 years ago, are just starting to get that way. They were quite rough when they were new.

    I also have some that I bought used. They were in pretty rough shape, rusty and such, but I seasoned them thoroughly and they've turned out to be pretty good pans.

    I've also bought new ones. I found that the ones made in China were the lowest quality. I get mine from Lodge. They're made in America and of decent quality, although not quite as heavy as the old ones. Walmart carries them, but you can also order them online. They're pre-seasoned, but I still add a couple more coats of seasoning before I use them.
     
  3. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    You're not going to find them as smooth as the old ones. You can find smoother ones in the off brands too, but you have to investigate them pot by pot. Lodge has pretty good castings. I think Camp Chef is very close to Lodge casting quality, but not always easy to find. MACA pots/pans are also very high quality but not easy to find.

    You can look for old cast iron at garage sales and those sorts of things.
     
  4. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    Lodge as in Lodge Logic?  Their stuff is as rough as anyone else's.  The grooves on the non-enamel Le Creuset are shallower than most others I've seen, but all new cast iron seem really rough...

    Would it help if I sanded it or something?
     
  5. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    The smooth is nice, but with seasoning and use, the slightly rough cook and release and clean very well. Smooth isn't as important as you seem to think.
     
  6. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    Well, to me it's really just that it's the only kind of cast iron cookware I've known other than the enameled stuff.  The smooth helps with the cleaning -- a quick scour with the green loofah-like scrubber sheet, rinse it off, then a minute on the stove with a drop or two of oil, and the next time you use it, everything just slides right off when you want it to.  Been doing that since I was old enough to lift the thing and just don't see any reason to mess with perfection.

    But since you guys are saying that it really just gets that way with use, I guess I had better get one and start cooking with it right away!

    Think I'll pick up a Lodge dutch oven...  Made in America sounds good to me.
     
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I vote with Phil. The roughness will pass, as you use the piece, because as the cure develops some depth you are, in effect, filling any pores, scratches, roughness, etc. Just imagine pouring a thin layer of plastice in the pan. That's the effect. And it's also why a well-cured piece is essentially non-stick.

    The problem with the cheaply cast pieces is that there's more than surface roughness involved. There are occlusions, and voids which can be near impossible to fill, and you never achieve that rich, deep-black cure we all strive for. .
     
  8. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    I think I will order a Lodge Logic dutch oven.

    Is there is any way at all I can speed up the seasoning process?  Would cooking fatty foods like bacon in it make it go faster?  Would using the dutch oven for soup and stock strip the coating?
     
  9. thecampden

    thecampden

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    I have an article on how to season your cast iron cookware.  The steps take about 2 hours and produce a good season.  Good cooking ways to season a piece of cast iron cookware are cooking bacon, fried chicken, baking corn bread, and toasting corn tortillas (I usually do about 40 to 50 at a time because we make our own taquitos out of left over roasts and then freeze them for later use).  Using cast iron cookware for soup or stock will not strip the season from a well seasoned piece in my experience, just tomato and wine will do a number on your season if it is not been established good enough.  I would still season my new cast iron piece at least three times with the oven method before even consider using it for any cooking.  As for the roughness, the season would not be as good if the pan were smooth.  That's where the carbon molecules collect that make the season, and like everyone says it takes time to get a really good season.  Older pans seem smoother because of the years of use and the amount of carbon stored in the pan already.  I am sure that at least half were refinished a few times in there life span, but with that type of casting I would say that is about as good as it is going to get.  The process has not changed much over the years.  All in all I will only use cast iron cookware, I love it.  No more chemical's for me please.
     
  10. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    Can you give me the link to the article?

    From what I have read here (there are HUNDREDS of topics about cast iron...), heavier fats (the ones that congeal at room temperature) seem more effective.  I think I will inaugurate my dutch oven with a nice pot of chili.  I think the first stage alone -- rending a healthy amount of bacon -- would start the process nicely,  The hamburger meat after would be a nice second layer.
     
  11. bellybones

    bellybones

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  12. carvingtool

    carvingtool

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    Cooks Illustrated a couple months ago had a short how-to that was sent in by some one. That person used flax seed oil to season the pans. ATK tested it and found the flax seed oil has more omega-3 fatty acids and when heated makes a better harder seasoned surface than other fats. They did a hot oven - as hot as your oven will go -  treatment 6 times and now they use it for all of the cast iron cookware.

    I tried it on some new De Buyer carbon steel pans, and it produced a very smooth finish. However, it didn't stick to the pan. The very first time I used the seasoned pans, the seasoning flaked off and I got little black bits in my food. I use two pans - a 24cm and a 32cm - for most all of my cooking now. I lightly scrub them after each use with hot mildly soapy water, and never have a problem with anything in them sticking. Since I got these steel pans, I may very rarely use cast iron again.

    Cap - I know what you are saying re: the smooth finish - I have a couple of VERY old cast iron pans & flat griddles I got from my parents and they got them from some other older friends. The surface is just like glass!
     
  13. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    Thanks for the tip on flax seed oil...  I will give that a shot.

    I experimented a while with just heating the cast iron with bacon grease.  I am able to put up some thick coats quickly that way, but it scomes out uneven.  I will give the flax oil a try and let you know.
     
  14. phreon

    phreon

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    Just a note.  Those old cast iron pans are so smooth because they were *machined*.  The new ones aren't.   The old smooth ones are a little more troublesome when they've been freshly seasoned, but they seem to wind up with an amazing, natural non-stick surface the rough ones take years to achieve.  Of course an orbital sander with 80 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper helps out the new ones a bit.

    Doug
     
  15. sweetie pie

    sweetie pie

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    I love my cast iron.  I clean my cast iron skillets with kosher salt, as advised by Cook's Illustrated.  Scouring with the salt is easy and cleans better than using the brush Lodge suggests for cleaning.  After each use, I lightly oil the pan and let it bake in the oven for a few minutes.  

    A site with interesting information on the care of cast iron is panman.com.

    http://www.panman.com/cleaning.html
     
  16. gareth

    gareth

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    I had some heat plates cast by a forge. Theres no real science involved there. It's roughly this many old brakes, this many old tin cans, a dollop of that because it stops something reacting and once the mould has cooled sufficiently they break it up with hammers or jack hammers then they will roughly sand it down using grinding disks before treating it some where else. So pits, holes, impurities and roughness are there and real and there's absolutely no reason you can't get some 180 grit on an orbital sander and go your hardest.
     
  17. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    I typically don't even use salt.  I just run the hottest water from my faucet on it.  I let the skillet come down to the temperature of the water, then reduce it a little more to a temperature I can work with, then just give it a light scrub with the loofah cloth.  Food residue, if any is even left after the water hit it, slides right off, and I wipe the skillet dry and season it for the next use.

    I know I'm not supposed to sand seasoned cast iron, but maybe with the new ones I'll try to smooth them out a bit.

    The question then is why none of the companies machine their cast iron anymore?  Seems like such a simple process.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2011
  18. gareth

    gareth

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    that's easy, cost. You spend $6 machining something you need to sell it for between $12 and $18 cover the cost of production on the $6 investment. Would that rise the sale price by too much? Probably considering that you are competing against imported stuff.
     
  19. capsaicin

    capsaicin

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    But...  Le Creuset charges $80 for theirs...
     
  20. ironicona

    ironicona

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    People are so particular about the use and care of their cast irons. Ive learned to just ask ahead of time before even touching them or washing them!