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Are there different types of Cast Iron?

 
Ashley Cottonwood
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Are there different types of cast iron for the use of cookware I should know about? There is a cast iron pan on sale for 75% off from a major chain store ... is it too good to be true? Are there any coatings I should be aware of? Cast iron is so hot right now (ahahaha puns) that second hand ones disappear right away.

... it's only $20!
 
Tyler Ludens
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In my opinion and experience - avoid coated pans like the plague.  Purchase either Stainless Steel or Cast Iron.  Stainless Steel can warp under high heat, but is lighter and easier to handle if one has weak hands or arms.  Overall, I prefer Cast Iron over all other pans, but Stainless is a good alternative.  All coated "non stick" pans will fail sooner than later.  A waste of money and resources.

 
Ashley Cottonwood
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Thanks Tyler,

To clarify I was wondering if in the manufacturing process if for cast iron they might have some sort of coating for shipping or display that I might be weary of, rather than a coating related to the performance of the cooking surface.
 
D. Logan
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Ignoring the fact that there is technically such a thing as fake cast iron (unusually light, has a screwed on handle, etc), china is known for producing poor quality cast iron sometimes. A low quality cast iron becomes evident when working with extremely high temperatures. If you need the pan to be red-hot for what you are doing, a low quality cast iron can have imperfections that lead to the metal cracking under the extreme heat change. If you're not planning to take it over 450, the odds are you won't notice the difference though. I'd say the bigger concern is what it was treated with or made from honestly. Lead contamination is possible. If that is a concern, remove the existing factory seasoning (usually subpar anyway) and reseason it yourself. As a bonus, due to the temperatures of the seasoning process, a bad pan may crack in the oven at this point without ruining a meal or hurting anyone. All of this said, I am not an authority on the matter. These are just things I've picked up over the years. Others might have more useful insights.
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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I think the surface finish of the cooking surface is quite important.  The roughly cast pans you can get new are rather bumpy so stuff sticks to them better.  Or at least that's my impression from reading the Better World Book.  We got some new Lodge pans and they're not great.  
 
Tyler Ludens
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The rough surface can be sanded with a dual action power sander, 3 - 4 hours of sanding, to sand down the surface (according to my husband).  Alternatively, you can use the rough pan until carbon builds up to a smooth surface over time.

My husband recommends just using the pan to build up the carbon, because it was such a pain in the ass to sand it.


 
Dillon Nichols
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If you're willing to take a grinder with sanding disk to em, the 'bumpy' cast iron can be made smooth. I have a scar on my hand to prove it is not necessarily easy..

As I understand it, all cast iron is bumpy from casting, but the good stuff is/was machined smooth after.

Edit; it may have been sketchy, but it definitely was much faster than a sander!
 
Trace Oswald
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Mike Jay wrote:I think the surface finish of the cooking surface is quite important.  The roughly cast pans you can get new are rather bumpy so stuff sticks to them better.  Or at least that's my impression from reading the Better World Book.  We got some new Lodge pans and they're not great.  



That's exactly right. I have some lodge cast iron, and as you said, the surface is rough and things stick badly. My Griswold cast iron is smooth as glass and nothing sticks. Good and bad cast iron is as different as day and night in use.
 
Jack Edmondson
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Ashley Cottonwood wrote:Are there different types of cast iron for the use of cookware I should know about? T



Two part answer:  Yes there is different 'cast iron'.  No, the difference won't make any difference in a pan.  

Without getting into the metallurgy of iron, science of iron iron cookware is cast iron is cast iron.  Everything posted above is correct.  It basically comes down to how you have seasoned the pan.  Unseasoned cast iron does not give the results one might expect.  Use it enough, with grease, and it will become mirror smooth; returning the results it is famous.  

There is a tremendous amount of mark up in the retail market for cast iron.  Don't be afraid of a $20 pan.  Purist will say there is a quality difference between the modern Lodge cookware and the older version from the same company.  I have not seen it.  There are also other company that are prized among collectors; but I am not convinced it makes a difference, once the pan is properly seasoned.  That being said, I never pass up cheap cast iron at garage sales or 'gifts'.  

Both my wife and I have cast iron that is passed down from our mothers and grandmothers.  They are black mirrors.  They cook the same as my modern Lodge cookware that I seasoned myself, after years of use.  It is all in the seasoning.

 
Trace Oswald
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Jack Edmondson wrote:

Ashley Cottonwood wrote:Are there different types of cast iron for the use of cookware I should know about? T



Two part answer:  Yes there is different 'cast iron'.  No, the difference won't make any difference in a pan.  

Without getting into the metallurgy of iron, science of iron iron cookware is cast iron is cast iron.  Everything posted above is correct.  It basically comes down to how you have seasoned the pan.  Unseasoned cast iron does not give the results one might expect.  Use it enough, with grease, and it will become mirror smooth; returning the results it is famous.  

There is a tremendous amount of mark up in the retail market for cast iron.  Don't be afraid of a $20 pan.  Purist will say there is a quality difference between the modern Lodge cookware and the older version from the same company.  I have not seen it.  There are also other company that are prized among collectors; but I am not convinced it makes a difference, once the pan is properly seasoned.  That being said, I never pass up cheap cast iron at garage sales or 'gifts'.  

Both my wife and I have cast iron that is passed down from our mothers and grandmothers.  They are black mirrors.  They cook the same as my modern Lodge cookware that I seasoned myself, after years of use.  It is all in the seasoning.



Jack, you don't think that beginning with a cast iron pan that has a very smooth cooking surface is better than starting with a pan that has a rough cooking surface? I don't have the years of experience cooking with them that you do, but the difference between my Griswold pans and my modern day Wal-Mart Lodge pans is enormous. It may be that the Lodge pan would eventually get smooth, but I used it on and off for ten years or so before I got my first Griswold pan and the difference is still huge. The casting is just so much rougher on the Lodge pan I don't know how it would ever get  as smooth as a Griswold or Wagner.
 
Jack Edmondson
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I don't think there is anything wrong with sanding a pan to make it smooth.  The ultimate goal is to get a smooth even cooking surface.  

However, when I first learned to season a new pan; I read a lot about the process.  Then one day Emiril Lagasse (sp?), the New York Italian Cajun cook, (yeah, I never quite got that either) did a show on seasoning cast iron.  The first thing he did with a new pan is dump 2 pounds of salt into the pan and put it in an over at 350 degrees.  Now salt and metal, especially heated, pits metal.  His first step was to make the pan MORE rough and uneven.  Now he is, love him or hate him, a professional chef who has studied the art and does this for a living.  Maybe he knows something I don't.  

I have never intentionally pitted a pan, because I think they are rough enough 'out of the box'.  However, there may be something to giving the oils lots of surface area to adhere.  I have never tried to make a pan more pitted.  I have however, followed the rest of his advice, which boils down to cooking with a lot of lard and other natural fats/oils (not veggie oil.)  It has worked well.  Nor have I ever sanded a pan, because I just don't know if it helps or hurts.  Intuition says the smoother the better; but I don't know that for sure.  

To season a pan, I wash it with Dawn soap or a degreaser.  They do oil them, so they don't rust.  After cleaning with cleanser and HOT water, I dry thoroughly with a cloth and then heat to drive out all moisture.  I then cook bacon, at least a pound, and let it get hot.  I am not above opening the windows and letting it smoke a little bit.  Then let it cool completely, even overnight.  Then wipe out anything that will come off with a rag.  Do this a couple of times and the pan will be ready to use.  The more animal fat you put on it the better/faster it will season and gain the smooth patina that makes it not stick.  It is not a fast process, but how often do you have to start a new pan?  Never wash it in a dishwasher (although I have from time to time.)  Keep it dry and lightly oiled in the beginning.  Other than that, just use it and often.  It will get better with use.  

Last tip that has worked well for me.  Cleaning the pan:  De-glaze it.  What that means to me, is anytime I use the pan and it is full of grease, caramelized food, or residue; I don't wash it.  I heat it up (or deglaze after cooking, but can be done the next day) to medium hot, pour in a quarter to half cup of water and/or a bit of wine and let it boil.  With a metal spatula, I work it around, often with some onions, and mushrooms and make a sauce with the residue.  It makes a wonderful gravy.  If you don't care for that toss it out; or give it to the dogs.  Either way, you will be amazed at how clean that pan will be after a quick rinse and reheat to remove the dampness.  

 
Mike Jay Haasl
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When I worked in a factory with glue covered materials and rollers, some of the better non-stick coatings were rough.  They had a rough base coat and then a layer of teflon or some other gick to make it release glue.  Imagine 1,000 feet of snow on a bunch of mountains and valleys.  The theory, as the vendors explained it, was that the raw material we were running through the rollers would wear away the release agent pretty quickly.  But if it just wore the snow off the mountains and the snow was left in the valleys, the vast majority of the roller surface would still be non-stick.  If the roll had a smooth base layer and a layer of release agent on top, the release material would wear of much quicker without the mountains to fight off the wear.

Applying this to cast iron pans, I'd assume that if the non-stick coating (oils/fats) is tough enough to handle spatula wear, then it won't erode and the underlying cast iron finish doesn't matter.  But if it does wear away, or if it's removed by frequent cleaning, then you have to build it back up again.  If it's rough then it may take longer to fill in the valleys.  If it's smooth then it might happen quicker.

I don't really know but I figured I'd throw that bit of industry info in case it sheds light on the situation...
 
bruce Fine
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imho old and antique pans were made much better than the new mass produced stuff
porcelain coated cast iron are usually good quality and cost more
natural oils for cooking will prevent stuff sticking and keep it seasoned, butter, peanut oil, sesame are my favorites.
i have some very old pans non coated and they have very smooth finish to the cooking surface, they are pleasure to cook with and easy to use and keep seasoned
i have new ones also, forge, the surface is rough and much less desirable, stuff sticks and its a pain to deal with, i have often thought of taking grinder  and sander to it to smooth it out. its just steel, and when you get it its coated in wax i guess.
ive seen used ones at flea markets that have so much grease build up it kinda looks like a coating

a couple things might be helpful, avoid burning stuff, it kills seasoning, if you do burn oils off, heat with some oil in it and wipe clean
 
Simon Gooder
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Hey Team, just wanted to drop a few things that I’ve learned about cast iron recently.

I’ve been rocking a newer Lodge skillet which I bought new, for about 10 years now. A few years back, I found a beautiful 12 inch older lodge on moving day. These two have been used almost daily in our house, and after their initial seasoning, they take very little maintenance.

Recently, when digging through some old kitchen stuff left by the previous tenant I found a rusted old cast iron pan. I’ve been working on restoring it and have learned a few things from some so-called experts.

Washing your already seasoned pan
If you need to wash your pan - which you will have to to do occasionally - you can use rough salt and a cloth to scrub the surface, or you can wash with dish soap and hot water. Make sure you thoroughly dry the pan after you wash it. I let it get hot on the burner after the wash, and add a drop of oil to prepare it.

Modern soap is fine on cast iron
There’s a rumour going around about soap being bad for cast iron... this stems from the old days when soap contained lye, which would strip the seasoning off a pan. It’s rare to find dish soap with lye these days, unless you make it yourself. Modern soap is fine!

Stripping or re-seasoning cast iron
As I mentioned above, lye is what you want! Some cast iron nerds use a full lye bath and soak their wares, but all you really need is lye. I made my own with some wood ash and water, and soaked the pan for 24 hours before taking a steel wool to it. After I had done this, I found some spray-on oven cleaner (not the aerosol can kind, don’t worry) that was pure lye (sodium hydroxide) and sprayed down the outside of the pan, leaving it in a bag for 24 hours. The old seasoning turned into sludge and washed right off!

Dealing with rust
In my process of restoring the rusty old cast iron pan, I used a few methods, but the one that worked for me was short soaks in vinegar and water; 50/50 water/vinegar for 30 minutes, followed by a scrub with a steel wool. Don’t soak your cast iron in vinegar for too long, as it will eat the iron! I also used a bit of sandpaper to remove the remaining rust, but I didn’t go too hard.

Seasoning your pan
There are a ton of methods out there already, so I’ll leave this one to the experts.

Cooking with cast iron
Always make sure the surface is good and hot before cooking on it. This will ensure the ultimate non-stick experience. Also, using a steel spatula will help to smooth out the surface of your pan with use. You shouldn’t have to use power tools at all for this!
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I wish I had taken a BEFORE picture too...
 
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