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Why I use cast iron pans

 
master pollinator
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Most of us have heard the good news about cast iron being free of polymers , about its durability and about the nice even cooking, without the hotspots that you would see with cheap aluminum or stainless steel cookware.

I have some other reasons for using cast iron. I tend to use my telephone, or my television, while cooking. I also play cards, and entertain visitors, while cooking. It's easy to forget, that the heat is on.

 So, I cook almost everything on the highest temperature. I Crank It Up, and let the pan get to the maximum temperature that's acceptable, then I hit the off button. Cast iron pans, and the glass top stove that I'm using have enough thermal mass, to keep the food cooking , between phone calls or hands of cards or whatever. When I'm on a call, I will often walk over to the stove and press the button to turn it on high again. I stand right there, until it reaches the desired temperature again. Then I turn it off and walk away. Sometimes an insulating cover is placed over the lid.

This allows me to spend most of my cooking time, away from the stove, engaged in something entirely different. I never burn things.

My telephone is my stove timer. If I decide to leave something on a lower setting, for several minutes, I press the button on my phone and speak into it. "Set alarm for 8:45 a.m." . I can then go about my business and the phone lets me know when to check on the stove. I haven't used one of those little ping machines that sit by the stove, for several years. The stove is nowhere near the TV.

You may be familiar with hay box cooking. I often fold up two or three kitchen towels, and set them on top of a plate that is used as a lid for my cast iron pans. This locks in the heat and allows longer intervals between cranking it up. When I make caramelized onions, I fry them just until the onions are starting to soften, then turn off the heat and put on the lid with its insulating blanket. 20 minutes later, they are perfect.

I clean house with a cordless blower, so the pans are always covered, to prevent dust settling in them, and to prevent Lloyd from licking up all of the butter. He's the black cat pictured below. His favorite food is butter. He will lick it from pans, from toast or right out of the butter dish. Everything must be covered.

I'm on a cell phone. The system isn't allowing me to replace the duplicate photo with another photo, in edit mode, it doesn't even show the pictures that I have placed.
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" I don't know what happened to the butter"
 
Dale Hodgins
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That's weird, it wouldn't allow me to add or subtract photos.

It seems to work here. This is what they look like when you are done.
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garden master
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My wife and I like to use cast iron as well. We're still trying to get the seasoning layer on it to a point where eggs won't stick. I think being able to fry eggs is a good indicator of a properly seasoned pan. I hear it can be done, but we haven't quite achieved that level of non-stickness on our pans yet.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I think the whole seasoning thing is vastly overrated. It's all about having pans that aren't very porous. The two pictured are washed out with hot water at least weekly. After being buttered, they are non-stick again, from the very beginning, without any special treatment.
 
James Freyr
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Hmm.. Dale if I read you correctly, not all cast iron is created equal? We "wash" our pans with hot water, maybe with a little kosher salt, and we scrub a dub with that, never soap, and immediately give it a quick very light rub down with some flax oil once dry.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I don't do the flax oil or any other treatment, and have never done the oil and oven treatment. If you have good pans that aren't porous, it's not necessary. I could scrub mine out with soap and water, then leave them dry. Whenever they are needed, a light coating of butter does it, with no lead time needed. The ones in my picture were used to cook two batches of pancakes. They could still be used for several batches of eggs or whatever. Usually, they get a quick rinse, if they are used to cook red meat, that is then turned into a Gravy Sauce. The rinse is really to get rid of the gravy.

The most common reason for rinsing, is that dust has accumulated. Not a problem if the lids are in place.
 
pollinator
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"Hmm.. Dale if I read you correctly, not all cast iron is created equal?"

James, lots of discussion here on permies. The new lodge stuff has yuuuuge pores in it, whereas some of the old griswolds are much smoother. I have been looking for them at yard sales and auctions. The old ones are the way to go. I am not sure if grinding them does any good, may just expose more pores from what I have read.

sorry on mobile
 
James Freyr
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Interesting. Cast iron pans aren't something I really think about on a daily basis. I'll look into the older threads.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I have found that burning sugar in a very porous pan, and then grinding the surface clean with steel wool, helps to fill the pores in very poor quality ones, such as Lodge. I assume the pores are filling with carbon.

My best one is made by TS Eaton company and may be 100 years old.
 
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I cook almost exclusively in cast iron.  Most of mine is inherited - some dating back to the 1800s.  Most of what I use is circa 1940-60.  Browning is essential to so much of what I do, and nothing browns like cast iron.  Another benefit is stable temp - thick sauces, gravies and rice dishes.... take jambalaya, for instance... I can brown my meat and vegetables, add rice, add broth, turn down the heat, cover and walk away.  When I open the lid, I'll have an incomparable meal!  My favorite skillet is so well seasoned, that it is my omelet pan.  I cook with a lot of pork fat, so seasoning happens naturally.  
 
pollinator
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James Freyr wrote:My wife and I like to use cast iron as well. We're still trying to get the seasoning layer on it to a point where eggs won't stick. I think being able to fry eggs is a good indicator of a properly seasoned pan. I hear it can be done, but we haven't quite achieved that level of non-stickness on our pans yet.



Just a small tip on cooking eggs in cast iron from someone that has cooked in cast iron for a long time.  You need to get the pan hot enough before putting the egg(s) in.  I use a good coating of whatever oil/grease I'm cooking in and let the pan get "hot" before putting the eggs in.  A too cool pan is a sure fire recipe for stuck eggs.  You want the eggs to sizzle the moment you pour them in the pan.  You don't have to have a lake of oil in the pan, but the best way I can describe it is that the eggs float on the grease layer in the pan.  Just last week I cooked breakfast for dinner one night for my wife and myself.  I scrambled 6 eggs in a #10 skillet and when done wiped it out with a paper towel and put it back on the stove where it sits.  Just as slick and non-stick as a teflon coated pan.  Mind you though it took a lot of stuck eggs to learn that trick the hard way....:)

You also asked/made the statement that all cast iron is not created equal.  That is VERY much true.  The old pans, Wagner/Griswold and even other non branded OLD pans have/had machined finishes on the interior.  I have a #10 "non-branded" skillet that belonged to my G-Grandmother that was made sometime in the mid-late 1800's that is quite nice to cook in as it has a machined finish interior just like my Griswold and Wagner pans.  This new stuff, ie Lodge, while nice pans, are not in the same category of a Griswold or Wagner.  The Lodge, and others, are sand cast just like the old pans were.  The difference comes in the finishing process.  Lodge, last I looked, does not machine the interiors of their products.  I've been collecting and using Griswold and Wagner pans for over 30 years and won't even think about buying a Lodge or new made pan.  Yes, the old pans are now collectors items and are getting more and more expensive.  I just recently had to turn down the opportunity to buy an entire set of Griswold pans that included everything from a #3-#14 because I didn't have the kind of extra cash on hand that they were asking.  12 pans, $2500. BUT, just buying one or two of the most common sizes (#3, #6, #8, #10) wont break the bank too much.  The number 8 is probably the single most common size.  If you search out yard and estate sales, and even flea markets sometimes old pans can be bought very reasonably.  You just have to know what you are looking for and looking at and how to tell if a pan has a crack(don't buy those) etc. and how to recondition them to like new.  Just my humble opinion from years and years of using and collecting old cast iron.

Dale's two pans pictured above look nice.  One even looks to be a Wagner or Griswold #6.  
 
Dale Hodgins
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$20 Canadian is the most that I've ever paid for a pan. Most of mine are ones that I find for free in houses that are being demolished.

I like to have the pan hot for an entirely different reason. It doesn't matter if I'm cooking eggs, or pancakes, or anything else runny, I don't want it to stick to the sides. So, if the pan is reasonably hot, things like pancake batter don't flow so far, and whatever does touch the edge, is less likely to stick there. I think the sizzling pushes the butter along to the edges.

I have used an angle grinder, with a flexible pad, to machine a pan that was a simple sand cast. It turned out pretty good. Another thing that can work, is to clean a pan really thoroughly with soap and water, and then leave a damp rag touching it. The portion touching the rag, will rust. This will be the high spots . If this is done a few times, the bottom of the pan becomes somewhat more level after the rust is sanded away. I could see having the opposite effect if you put too much water, because the water would tend to flow to the deepest crevices, and then rust them even deeper.
 
pollinator
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James Freyr wrote:My wife and I like to use cast iron as well. We're still trying to get the seasoning layer on it to a point where eggs won't stick. I think being able to fry eggs is a good indicator of a properly seasoned pan. I hear it can be done, but we haven't quite achieved that level of non-stickness on our pans yet.



As others have noted, not all cast iron is the same.  I have two Lodge pans, which are really somewhat rough.  My mom has a couple (unknown manufacturer) whose bottoms are almost glass-like they're so smooth.

There is, as was also noted, a knack to frying eggs.  The pan needs to be hot enough, but not too hot, with enough fat, but not too much.  They've got to be left long enough on each side, but not too long.  And then there is the matter of how exactly you want them cooked (over easy, medium, hard).

But all that said, I have found that frying eggs in my cast iron pans has gotten easier over the years.  Some of that is attributable to increased skill, I'm sure, but much of it has to do with changes in the pans themselves from use.  The bottoms are smoother, primarily--probably a combination of having been both filled in (with carbon bits) and worn down physically from all the scraping.  We've never been regular about tending to our cast iron via seasoning and such--indeed, if anything we've been mostly negligent--so I can't claim that the increased 'performance' we're seeing has anything to do with any intentionality on our part.
 
James Freyr
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Thank you guys for the insight on cast iron pans. Sounds like pores in the surface come from the casting and it's not so much the chemistry of the iron being poured.
 
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Field company makes cast iron that is comparable to the good old pans.
 
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First of all you should know ALL cast iron is somewhat porous. But not all are the same level of porous. The old pans that you speak of that are smooth only APPEAR to be machined. They were cast in a ceramic mold and come out smooth and only need to have the mold sprue ground off of the edges. The new pans like the ones from Lodge, are Sand cast and come out rough or grainy. It is better for mass production. Lodge did offer a machined line of fry pans for a while but I don't know if they still do. The cooking surface only was machined very smooth. Some of the real cheap stuff that is made in China and India should be avoided as it may have voids in the casting that can cause it to crack or maybe even "pop" when it gets hot. I have a griddle that I can make over easy eggs and they wont stick at all.
 
Walt Chase
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Scott, I may have misspoke somewhat when I stated that Griswold pans were "machined".  They did actually machine some of their pans, but most were finished by a process called polish grinding. It leaves a finish that to the typical consumer looks "machined".  That is why so many older mfg pans are so much smoother than most current production pans. Giswold wasn't the only mfg to use this process.  Wagner Ware and Birmingham stove works also ground and polished some of their stuff. Other methods of finishing included tumbling (in steel media to smooth off the rough edges) along with as-cast, polish grinding and machined.  If I am not mistaken Lodge uses a process of shot blasting their stuff and pre-seasoning it before sale.  I have a number 9 Griswold round griddle that the polish marks are very evident still.

BTW, I would like to see where you got the information that cast iron was cast in a ceramic mold.  As far as I know the process is/was called sand casting.  

I whole heartedly agree with you on the Chinese and Indian cast iron.  Stay way far away.  Not good quality at all.
 
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