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Cast iron and carbon steel cookware: or I'll never trade in convenience for quality (and health) again! (1 Viewer)

Jay_Z_525

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I’ve been using the same three CI pans for over 20 years. Back then, Lodge used to polish the pans, so they were smoother than they are now, and they weren’t pre-seasoned.

Without the extra grinding and polishing it takes a bit longer (in my opinion) to get that shiny, black satin finish. But once you do, nothing sticks. If I have to re-season, I’ll dry a few potatoes, then wipe the pan clean.

I’ve started adding vintage Griswold bakeware to my collection, too. A seasoned Griswold Popover pan makes the best popovers, with no sticking.
 

Carlo Medina

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IMG_2108.jpg
Oh boy...
 

Carlo Medina

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Dutch Baby (although since it's a 6" some might call it a Dutch Infant lol).

Came out really good, but not quite as rich/decadent as what I get from the Original Pancake house. I wonder if they separate and use only the yolk as opposed to the whole egg. Or if they use heavy cream instead of whole milk. I'll experiment in the future. But the texture and overall taste was spot on, just lacking that last bit of decadence.

Topped it off with some blueberries and maple syrup (held off on powdered sugar because I'm in my late 40s :lol:). Once again pleasantly surprised at the release. The recipes said to use a spatula to remove from the pan, but I literally angled it 45 degrees and the puppy just slid right out. I almost don't have to wash the pan!
 

Nelson Au

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I’m watching this thread and lurking for now. I’ve been interested in a cast iron pan for some time. Also stopped using non stick pans years ago. I’ve been using stainless steel pans, one 7 1/2 inch pan and an 10 inch pan with lid the other is an 11 1/2 inch wok with a lid. They work well as I learn more for how to cook.

Looking at the cast iron, they are about 5 pounds. Not too heavy, but heavy. My mom had an old cast iron pan that I was looking for recently and she tossed it as it was too heavy for her. Same with an old wok. Oh well.
 

Carlo Medina

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Nelson, sadly there is no getting around the weight of cast iron. The 12" will be a tad over 5lbs and the 10" will be a tad under 5. Even my 6" is 2.5lbs. Going carbon steel will shave about 25% or so of the weight, but it's still a heavy pan compared to standard aluminum or steel pans.

One more added benefit to the Smithey polished finish. On my Lodge, which has that uniform black patina now and releases food easily, as I mentioned there are often little bits left after high-heat cooking of proteins that take a little elbow grease and chain mail to take off. I mentioned that when I seared my filet mignon and crispified my fish skin that did not occur at all, quick wash with water and sponge (or nylon bristle brush) and it was clean.

One additional thing: no matter how clean I get my Lodge, if you run a paper towel on it with oil afterwards before storing it, if you look closely at the paper towel you will still see a slight brownish stain like there's always something left on the Lodge no matter how well you clean it with hot water and the nylon or chainmail scrubber. My theory is that the surface is so rough that there are always tiny particles which become lodged in the uneven nooks and crannies and are left behind.

That does not happen at all with the Smitheys. Because they were polished so smooth from the factory, the seasoning is applying and drying to a super smooth finish as well, so there aren't areas for tiny bits to get stuck. When I wipe it down with a lightly oiled paper towel, nothing comes up from the pan. Clean as a whistle.

This is not a critique of the Lodge, as most cast iron pans out there don't take the step to polish the cooking surface to the degree that Smithey does. That is reflected in the price difference. But I now understand why Smithey (and other similar boutique foundries) charge more. Part of it is they don't have the scale and volume that Lodge does, but part is definitely the extra manufacturing steps they take, from the polishing to the (imho improved) seasoning steps.
 

Robert McNay

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I have lived through using my late mom's Calphalon pans and a cast iron pan I bought, that popped something in my wrist last time I used it. I will stick to my Midnight Infomercial GraniteStone pans I got 2 years ago. I use them to death, I beat on them and all I do is re-season them every 6 months. They still work and look like the day I got them. And no wrist injuries either.
 

Dmitry

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If I didn't feel "personally invested" in seasoning my Lodge CI & CS pans (and the Lodge CS pan is an abomination the way it comes from the factory, it's coarser than their CI pans) I'd consider picking up a set of Smithey's (or one of several cheaper Kickstarter alternatives — not as beautiful, but still plenty polished). But even with that coarse surface I can fry eggs without any grease (did it a couple of times to prove a point to non-stick aficionados), although a tiny splash of oil or butter will make it tastier IMHO.

Also a small guilty pleasure of mine — picked up this baby for making Japanese omelettes. Amazon product. Despite being pretty coarse, after two layers of seasoning it is releasing like a champ!

One thing I like to do is every time after I use and wash the pans I will heat em up not just to dry out, but also to apply a quick thin layer of oil (I use avocado or grapeseed). Helps to build up seasoning and prevent rust for pans that are used infrequently.

And just like many others in this thread I use stainless steel for anything acidic. I find that when properly heated it's almost as non-stick as the CI & CS pans are.
 

Josh Steinberg

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You guys are making me want to reseason my Lodge after sitting unused for several months.

I feel like I overestimate the cleanup fuss when I think about it. In truth, especially in the times when I was able to let it live on top of the stove in perpetuity, it was the easiest thing to take care of. It’s one of those things where the more I’d use it, the more encouraged I was to use it, so it was easy to just leave it out. Right now it’s the very specific obstacle of the pan getting absurdly hot and my stove being too easily in reach of toddlers. That’s a time limited problem because eventually the kids get old enough where they’ve learned not to touch hot pans.

I was in an apartment for six years where I didn’t have an outdoor grill and my grilled favorites never suffered thanks to that pan.

Before we moved out of that apartment building, someone had just left out a rusty old small oval cast iron skillet (the kind you see fajitas served on) in the hallway where we had an informal exchange of crap people didn’t want anymore, and last summer I cleaned it up really nicely. You’d never know it was anything other than brand new looking at it now.

I really wanna go camping one day and put the skillet right on the wood fire and act like I’m in an old western. :D
 

Carlo Medina

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I feel like I overestimate the cleanup fuss when I think about it. In truth, especially in the times when I was able to let it live on top of the stove in perpetuity, it was the easiest thing to take care of. It’s one of those things where the more I’d use it, the more encouraged I was to use it, so it was easy to just leave it out. Right now it’s the very specific obstacle of the pan getting absurdly hot and my stove being too easily in reach of toddlers. That’s a time limited problem because eventually the kids get old enough where they’ve learned not to touch hot pans.
The toddler issue is a real thing, heck I'm 40+ years removed from being one and almost grabbed the handle with my bare hand the other day.

With regards to overestimating cleanup...again I harken back to my experience with the Lodge where, despite seasoning and using it quite a few times, it took many, many months of cooking to become what it is now. When it was still building up seasoning, the amount of elbow grease to remove stickies was not inconsiderable (and as I mentioned earlier even today when it releases like nonstick, if you rub a paper towel against it you will get minute traces of detritus).

Which is why I don't regret splurging on these Smithey pans. Because they already are *more* nonstick than Lodge after literally 1-2 uses after 2 quick-and-easy seasoning passes.

I totally get what you're saying about leaving these pans out on the stovetop. These are conversation starters and aesthetically beautiful, but also having them out in plain sight shifts my mindset from "what takeout am I going to order tonight?" to "what am I going to pick up from the market to cook on these bad boys?"
 

Josh Steinberg

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My Lodge was where your Smithey is and then it got mishandled - one of those family gatherings where you ask people not to help with cleanup and some well intentioned soul doesn’t heed that request. Six years of beautiful seasoning quite literally down the drain. I think this fall I’ll put some effort into getting it back in fighting shape. The Smitheys look beautiful - I don’t know if my preference to take a more DIY approach is more stubborn adherence to tradition or my wallet groaning :D

I underspend on kitchen stuff and I know that’s a flaw. I cook so many weekly meals and enjoy doing it, it really would be worth it to splurge a little now and then given the amount of time I spend there. Sometimes I’m the last to figure that out. I did the same thing with my TV. Had a huge DVD collection that I built up through high school and college but it took me ten years to figure out “why not spend a little on a bigger TV to actually watch them on?”

having them out in plain sight shifts my mindset from "what takeout am I going to order tonight?" to "what am I going to pick up from the market to cook on these bad boys?"

Yes, exactly!

Ever tried doing a duck breast on one of these? That’s really something when you get it just right.
 

Jay_Z_525

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Fun fact: George Washington’s mother included her cast iron in her will.

Anyway, wills aside. Try making a pizza in a cast iron pan. Get the pan screaming hot on the stove, add oil, drop in the dough, add the toppings, let it sit for a minute or two then pop it into a 450 degree oven for 6-8-10 minutes. It’s heaven.
 

DaveF

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Yes you pay for it. And yes a lot of the cost is for aesthetics. The Lodge are workhorses, utilitarian tools. Those who know, know, and will appreciate you owning and using one. The Smitheys are just straight up conversation starters, even for those who don't know anything about cast iron cookware.
When I buy a carbon steel pan, I’ll be going for the bargain option. No one starts conversations with me about my cookware. 😆

I don’t mind spending money on kitchen gear — my all clad was not cheap. But my understanding of CS is it’s like CI, and I take it as a low-cost workhorse (as you say) cookware. And if I were to fall in love with it, I’d consider buying something fancier later.

I’ve come to peace with cast iron. Throwing away the previous Lodge and starting anew made it easier. I cooked a lot of bacon in it. And take care to dry fully, and season with vegetable oil after every use. And that’s helped too. And I’ve gotten less fussy about cleaning it. I just scour it good with a firm-plastic bristle brush, use kosher salt liberally, and don’t worry much past that.
 

DaveF

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Regarding non-stickiness of contemporary (low cost) cast iron vs carbon steel:

Old timey cast iron was made by grinding out cast iron giving it a smooth surface, that quickly became nonstick with seasoning. Modern cast iron, to save costs, is made with a sand cast process, no grinding, that results in the rough (even pebbly) surface that takes a very long time with a great deal of seasoning to fill in and starting getting nonsticky. You can search estate sales to find heritage cast iron, or spend bigger money to buy heritage-made cast iron that’s ground smooth. (I’m no historian, just have read a bit about cast iron the past decade as I’ve fought with it.)

Carbon steel i think is a machine press made, so it’s pretty smooth to start. And the high-end gear, wouldn’t surprise me if it gets an extra grind and polish to really set it apart.

Aluminum or steel (shiny) skillets are especially good for anything you need to see the degree of browning. If I’m browning butter or I’m doing a fried, breaded chicken (where I need to get the temperature right by watching the bread crumbs brown), I want my all clad. Much harder to monitor in a black cast iron or non-stick skillet.

I also cook a fair bit of tomato-sauce (acidic) dishes. So, aluminum better than cast iron or carbon steel. Those together keep conventional skillets my current go to.

Anyhow…I’m reading the thread. I’m carbon-steel curious, even if not a current user. :)
 

DaveF

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I was in an apartment for six years where I didn’t have an outdoor grill and my grilled favorites never suffered thanks to that pan.
This is a big reason why cast iron isn’t a big deal for me: I don’t do burgers or steaks or big sears in the kitchen anymore. That’s all on my grill. I’ve got a modern, whole-house, linked smoke alarm system. Setting off the kitchen alarm has the whole house screaming at me. And a wife screaming at me. :) So, things that smoke are outside. And that cuts out a big category of cooking that cast iron is great for.
 

Carlo Medina

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I do have to keep my windows open and a fan going if I'm going to sear/bake a steak. Admittedly I'm trying to cut back on meat consumption so I don't cook them as often as I did in my younger days.

On the rare occasions I do cook a steak though, my taste preference is actually for the cast iron sear then bake technique, at least for cuts like parts of the tenderloin and ribeye. And I have to admit the next time I do a burger at home, I'm probably going to use the cast iron as well. I just prefer the nice bit of caramelization that happens when meat hits a hot pan and sears, which doesn't really happen when cooking directly on a BBQ. In fact when my roommate moved out late last year and took his BBQ, I never bothered to get a replacement and now that I have the Smitheys, I probably won't. I do have a Lodge pan with grill lines on it, so if I ever feel the need to have those criss-cross marks, I have a method to do that indoors, but I think most of my cooking will just be straight on the CI and CS pans.

@DaveF if you ever pull the trigger on CS, I can vouch for the Matfer Bourgeat line. I like that they weld the handle vs. using rivets so that there's no chance for food bits to get stuck or rust to accumulate around the rivets. They're not as cheap as Lodge pans, but they aren't as expensive as Smitheys. Probably around $75 for an 11" pan.

The one advice I will give is that it takes quite some doing to get whatever protective oil they put on there off, like tons of hot water and soap and heating, rinse, repeat, it was a bit frustrating. When I first applied seasoning it revealed I hadn't done a thorough job of getting all the factory protective oil off. I also happened to be cleaning my oven using Easy Off, and in a moment of inspiration I put just a dab on a small area...and suddenly the carbon steel shone through.

On my next Matfer Bourgeat purchase I will be using Easy Off immediately to remove the protective oil--it's not pre-seasoning by the factory, it's literally a protective oil they use to fend off rust while it's waiting to be purchased and seasoned. Then hit it up with some BuzzyWaxx (or whatever oil you desire) and season it a couple of times and you're off and running.
 

Nelson Au

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Nelson, sadly there is no getting around the weight of cast iron. The 12" will be a tad over 5lbs and the 10" will be a tad under 5. Even my 6" is 2.5lbs. Going carbon steel will shave about 25% or so of the weight, but it's still a heavy pan compared to standard aluminum or steel pans.

One more added benefit to the Smithey polished finish. On my Lodge, which has that uniform black patina now and releases food easily, as I mentioned there are often little bits left after high-heat cooking of proteins that take a little elbow grease and chain mail to take off. I mentioned that when I seared my filet mignon and crispified my fish skin that did not occur at all, quick wash with water and sponge (or nylon bristle brush) and it was clean.

One additional thing: no matter how clean I get my Lodge, if you run a paper towel on it with oil afterwards before storing it, if you look closely at the paper towel you will still see a slight brownish stain like there's always something left on the Lodge no matter how well you clean it with hot water and the nylon or chainmail scrubber. My theory is that the surface is so rough that there are always tiny particles which become lodged in the uneven nooks and crannies and are left behind.

That does not happen at all with the Smitheys. Because they were polished so smooth from the factory, the seasoning is applying and drying to a super smooth finish as well, so there aren't areas for tiny bits to get stuck. When I wipe it down with a lightly oiled paper towel, nothing comes up from the pan. Clean as a whistle.

This is not a critique of the Lodge, as most cast iron pans out there don't take the step to polish the cooking surface to the degree that Smithey does. That is reflected in the price difference. But I now understand why Smithey (and other similar boutique foundries) charge more. Part of it is they don't have the scale and volume that Lodge does, but part is definitely the extra manufacturing steps they take, from the polishing to the (imho improved) seasoning steps.
Hey Carlo, thanks for the insights. Its good information. I can see how the smooth surface of your Smithey will season well and clean easily without the texture trapping any leavings.

I had heard about carbon steel when I came across a YouTube video of a review of carbon steel woks from Walmart. They are from Imusa and are $20! I could post the video if anyone is interested.

I’ll be reading more about CI and CS as I decide how to step into this. Would be interesting also to find and refurbish an older CI pan to try out.
 

joeconn4

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Love my cast iron! I am an "enthusiastic amateur" in the kitchen, but I'm pretty knocked out by most of the stuff I cook. It doesn't always look pretty, but yummo.

I have 5 CI that I was given by the family when I got out of college and got my first apartment in 1987. All were just random pieces they had around, extras they didn't use/want any more; 4 fry pans, 1 sauce pan. I would guess they were all decades old when I got them. I knew next to nothing about cooking at that point. I didn't even know how to boil an egg - first time I tried I thought it was like cooking pasta, get the water boiling, drop the eggs in. Did that and they all cracked, lol. So of course I didn't know how to take care of CI and no interwebs back then to call up a youtube video to learn. I have never seasoned mine. I wash them in the sink and scrub them with steel Scotch-Brite and let them air dry. I cook tomato sauce all the time in the sauce pan.

Despite all that, they work great. From eggs to stir fries to meats to CI pizza to biscuits - you name it those pans rock! As I've gotten more into cooking of course I've read about the "right" way to handle CI, but since what I've done for decades works fine for me, I'll keep doing it my way.
 

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