Vintage vs. Modern Cast Iron-which is better?


The Twister (German Bundt)-beautifully smooth surface!

Vintage vs. modern cast iron, not much of a bigger debate exists in leading cast iron groups.

Vintage pans have a number of advantages:

  • Lighter
  • Smoother surface
  • Handmade elements
  • Heirloom quality, or passed down from generation to generation
  • Certain pieces, such as Bundt Pans are no longer manufactured
    Variety of pieces available

Disadvantages of Vintage Pieces:

  • Availability: you may not have time to search the flea market, garage sales, etc.
  • Restoration: you may not have the ability or space to restore old cast iron finds.
  • Quality: Some thinner pans may be “spinners” or don’t sit flat or aren’t suitable for a modern flat-top stove.
  • Price: Depending on where you buy, prices may be prohibitive.

Advantages of Modern Pieces:

  • Wide availability, although not as many pieces available as the vintage category, such as saucepans
  • Price point: Many modern pans are within the normal family budget, and will outlast other types of pans
  • Pre-seasoned black iron, or enameled pieces: the consumer does not have to be knowledgeable on seasoning processes.
  • Lifetime warranty: pieces I recommend in the modern category all have lifetime warranties
  • Restoring modern pieces may be easier, as modern manufacturing processes reduce flash rust

Disadvantages of Modern Pieces:

  • Heavier
  • Surface is not as smooth, although plenty of use will even out the surface somewhat.
Beautiful Le Creuset modern griddle
Le Creuset modern Grill/Griddle combo.

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Seasoning Cast Iron-What Does It mean?

One might hear the phrase “seasoning cast iron” and think, “what do I salt it or something?”

Seasoning is the application of oil to bare cast iron, then going beyond the smoke point of said oil to create a polymerized layer; a protective coating commonly referred to as seasoning.

And old friend of mine might say, “Is this seasoning process really necessary?” I say wholeheartedly yes. A good seasoning creates a non-stick layer to your cookware, makes it easier to cook and clean your cookware, and protects the cast iron from rusting.

So what do we use for seasoning? Really, anything you want. Most professionals I see use Crisco , and I personally prefer it for seasoning. You can use Crisbee Pucks, Canola, Safflower, Avocado oil, lard, beef tallow, and the list goes on. I suggest you Google “oil smoke points” to obtain a chart of smoke points for different oils.

So how to we begin the seasoning process? First, you need a clean piece of bare iron, meaning any previous gunk, or seasoning layers will be removed. First the piece is cleaned in lye, and possibly also through an electrolysis tank to remove rust. Then, clean the piece with Dawn Soap and cold water (hot is okay as long as the piece is not flash rusting), Scotch Brite Stainless, and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, Extra Durable version. Additionally, you can use stainless steel brushes for tough pieces, or crevices such as waffle irons. I personally do not recommend using any power tools or wire wheeling. Never clean cast iron in a fire. I do not recommend using the self-clean oven method because this method can do damage to both your oven, and the iron by cracking it or causing heat warping, and/or rendering the iron unable to hold a seasoning layer. Once you start cleaning the iron, you’ll need to at least get to the point of putting the oil on the iron, or you’ll need to put the piece back in the tank to prevent rust.

Once the initial dirt comes off, use the magic eraser and some Dawn to go over the piece until no more visible dirt is coming off, and you see greenish tint on your sponge. Then quickly dry the piece with paper towels or shop towels. If you have a gas stovetop, quickly heat the piece just enough to get a layer of Crisco or oil on the piece. I really like the blue shop towels for glass. I recommend oiling the piece before heating if you have an electric stovetop, because you’ll need to heat your pan initially in the oven, and that may be just enough time to start flash rust.

Seasoning in a Gas Oven Vs. Electric

Here’s where it gets tricky. Gas ovens put off moisture, and this can be a problem at lower temperatures, as it can cause the piece to have spotting and rusting in the oven. I recommend starting a gas oven off at around 275F. Once it’s heated, take a heavy towel and wipe any visible moisture off the glass, be careful and use a pot holder. Also, pop the door open periodically to let any excess moisture out. Gas ovens tend to climb in temperature quickly, therefore, a graduated temperature approach is recommended, commonly referred to as the 200/300/400 method, but we’re going to go higher and do 275/375/475-500 at the end.

Also, you’ll heat your piece on the stove-top and apply a liberal layer of Crisco with a pastry brush or paper towel. Let it sit until it cools completely, preheat the oven to 275F in the meantime. Once the piece cools down, you are going to wipe, wipe, wipe all the Crisco off with the blue shop towels until the piece looks dry. Then wipe it a few more times… Place in the 275F oven for 15-20 minutes. Then gradually raise the temperature by putting the dial on 375. Heat for another 20 minutes. Then put the dial to 475 and that’s where you’ll do the pan for about 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I’ll finish off at 500. Let the piece cool down in the oven. Do the process over again for additional coats. I usually do 2-3 coats.

Electric Oven:

You’ll need to oil your piece cold, then heat it in the oven at about 250 for 15 minutes, this will be an additional step. Once you take it out of the oven, you’ll let it cool down. Once it cools down, you are going to wipe, wipe, wipe all the Crisco off with the blue shop towels until the piece looks dry. Then wipe it a few more times…

Start off around 250. Nothing additional needs to be done, as electric ovens heat more slowly and do not produce moisture. Once the pan has heated for about 15 minutes, increase the dial to 450-475 and monitor. Graduated temperature method is optional. Once the oven is up to 475, season the pan for 30-45 minutes. Sometimes I’ll finish off at 500. Let the piece cool down in the oven. Do the process over again for additional coats. I usually do 2-3 coats.

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My Favorite Cast Iron Restoration Products

Here are a several favorite products when working with restoring cast iron:

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Cleaning Old Cast Iron, the Power of the Lye Bath

So how do we clean up that gunky old cast iron flea market find?

One method involves lye (sodium hydroxide) or Yellow-Cap Easy-Off oven cleaner.

Safety First! When working with lye, ensure you have nitrile gloves or the like, eye protection, and long-sleeved adequate clothing and pants, and regular, covered shoes.

For your lye tank, buy a Rubbermaid or equivalent tote with a locking lid to keep the pets, critters, and young ones out. Label your tote all around with “Corrosive/Toxic” and “Lye/Sodium Hydroxide.” You want to use something that will hold 5-10 gallons, with about 6-12″ at the top for a small-to-medium size tank. Go as small as you can for the size of piece you need to do.

To purchase lye, you want 100% lye crystals. You can find this at Lowe’s on the Plumbing Aisle (not with the regular household cleaners.) For Lowe’s, It’s Roebic brand in a black bottle, 2lbs. Sometimes the employees may not know where it is. Ace Hardware is also good, though you may have to ask at the counter.

100 Percent Lye Crystals

The ratio of lye to water is typically 5 gallons of water to 1 pound of lye. Some use a stronger solution. Add your water to your tote first. Always add lye to the water and not the other way around!

Once your solution is ready, simply dunk your pans for however long it takes. You can nest as many as you want. If it fits, it sits.

If it’s summer time, that is ideal as lye works better in warm conditions. If it’s winter, I highly recommend buying a large aquarium heater, available at most pet supply stores.

If you do not want a lye tank, you can use the garbage bag-Easy Off method. Simply coat your item in Easy-Off (well-ventilated area and wear eye protection and gloves) and then place in a plastic bag. Again, this method works better in summer.

Happy Cleaning!

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Why Cast Iron Cookware?

Some years ago, more than a decade now, I found myself dissatisfied with my cookware. It was cheap, the surface flaked and it didn’t last. I couldn’t put it in the oven, and it was not a joy to cook with a cheap, non-stick skillet. There had to be something better I said to myself!

Luckily, I was able to get on the internet and find out about cast iron. It’s durable and heavy they say, but expensive! It takes a bit of a learning curve to be able to successfully cook in cast iron. The cooking properties are very different from your fast-heating skillets you may be used to.

So what does it take to be successful at cooking in cast iron? Patience! My number one tip is to be sure to preheat your pans thoroughly before cooking. There are some exceptions with baking. This is the single biggest tip I’ll leave you with today. Depending on your stovetop, you may need to preheat for 2-4 minutes on medium to medium high.

Happy cast iron cooking to you!

Buttermilk pancakes cooked on cast iron!

Recipe

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