The Holton Homestead
grIf you know anything about our Homestead, you know we are cast iron obsessed! Some of you may already understand the feeling, others may thing we are crazy lol. One thing I do know for sure, cast iron cookware will never actually go away or be replaced. Seriously, nothing compares to it!
It has started to be more of a "trend" again, for many reasons. (Teflon is harmful, natural non-stick, iron intake, better flavor, etc.) So because of this trend coming back, many have tried using cast iron, and then became quickly disappointed. Raise your hand if that was you...
Don't worry, it probably wasn't your fault that you burn the food, or it stuck to the pan. There is an explanation.
If you went out and bought a new cast iron pan, you probably bought a Lodge ( The oldest American made company) or something similar, probably Wal-mart's brand or something. Now, there are nothing wrong with these kind of pans, they just take a lot more work to make them what you want. They are not the same as Grandma's old cast iron, that's for sure. So what has changed?
The best way I can say it, is they are no longer made with love. You will notice that everything made pre 1950 is lighter, smoother, usually with a nice glassy cooking surface. Now, pans come with a textured cooking surface. Why? Well let's back up. Way back when cast iron was the only cookware- when you purchased it, it came to you in a bag filled with oil. It wasn't "seasoned". They bag was only to prevent the iron from being exposed to the air and rusting. You as the customer were responsible for taking it home and seasoning it. If you have never seasoned a raw pan before, it isn't a quick thing. It takes several layers and lots of time. SO, you bought a brand new pan, and you can't cook with it right away. As you can imagine, this was probably a turn off for a lot of people. Over time, the process evolved. The thing that Lodge did that sets them apart from other makers is their new way to being able to give customers a pre-seasoned pan. So to keep costs down, they no longer "milled" the surface ( creating a smooth cooking surface). They remained textured, which allowed the spray on seasoning to stick to the pan better, but also makes the pan a lot heavier. Another thing to keep cost down, is the type of oil used to season. They are sprayed with one pretty thin layer of a soy bean based oil.
So back to bad experiences with new cast iron. You take it home, throw it on the stove, turn it to high heat (because that is what you are used to when cooking with stainless steal or similar pans), add some olive oil, throw you steaks on, and before you know it the house is filled with smoke, the steaks are stuck to your pan, and you are ready to forget cast iron forever!
Don't give up. A few things to remember with cast iron- you never actually need to cook on high heat. The pans get hotter than your typical pan, so it will get to that high heat level without being on high. So if you use the high level, you are only making the chance of burning your food greater. Also, with cooking oils- many don't know that olive oil actually has a lower smoke point than a lot of other oils. Meaning it will start smoking & burning at a lower temp than some of the high heat oils, like sunflower, safflower, and grape seed. (Check out the chart below.) Having knowledge on your oils will also help you in the future.
When looking for a pan to bring home, I personally look for the oldest one I can find. Pans from 1900-1920 are my favorite. I also look for American made brands. Wagner, Favorite, Wapac, Lodge, BSR, Griswold, Volrath, etc. Many are "unmarked", meaning the name isn't written on the pan, but if you study the makers, you can start to learn things that give them away. Some brands are harder to find because they were not in business as long as others. This makes them more rare and the price usually reflects. I then grade the pan on a few things. It's maker, if its marked or not, the age, the cooking surface, and then the size.
Many people have asked if it is okay to use cast iron cookware on their glass tops. I personally know many people who do this, but the one thing you want to make sure is that the pan sits completely flat. Many of the older pans have warping and may also be called "spinners". Meaning if you set them down, and give the handle a tap, they will spin with ease in circles. These kind of pans are fine if you are using a gas stove, but not ideal for glass. You want the whole bottom to touch the cooking surface, you don't want a hot spot while cooking. Another thing to avoid with glass tops, do not drag them across the surface.
Now you know a lot of the technical stuff about cast iron, but here is my favorite part- the history. I love searching for these pans and learning about how old they are. It feels like they all have a story. I have restored many pieces for families. Pieces handed down from family members. I love being able to share the history I know of the pan with the families, and also bringing it back to life. They get to use the same pan their grandmother or great grandmother used. That is the part I find really cool. It can be handed down for generations and generations. I do with my family would have had some that they used, but so far I have not found any that are within my family.