5 Tips For Buying A Cast Iron Skillet
If you are finding yourself in the market to purchase a cast-iron pan, it’s probably because your family didn’t pass you your Grandmother’s skillet. This is a far too often tail. I too didn’t inherit the family heirloom as there wasn’t one to pass on. I came on the scene far too late and both my Maternal and Paternal side of the family had to pass theirs on to someone other than My Mother and Father.
My Mother and Father started to have offspring in the 70’s in the height of manufactured non-skillets. This meant that our house didn’t have a proper corned beef hash nor a properly seared steak, or a perfect Peach Cobbler. Here is the silver lining, if your family story is a replication of mine. You can buy yourself a previously owned, or aged skillet, and you can fix it yourself, and then when you are writing your will, then you can pass it along to someone you love.
Now, I would like to impart some guidelines before you go shopping for a new, old, or frankly any skillet:
Just like when you started fishing, you got a fishing pole that was made by Zebco and “Looked Just Like Dad’s”. However, if you’re are an unproven cast-iron cook, I’d suggest something like a Lodge 10-inch skillet, and it will serve you well, it’s very accessible, and it’s affordable. Like the majority of the skillets on the market today, it’s sold as ‘pre-seasoned’, So it’s been treated so you can start using it right away. Let’s face it, no cast-iron is 100% non-stick, this is a product that gets closer to that goal every time you use it. So, let’s set some base expectations that no pre-seasoned pan will be perfect straight out of the box. You should rinse it, dry it on the stove and oil it a few times before you get cooking.
Why I like the Lodge product is it is still a little rough, has a slightly bumpy feel, which is not the case with older or higher-end modern pieces. While I do enjoy cooking on them, they are investment products. You will pay for them. Lodge is something wonderful that you can make all your mistakes with and not worry, you can build your skills. If you fall in love, as I suspect you will, then you can shell out the cash for the expensive ones, old or new.
If you are going to be ready to shell out cash for one of those modern jobs, please do your homework first. I find this true of any large purchase. Think of this as a test-drive for a skillet, just the way you did with your last car purchase. Well, technically it’s different because most of our purchases are online these days. So, you won’t know how it will feel in your hands or how glossy the surface feels to the touch. You can, however, read consumer reviews, ask your friends to give their opinion, or if they are really good friends they may even loan you theirs for a test run if you make them dinner of course.
Here are a few companies you can trust:
These companies have great products. Many of them have entry level products all up to the super smooth Le Creuset $120 uber pan. Some of them vary to lighter-weight cast iron products. My point is, you’ve got choices. You will need to do your research.
DIY isn’t for Everyone
Some in the food business call it a Savior Complex. You know the story, A couple stumbles in on a roadside flea market or that once in a lifetime estate sale and they purchased for a tiny sum of cash a beautiful 18″ cast-iron skillet from 1875. This couple continues to lavish you with the story of how they painstakingly refurbished this piece of cast-iron to a true, cast-iron beauty.
The premise of this story is, DIY projects are not for everyone. They are hard, and they take time, sweat equity and muscle. A masterpiece takes a lot of scouring and muscle. During your project, you may be tempted to discard your estate find in the trash bin, or dousing it with some super chemical.
However, if you are serious DIY’er for culinary projects, your ‘rescue’ project should be one you can manage. However, if you are not and are just a DIY Dreamer it may be the best bet to buy an Already Been Cleaned skillet off of eBay or Amazon. Or, if you are fixated on having an old pan, you may want to start with a hardware store or a black smith’s shop to help you start.
Let’s face it vintage doesn’t mean you can save it. They might just be too far gone. Rust is the enemy, while you can work with it, some of the cracks and craters it causes just cannot be fixed. You need a level, even cooking surface to have the pan work properly for the best performance. Pitting and extensive scratching are permanent forms of damage. It’s awful to see it. So, when you see this you do have some perspective and let that estate find go.
The Right Tools Make All The Difference
No matter on what cast-iron product you decide on, you should acquire some essential accessories to have on hand to help you care for them so they perform like you dreamed it would.
- Dish Soap: Any brand will do as long as it’s a bleach free variety and not too harsh. Dawn is what I use.
- Non-Abrasive brushes that allow you to scrub your cast iron clean of food debris.
- Kosher Salt: This is a wonderful alternative form of removing any of the stubborn food particles that do get stuck to your pan.
- Steel wool: (Do not get the soapy kinds) Even when you have tried your hardest, the rust will come for your pan and you will have to re-season it. Steel wool is your friend.
- Flaxseed oil: I realize that you may not have ready access to a steady supply of rendered bacon grease. Flaxseed is the best oil for seasoning and general upkeep during the re-seasoning process.