Cooking Technology

The case for cast iron

While our landfills continue to fill with useless plastic lifespan products, some consumers are considering sustainable, long term lifestyle products. Cast iron cookware falls into the latter category and is often handed down from one generation to the next. It is durable and offers merits than other cookware lacks. Cast iron simply has soul — it provides even heat distribution and retains heat more uniformly than any other cookware. Folks with iron deficiencies appreciate increased iron absorption cooking with cast iron.

A well-seasoned cast iron skillet means no nonstick coatings, no dead birds and superior taste. Yes, pans treated with non-stick polytetrafluorethylene (PTFE) coatings are associated with aviary deaths caused by fumes generated from over-heated Teflon, Innovex 75T, TheromSpot T, as well as other non-stick coatings. Degradation of PTFE has been shown to be toxic to humans too, documented in The Lancet as early as 1951. A well-seasoned cast iron pan means less oil required for healthy heart recipes.

Consumer cast iron cookware seems to be morphing into four categories: Utilitarian, artisan, collectible and scrounged. Utilitarian cast iron can be found at big box retailers, sporting goods and hardware stores. All of these are good places to locate imported and domestic quality cast iron at economy pricing. China is the world leader in economical priced, thin cast iron casting. Lodge Manufacturing Company has been churning U.S. pig iron into reliable cookware for over 100 years.

Borough Furnace, Finex and Field are examples of the new artisan cast iron cookware movement. Their missions are to develop heirloom cookware, meant to pass down to our next generations. Finex is based in Portland, Oregon. These new cast iron firms were inspired by the high quality of early American cast iron cookware (Erie, Griswold, Wagner and others). Finex handcrafted cookware carries a good forever guarantee.

Collectable cast iron is for deep-pocketed zealots. Rare or high-end Griswold single piece can cost as much as the price of a quality used car. Unfortunately, many of these collectors are compulsive hoarders, that don’t cook or enjoy their cookware, rather are speculators. Chuck Wafford authored The Book of Griswold and Wagner right here in Lane County and has been an important national and local cast iron authority and icon of area collectors for decades. Antique shops, collectible shows, Craigslist and eBay are good resources for collector cookware.

Frugal cast iron cookware enthusiasts typically frequent garage sales, junk shops, pawn shops, thrift stores, Craigslist’s and other haunts to scrounge bargain iron. There can be great satisfaction in restoring old iron. It is tedious and messy, and akin to dental work, but rewarding. There are numerous methods that range from vinegar baths, scrape, grind and polish methods, traditional heated oven cleaning techniques, electrolysis baths and other cleaning methods. After the cast iron is cleaned and hopefully the patina is still intact, the next step is to season the cookware for years of use and enjoyment.

SilverFire is a local off grid stove and cookware retailer, and carries a variety of vintage, collectable and Finex artisan cast iron cookware at 2472 Willamette Street in South Eugene.

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