Sometime between now and 1950, cast-iron cookware’s history was scrubbed with soap. That is to say that, today, many home cooks view cooking over a seasoned iron skillet as a novelty, or something to do only with a choice few dishes. It’s viewed as a fickle, delicate thing that isn’t worth the trouble.
None of this is accurate. Cast-iron cookware was the standard prior to World War II — it was cheap to make, could take a beating in the kitchen (unless dropped) and acted as a cooking vessel for just about anything. Its fall isn’t so well documented, but it was born out of the mass production of stainless steel, which has lasted as the everyday cookware choice since.
When America switched to steel cookware it decimated the entire cast iron industry — old names like Wager, Griswold and Vollrath were bought up, rebranded or completely disappeared. All but one, that is.
Lodge did not collapse. Instead, it’s survived and become the only mass producer of cast-iron cookware that makes its skillets in the States. And calling it a “mass producer” is not an insult, it’s a blessing — cast-iron cookware has become cool in recent years, and with it, a slew of specialty brands have launched what are very nice skillets. The problem is these skillets are rather price-prohibitive, with Finex, Smithey, Field, Butterpat and the like all running at $100 and more.
Lodge’s skillets start at the very economical $15 range. Today, its classic kitchen standard 10-inch skillet is marked down to $10 on Sierra Trading Post. What’s the difference between a cheap Lodge and one of the specialty brands? Cooking-wise, not a ton — most of the boutique skillets have machined surfaces, which are generally superior when it comes to releasing food from the surface (eggs, especially), and some have quirky design features that are useful to some degree (Finex’s handles, Field’s super lightweight, etc.).
That said, if you’ve never cooked on cast iron and want to give it a go, it’s difficult to suggest spending 10-times the cost of a Lodge skillet for what are rather minute upgrades. Plus, you won’t mind ruining a $10 skillet with rust or poor seasoning like you might a $100 skillet.
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