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A Cast-Iron Skillet, Made Like They Used To

For over a decade, Isaac Morton of Smithey Ironware has sought to bring back that quality of craftsmanship in modern cast iron.

From Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine. Free shipping for new subscribers.

Isaac Morton’s small business, Smithey Ironware, was inspired by a single, decrepit piece of metal: a vintage Griswold cast iron skillet. “I was just taken by the quality of it,” he said. “Up until that point, I didn’t really understand cast iron. When I saw that old piece, I got it.”

Modern pieces by the only remaining large-scale American maker of cast iron, Lodge, are “rough and grainy,” Morton said. But the older Griswold skillet still had a satin-smooth cooking surface, the hallmark of a different foundry industry: Before production lines became automated in the 1950s and ‘60s and competition from affordable steel drove down demand, workers spent hours polishing cast iron by hand.

“It doesn’t have a practical purpose anymore,” Morton says of the ridge along the bottom edge of his skillet. “But if you look at pieces cast before 1900, you typically had this heat ring, which helped the pan fit into the indentations on the top of the stove. It’s just an homage to some of the cool old cast iron designs.”

Since December of 2015, Morton has sought to bring back that quality of craftsmanship in modern cast iron. He’s teamed up with a small-scale foundry in Indiana for raw castings; once they arrive, he toils in a small warehouse-workshop outside of Charleston to turn bare steel into a piece of good-looking, utilitarian cookware. His skillet is heavy — around six pounds — because the thicker-gauge iron retains and emits heat with a more powerful effect; finger holes on the off-hand handle help balance during pouring, reduce weight and allow for hanging.

Then there’s the star of the show, the milled and polished cook surface. “It gives you versatility,” Morton said. “It echoes the quality of the old pieces. And when you like the way a tool looks, you take care of it better.”

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A version of this story appears in Issue Two of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 286 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $35

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