There used to be a time when every cabin and wagon train across North America was home to a pot or pan made from cast iron. Today those heirlooms tell a story of hardiness and pride of ownership, seasoned and cherished by generations passed. Sentimentality aside, cast iron cookware still serves a purpose in the modern kitchen. It’s durable and long lasting, but also incredibly efficient at retaining heat (pots and pans can get upwards of 700 degrees Fahrenheit), radiating more effectively than today’s standard of aluminum and steel. This means they cook through food, like an oven, rather than just cooking its surface.
Some argue cornbread can’t be done properly without cast iron, or that skillets of cast iron should be the only venue for a yet-to-be seared steak. The bottom line is that no kitchen is complete without at least one cast iron pot or pan in the collection. So if you weren’t promised one in the family will, or you just don’t feel like waiting, here are five worthy of modest investment.
Best Made Co. x Griswold Cookwares
For collectors, Griswold is one of the most coveted names in the second-hand market (alongside Wagner Ware, Vollrath and Favorite). The company was originally founded in 1865 in Erie, Pennsylvania, ceased production in 1957, and carries a reputation for quality craftsmanship that advocates argue is rarely seen in contemporary cast iron manufacturing. The justification is that these vintage wares are much smoother, creating a more even cooking surface and seasoning layer. Companies like Best Made Co. are sourcing these wares and restoring them to their former glories. They can often sell out, so look for them on eBay as well.
FINEX was founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, where, thanks to their uniquely designed skillets, they’ve quickly built a loyal following. Available in both 8-inch and 12-inch sizes, each skillet is shaped into an octagon, which allows cooks to pour liquid and grease out from any angle. Moreover, they come equipped with a stainless steel coil handle that quickly dissipates heat, and they ship pre-seasoned with organic flaxseed oil.
Borough Furnace Braising Skillet
Made to order, the cast iron products of upstate New York-based manufacturer Borough Furnace are crafted in small batches from recycled iron that’s first melted in their custom “Skilletron” furnace, which is powered by vegetable oil waste. The 12-inch braising skillet (with an 8.5-inch flat cooking surface) is welded by hand and defined by convex upward lips that allow for both moist- and dry-heat cooking techniques on meats and vegetables. Backorder time after purchasing can take months, but these are well worth the wait.
Lodge Camp Dutch Oven
True Dutch ovens are the go-to choice for all-purpose cooking in the outdoors. They’re made with small legs, designed to be placed on the ground near a coal or wood fire. Lodge, currently the only manufacturer making cast iron cookware on a large scale in the United States, offers 5-quart, 8-quart and 10-quart options, depending on your stew-cooking needs. As a plus, they’re also reasonably priced compared to other, specifically French, brands.
Staub Enameled Oval Cocotte
Cast iron is often sold with a luxury enamel glaze finish, carrying several advantages over the alternative. One is that enamel prevents rusting, while also making cast iron easier to clean. Additionally, enamel-coated pots and pans create a ultra-smooth surface, eliminating the problem of rough, uneven cooking surfaces. Popular brands include Le Crueset and Le Chasseur, but Staub is credited with creating the first cocotte, a variant of the Dutch oven that works just as well on the stove as on the oven. This oval cocotte is best for stewing or braising long fish or chicken with a cover, while still retaining the black, matte aesthetic of a traditional cast iron pot.