I have a few questions about cast iron pans. Here goes:

I'm embarrassed to admit that for all my enjoyment of cooking for the last decade, I still don't have a cast iron pan. Not that my All-Clad hasn't been serving me well, but I've noticed that my wife has been making eggs most mornings for a good while now, and she keeps using the same non-stick pan that she just leaves on the range-top and wipes clean.

Well, that's pretty much exactly how one would use a good cast-iron pan. And cast-iron skips the health concerns of non-stick pans to boot. So here are my questions:

1. Are there any significant qualitative differences between an older pan I might find at a flea market versus a new Lodge pan? For example, are the older pans substantially heavier gauge and therefore will perform on certain meals better?

Second, if I was going to get just one pan, which size would you recommend? I'd like something that can comfortably fry 4 eggs -- I'm thinking 12". Any smaller is too small and any larger becomes a bit of a challenge to move around and clean up. Opinion?

Thanks so much!

  • Posted by: Peter
  • January 3, 2011


Peter January 4, 2011
Thanks everyone! As always, tons of great information. I just walked in the door with a brand new Lodge 12" skillet. I'll season tonight and we'll see how it does.

BTW, while at the store I saw a much smoother surfaced Le Crueset cast iron pan and was almost seduced by it... until I read the label and saw that it had 2 layers of black enamel on the *inside*. Of the pan. I guess they're trying to give it the same properties as their big ol' pots but making it black so you can pretend it's cast iron and not really scrub it clean? Anyone have any experience with these?
Kayb January 4, 2011
One of my treasures is my tiny little four-inch iron skillet -- I think it was originally a toy or a decorative item -- that I've carefully seasoned and use solely for toasting spices. I have my mother's 8-inch and 12-inch; the 8-inch is my favorite for making cornbread, or sauteeing a small amount of stuff, or scrambling eggs for one. I use the 12-inch for doggoned near everything. I did have a big deep covered 12-incher that I used like one would a Dutch oven, but I gave it up in exchange for a Dutch oven!
cookbookchick January 3, 2011
Old cast iron pans are far superior to the new ones. As Sadassa_Ulna points out, they have a much smoother surface, I buy mine at "antique" (junk) shops and flea markets -- they are never more than a few bucks each and usually have already been cleaned up from rust and crud. There are many sites online with good advice on how to care for and season cast iron. The more you use them, the better -- and more non-stick -- they become. However, I would not count on using them for eggs until they are quite well seasoned! I have several cast iron pans -- skillets, muffin pans, etc., all "antiques" -- and like susan g, I love (and use) them all!
Sadassa_Ulna January 3, 2011
We have a mix of newer (circa 1990) and older (inherited, could easily be 50+ years old). The older ones are REALLY smooth and I like those better. I remember losing a large deep one when it just cracked in half - cast iron can get brittle. My suggestion would be to either buy [new] a brand that offers a warranty of some sort, or, buy old ones only if they are very inexpensive and don't need too much elbow grease to get them into shape.
susan G. January 3, 2011
If you find used pans, search Foodpickle for seasoning information -- and useful for everyday maintenance and emergency rescue as well. I'm with you on the wipe and reuse maintenance plan. And don't stop at one! I love all of mine, and use them, down to 5 1/4" (bottom diameter, many uses).
Verdigris January 3, 2011
If you are going to purchase an previously used pan, look at the grain of the metal the finer the better. Coarse grain feels bumpy! Lodge is a fine grain cast iron. So if you can take a look at one of those you can feel the difference. Seasoning a pan that has a coarse grain will make it smoother, but never as smooth as a fine grain cast iron.

Lodge skillets are also very evenly cast. I have never gotten a hot spot in a Lodge pan, but with other no name brands I have. If you find a Wagner or a Griswold pan at a thrift store is will probably be worth restoring! Here in Chase County, Kansas those brands go for higher prices at auction than Lodge pans do new!
Alixe&Lorenzo January 3, 2011
Buy a new pan and re-season yourself, even if it's pre-seasoned.

12" is ideal, and agree, larger becomes more of a bicep workout and a trick to maneuver in NYC-size sinks. Post of a photo of your cast iron conquest.
mrslarkin January 3, 2011
Get a new one. They're pre-seasoned and not rusty! Get a 12". I also have a small 8" which is great when you're' cooking for one or two.

Some old pans need a lot of help to get them back in shape. They could be rusty, or painted over, requiring a lot of time and elbow grease on your part. Buyer beware. I don't know that there's any difference in weight between old and new pans.
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