When you hear the phrase “modern cast iron,” you probably think about the Lodge cast iron that’s sold at WalMart, Bass Pro, bigger grocery stores, and even some Texas gas stations in my neck o’ the woods. Lodge is the brand of cast iron that I first bought when I decided to buy a skillet for camping. I had no idea what I was doing. No prior knowledge of cast iron, or how to cook with it. I had problems with food sticking to the surface of the skillet, and I ended up burning most meals. So the meals on that camping trip were (mostly) failures. I put that skillet away and never used it again.
Several years later I married a woman whose grandmother had taught her how to cook with cast iron. The stories she told about her grandma’s cast iron — non-stick, easy to clean — didn’t go along with my experiences at all. What made the modern cast iron so different from vintage iron? We started researching for answers. It wasn’t long before we found the Vintage Cast Iron crowd and learned that if we wanted the ease and quality of the real cast iron experience, we’d have to start shopping antique stores and flea markets because when it comes to cast iron, they just don’t make ’em like they used to. We started buying vintage cast iron skillets. We were amazed at how light the old cast iron was, how smooth the cooking surface was, and how easy it was to maintain. So now every time I pass an antique store, flea market or estate sale I always stop and look for those old Griswold and Wagner skillets from the past. I truly enjoy cooking with them; much moreso than the modern non-stick skillets.
Looking back at the Lodge skillet that I originally bought to take camping, I’d say there was nothing actually wrong with it. Lodge makes a great product; it just wasn’t finished. Back in the old days, the cast iron cookware manufacturers — including Lodge — finished off their cookware by milling the cooking surface to a glassy-smooth finish. Why did they stop doing that? The sand-textured surface of a modern Lodge isn’t impossible to season, but it does take a very long time and plenty of patience. Why not mill the surface at the point of manufacture, and give those using it a head start? We want a smooth surface on every pan that we use. So, it seemed like we would be haunting antique stores forever in search of vintage cast iron cookware.
But recently I’ve been hearing about people who are designing and manufacturing their own modern cast iron skillets with smooth cooking surfaces, cool-touch handles, and multi-directional pour spouts. And these new cast iron pieces are nice! Now, I’ve gotta tell you that they aren’t cheap. Neither is vintage iron — unless you get lucky at a garage sale or an estate sale. But if you take care of it, cast iron cookware will last for many generations and can become cherished heirlooms. Consider the $80+ you spend on a new cast iron skillet to be an investment in a life-long love affair with cast iron cooking.
Here are at three modern manufacturers that make products comparable to vintage quality cast iron.
Finex Cast Iron Cookware
Finex is a company out of Portland Oregon. Worked by a small team of self proclaimed perfectionists, their motives to produce a modern cast iron skillet were initially health related instead of cooking related.
Our journey began with the search for healthier cooking. We wanted a pan that wouldn’t leave toxic residue in our food. Cast iron cookware has been trusted in kitchens for centuries. However, we quickly found that the quality of today’s cast iron cookware didn’t measure up. We became obsessed with the intentional design, quality and craftsmanship of antique cast iron cookware—and we decided we would stop at nothing to bring that back to the U.S.A. But we didn’t want to just recreate the same high quality cast iron cookware—we wanted to reinvent it. – Finex
Their final skillet design is an over-engineered thing of beauty. The exterior walls of the skillet are an unusual octagon shape. While the actual super smooth cooking surface retains the typical round shape. The octagon shape provides a natural spout for pouring liquids out of the skillet, and since there are several angles on the skillet wall, you can pour from any angle that is comfortable for you. Another unique design element is the what they call the “speed cool” spring coil handle. This is not a new thing, it is just not typically seen on a cast iron skillet.
The Finex skillet is available in three different sizes 8″, 10″, and 12″. Beautiful cast iron lids are also available for each size. Out of the three makers mentioned the Finex skillets are the most expensive. The 10″ version, which is equivalent to the vintage #8, is $165. With the lid it is $200. Learn more at Finex USA.
The Field Company cast iron skillet is the closest I’ve seen to the vintage cast iron skillet design. The company was started by two brothers who were curious about how cast iron used to be made.
Initially, the Field Company was never meant to be a company. We started by wanting to understand all the secrets of cast iron. We love all the lore, but wanted real answers. We didn’t know if we would make fifty pans in a barn for friends and family or if we would end up creating a larger scale operation. – Field Company
The Field Company skillet design is based off of a 1930s era Wagner skillet that was given to them by their maternal grandmother. They made a few modifications like removing the pour spouts, making a different shaped handle to match their logo, and adding a small lip opposite the skillet handle to allow you to use two hands to hold. The thickness of the skillet is thicker on the bottom to allow proper heat transfer and thinner for the skillet side walls to reduce weight. Making it much lighter than the equivalent Lodge skillet.
As of now the Field Company skillet is only available in the #8 size. Price is $100. Learn more at Field Company.
Stargazer Cast Iron
Stargazer Cast Iron was founded in 2015 by three old friends with a shared vision: creating the best cast iron cookware around.
It started with an obsession. Peter Huntley, professional designer and hobby cook, went searching for the perfect skillet and came up empty-handed. Dissatisfied with the options on the market, he turned to vintage cookware to find the quality he was looking for. After nearly a year of collecting, restoring, and cooking with vintage cast iron, he saw the untapped potential and decided it was time for something new. He created a unique cast iron skillet from the ground up: reimagined, redesigned, and revitalized. Huntley enlisted the help of two friends to bring the vision to life and Stargazer Cast Iron was born. – Stargazer Cast Iron
The Stargazer skillet design resembles a modern non-stick skillet more than the other three makers. It has a forked primary handle, a full handhold secondary handle, and a drip-free flared rim for easy pouring.
As of now the Stargazer skillet is only available in the #8 size. It is the least expensive skillet of the four at $80. Learn more at Stargazer Cast Iron.
I love cooking with cast iron. Being able to cook on a stove top, bake in the oven or cook on an open flame using the same skillet is incredible. You don’t have that same versatility with the typical non-stick skillets that most people use today. Finding, restoring and maintaining vintage cast iron is a skill set that I still employ, but it takes a while to learn. With modern cast iron makers like Finex, the Field Company, and Stargazer Cast Iron there are some great alternatives to hunting for, and restoring vintage iron.