A lot has been said about vintage cast iron being a better quality than more modern pieces. From the weight to the finish of the cooking surface, there are some differences to be sure.
Vintage Cast Iron
Collectors and kitchen staff alike love vintage cast iron. Old Griswold, Wapak, and Wagner pieces from a hundred years ago or more are highly sought after as both every day use pieces as well as valued collector pieces. Much of the reason for this is the age of the piece, but also because of how it performs. There are a number of characteristics that make vintage pieces desirable.
Vintage pieces tend to be lighter in weight. This is primarily due to the thinner walls and cooking surface. In the mid to late 20th century, most manufacturers began mass producing their cookware rather than making each piece individually. As a result, much of the process was harder to control. From specific temperatures and finishing to different specific alloys of metal, the individual craftsman had much more control over the process. In addition, the items were finished by hand. As labor prices increased, it became cost-prohibitive to have people hand finishing products.
In addition to the lighter weight, that hand finish provided the opportunity to create a much smoother cooking surface as seen in the picture below.
Modern Cast Iron
While many people prefer vintage cast iron, there’s really nothing wrong with modern pieces. Lodge has been making cast iron cookware since 1896. They’re certainly in the discussion regardless of whether you are talking about modern or vintage cast iron. Modern cast iron retains many of the same selling points of vintage cast iron. From the non-stick surface to even heating, modern cast iron is still (in my humble opinion) far superior to most of the other cookware sold today.
Modern pieces tend to be heavier since they lack the finish of the vintage pieces. They also tend to have a more “rough” cooking surface. While this does have some effect on the cooking properties, it’s not without advantages. Though the smoother finish of the vintage cast iron cooking surface is great for cooking foods that are especially prone to sticking, such as eggs, it also makes it somewhat harder to get a good initial season on the pan. Some would say that the rougher surface is also superior when it comes to seasoning.
In addition to what was mentioned above, there are some other differences to consider when deciding where to start. You can pick up a vintage piece or “settle” for something from your local sporting goods store.
Price is one major factor. Depending on your location, an old Griswold pan may set you back a couple hundred dollars. A new lodge pan can be picked up just about anywhere for almost a tenth that price.
Availability is another factor. While a great, recently manufactured, Lodge skillet can be picked up just about anywhere, vintage cast iron may be difficult to find, as it tends to be more abundant in the eastern parts of the country.
In recent years, there has been a bit of a resurgence in the popularity of cooking with cast iron. With that resurgence has come a number of relative newcomers to the cast iron cookware scene, all with their own take on what makes a great skillet. As a whole, their skillets tend to be much more expensive than mass-produced options. While this may seem like a bad thing to some, I would tend to disagree. These new-found craftsmen put their heart and soul into each and every piece they produce, and it shows. From the lighter weights that some tout, to the smooth finish and improved design of others, they all have something to offer, not the least of which is the ability to hand a piece down for generations to come.
What do you prefer for every day cooking? Vintage pieces or something more modern? Let us know in the comments below.