I was talking to cooking instructor Jan Zita Grover recently. She was interested in finding the lightest #5 skillet that I had in stock so that she could show her students the difference in weight between vintage and modern cast iron skillets.
I took a look at the #5 skillets that I have in stock. Turns out the lightest is a Griswold slant logo with heat ring. It is a full one pound lighter than a Lodge of more recent manufacture. And this is an 8″ diameter skillet; imagine the difference with larger sizes!
Since I was making the comparison, I figured I’d take a few photos of the cooking surface of the old Griswold and the newer Lodge. Check out the difference. The Lodge has that “pebbly” kind of surface, while the Griswold #5 is smooth as satin.
And finally, note the difference in the size of the wall of the #5 skillets. The Griswold has lovely thin walls; the Lodge has clunky thick walls.
Jan Zita Grover wrote a handout for her cooking surface about the “whys” of the weight of cast iron skillets of recent manufacture vs. the lovely old skillets. She has graciously allowed me to reprint it here. Enjoy!
But Cast Iron Is So Heavy!
c Jan Zita Grover, 2014
When my classes start, I ask participants to buy an 8-inch (formerly known as a #5) skillet to use. Folks who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis often find contemporary cast-iron skillets, even at this modest size, difficult to hold. My advice to them: Buy an old (pre-1960) #5 skillet instead of a new one. Almost invariably, they find their problem is solved.
Well, before Asian competition for the steadily decreasing American market in the 1960s–2000s, U.S.-made cast-iron cookware was made by hand: honest-to-goodness human beings guided the molten iron into sand molds, took the pans from the molds, moved them to the other side of the shop, where other human beings milled them to baby-skin smoothness. Those old Wagners, Wapaks, Lodges, Griswolds, and PiquaWares are now so many cast-iron fossils, relicts of an era when cast-iron cookware was human-made—and significantly lighter.
Robots, it turns out, aren’t very adept at handling lightweight cast-iron pans: they break it. So the cast iron cookware made more recently in this country and Asia has become thicker and heavier. Folks in my classes marvel when I bring in a 105-year-old #5 skillet: smooth as butter, weighing in at 2.5 lbs. (37.9 oz.). Compare that to a contemporary cast-iron #5 skillet: unmilled, thick-walled, weighing 3.2 lbs. (50 oz.). The old pan weighs roughly 25 percent less than the newer, robot-made one. And for most people, it’s aesthetically more pleasing: thinner, smoother, redolent of age and cooking history.