Archive for the ‘Cleaning and Seasoning’ Category


We love estate sales for finding treasures that we can restore, and a great place to find when and where they’re on is EstateSales.Org.

EstateSales.Org also know how awesome vintage cast iron is, and they have not only written a great Vintage Cast Iron Guide, but we’re in it!  They interviewed us, and given us permission to reproduce their blog post below.

After reading, make sure you go visit the original article to talk about your finds, which you can find right here.

Vintage Cast Iron Guide

We see a lot of vintage cast iron at estate sales, and it’s always one of the first things to go. The cast iron trend has been heating up for well over a decade. But what’s the big draw? To learn more about cast iron cookware and why vintage cast iron is worth collecting, we did some research and reached out to the women behind The Pan Handler LLC to find out why it’s so hot.

This is what a collection of vintage Griswold cast iron looks like. Griswold cast iron skillets are great to cook with. Photo courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. Recent Food Trends

Food used to be for sustenance. Now it’s a status symbol. There seem to be a million more cooking shows than there were years ago. There’s even an entire channel dedicated to food. Could this be one reason behind the cast iron craze?

“I think that how food has become a thing is definitely a contributing factor because it’s made more people interested in cooking,” said Anna H, who took over The Pan Handler LCC from Mary T., where she sells vintage and antique cast iron, as well as runs The Pan Handler blog.

Many celebrity chefs prefer cooking with cast iron, and even endorse certain brands, so it makes sense people have jumped on the bandwagon, looking for cast iron at estate sales, in flea markets, and online.

People are also getting savvier about what they put into their bodies and making healthier decisions. Many old unhealthy practices are relics from past decades. Think: microwaves, margarine, and TV dinners. Teflon,too.

While it was great for non-stick cooking, it’s been linked to disease. Cast iron doesn’t leach harmful chemicals into the food. In fact, if it leaches anything, it’s iron, something you could use more of.

Vintage Cast Iron is Highly Collectible

Take it from cast iron collectors who have been at it for awhile. Mary T. even collects vintage stoneware, which is how she first stumbled onto vintage cast iron. She was shopping at Goodwill when she saw a Griswold Gem pan and got curious.

“I didn’t know anything about it, and I kind of just stopped in and bought it. And when I got home and I looked at it, the casting on it was just beautiful, and I liked the markings on it. I liked the way it looked. When I compared it to cast iron of current day, it was such a finer quality, and i just was really drawn to it,” Mary T. said.

Afterwards Mary bought sixty pieces of cast iron on an auction and learned how to clean and season it. It was just the beginning. From there, she started The Pan Handler LLC, a thriving small Internet business. Despite having sold the business to Anna H., Mary continues to blog about vintage cast iron on her new website.

Pre-seasoned vintage cast iron frying pan and lid — Challenge accepted! Estate sale photo. Vintage Cast Iron Is Earth-friendly

Taking care of the environment is important. Ever since the 60s and 70s, cast iron has been popular with the outdoor types and hippies, and now it’s gone mainstream. Because cast iron is so durable, it will last forever.

“I like the idea of reducing, reusing, recycling. So I like the fact that I’m not buying something that’s going to end up in a landfill,” said Mary T.

Why buy a new pot or pan when a cast iron pan cooks just as well (if not better) and will last a lifetime? Its versatility, too, means you don’t need to buy a bunch of “uni-task” tools or cookware.

Cast Iron has a Rich History

Vintage cast iron’s interesting history alone is worth collecting. Cast iron has been around as long as 5 B.C.E, when the Chinese used it for cooking. Cast iron was used all over Europe throughout history, and we still use cast iron Dutch ovens today.

Cast iron also has strong ties to American history when the colonists used cast iron cookware on open fires. Some people are interested in the individual stories of who once owned each piece, and the journey it took to end up in their kitchen.

“I like thinking about where it might have been used, and who might have used it. If you look at The Pan Handler blog, you’ll see a bunch of pictures from the Library of Congress in there and photographs of people using these old pieces of cast iron. . . photographs of tenant farmers that during the Great Depression made little meals on the side of the road in their cast iron,” said Mary T.

She also said Lewis and Clark used cast iron on their big expedition, and that in early America, people would carry their antique cast iron skillets across the country in their covered wagons. Some of them still exist today.

Cast Iron Makes Great Family Heirlooms.

Another reason why cast iron is popular is because they make great family heirlooms. You may have inherited a few pieces yourself and want to continue to pass them on. Or you’re looking to buy vintage cast iron—or possibly even new cast iron—that can stay in the family.

“Besides maybe jewelry, because of modern technology and furniture styles and such, there’s not a lot in terms of family heirlooms can be re-used without appearing out of date,” Anna H pointed out.

“And it’s something that retains its function regardless of what generation you are,” she said.

This Buster Brown waffle iron is an example of the vintage cast iron craftsmanship. Photo courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. Modern vs. Vintage Cast Iron

Not everything new is better, but that doesn’t mean modern cast iron is worthless either. Good quality craftsmanship gives a piece its value, and as with everything else, old jewelry and vintage engagement rings for example, people once had more time to spend on labor, resulting in finer products.

These days, machines have to do the work of artisans since costs are too high to create each piece by hand. While modern cast iron will also last a lifetime and be fully functional, it just won’t have the attention to detail and craft found in vintage.

How was Vintage Cast Iron Made?

In the 1800s and 1900s, all cast iron cookware was made by hand. Sand molds were formed and iron was melted down and usually combined with scrap iron and/ or steel. Then the mixture was hand poured into a mold, which is the “casting” part of “cast” iron. Doing this by hand allowed for more control, resulting in lighter cookware (modern cast iron can be several pounds heavier). Hand pouring was also key to designing more intricate cookware.

Then the iron has to solidify a.k.a. “controlling the cooling curve,” an important part of the process. If something goes wrong during this stage, the entire project can be thrown. Like if gas gets into it and forms bubbles, a common imperfection in older cast iron pieces.

The way cast iron cools also factors into the final product. Low quality cast iron pieces often haven’t been cooled evenly. Quick cooling produces a finer grain, while slow cooling produces a coarse grain. Once you’ve been collecting cast iron for awhile, you learn all the nuances.

After cooling, vintage cast iron cookware would get smoothed down (also by hand) with a grinding stone, or milled, to make the pan’s surface flat and slick. Collectors refer to this as a “mirror” or “satin” finish, which is one way to distinguish a well-loved vintage cast iron piece.

These days, when everything is produced for the bottom line, cast iron is made with a machine, which means the attention to detail when done by hand gets lost. That’s why machine-made modern cast iron has a rough, pebbly surface, and can weigh a ton.

This Minty Griswold cast iron Crispy Corn Stick Pan pan is all the rage at estate sales and another example of bygone craftsmanship. Photo courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. Common Myths about Cast Iron

Lots of myths are out there regarding cast iron, which is bound to happen when anything gets popular. Anna and Mary from The Pan Handler LLC have heard them all. Here are some of the biggest myths out there:

It takes a lot of time and elbow grease to clean and restore vintage cast iron! Photo courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. 1. Cast iron is hard to clean.

Many people steer clear of cast iron because they think it’s difficult to clean and maintain. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! Any cast iron pro will tell you, keeping cast iron clean isn’t rocket science.

“Because the seasoning makes it non-stick, it’s actually a lot easier than a normal pan. So I inherently spend less time cleaning my cast iron that I use every day than I do on any other nonstick or aluminum cookware,” said Anna H.

2. You have to season cast iron when you buy it.

Manufactured cast iron comes seasoned already, and professional cast iron dealers go many lengths to restore and season vintage cast iron before selling it. If you must season it yourself, go ahead. But if you want to get cooking, most cast iron is ready to go.

3. You can never use soap on cast iron.

While we don’t endorse a long soak, a little bit of dish soap won’t hurt your cast iron cookware. This dirty caveat tends to be the thing most people think of when they think about cast iron.

“Sometimes you need a little bit of soap to get some of the more stubborn food particles off,” said Anna H.

“You season your pan every time you cook in it with some fat, so the seasoning builds up over time. And it becomes quite hardy, and it’s going to reseason the next time you cook in it as well, so it’s much better to get the food off your pan and not have it stuck on for the next hundred years than it is to worry about your seasoning,” said Anna H.

She says a drop or two of normal dish soap should do the trick.

These Wagner cast iron roasters found at the O’Neil Family Cast Iron Museum. Photo by S. Lamb Photography, courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. 4. You have to clean and put it away after every use.

If cast iron gets used every day, it might make sense to put them away after every single meal. A simple wipe-down after every use should suffice. Most cast iron is so lovely it doesn’t look bad sitting out, especially for a rustic kitchen look.

“I have a chain mail scrubber that I use to clean them afterwards and I’m not scared of using a drop of soap,” said Anna H who admits her cast iron “lives” on her stove since she uses it so often.

“The most important thing I do is I dry them immediately after I wash them up, and I pop them back on my stove. If I’m going to be using them again in couple of hours, I don’t do anything else. But if say we’re going away, or it might be a couple of days before I cook, then I’ll spray them with Pam, and wipe them down with olive oil once, and let them sit there until the next time I need them,” she said.

5. Some cast iron is beyond restoration.

While it’s true cast iron can be warped, chipped, or pitted from heat, cast iron has to go through quite a lot to not be functional. This is part of its beauty. Mary T, who admittedly has special tools to restore cast iron, shared a story of the toughest piece she had to get back into shape, a piece that had been buried knee deep in a farm yard. Some people might have tossed it—but not her!

“The process I used for removing rust [from cast iron] was typically electrolysis . . . and a lye bath. (1) The first step, I would place the piece in this lye bath and sometimes it would be in there for weeks, if not months, (2) just taking it out every now and again, and cleaning some of the crud off, putting it back in, taking it out, cleaning some of the crud off, putting it back in and (3) then the final step was the electrolysis. After the electrolysis, (4) I would clean it, and (5) then season it, and then boom! It’s ready to go.”

“So it goes from sitting in the ground in someone’s farm yard to someone’s table!”

Gate marks like this found at the O’Neil Cast Iron Museum, are imperfections, but also prove a piece is an true antique. Photo by S. Lamb Photography, courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. Tips for Buying Vintage Cast Iron

It can be overwhelming to buy cast iron, especially for a newbie. Here are a few tips from the pros on what to look for:

1. Gate Marks Gate marks mean it’s the real deal: older than 1880 and a true antique. Gate marks were remnants from the casting process, when the piece would “break the mold.” It looks like a slit or gash. If you find cast iron with a gate mark, it hardly matters who the maker is — it’s valuable!

2. Heat Rings Cast iron pans were originally designed to fit on top of wood stoves. Heat rings are around the pan’s rim were meant to raise the cookware so it didn’t directly touch the stovetop. Cast iron with heat rings is vintage because it was made with wood stoves in mind.

3. Maker’s Marks Of course Maker’s marks are great ways to identify vintage cast iron and to learn more about a piece’s history. This Pan Handler blog post has a great post on identifying both marked and unmarked antique cast iron cookware.

4. Warping Over time from improper misuse or storage, it’s possible for vintage cast iron to become warped. If cookware is warped, it won’t distribute heat evenly, which kind of defeats the purpose. Cast iron collector Culinary Fanatic has an informative video on identifying warped cast iron.

5. Made in America Label If you go to many estate sales, you’re bound to come across cast iron with “Made In America” stamped on the underside. This means it’s likely the piece was made around 1960 or afterwards.

“So that means it’s a little less vintage, but you can also be sure that the pan was made in America and it’s not a cheap Asian pan,” said Anna H.

Rare vintage Wapak Indian head medallion cast iron skillets at the O’Neil Cast Iron Museum. Photo by S. Lamb Photography, courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. The Reasoning Behind Seasoning

Spend five minutes around cast iron lovers, and you’ll hear about seasoning. What the heck is it? Isn’t seasoning the process of adding flavor to food? Yes and no.

Seasoning is also the process of coating a cast iron pan or skillet’s surface with oil and cooking it off in order to produce a non-stick surface you can use again and again. The high heat causes the oil to solidify (forming a “polymer”) on top of the surface, producing that nice thick coating.

After very thinly oiling the pan (so thin it might not look like it’s there), place it face down in the oven and bake on ~350 degrees for about an hour.

Then you rub the surface dry with clean dry towels (make sure it isn’t still hot) to soak up the excess oil The surface should be matte, not glossy. Preseason if needed until you get the finish you’re looking for.

Know that cooking with it too will produce the coating (about five times should do the trick—an incentive start makin’ bacon) so don’t hesitate to get started, especially when much of the cast iron you buy, whether vintage (from a dealer) or modern, will be pre-seasoned and ready to go. Some aficionados swear by flaxseed (while others say it flakes off), but other oils includ canola, coconut, and shortening. The debate lives on.

Vintage Cast Iron Brand Names

Not all cast iron brands are the same. There’s a reason you hear about the same brands over and over (Griswold, Wagner, Wapak, Lodge). They’ve stood the test of time. Of course some vintage cast iron brands are no longer in production, and there are a lot of fakes out there to be aware of.

“To me, Griswold is the most collectible of the cast iron cookware, to me the Griswold pieces are the finest made, the most beautiful and in my experience as a seller, that is also the brand that most people want, most buyers want,” said Mary T.

Anna H also likes Griswold cast iron: “I like the feel of their pans, and the sizes work well for me and they have a solid reputation and they’re very collectible. . .  I also have one particular pan, Oneta, and that was by the manufacturer Wapak, and there aren’t a lot of those around, but the pan I have is so light and is such a delight to work with,” she said.

And don’t forget about Lodge, if you’re into the new cast iron. (The cast iron collectors we talked to weren’t).

“We do have some Lodge, it seems like the hot thing everybody wants, but mostly old Lodge,” said Marg O’Neil, cast iron collector and Cast Iron Museum curator.

Cast iron collectors from all over get together at auctions and conventions to buy pieces, share knowledge, and make friends. Photo courtesy of The Pan Handler LLC. The World’s Only Cast Iron Museum

Did you know there’s a family-owned Cast Iron Museum? It’s in Tacoma, Washington, run by Larry and Marg O’Neil, avid cast iron collectors. They have so much cast iron—we’re talking 13, 000 pieces of cast iron (!!) that they had to build a 3500 square foot building, and then another building across twenty acres to showcase and sell their finds.

They got into collecting cast iron because of Larry, but they also like the camaraderie, a big reason why people become collectors. The O’Neils belong to a wide network of cast iron lovers, the Griswold and Cast Iron Cookware Association(G&CICA), who get together several times a year to share pieces, ask questions, share knowledge, and make friendships.

“We just had a convention in Springfield, Missouri, so we had a Show and Tell. People bring items and they say, We don’t know what this is, or maybe you don’t find very many of them, and then we have a couple seminars on, like one was on Erie skillets and another one was on G.F. Filley pans, and then we have an auction,” said Marg.

Whether you get into vintage cast iron for the craftsmanship, the cooking, the camaraderie or its interesting cultural past, it’s a hobby worth pursuing and a way to connect to something larger.

Do you look for vintage cast iron when you go to estate sales? What pieces have you been lucky enough to find? Talk about it here!

Happy New Year!

Firstly, everybody here at The Pan Handler (Anna, Linda and Mary) all wish you a happy and healthy 2017!

Whilst everybody else is writing articles about how to de-clutter your house, get washboard abs or pay off your mortgage in record time, we have written our own Cast Iron Resolutions for 2017!  We think they’re a bit easier, and more fun than 100 sit ups every morning.

The Pan Handlers resolve the following…..

To never put a cast iron pan in an open fire To always heat the pan before adding any food To bake more! To always use a pan handler (yes, I have the burns to prove I don’t) To put a piece of paper towel on the pan before putting it away with other cookware To always clean it after use To find all the special pieces our customers have us looking for!  We have a list of things you want that we don’t have on the site, so we can keep an eye out when we go hunting for treasures. To go camping more, and we’re taking our cast iron.  Our pans travel! To experiment with all our different bread pans – French bread pans, bread stick pans, bread fingers, corn bread…. the possibilities are endless! To search further and wider than ever before to find the best cast iron cookware for y’all!

Do you have any cast iron resolutions?  Feel free to share them with us on our Facebook page!

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In collecting information around the world about vintage cast iron cookware, I keep running across the great “soap \ no soap” debate. Just do a google search for “soap cast iron” and a myriad of articles will pop up. Many sources routinely emphasize that use of soap will destroy your carefully-built up seasoning.

Nonsense. Using a drop of soap when you want to use a drop of soap is not going to remove the seasoning from a pan that has been properly seasoned. I use soap when I feel like my pan needs soap. Just use your common sense! Don’t soak your cast iron pan in hot soapy water, don’t scrub heartily with stainless steel (moderate is fine – just don’t go nuts), and use your chain mail scrubber when wanting to remove bits of food. Some folks use kosher salt – whatever works. And of course, never ever put your cast iron in the dishwasher!

After cleaning to bare iron, we heat-season most all of our pans with either one coat of Crisco vegetable shortening or one coat of a mixture of coconut and canola oils and beeswax. Our process is discussed in the FAQs section of the site. When I use my pans, I clean it of all food debris (using a drop of soap if I feel like it), dry it thoroughly with paper towels (sometimes I also put it into a warm oven), spray some Pam on a paper towel, and wipe it down. My pans are beautiful, seasoned well, and the soap doesn’t hurt the seasoning one bit. You can see my process on my youtube channel.

The misconception about soap use arises, I think, because people think that the “seasoning” is just a thin layer of oil put onto the pan. It is more than that – the heating process changes the chemical structure of the oil and it polymerizes and bonds to the iron. Continued use builds up more layers of that polymerized oil,  eventually resulting in the almost-non-stick surface that is so desired on vintage cast iron pieces. A drop of soap is not going to remove that polymerized coating as it would a simple layer of vegetable oil that has just been smeared onto the pan.

As long as your pan has been properly seasoned, feel free to use a drop of soap to clean it when your common sense tells you that you should. Just be smart about it!



mountain heat smoke fire ring set starter 3 5 8 chicken pan lid cover top griswold griswald grizwald old antique vintage cast iron skillet pot pan fry fryer frying for sale sell purchase buy get find cookware cook ware kitchenware kitchen bakeware baking bake roast roasting camp outdoor grill cooking user use display restore restored clean cleaned usa us america american made 1035 1031 1030 1033 “Cleaning” a crusty pan by throwing it into a fire or conversely…pouring cold water into your hot, hot pan.  Big temperature shocks can and will damage your pan. In addition to serious warpage and potential cracks, here’s what else can happen if you throw your pan into a fire…and it’s not reversible. See the tell-tale dark red areas on the pan? The iron is also flaking in areas. It makes me so sad to see an heirloom piece treated this way. When you come across a pan like this, it will often have serious warpage. Cold on a hot pan can also damage the pan. If you pour cold water into a hot hot pan, you risk a crack. Just say NO! Cleaning your vintage cast iron pan in the dishwasher. Hello, rust! As tempted as you might be to just put your pan through the dishwasher, don’t. Not only will it not remove the crud on the pan, it will surely result in a fine coating of rust. And so, you’re back to where you started…only worse! Sandblasting your heirloom pan. With really crusty pans, I know that it can be tempting to throw your hands into the air and hand off your old pan for sandblasting instead of going through the sometimes tedious chore of cleaning and scrubbing and cleaning and scrubbing (see the FAQs section for information on how I clean and season my pans). In addition to turning the patina of the pan an odd dull shade of grey, the “regular” sandblasting process often changes the surface texture of the pan. Pans with altered surface textures are not considered collectible. Overly aggressive sandblasting can also cause pitting to your vintage pan. I have read that some sandblasting – walnut shell blasting, for example – can work well and not damage the pan. Would I try it? No. I have found, however, that in addition to other cleaning methods, a pressure washer can work great at removing stubborn crud from your pan. Taking a tool to your heirloom pan that changes the surface texture.  Aggressive use of tools can mar the surface of the pan and change the texture. Once it has been changed, it can’t be reversed. In the photos below, you can see the results of heavy-handed use of a wire wheel on a beautiful old Griswold Iron Mountain pan. Forgetting to thoroughly clean your pan before putting it away. You know how you’ve seen those old pans at flea markets or antique stores that are covered in burnt-on crud? Those pans were not properly cleaned before they were put away. Many of the old pans I source are covered with carbon crud when they come into my hands. While some like to call this “seasoning,” I disagree. I don’t have any interest in cooking my food in a pan that is covered in crud from unknown sources. If you fail to thoroughly clean your pan after use – getting all the stubborn bits off – your pan will start to have food stick to those areas. Food sticking equals burnt buildup of crud. Your pan will lose its “non-stick” quality when enough crud builds up.

Take the few seconds it takes to thoroughly clean your pan before putting it away. A quick wipe with a paper towel is not typically enough to get the food bits off your pan – you want all the bits off. Here’s a little vid of me cleaning my vintage #12 Iron Mountain (by Griswold) cast iron pan. I have several more videos of my routine cleaning process on my youtube channel.  Note: as to the great soap debate, I am in the camp of “if I feel like it needs a bit of soap, I’ll use a bit of soap” camp. Not thoroughly drying your pan and lightly coating it with a dab of oil before putting it away. Once you’ve got the pan cleaned, you need to dry it thoroughly and wipe it with a dab of oil before you put it away. Some folks like to dry their pans in a warm oven or on the cooktop. As for me, I wipe them thoroughly with a paper towel and then spray a bit of Pam onto the cooking surface and wipe it out. I will also occasionally wipe the entire pan with the Pam; so that the surface is protected. If you do not protect the surface of the pan, you will develop rust on the pan. Who wants to eat something that was cooked in a pan covered with rust, however slight? Not me. Here is another vid of me cleaning – this time, my Griswold slant logo number 8 pan with heat ring (that I use on my glass cooktop – another myth busted!) This one shows how I apply the Pam after cleaning. Being afraid to use your vintage pan. As beautiful as it is, it’s meant to be used!  I know that sometimes people are intimidated by wonderful old cast iron pans. Don’t be! Can you use soap? (Yes). Can you use it on a glass cooktop? (Yes). Can it be used if it has some movement on the cooktop? (Yes – see my blog post here). Isn’t it really hard to clean? (No). Don’t they need to be treated with kid gloves? (No, though they are brittle and can crack/break). Use your pan. Use it for baking, searing, frying, roasting, making casseroles…really, for whatever you want. After use, clean your pan. Dry your pan. Put a spritz of your preferred cooking oil on the pan and wipe it out. Store it where you want to store it. On the stovetop, in a cupboard or drawer (ideally with a piece of paper towel between the pans to absorb any excess oil or moisture) or in one of our great racks. Voila – that’s it. Now, go cook something in your lovely old pans!


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I had a fun conversation recently with Jack Seemer, the Assistant Editor for Gear Patrol, for an article as part of their cool 31-part series – “The 2016 Guide to Life.

Below is a reprint (with permission, of course), of Jack’s article, with very cool original illustrations by Radio. You can find the article and illustrations here, and I’ve reprinted it below. Enjoy!