Cast-Iron Cookware for the Country Kitchen

Get the most useful pieces of cast-iron cookware for your country kitchen.

| January/February 2017

All across the country, cooks are rekindling a love affair with cast-iron cookware. Sales of newly manufactured cast iron have risen steadily over the last decade, and where once you could find a box of cast-iron cookware at a garage sale or flea market for a quarter, those finds are harder and harder to come by as collectors snap them up. Some collectors will pay hundreds of dollars for a specific vintage piece. Several new manufacturers have started up in recent years, and cast iron seems to be the new chic cookware.

What’s all the buzz about? Is cast iron really all that, and is vintage really better than new? And, if you are on the verge of delving into cast-iron cooking, what are some of the basic pieces you need to start your collection?

Back in the day

Casting iron is one of the oldest skills known to man. As far back as the 5th century B.C., metalsmiths in China were making cast-iron pots, as well as plowshares and other utilitarian items. The skill took some time to travel west, but eventually it reached England, where the craft was used to make cannons and ammunition for them. One of the most common uses of cast iron was the cannonball. Fortunately, people have since decided to cook with it instead.

Cast iron is made by heating pig iron — a derivative of iron ore — to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and pouring the molten metal into molds made of sand. After the metal cools and hardens, the sand mold is knocked away, and a brand new pot or pan emerges. A little polishing, especially in the case of a new pan, and voilà!

Cast iron came into its own as cookware in the mid-19th century. Every hearth prior to that had a cast-iron cook pot, and most meals were cooked over the hearth fire. But with more modern foundries and techniques, manufacturers began to offer a broader range of items for the home cook. Cast iron was affordable, and nearly everyone could afford to have some type of cast-iron cookware. With the advent of the modern cookstove, a whole range of cast-iron products evolved to cook on it.

The 19th century gave rise to several prominent American manufacturers of cast-iron cookware. The Griswold Company was founded in 1865, originally making hinges and stove parts, and was known around the world for producing high-quality cookware that is still prized by collectors today. Certain pieces can fetch several hundred dollars from the avid collector, and Griswold cookware is highly sought after by cast-iron aficionados, who even today appreciate its quality. The creation of modern hi-tech cookware reduced the popularity of cast iron, and Wagner Manufacturing acquired Griswold in 1957. Founded in 1881, Wagner has a similar history and timeline to Griswold, and both companies ultimately became owned by the American Culinary Corporation.

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