Cast Iron Cookware
Q: Just bought a bunch of cast iron skillets. On sale, of course - el-cheapo. After opening the box, I find that the cooking surface is very rough - like sand paper. Looks like they never machined the cooking surface after the pulling the pan from the mold. Now I know all about seasoning cast iron pans. But I'm not sure if seasoning will overcome what appears to be a manufacturing defect. Will seasoning do the trick -- or did I get what I paid for when I bought el-cheapo?
A: My wife bought me the same thing a couple of years ago, her intentions were good. I believe they were made in Taiwan and I'd read that you can never really season that cheap cast iron. I have several Wagner brand cast iron skillets and the interior is very smooth and seasons perfect. Wagner is more expensive but they are worth it. I've wondered about "stainless steel" cookware that won't suck a magnet worth a damn. (Ikea and others.) So they're not machined, so what, no biggie, except that the surface-skin of cast iron is about 10X harder and much more durable against abrasion and oxidation than the parent metal beneath. The surface-skin of cast iron is formed from particles of molten sand during the moulding process becoming integrated with the iron in such a way as to become a glass-like 'skin' which makes for a much harder, tougher and impervious surface; the skin also adds greatly to cast iron's stability, that is it's abiliity to withstand warping from exposure to heat (notice cast iron engine blocks are machined only where necessary and as little material removed as possible). Many years ago the practice of machining the interior of cast iron cookware evolved as a method for salvaging those castings that turned out with less than perfect finishes, in effect allowing them to be sold as 'first quality' rather than as 'seconds'. The aesthetic appeal soon caught on, which made the foundry owners very happy; they could then cut corners in the casting process and still sell inferior cookware at first quality prices, in fact they were soon able to sell the lower-quality machined cookware at higher prices than first-quality unmachined pieces... so powerful are the affects of Madison Avenue tactics on the mediocre human mind. Do not attempt to remove the rough surface from your cast iron cookware (any brand of cast iron cookware); eventually the high points will become somewhat worn down through abrasion from normal use and the low points will become shallower as they fill in as the piece becomes more seasoned, resulting in a much superiour piece of cast iron cookware utilitarian-wise than had it been machined initially. Of course there are other attributes to consider, aside from surface finishes, when judging cast iron cookware.