Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Yes! Iron skillets are STILL Made in America!

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, April 9, 2018

If you’re like me, you want to “do your part to support the home team,” and buy as many items Made in USA as you can possibly find. It just makes sense to support your friends and neighbors who are also entrepreneurs, skilled artisans and craftsmen.

Now please, don’t misunderstand, I have NEVER opposed Free Trade, but I have long opposed unfair trade… and poor quality products, even if they are Made in USA. And as far as I’ve seen, the quality of Lodge brand iron cookware is on par with cheap Chinese imports. And that is not saying very much at all – or rather, it says volumes.

I enjoy cooking, and am primarily self-taught. And I have learned by trial-and-error, that thin, cheap, often aluminum cookware is inferior, and more often than not, burns food… even when it’s used to simply warm a canned food item, such as green beans, or corn. And the reason why, is that it’s thin!

Multiplied by today’s “flat top” cooking surfaces, that’s a marriage made exclusively in Hell. The reason why, is that unlike flame stoves which can be adjusted for intensity, and even the older “coiled eye” resistor heating elements, flat top/smooth surface cook tops use a very messed up and faulty process. Here’s what typically happens.

Turn on the “burner” and watch what happens. Even at LOW temperatures, the element underneath the smooth surface comes on at 100% intensity, and then quickly goes out. That process is repeated at every “temperature” setting, with the only difference being between “temperatures” is the length of time at which the element stays on. For example, at the “HIGH” setting, the heating/cooking element is on constantly, while on the “MEDIUM” setting, the heating/cooking element cycles on-and-off less frequently than if it were on “LOW.” Essentially, the “temperature” adjustment knob is a timer, rather than a rheostat.

What’s a rheostat?

Glad you asked!

Without going into too much detail, think of a rheostat as a fader, or like a slider that limits the flow of electricity that dims light bulbs. At full intensity, it allows 100% of the electrical current through, while at half-way, it allows perhaps 50% of the electrical current to pass through, which in turn, causes the light bulb to glow less brightly. For that same reason, rheostats are also sometimes called potentiometers, or “pots,” for short.

But enough of the technical jargon. Let’s talk about how electricity affects cooking.

Imagine if you had an “old school” stove with the circular “eyes” and the only way they would work was on “HIGH.” If you were to use that element at all, you’d have to turn it on for a while, then turn it off, and then repeat the process until your dish was cooked. Not very efficient, is it? And yet, that’s EXACTLY what smooth-surface cook tops do – they LITERALLY turn the element (below the surface) on at 100%, then turn it off for a while, and it merely cycles on-and-off until you’re happy… or your dish is burnt. The ONLY thing the “temperature adjustment” knob does is decrease the time at which it stays on. A “HIGH” setting stays on all the time, while a “LOW” setting stays on for a much shorter interval.

In contrast, an “old school” stove with circular “eyes” above the stove top surface (rather than below) can be adjusted like a dimmer switch, which moderates the temperature.

But the problem with cooking with electricity is that the “elements” are merely resistors. That is, they resist the flow of electricity, which is why they heat up. If they fully conducted electricity, they would not heat up at all. Heat is generated by resisting the flow of electricity, and that is what causes the elements to get hot. Notice also that unlike an oven, there are NO temperature settings on stove top.  Ever wonder why that is?

And the problem with that concept as a way to cook, is that resistors (in stoves) are quite unlike resistors in “old school” transistor radios, because they are not consistent, nor are they measured with precision like electronic component parts. And functionally, what that means, is that each and every “element” varies… even on the same stove. There is very little uniformity, and each one responds differently. Think of an electric stove like an incandescent light bulb. The tungsten filament glows bright with light, and gets hot because it resists the flow of electricity. And as far as efficiency goes, it is a VERY inefficient way to light. The same thing is said of cooking with electricity.

However, the phrase “NOW you’re cooking with gas!” truly means something, and it is this:
Cooking with gas (natural gas or LP gas) is much more efficient, and effective as a way to cook than by using electricity. The reason why, is that the intensity of the heat can be more precisely moderated from a low flame/low temperature, to an intense flame/high temperature. And throughout it all, the heat is consistent because the flow of gas is consistent. More gas equals more heat. Again, that’s quite unlike electricity which has spikes and “brownouts” throughout the day. Inconsistency with the flow of electricity is a particularly well-known problem to computer/IT type folks to whom it is anathema to have an unregulated, or unconditioned power supply. And that’s why the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) is so very popular. It’s literally a requirement to have a power conditioner in the line to prevent power spikes and brownouts from destroying expensive equipment.

Now that you understand some of the whys and wherefores of cooking with electricity versus cooking with gas, let’s move on to the cooking part.

#Pork #Loin in an #Iron #Skillet - hCooking can be done “low and slow” (as is done with barbecue, or in a crockpot), or “high and fast” as with cooking bacon, eggs, or even a steak. More often than not, however, most cooking is done somewhere in between.

The skillet, as can be seen, is a Lodge brand, 12-inch model. It’s HEAVY! And frankly, much too heavy. In fact, it’s a chore to cook with, and I don’t like the textured cooking surface. It should be, and can be made much smoother. However, iron cookware is not as popular as it once was, though by no means dying out, and Lodge is made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee – 30 miles (48.2km) west of Chattanooga, and about an hour’s drive east of Huntsville, Alabama along US Hwy 72.

The 22nd Annual National Cornbread Festival is celebrated in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, and will be held this year (2018) April Saturday 28 & Sunday 29.

I have an honest-to-goodness skillet that’s over 100 years old (it has a “gate mark” on the exterior bottom, a visible sign of manufacturing technique which was abandoned around 1890), and it is thinner, and therefore much lighter in weight, and cooks much better than this one. Frankly, this Lodge brand 12-inch skillet has been, and continues to be an abysmal disappointment.

There are iron skillets now being made which are similar to the older models – Griswold, Wagner, and Vollrath, being the most sought-after manufacturers as collectors items – which have polished cooking surfaces, and other improvements such as spring wire-wrapped handles for cool handling, and lighter weight. Many of them are hand-crafted items, rather than being manufactured en masse in a large factory setting like Lodge.

Those makers names are:

• FINEX, made in Portland, Oregon
FINEXUSA.com/product/cast-iron-skillet/

• Borough Furnace, made in Owego, New York
BoroughFurnace.com/

• Smithey Ironware, made in Charleston, South Carolina
SmitheyIronware.com/message-from-our-founder/

• Nest Homeware, made in Providence, Rhode Island
NestHomeware.com/shop/

• Marquette Castings in Royal Oak, Michigan
MarquetteCastings.com/collections/all

• Butterpat Industries, Easton, Maryland
ButterpatIndustries.com/

• Stargazer Cast Iron, in Allentown, Pennsylvania
StarGazerCastIron.com/products/

• Field Company, (location yet undetermined, likely in mid-West USA) https://fieldcompany.com/p/cast-iron-field-skillet/

See also:
Fashioning Cast-Iron Pans for Today’s Cooks
By Julia Moskin, June 28, 2016
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/dining/cast-iron-skillet-finex-field-company.html

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