This year I bought my first commercial-grade carbon steel skillet. As a staple item in the restaurant industry, it’s no surprise it’s the best thing that’s happened to my kitchen in some time.
But for all of its inherent qualities — naturally nonstick, impressive heat retention and the strength to endure high oven temps if needed — there’s been something missing. A certain weight, you could say. A weight that can only be met by cast iron cookware.
It’s been widely noted that carbon steel and cast iron share essentially the same qualities. Cast iron is just heavier. Like, a lot heavier (as you'll know if you’ve ever tried to lift a cast iron dutch oven).
But the appeal here is just that. As much as I love the industrial, lightweight feel of my carbon steel skillet, there’s something about the heftiness of the humble cast iron skillet that goes beyond its cooking properties.
Which is to say cast iron cookware has character.
Just sitting in your kitchen, cast iron pans and pots appear like antiquated artifacts, but they are, in fact, timeless objects. Not in a way, mind you, that “tells a story,” but in a way that means they do one thing very well. There’s no other material out there that’ll sear or braise meat better, make stews or cook whatever you need it to, whether in the kitchen or over a campfire.
A few years ago, the state of cast iron cookware was really nothing to write about. Not so these days. A new generation of designers have lifted the category, creating cookware traditionally relegated to the out of doors beautiful enough to be proudly displayed in the home.
I’ll be asking Santa for something from Finex, a Portland company that launched 2012 with its original cast iron skillet, but since has expanded to include a whole suite of cookware. There are, however, others: Smithey Ironware makes a simple 10” and 12” skillet worth looking into, while Michigan-based Marquette Castings successfully funded the world’s lightest 12” cast iron skillet earlier this year.
If you’re looking to step up your cooking next year, I suggest doing the same.