What is so great about cast iron cookware?
Cast iron is one of our favorite materials. As Strand Design has steered the focus of its work from furnishings to kitchenwares, this material and the processes surrounding it have played a large role in our project selection process. We love cast iron for a handful of reasons:
Ironware is extremely versatile. Cast iron cookware can be used on the stovetop, in the oven, and even on an open fire. It is perfect for baking, roasting, braising, broiling, grilling, frying and searing. We use cast iron to cook in fires on the beach, in the pizza oven, and to serve up meals at the dining table; it is rare that one tool is equally capable in such a range of environments. And it is the characteristics of the material itself that make that versatility possible.
Ironware offers superior heat retention. The thermal properties of cast iron and its density allow it to retain heat and recover quickly to high temperatures during cooking, especially useful when roasting, baking bread and pizza, frying, and searing. It takes longer to heat up an iron pan than it does an aluminum pan, but ironware holds onto the heat longer.
When we need to cook at a really high temperatures, when searing and browning, we turn to cast iron. While stainless and rolled/wrought carbon steel can deliver great results, they are also susceptible to warping over time. Really high heat can turn a flat-bottomed steel pan into a domed pan that will never rest flat on a surface again.
Iron tools are extremely durable. Yes, cast iron requires maintenance. But, its ability to be easily maintained at home also means that it can last generations. Unlike other non-stick cookware, it is free of fragile industrial coatings, metal cooking utensils won’t ruin it, and it is formed as one piece, so the handle is always firmly attached.
With continued use and seasoning, cast iron actually gets better with age. Seasoning – the protective coating that makes cast iron cookware black in color – is a renewable coating of polymerized cooking oil. Every time a layer of oil is baked onto a piece of ironware, that coating is thickened and strengthened. As the coating develops, it becomes more and more non-stick. A well seasoned piece of ironware, can deliver some of the best non-stick performance available, all with a simple, renewable coating of cooking oil.
Simplicity, in the case of cast iron, facilitates longevity. In the age of plastics and increasingly complex products, it is rare to find a tool that virtually anyone can maintain and refurbish in their own home. We love that.
In most cases, damaged cast iron can be readily restored. But when the damage is too severe, cast iron can be fully recycled because it is made from just one material. In fact, new cast iron products are already made from a majority of recycled content. We love any material that is readily made from recycled stock and that fits into an existing, functional, wide-spread system for recycling.
There is a lot about cast iron that seems old. The process of pouring molten iron into molds made of compressed sand is one of the oldest manufacturing processes invented by humanity. Most products made from cast iron are decidedly low-tech, alluding to the past, to simpler times, before internet connected everything. That is further reinforced by the way that most cast iron cooking tools are styled – they tend to hold onto traditional forms and styling informed by products that are decades, even centuries old.
But we feel this material is as relevant today as ever and that it deserves to be treated that way. While ironware can be expected to last for centuries, there is no reason that it should be constrained to a centuries-old aesthetic.
The Ironwood skillet marries performance, presentation, and affordability. Its style is modern and so are its features; it is lightweight, machined smooth, and pre-seasoned. Ironwood embodies our passion for cast iron as a material and our mission to design beautiful, functional objects for the modern home. Learn more about cast iron and back the project here.
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Ted Burdett is Co-founder and Principal Designer at Strand Design. He has taught industrial design at the University of Illinois at Chicago for 10 years and currently serves as Assistant Clinical Professor of Design Entrepreneurship.