Cast Iron 101 w/ Isaac Morton

I believe there are few things more admirable than someone following their passion for something and risking it all to make a dream-become a reality. It takes an unending amount of drive, sweat, tears, hard work, gumption (and above all, excellent product or service) to turn a hobby into a profitable and growing business. And that is precisely how I came across the locally made Smithey Ironware cast iron skillets. Isaac Morton is the founder of this incredible product line and it all began when he would find old cast iron skillets and (for fun) re-finish them for family and friends…he enjoyed taking something old and giving it life again.

 

I visited the workshop on James Island and saw first hand the multiple steps that Issac and his team do to each piece. First of all, most people don’t realize that the first step is the casting process (which in this case, occurs in the midwest) and is then shipped in its rough state to Isaac. That’s when the magic happens and transforms something raw into a work of art. There are several stages of sanding, polishing, oiling, heating…re-oiling and more heating…more polishing (over and over again) until each piece has been finely detailed by hand and is perfect. Stacks of skillets are all of the workshop and its spectacular to see them each one come to life. I recently was given a Smithey skillet and after test driving it over a campfire to cook with for an entire weekend and then brought it home with me and cooked with for a few weeks…I fell in love with it and reached out to Issac about coming on board for this project. I enjoyed working with it because it is a well made and fantastic product, I appreciate the beauty of the deep chocolate color and the detail of the craftsmanship and I am very passionate (it’s my personal mission) is to help support local people who are making great things! If you are looking to begin or grow your cast iron collection then I highly recommend checking out Smithey’s 10 or 12 inch skillets, buy one for yourself or gift it to someone who will appreciate it. http://smitheyironware.com

 

Smithey Advice for: Seasoning Cast Iron  

Seasoning is the build-up oil remnants that carbonize over a skillet’s surface when you cook on it over high heat.  This glossy black surface can take time to develop and is the mark of a mature cast iron skillet.

One method that helps to accelerate the seasoning process is the stovetop method.  Included are directions below:

Stovetop Seasoning Method

  1. On your range, bring the pan to a scorching temperature and intermittently rub light layers of shortening or vegetable oil over its cook surface with a paper towel in succession.  Be careful because the skillet is HOT.  The oil will smoke, so be sure to turn on a vent or hood.
  2. After 5-10 minutes of applying oil to the surface at a scorching temp, the pan’s surface will begin to turn a deep chocolate color.  Once this happens turn the heat off and allow to cool down.
  3. After the pan cools a bit, apply another light layer of oil to the surface and bake in your oven for 1 hour at 450.

Isaac’s Tips & Suggestions

Q: What was your first piece of cast iron cookware? Where did you get it and how did you decide on that piece?
IM: My sister in law told me she thought I would really appreciate the quality of the vintage skillets she had seen at a flee market in the North Carolina mountains and that I should seek one out.  God knows I didn’t need another hobby, but I’m glad I followed her advise.  I bought a few pieces and learned to restore them.  My first piece of cast iron was a Griswold slanted logo No. 8 that was probably cast in the 1920s.  I bought it rusty and beat up with nearly 100 years of pitting and rust.  After restoring it though, you uncover a raw iron surface finish that is as polished and clean as the day it was cast.  It’s a sacrilege, but today I use that same skillet to support one of the broken legs on my office desk. 
Q: Who taught you to cook with cast iron cookware?
IM: I don’t think anyone really taught me to cook with cast iron.  I guess I learned by trial and error.  I’m still learning.
Q: What are the benefits that you enjoy with castiron cooking?
IM: Cast iron is the most versatile cooking tool in the kitchen.  You can sear a protein, fry an egg, sauté vegetables, bake bread or a pie with a cast iron skillet.  Second, there is no better method of searing than with a stout cast iron skillet.  Cast irons absorbs and retains heat really well.  When you place a protein on its surface, it doesn’t suffer heat loss in the way that other materials do.  This allows you to create a nice crispy texture on your food.
Q: What are some of the difficulties that you (have experienced or currently) experience with CIC?
IM: I think people are frustrated by the sand-paper like cooking surfaces that is common with some cast iron cookware.  We make skillets with a polished surface in the style of vintage cast iron.  It is easier to maintain, it is naturally non-stick, and gets better over time.  It takes more time and care to manufacture, but it’s a higher quality tool.
Q: Do you think there are any misconceptions that people commonly have about CIC?
IM: That it heats evenly.  Cast iron absorbs and retains heat really well, but it is not the best material for even heat distribution.  Cast iron distributes heat slowly across its surface, so if you want even heat distribution, it’s best to give the pan time to come up to temperature and then bring the burner temperature down a touch, so that you are adding just enough heat to maintain your temperature.  
Please list 3 tips that people should remember…
IM:
1) Break-in period – Every cast iron skillet takes time to break-in.  The first few dishes are always more prone to sticking or stripping seasoning.  Use more oil during the break in period.  Keep charging ahead. The more you use, the better the skillet’s performance.  
2) Storage – Store your cast iron on the stove top.  You will use it more frequently and it won’t suffer neglect hidden away in your cupboard.  
3) Cleaning – Clean softly, but scrape away the uneven charred layers.  Warm water and a paper towel are normally enough to clean cast iron.  If you have any charred remnants on the surface, use a metal spatula to scrape them away, with the idea being that you want an evenly textured surface.
Q: Do you have any fond memories of a family member or friend cooking using cast iron?
IM: Everyone seems to have memories of their grandmother and a cast iron skillet. In my case, I would spend summers and holidays at my grandparent’s farm in the  country-side outside of Charlottesville, VA. I have great memories of observing my grandmother’s morning cast iron routine.  She was not a morning person, so her program was as much a wake up exercise as it was a meal. I’d watch from the kitchen table, while she added a pad of butter to a small preheated Wagner skillet to perfectly fry an egg over easy. She didn’t use a spatula – just rolled the egg around the pan and flipped it. She was precise.  I never saw her break a yoke or overcook a fried egg in 35 years. After breakfast, she would light a cigarette, liven’ up, and weave all sorts of tales for me. Not knowing any better, one afternoon I scrubbed that Wagner pan down to the raw metal. Probably 80 years worth of seasoning – gone. She took it well and explained seasoning to me by likening it to paint on a house. If I hadn’t been her grandson, she might have asked me never to step foot in her kitchen again…