Myths About Cast-Iron Pans Busted

Categories: Cooking

While resources like this website and others have endeavored to inform and educate about the history and proper treatment of vintage collectible cast iron hollow ware, there is still much misinformation being proliferated, both online and in the marketplace. Presented here, in no particular order, are the top ten most-often encountered examples.

Belief #1: Cast iron cookware is virtually indestructible.
True or False?: False. Like glass, the properties that make cast iron hard also make it brittle. Cast iron subjected to impact or twisting force will break before it bends. Heating an empty pan or a large pan over a small burner too quickly may also result in warping or cracking.
Origins: Most likely confusion between cast iron and wrought iron or steel.

Belief #2: The best, easiest way to clean build up from a cast iron pan is to burn it off in a fire.
True or False?: False. While fire will indeed typically completely remove build up, intense heat will often damage the pan, either by warping or cracking it, or by potentially altering the molecular structure of the iron, making it irreversibly scaly.
Origins: Most likely from frontier era camp cooks who would have had no other way to refurbish heavily encrusted pans.

Belief #3: The coating of seasoning on a pan imparts flavor to cooked food.
True or False?: False. The term "seasoning", as it pertains to cast iron cookware, applies to the build up over time of polymerized and carbonized cooking fats, resulting in a corrosion-resistant, non-stick coating, and has nothing to do with food seasoning. Traditional cleaning methods should leave no residue which would affect the taste of subsequently prepared foods, although oily fish might be an undesirable exception.
Origins: Uncertain. The claim is often heard from sellers of used, unrefurbished pans, more than likely in a misguided attempt to make thickly encrusted pieces seem more valuable.

Belief #4: The large numeral seen on the bottom of a pan or the top of a pan handle is the pan's diameter in inches.
True or False?: False. The numerals were an early convention used to denote what size woodstove eye a pan fit. Sizes were not necessarily consistent across all brands, so one maker's #8 pan may not have fit another maker's #8 stove eye. The numbering system continued to be used for some time even after the advent of gas and electric cooktops.
Origins: An erroneous assumption made by those unfamiliar with early woodstoves.

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