What’s the best first cast iron pan to buy?

First, always consider that the tool you’re most likely to get the most use out of is the tool you have the most reason to use. Buy a pan to suit the type of cooking you like to do.

A big flat skillet will let you cook big batches of pancakes or grilled sandwiches.

A small frying pan will be your breakfast companion for years to come.

A generous dutch oven will serve you well for chilis, deep frying and crunchy sourdough breads.

So, the simple answer here is buy the pan you need first and build out a collection from there.

But, you ask, what would the Cast Iron Guy recommend?

You’ve read all about this cast iron movement and you’re looking at your chipped and scratched collection of aluminum pans from the supermarket and pondering leaping into building a legacy collection of cookware and begin replacing your nonstick throwaways.

You can’t go wrong with a medium-sized frying pan, of course. A simple ten to twelve inch pan is a staple of any collection and will be of great use in any kitchen.

But the piece I recommend, the piece that sits atop my stove and rarely ever finds it’s way back into the cupboard, the piece that I would buy as a gift for a friend or family member who was debating their first acquisition is a round griddle.

I own the Lodge 10.5 inch round griddle. *not a paid endorsment

This piece is a low walled, simple round, smooth pan with a bit of a lip around the rim. It’s simple to use and maintain, and cooks just about everything day-to-day: grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, fried eggs, crepes & pancakes, and naan bread. It heats fast for warming leftovers. It packs well and I often take it local travelling to hotels (like when we go skiing in the mountians where we often have a kitchen but usually not-so-great pans.) It’s an all-in-one workhorse for egg sandwiches, grilling sausages, and my lunchtime meals-for-one. It goes into the oven as a roasting pan for numerous meat and vegetable dishes, and if I need to broil anything it’s the pan I turn to first.

And if I was rich, I’d buy these by the caselot and hand them out as gifts.

So, my recommendation: you need a great first pan, and you are not looking to fill a specific cooking need, I don’t think you can go too wrong with a simple round griddle.

Griswold Egg Pan (Part One)

Some more backstory…

Just before the pandemic rolled in and I was nursing ideas about how to make effective use of my domain name I struck upon the plan of buying and “restoring” old cast iron pans. My plan was to scour through eBay, adventure through yard sales, and bumble among the aisles of second hand shops to look for old pieces.

I would buy them.

I would clean them.

I would re-season them and use them.

I would write about them.

So in September of 2019 I picked up the first of my project pieces from an online seller, a Griswold #3 Egg Pan which arrived in fair, but crusty condition, via the mail.

As is visible in the attached photos (the pan resting on a cutting board, snapped in September 2019 & after a light wipe down) the small pan needed a little bit of care. It was dirty for a start, as if the seller had cooked lunch in it, cooled it off, then packed it off to be shipped. Also, the seasoning had the chipped and peeling look of a wall that’s been painted a dozen times over the years and then started to erode and wear revealing the layers. Otherwise it’s a nice piece. There is some uneven casting on the bottom (and I have no means or skill to refinish this) but the cooking surface is smooth and clear of scars.

First, a little about the history of a piece like this. I specifically went looking for a Griswold pan because there they are kind of the stereotypical antique but affordable collector cast iron piece, new enough to find in your grandparent’s kitchen but old enough to say, hey… this is an old pan.

Griswold Manufacturing was an American manufacturer of cast iron kitchen products founded in Erie, Pennsylvania, in business from 1865 through 1957. For many years the company had a world-wide reputation for high-quality cast-iron cookware. Today, Griswold pieces are collector’s items.”

– Wikipedia

I’m not a cast iron restoration expert.

Over the last five years and in using multiple pieces of my (purchased new) cast iron cookware for that long, I would firmly tell you that as far as use and care goes, I’m in the intermediate “home cook” skill level.

That said, a caveat. Restoration is a new hobby for me. In other words, I’m probably doing something wrong and I’m not going to be doing much in the way of repairs so much as this more about simple cleaning and re-seasoning efforts. So… be gentle in your replies. I’m learning out here in the public eye.

Now, the Griswold #3 709 I is not a valuable collectors piece, but I think it’s at least sixty-plus years old. Tiny. Only about seven inches across, it makes for an ideal egg pan. I’ve been through a few forums and websites trying to put an age to it and as far as I can tell it was probably cast circa 1939-1957. Neither rare nor of import, I figured it was a neat first “old” piece to kick off my set, and I wouldn’t be destroying an historical artifact if I messed it up.

My first step was to run it through the clean cycle of the oven. This stripped the iron down to bare metal. Then I cleaned the char and oxidized powder off with soap and water then immediately ran a couple seasoning cycles in a hot oven with a light vegetable oil.

After it cooled I put it the cupboard …and forgot about it for a while.

The next two pictures (on a granite countertop) were snapped in January 2021, as I pulled the piece out and decided to write a short series on this new blog.

I ran it through another seasoning cycle (lightly oiling it and baking it with my latest round of sourdough bread).

I cooked a couple eggs in it.

I grilled a cheese sandwich.

It’s starting to develop a useful and seasoned cooking surface.

And as I continue to season and cook with this pan over the next few weeks and months I’ll write future posts with more info.

Stay tuned.