Thursday, June 16, 2011

Article: Small Batch Cast Iron, Made in the USA

The Borough Furnace cast iron lineup: skillet and braising pan (photo used by permission)




People often ask me what brand of cast iron cookware they should buy. I counsel them to stick with cookware made in the United States for bare cast iron, and cookware made in Europe for enameled cast iron.

These days, finding anything that's manufactured in the United States is pretty tough. This is especially true for things that are simple, cheap, and mass-produced (like cookware). A near as I can tell, Lodge is the only company that still makes their bare cast iron cookware here in the States.

So when my friend Jake sent me a link the other day about the fellows at Borough Furnace, I was intrigued. These guys are looking to make new-fangled cast iron cookware using recycled iron, a solar-powered blast furnace, and United States manufacturing facilities. What a concept!

Of course, these noble ideals will only matter if the company manages to stay in business. And the key to staying in business will be the in-kitchen performance of their cookware.

I have not yet had the opportunity to cook with Borough Furnace cookware. But I noticed some things  right off the bat that made me think these guys are onto something.

Check it:

The 9 1/2-inch Frying Skillet (photo used by permission)
The skillet has a long handle. The biggest complaint I hear when trying to convince family and friends to adopt cast iron cookware is that it's too heavy to lift. While cast iron ain't light, the bigger problem is that it's awkward to lift. The long handle on the Borough Furnace skillet will provide extra leverage to make lifting easier. A lot of restaurant pots have really long handles—and one of the tricks you learn for carrying a full pot is to slip your elbow and/or forearm over the top of the handle-end to provide additional leverage. The same trick should be possible with the Borough Furnace cast iron skillet. I have a slight concern that the lower sides under the handles might cause spillage when sauteing, but it's hard to say from here.

The handles are designed to stay cool. The open-triangle design where the handle meets the skillet is designed to stay cool during stovetop cooking. Same with the oversized loop-like handles on the braising pan. A hot handle is another complaint I hear often with traditional cast iron skillets—which usually have very short handles. I'm ever so slightly worried that the handles might break off a few generations down the line, but no doubt they'd still last longer than any Teflon-ware.

The Braising pan with two stay-cool handles
(photo used by permission)
Two handles are better than one. Both the skillet and the braising pan have double handles. This is a huge boon to folks who don't have a rock climber's forearm strength. The handles also stick up more than out, which makes the pans easier to handle when carrying them around.

The cookware comes pre-seasoned. I've developed a small love affair with cleaning, restoring, and seasoning cast iron cookware. But most people have trouble getting over the fact that they can't put it in the dishwasher. When the major manufacturers began pre-seasoning cast iron cookware, it made a lot of people think they could try cooking with cast iron. The Borough Foundry boys have been experimenting with flaxseed oil and lard for their pre-seasoning. I'm a fan of buffalo fat myself, but that might be a bit impractical. Also, I would expect that the lack of a vegetarian pre-seasoning could dampen sales among the expected target audience. Flax seed oil has a relatively low smoke point, so I might suggest using avocado oil, grapeseed oil, extra light olive oil, or even just canola oil. In any case, I think it would be a nice differentiator to use organic oil (I've always wondered what, exactly, Lodge uses to pre-season their pans).

The Borough Furnace guys are looking to raise $25,000 in initial funding for their start up. They've already raised more than $15,000. The deadline is Friday, July 8th. Check out their Kickstarter campaign to learn more and make a contribution. Thank you gifts include cast iron bottle openers, trivets, skillets, braising pans, and an invite to a barbecue hoe-down in upstate New York.

Good luck guys!

6 comments:

  1. The kickstarter page has an FAQ about seasoning with flaxseed oil that links to this article (http://sherylcanter.com/wordpress/2010/01/a-science-based-technique-for-seasoning-cast-iron/) which is rather in-depth and eye-opening.

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  2. Nice. It sounds like I have no choice but to de-season a pan and try flaxseed oil out for myself!

    Thanks dude.

    -D

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  3. That braising pan looks great, primitive and yet modern at the same time.

    I ran across that article on flaxseed as a seasoner, and I'm kind of anxious to try it, too.

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  4. Hey Kirby,

    I think organic flaxseed oil makes a ton of sense for pre-seasoning cast iron pans (i.e. for product sales). It's a cool differentiator over other manufacturers.

    As for home use... somewhere in the comment thread of that article a user notes that cast iron will eventually be seasoned by constant use, meaning that the oil you cook with will be the oil that seasons the pans. The user wonders whether that base layer really matters in this context.

    This is my experience... most of my pans are like mirrors from years of roasting veggies in the oven and making popcorn on the stovetop.

    But I like the idea of a brand-new pan having an organic seasoning rather than whatever Lodge uses.

    Anyhow... next time I have a naked pan, I'm definitely gonna try flaxseed oil to season it.

    If you get around to it before I do, let me know how it goes!

    -Derek

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  5. I'd be interested in whether or not the cooking surface is sanded smooth, instead of rough like the Lodge cookware. Seasoning is one thing, but I had to take an orbital sander to mine.

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    1. Based on the photos, they do seem to be smoother than a typical Lodge.

      -Derek

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