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All Things Cast Iron ft. Stephen of Field Company

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Show Notes

Cast iron skillets are our topic for this week’s Backyard Bounty podcast as we join Nicole and Stephen the pan man and Co-Founder of Field Company

What You’ll Learn

  • The differences between old and new cast iron
  • How to properly use and care for cast iron regardless of age
  • How to cook with cast Iron
  • How to recondition old pans
  • Some common misconceptions when it comes to using cast iron

Our Guest

Stephen started the Field Company with his brother in 2015. They make a lighter, smoother cast iron skillet like your grandma had.

Stephen is passionate about making and using high-quality tools that enable folks to roll up their sleeves and take matters into their own hands. The goal with Field Company is to make things right, meaning Field Company has very high-quality standards, only using natural materials, and paying close attention to the making and manufacturing process. The company believes that if the process isn’t elegant, the end result rarely is! They apply this belief to their cast iron cookware and to everything that they make.

The two main features Field Skillet brought back to cast iron are the smooth cooking surface and lighter weight, which is common in older cast iron. They also wanted to make a beautiful object that feels great in your hands and makes you want to use it daily.

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Announcer: 0:01

Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from, where we aim to educate and inspire you by sharing practical information to help your homestead thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.

Nicole: 0:16

Hello, everybody. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host, Nicole. And today I'm joined by Steven founder and pan man of the Field Company Skillets. And today we're going to talk about all things cast iron. So Steven, thank you so much for joining me today.

Stephen: 0:34

Thanks for having me.

Nicole: 0:35

Absolutely. So before we get started in talking about cast iron, can you tell us a little bit more about your company and your cast iron skillets?

Stephen: 0:46

Yeah, sure. So my brother and I started this company back in November 2014, in his kitchen in Brooklyn, and we worked on it for about a little over a year, just kind of on the side to see if we could actually pull this thing off. We could make these pans the way the antiques were, you know, it's like, "Whoa, antiques are a really nice, modern cast iron not so nice. Why?" And so we spent about a year diving into that question, easy to find out why, then it's harder to find out, "Oh, can we do that?" So that's what we were doing. So we kicked off a company with a Kickstarter in March 2016, ended up selling 15,000 pans, which was about $1.625 million. And we've been kind of improving and getting new stuff out the door regularly ever since, which is a lot of fun. Both my brother and I had hand me down antique pans, probably from our grandmother's wedding or something like that, because they were you know, they're like 50s, Wagner Squares Wallace, and stuff like that. Actually, one was a lodge. So we had a Lodge, a Griswold, and a Wagner. You know, like, sheesh, this is so much nicer. And my brother was really into cooking, he's probably deserves the title of chef. And I was really into making things. I was doing furniture and leather work at the time. And so we're like, "Well, why don't we make this?"

Nicole: 2:16

It sounds like a perfect pair then.

Stephen: 2:18

It was a really good pair. Yeah, it was a great pair, because he was ready to do something fun with me. And so yeah, we decided to give it a shot. And here we are still today.

Nicole: 2:29

Obviously, it worked. So what did you find was the big difference? Because I have a modern cast iron pan that, to be honest, I hate but I use it. And I also have an old Wagner and I also happen to have one of your amazing Field Skillets. What is the difference? You know, why are the new most of the new ones kind of incomparable to put it nicely compared to the old Wagner's?

Stephen: 2:54

The simple answer is that the old stuff is lighter and smoother. And that alone takes care of quite a few variables. And so you know, the lighter makes it just more readily available to grab and handle. Whereas the heavy stuff, you know, you just, you're like, "I don't want to even pick that up right now." And so that was one of the things that we really worked on with ours was like, what is the right weight, because some of that weight is actually really useful for cooking. So, and if you look at some of the antique stuff, some of it's too light. And then you have warping problems. And then you have hotspot problems. And it's easier to break. Because cast iron is actually pretty brittle. You want some weight, but you don't want too much weight. And that's a huge one, most of the antique stuff around today is kind of survived through all that. And it's good stuff. The smoothness is another factor. I mean, it's just I think everyone's sort of intuitively understands that if you have a rough surface, things are going to stick more than to a smooth surface. And that's like both fundamentally true of just rough versus smooth things. It's also true with how your brain interacts with something when it's smooth, versus when it's rough, it's rough, you don't expect anything to release off of it. And when it's smooth, you're like, "Oh, that should come off". And you know, more more times than not, you're proven right. So that smoothness factor has both a great performance element to it, and it also adds a beauty factor, which you know, you kind of look at. So nice, you know, absolutely. And then you know, just like some of them what we like to call use this term in the company called "woowoo". Because it is woowoo, but at the same time, it's valid. In my mind, it's valid. There's a lot of little things have a lot of validity in them, even though you may not be able to quantify them, measure them, whatever. And to me one of those in older stuff is that it's obviously been handled by human being probably a lot and it's development. So it's been cast in someone probably hand packed that mold themselves with all the sand and that leads to certain characteristics. And in some of my favorite pans, the person packing the sand will actually make a little mark every single day. That's his or her mark, but probably his mark at that time, you know, to signify the pride in it, but also to probably keep him honest in his work. And you know, then once it comes out of that all that finishing and processing was all kind of much more handwork with any object ever made, the feeling of a human being touching it is something you can't, you can't fake really.

Nicole: 5:25


Stephen: 5:26

And that is, unfortunately, what has sort of started to happen with a lot of the cast iron, which is it's moved into this manufacturing mentality, which is how do we take the human being out? You know, I experienced that same feeling myself, especially in the early days, you know, why can't we just do this? And it's because there's humans involved, and we're imperfect, but but if you can do it, then you come up with something a lot nicer. And I think that's a huge difference.

Nicole: 5:54

So I assume with the manufacturing of your pans that they're touched by humans as well.

Stephen: 5:58

Yeah, we have. We're human grinding everything. And every step of our process has very, pretty tight inspection protocol. So there's, there's a lot of hands touching our pans.

Nicole: 6:09

Awesome. I did notice when I started using this, the skillet like you said, it is much lighter, and it is much smoother. Like I mentioned, I have my my old pans that I love, needed something a little bit bigger. So I bought one from Sam's. And it's been, I mean, it worked, I guess, but being somebody who has a shoulder issue, a shoulder injury, I guess, that big pan is awful. And I hate using it because it's so darn heavy, and stuff sticks to it. And it just it frustrates me every time. Every time I use it. Yeah, but you know, because I had always used the vintage pans, I didn't know that there was such a difference with the modern day pans. And now I know.

Stephen: 6:57

A lot of that is, you know, I don't this is sort of a type of thing that I don't think is common to be that aware of in your life. And something that would feel company, we will bring back into people's lives with our cast iron and other things we create, which is like, you don't want to use that pan. You don't really know why, though. And I'm like, I know why. Yeah. I've been thinking about this for 20 years. I know why, like, this is why and it's because it's too freakin heavy. work. And it's ugly, and you bought it for too cheap of a price. So you don't care if you're like us, you're kind of like whatever about it, you don't want it you don't get the idea of taking care of it is not necessarily ingrained in your understanding of owning it, you know, so things like that.

Nicole: 7:40

Yeah, at this point, I'm ready to just give that one to Goodwill, and it can be somebody else's problem. got over it.

Stephen: 7:47

What size is it?

Nicole: 7:48

Um, I don't know what the with the vintage sizing? It's maybe 12 ish inches.

Stephen: 7:55

Okay, so it's just one size up from the one we gave you?

Nicole: 7:58

Yeah, yeah.

Stephen: 8:00

Probably. Ours is eight pounds.

Nicole: 8:04

Um, you know, I actually, I was curious, because this one, the number 8 I wanted to see, because it is so much lighter. I weighed it. And I think it was this one being I mean, it's smaller, but it was like four and a half pounds, I believe. I don't have it in front of me. And then the other one, the bigger one, it was like, it was a lot heavier. I don't remember exactly what it is now. But I was surprised like, it's not just in my mind, it is significantly heavier. So our number 10 is basically a 12 inch skillet.

Stephen: 8:34

Okay. And so the one that you have is probably about somewhere between eight, eight and a half pounds and ours will be six.

Nicole: 8:40

So I think it was about eight and a half pounds.

Stephen: 8:43

That's gonna be a huge difference. Our number eight is we say four and a half, we usually give the upper end all of our weights or the or the highest possible weight...

Nicole: 8:53


Stephen: 8:54

For our products, we actually have about a half pound of fluctuation, we actually don't see that but we give it our to ourselves. And so most of our products kind of end not quite at midway, but maybe just above midway of half of a half on below what we said. So, you know, for 4.3 is like pretty much 90% of our number eights are going to be 4.3 pounds, but we don't want someone having to move 4.5 that's what we said you got to you got two pounds for free.

Nicole: 9:25

Okay, there you go. For somebody with some some difficulty lifting things. That's a huge difference. And it definitely makes for an easier and more pleasant cooking experience.

Stephen: 9:38

I think the other thing that's true about our pans, which is not as quite as evident just in the weight is our handle is pretty heavy. Yeah, compared to the rest of the pan. So we're distributing the weight out more, you know, whereas these little teardrop handles on a big heavy pan. That's just the losing battle from every point of view. The handle's too small, it's super uncomfortable, you've got a ton of weight out there, those little stubby handles get hot instantaneously. Not that ours doesn't get hot. But you know, there's, there's a nice delay for like three quarters of your cooking in our pan like you won't have to worry about the handle being hot.

Nicole: 10:17

Sure. So maybe we could talk then about using the cast iron skillet properly. I see a lot of do's and don'ts online a lot of things about what you should and shouldn't cook with them a lot of things about, you know, whether or not to use soap. So, maybe if we could just start with proper use, you know, can we use cast iron on glass top stove? How do we make sure that they retain as as nonstick as possible? And just kind of some general use suggestions?

Stephen: 10:49

Sure. So I feel like it would be helpful to partition the way we talk. And in two different ways. One of them is that a lot of people want prescriptions, just tell me what to do. And then other people want principles. Why do I do that, sir. And the internet is generally awash with attempts at prescriptions. And because of that can get very misleading because you don't the underlying principles don't necessarily seem consistent from one to the other. Right. So from a prescription standpoint, there's very little soap out there anymore, that's going to cause damage to your cast iron pan.

Nicole: 11:35


Stephen: 11:36

Just general dish soap. I've always had trouble with "sh" and "s: followed by, you know...

Nicole: 11:40

it's okay, I couldn't say ambulance as a kid. And then I ended up working for the ambulance. So that's ironic.

Stephen: 11:50

Anyway, so very few soaps that you're going to buy for dishes that are actually going to damage your seasoning, you've got to have like a lye in there, or you've got to have a polishing ingredient in there, or you got to be using an upper level soap, essentially, to damage your one that probably doesn't even exist in the grocery store in the like dish cleaning section, you know, but so we'll decrease your pan, because that's what it's supposed to do. So when you're done cleaning your cast iron pan with soap and you dry it out, it's going to look pretty dry. And a dry pan is usually not the happiest of pans. Iron, you want to keep it with some sort of coating on it to prevent moisture in the air from rusting it. You know, if you accidently drop a little bit of water into it, you know, you want to give it a little protection. You always want a little bit oil in there at all times. Because that's how you do develop seasoning over time.

Nicole: 12:44


Stephen: 12:45

So that's one that we can dispel right away, it's like you're probably not gonna hurt anything.

Nicole: 12:50

And that makes sense where, you know, with so being so different, I can see how that could be kind of one of those old wives tales, it just kind of stuck around.

Stephen: 12:57

Yeah, I think soap is a big one, we have a little packet that we send with our pan. I mean, you don't want to put them in the dishwasher. Sure, you should not ever do that. Leave them soaking for longer than a couple of minutes.

Nicole: 13:13


Stephen: 13:14

When you first get one of our pans, you should kind of avoid cooking acidic foods, and avoid cooking anything that's going to simmer in salty liquid for a while because all those salts, you know, you know what salt does the iron, right and rust and acids tend to eat away at the fats that are part of the seasoning. So those are going to tend to act like a solvent on your pan. So those are kind of some of the the prescriptions of do's and don'ts. If you take care of your pan, you know, I would say for me, it took about three months of you know, being diligent on my maintenance regime. And after then that I started being able to cook the salty liquids in the acids in there and not having any issues. Because I developed this really strong seasoning, they are sure. And again, I think there's a lot to be said for like the prescription there versus the principles there for prescription because I was like realizing that most people were rolling their eyes at me when I started talking about principles. I was like "I know, I'll give you some prescriptions. And here's your prescription. And here's, here's the exact oil you should use. I've just made it for you. It's our own seasoning formula. It's got some beeswax and some sunflower oil, and then some grapeseed oil in it like that, that's going to be the best possible thing to use. And here's a and you got to use this chainmail scrubber because that's going to clean your pan in a great way. It's not going to be so aggressive that it's going to remove things that that could turn into good seasoning." So if you have like one of those kind of iron, there's you get spots on your pan when you're cooking. And some of that stuff you should leave because it will eventually form seasoning and the chainmail scrubber does a great job at like, kind of vetting anything that's stuck on your pan? It's like is this to this day? And it's like, well, it seems the stainless steel scrubber seems to say yes, it should stay. So then you leave it. And then the other thing that'll do is it'll also abrade, or scuff the surface of your pan just ever so slightly, so that when you cook next time, there's just a little bit of texture for your next layer of seasoning to kind of grab on to.

Nicole: 15:28


Stephen: 15:29

And so I have developed that prescriptive methodology for everyone to use. If you basically follow that to a tee for three months, you're going to have really great seasoning on your panel.

Nicole: 15:39

So if somebody is not able to purchase your seasoning product, is there any oil that absolutely shouldn't be used? Or can really any oil be used to season a pan?

Stephen: 15:50

Principally there is the best oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, that's what you want to form seasoning prescriptively I wouldn't keep an oil in your house that you're not already using for cooking otherwise, sure. It's not like oh, here's my seasoning oil bottle. Right? Right. You know, basically, you're, you're, they're gonna jump into what I'm telling you, or like, just be super practical. Like don't do this, like middle zone spots so much. So the higher end polyunsaturated fat, the better. But I don't know if your audience is like this, but I know that I personally am not on the polyunsaturated oils train. I'm like, I don't want to eat that stuff. You know, and I'm actually on a saturated fat train. Unfortunately, the saturated fats generally aren't going to be very good for season.

Nicole: 16:35

Okay, fair enough. I'm in the beeswax thing that's interesting, I would never have thought beeswax on the pan, just because it kind of has a lower smoke point. But obviously, that doesn't cause an issue?

Stephen: 16:46

Some of the feedback we get is like, "Oh, I don't like to taste this beeswax" like, well, then you're you're really leaving way too much on the pan.

Nicole: 16:53

Oh, sure.

Stephen: 16:54

When you coat your pan, right before you put it away, you are putting a tiny bit on, I think I specified like a quarter eighth of a teaspoon. And that actually gets both inside and outside of your pan. And then once that's all down, you actually are going to go ahead and grab dry either paper towel or towel, whatever you got. And you're going to wipe it to a matte finish after that. So the amount of these wax or anything even on that pan is very, very, very, very thin.

Nicole: 17:21

So do you heat up the pan before you put that on?

Stephen: 17:24

You heat up the pan because you're going to be drying the pan at that point usually, okay, like you cook, you put it under the water to get some schmutz off. You've got your chainmail scrubber, actually, you've got your brush to get the big schmutz off. And then you've got your chainmail scrubber to do your fine scrubbing and abrading. And then now you've got a wet pan and you don't want to have a wet pan for very long. So you put that on your oven, and you dry that out, get the hot pan and you can put our stuff on there and you do the once wax on wax off, you know.

Nicole: 17:55

Okay. This is why I love video. For those of you listening, you have to watch this one on YouTube. So what about using the pan? Can we use it on pretty much any surface? You know, nowadays, glass top things and the electric is becoming ever popular? I'm going to just assume Yes, because I use it. And I would never buy another glass top again. But is it generally acceptable to use them on on glass top or any surface that really shouldn't use cast iron on?

Stephen: 18:32

Our cast iron is usable on every surface, there's really only two concerns that I can truly highlight. I mean, with glass, it's like who are you gonna break your glass? It's like, well, then be careful.

Nicole: 18:43

Don't use a heavy pan.

Stephen: 18:44

Yeah, like don't slam your pan down. What it's got its glass, you know, it's glass. So just don't do that.

Nicole: 18:50


Stephen: 18:52

Oh, scratching. It's like, Well, you know, again, if you are so obsessed about scratching, what do you use on there? What won't scratch?

Nicole: 19:02


Stephen: 19:02

So be careful. That's fine. We also, you know, I think one of the concerns that people have with like induction stoves with our pans, we have a heat ring around. And so "Oh, it's not touching the surface of the glass". And this is one of those things that John Q Public doesn't really ever know. Which is there's actually no such thing as flat. There is no such thing as flat in cookware, or in this application. Or if you go to a machine shop, you can find they have those stones, flat stones, and even those are only flat to within a certain tolerance. Now that's an extreme flat tolerance mind you but it's a you know, it's a tolerance and same same thing with metal. So metal has more tolerance built in. And so everything you're cooking over a stove with is either going to have a heat ring like ours, or if you actually measure it, if you measure the bottom it's going to have a shape like this.

Nicole: 19:58

Kind of what concave? So the middle, like...

Stephen: 20:01

So it's like, say this is a, this is a pot, like, it's gonna be up in the middle right here a little bit so that it's flat.

Nicole: 20:08


Stephen: 20:09

If it's down, it's gonna spin, it'll be a spinner. So yeah, flat doesn't exist. But if you kind of look into the tolerances required for electro magnetic heating to work, it's about 55 thousandths. So I think and we just look that up, and you know, all of our pans are under 55,000, away from the burner, so you're good to go.

Nicole: 20:33

Awesome. I didn't even think about the induction heating. That's, that's a little too advanced for me.

Stephen: 20:38

You know, I know that induction is really gaining popularity for environmental reasons, right? But it's like, man, hope it gets better.

Nicole: 20:47

Do you have any tips for anybody? Let's say they find grandma's old rusty skillet, or what have you, is there a way to turn that rusty skillet into something usable?

Stephen: 20:59

There's always a way there is just your will. You know, there's good old fashioned elbow grease, and I don't do that anymore. But I don't discourage anyone because I've done it.

Nicole: 21:11


Stephen: 21:11

You, you've got to be careful not to sand the pan Oh, or else, you'll end up creating a surface, which is so smooth that you can't get seasoning to form on it. That will be sort of the tell tale of a pan that won't season is copper color seasoning. Yeah, it's just like too smooth to really get there.

Nicole: 21:31

So maybe wire brushing, and some patience sort of thing?

Stephen: 21:34

Pretty much. But if you maybe do that once, and then you get the bug and you happen to live in an area where you feel like there's a lot of grandma's rusty pans around...

Nicole: 21:42

You never know.

Stephen: 21:45

Then you should bump it up a notch in intensity. And, you know, I know you can use the oven cleaning cycle. I've used that before. It's frustrating, but it works. Because it feels like the pan wants to instantly rust. That's kind of a problem you're always going to have when you're doing restoration. You know, once you've got to bare iron, basically, the pans like wants to rust like immediately. So all the cleaning cycle where Jeff Rogers walks people through that on one of his videos pretty definitively. And then if you want to get even more sophisticated, you can dump your pans into a lye bath.

Nicole: 22:23


Stephen: 22:24

And lye is the ingredient and what that used to be in soap, which destroyed seasoning. So you can dump it in there, let it soak for a while. People have had good success doing that. I've never done it. And I probably would never bother. But that's because I've taken it to the maximum level right? I just went straight for the drug dealer and created a electrolysis tank.

Nicole: 22:46

Oh, there you go.

Stephen: 22:47

Yeah. And so that's a fun, but you know, it's a little bit of a project to set something up like that. It doesn't have to be honestly, it can be pretty simple. Just kind of depends where you live. I think. Like, if living in the country, pretty simple, to set up an electrolysis tank, it's like, yeah, and you got a battery charger, right, you've got a bunch of other like rusty crappy iron that you wouldn't mind getting making even worse, you know? So it's like, you kind of got you've got a bucket. Right? But um, yeah, if you're in the city sometimes or something, it's like, I don't have any of that stuff. I don't have a place to put this outside for the off gassing even so I don't know. But anyway, that methodology is by far the best and most elegant.

Nicole: 23:31

Gotcha. I hadn't heard of that one.

Stephen: 23:33

Definitely worth setting up if you want to do more than five pans.

Nicole: 23:38

Good to know. Yeah, I had no idea. So I just learned something. I learned lots of things. But that's another thing I learned. So is there any other kind of common misconceptions or things that you've heard about cast iron that you feel you need to set the record straight on?

Stephen: 23:56

The first thing that comes to my mind is all these carbon steel folks out there who keep wanting to be like carbon steel is better than cast iron and a lot of da da da. And I'm like, I don't think that's true. And I think it's not true, because I just think that carbon steel never really seasons that well, There's a couple companies that are making carbon steel that I'm like, Yes, I want that in my kitchen for sure. You know, like creatives makes beautiful stuff. So I'm like, Yeah, I'd like one of those. But then you got other companies being like, why are you bothering with a cast iron skillet? And I'm like, because they're not the same. They don't get the same benefits that you do from the from the cast iron. And And honestly, it's one of those. It's just like the enjoyment of using sure if your carbon steel is never developing like a nice dark seasoning. I want to say almost every handle on carbon steel pans is is not that enjoyable. At least for my hand. I'm like, What is this? Yeah, so I would dispel that one. To be more diplomatic about it, there's room for both. Basically, I would say that cast iron is better than carbon steel, but I understand some of these benefits of steel as well.

Nicole: 25:02

Sure. Well, there's something to be said about the nostalgia. It's something that's lasted for so many decades.

Stephen: 25:08

Yeah, maybe you should be the guinea pig here and get back to me.

Nicole: 25:11

I'll get right on that.

Stephen: 25:13

You go ahead and get yourself like a, I don't know, maybe a double handled carbon steel, 12 inch or 14 inch pan, and let me know how you like it.

Nicole: 25:23

If you pay for it, I would be glad to. No problem. So can you remind us all once again, of your website, and then where we can find some more information about, you know, cast iron care in use?

Stephen: 25:40

Yeah, so Nice and simple. We have a Explore tab. And yeah, lots of information there about how to use it, how to get started. What's You know, sometimes when we're doing we have tons of recipes, we even have seasoned through cooking recipes that are really good. I think we do a good job sending emails that aren't terrible to our customers, you know, in fact, we get a lot of comments saying how much everyone appreciates them. So, you know, we get you up and running on that. So for all that.

Nicole: 26:15

Well, Stephen, thank you so much. I really enjoyed your time. And thank you so much for sharing your information with us today. And thank you for sending us the wonderful skillet. I absolutely love it. And I'm so excited to start using it and thank you so much.

Stephen: 26:31

Thank you, Nicole. Yeah, enjoy that thing.

Nicole: 26:33

I will. And for those listening thank you so much for joining me for another episode. Be sure to check the links in the description. We will add all of those in there. And we'll see you again next week.

Announcer: 26:45

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