A lot of people don't believe it but the lodge stuff is an inferior product to the old stuff. I have a few old pans I got from my grandma, who got them from her aunt I believe, and they have a machined surface. You can see that they were turned on a lathe to get rid of the casting marks. A lodge pan may smooth out over time, but it is my belief that you would be better off buying old cast iron with an already smooth bottom. This is going to be more beneficial if you are trying to cook things that like to stick a lot, like eggs, etc. Bacon, steaks, etc. probably aren't going to make a lot of difference. I've been trying to avoid cooking with teflon over the last few years and pretty much only use cast iron and stainless, with a couple of exceptions, one being my backpacking pot that I like the non-stick for easy cleaning in the woods.Say I have Lodge cast iron skillet. I've had it for a while, but just recently started using it more (it's 12" and I don't often need a pan that big). One thing I've noticed about it is the cooking surface is rough - kind of like...well, like cast iron. When I was a kid my family had a couple of cast iron skillets that saw everyday use, and as I recall the cooking surface on those was really, really smooth. Not a bump on them. I don't think my memory is failing me on this, because I spent a lot of hours using those pans, and even more cleaning them! Is this something that just happens with years of use, or did I just get an inferior pan?
BTW 1996maroonzjf, I like your tripod setup, but it looks like the grill would swing a lot. I would think it would take one hand to hold the pan steady when you were doing anything with it. How do you like it? Is it hard to work with?
From Rich Soil's cast iron article: http://www.richsoil.com/cast-iron.jsp#good
start with a good piece of cast iron cookware
I bought a brand spanking new "Lodge Logic" cast iron skillet at some department store. After seasoning it, I used lots of oil ... sometimes food stuck to it, sometimes it didn't. I gave google a big workout and I found lots of internet forums to ask lots of questions. The most common feedback was to take a close look at the cooking surface of this new skillet. It's rough. Apparently, long ago, there were two grades of a cast iron skillet one could purchase. The first is where molten iron is poured into a mold and that's it. The second is where they take the first and machine out the cooking surface to make it much smoother. But that machining process usually doubles the price.
Today's new cast iron cookware is all the first kind. The surface is rough. I shopped around for a long time to try and find something new with a machined surface. The closest thing I found was a griddle made from sheet steel.
Many of the experienced cast iron folk recommended buying a heavily used skillet. The most popular brand being "Griswold" - a company that went out of business in the 1950's. Not only were these skillets machined, but if they were heavily used, their cooking surface would be downright glassy!
I bought a Griswold number 10 cast iron skillet for $20 plus shipping on ebay. This was a huge improvement over the Lodge cast iron skillet. I have to mention that I tried to buy a Griswold cast iron skillet for a friend a few months ago and the price was more like $50! But I easily found other old (Wagner) cast iron skillets for $15.
Time passed and I thought "Why not take the Lodge cast iron skillet with the rough surface and grind it down myself?" I bought a bunch of sandpaper designed for use with metal and figured 20 minutes with my different power sanders and some elbow grease should make it right as rain! Three hours later I had burned through way too much sandpaper and the results were so-so. It was a messy, icky experience that left me numb and wobbly with a ringing in my ears for a few days. The skillet worked okay for a few weeks and then cracked.
I think a person could buy a new cast iron skillet, follow all of the advice on this page and if used twice a day for six months it would probably be just as good as an old skillet. The most important ingredient would include the use of a stainless steel spatula with a flat edge: as it is used over and over, it will take the "peaks" off as the "valleys" fill with "seasoning"(more on the spatula and the "seasoning" below). It's just that the first few months will have more frustration than if you started off with a great cast iron skillet.
My impression is that general consensus to get the best cast iron skillet is to buy a Griswold cast iron skillet from ebay (try for a number 10 cast iron skillet for about $40 plus shipping). The other techniques are just too much work or add too much frustration. I've bought cast iron cookware with a lot of crusty stuff that I managed to get off with a fire. And I've bought cast iron cookware that was seriously pitted that seems to work okay - although I far prefer the cast iron that is not pitted. I see ads mentioning "no warp" or "not warped" or "level" and am grateful that I have yet to encounter this sort of thing. There are people that collect Griswold cast iron cookware, so there are sometimes pieces that have something interesting going on that sell for something like $500!
This might be a good time to point out that I picked up a Wagner cast iron skillet for a dollar at a yard sale a couple of years ago. It seems like the iron is a little thinner, but it works great! It might not be widely considered the best cast iron skillet, but it is widely considered to be far better than the "lodge logic" stuff found in stores today. A Wagner cast iron skillet usually runs a lot cheaper than Griswold on ebay.