Cast iron skillets have a great reputation for being everlasting. Actually, cast iron cookware dates back as far as the sixth century in China. This timeless piece of design has actually lived through centuries and cultures. As they have been around us to the extent that they have become a part of daily life, how much do we really know about the making of cast iron skillets? By research and analysis of the cast iron pan’s life cycle, especially in the aspect of materials, we can see the modern way of creation and consumption of a product has been around for centuries.
Cast iron cookware is renowned for its great ability to retain heat and diffuse it equally. They are greatly used in cooking a variety of dishes. However, the cast iron requires regular oiling to ward off rust. And not so with enameled cast iron, a glass enamel coating encases the iron making the cookware entirely maintenance-free.
There are three main raw materials are used in making cast iron cookware:
- Pig Iron
- Scrap Steel
- Recycled Cast Iron Pans
They begin with pig iron which has a high carbon content. After it, they melt it in a calculated amount of steel to further increase the carbon level. The melting oven heats the metals to 2768 degrees Fahrenheit liquefying them in just 45 minutes. Then workers add a powdered chemical to cluster the natural impurities in the iron then scoop those bonded impurities out. Meanwhile, workers mount a two-part mold template onto a machine that produces the sand molds with which they’ll cast the cookware. The machine injects the sand mix into the templates the mix contains clay water and proprietary ingredients which make the sand compact. The compaction is critical because just one single grain of sand displacing from the mold would produce a defect on the cookware. The pouring temperature must be accurate and consistent so they transfer the iron from the melting oven to a temperature maintenance oven.
In the Temperature Maintenance oven, they pour the molten metal through a mere three-millimeter gap between the mold halves the process is entirely automated because the pouring angle and speed are critical to the molten iron cools and solidifies in 20 minutes. Then the molds drop onto a vibrating mesh conveyor the shaking releases the cast cookware from the mold along with the metal that solidified in the flow channels leading to the mold cavity. The cookware moves into a closed chamber where a high-pressure gun blasts the surface with steel balls to remove all remaining grains of sand at this stage the cookware has rough excess metal where the two parts of the mold met. So, now workers smooth away these burrs using a grinding wheel on the outside and a grinding pen in the tight spots the cookware is now ready to be prepped for enameling.
A machine now blasts the entire piece with steel grits making the surface texture uniform so the enamel will adhere equally. The first coat of enamel is strict to protect the cast iron and prevent it from rusting. Enamel is a form of glass usually but this enamel is engineered to be flexible because metal cookware naturally expands as it heats and contracts as it cools. After a trip through a dryer, the enamel goes into an oven at 1562 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes. During this firing, the hair-thin enamel coating becomes translucent. The second coat of enamel completely seals the porous surface. It’s made of some 20 components including enamel chips pieces of clear glass and pigment powders for color. An automated spray system coats the inside. First workers wipe the edge to prevent the piece from sticking to the conveyor then the handle because they’ll paint a different color. They spray the handle manually then the automated system coats the rest the iron recipe contains a high level of the mineral silicate which helps the enamel to hear well once again the cookware goes through the dryer then into the oven at 1562 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to vitrify the enamel. Once the cookware cools it undergoes a final visual inspection. The enameled cast iron cookware lasts generations because it doesn’t warp over time and remains food safe for life. It goes over 30 quality checks throughout the production.
In the recycling and waste management of cast iron skillets, no new materials are introduced. Typically, with proper storage and maintenance, the cast iron skillet can last a long time. This cookware is even passed down from one generation to another generation. Moreover, people even find pleasure in collecting classic or older models of cast iron cookware. Besides, at the end of its lifetime, the cookware can be used as scrap metal to be melted and recast to serve again. Perhaps even, it will serve as another cast iron pan. Also re-seasoning the cast-iron skillets give them another life cycle.
Throughout the research and analysis of the cast-iron skillet’s life cycle, especially in the aspect of materials, cast iron cookware, a centuries-old technology, withstands even in modern-day consumption. The cast-iron cookware is now industrialized and perfected for mass consumption through the use and re-cycle of materials. The majority of the raw materials are either an excess material or recyclable waste; these options are both cheap and easily available and have the potential to continually be so. The sand molds are also from the earth and can be locally sourced. At the end of its lifecycle, it optimizes iron properties to be melted, and the cookware can be recycled and reused. Of course, cast iron skillets are important cookware in homes and restaurants because of its great heat properties because of the high carbon content that it posses and various other uses. However, perhaps the originality of the cradle-to-cradle technology is the reason the cast iron cookware has lasted centuries and is a model for sustaining products for the future.
Also read: What are cast iron skillets used for?