Lodge Foundry in South Pittsburg Cooks up an American Icon

February 15, 2011

By Laura Hill

What do a high-end gourmet kitchen shop, a sporting goods store, your local hardware emporium, a big-box discounter in Georgia and an upscale Manhattan department store have in common? A Tennessee product that is both an American icon and one of the hottest trends in the food world: Lodge Cast Iron cookware.

Popularity Grows With Rise of Cooking Shows
Manufactured as it has been for more than 112 years in tiny South Pittsburg, Tenn. (population 3,300), the company’s skillets, Dutch ovens, grills, griddles, kettles and more have been fixtures in family kitchens for generations, much-loved and passed along from one cook to another. And, once relegated to the shadows created by non-stick aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans, it has once again emerged into the culinary limelight, thanks to smart thinking and an unexpected boost from television cooking shows. [Find cast iron recipes by clicking here.]

Lodge cookware

“We’re doing extremely well in today’s marketplace,” says Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager for Lodge. “More people are cooking at home than traditionally have. And the emergence of the Food Network, where people see great chefs cooking a wide variety of foods in cast iron has really helped. It’s hilarious, but people come into our factory stores and say ‘I saw so-and-so on the Food Network – where’s that pan?’ It’s like that all over the country.”

Key Ingredients Include Quality, Affordability
What keeps cooks coming back for more, Kelly says, is a combination of manageable prices, ease of use and extreme durability. Cast iron cookware heats evenly, retains heat beautifully, and is virtually indestructible. He himself uses his grandmother’s skillet and Dutch oven, not an uncommon story. Many Lodge items produced 100 years ago are still in daily use by enthusiastic cooks.

Lodge Cast Iron cookware

“I can pick up a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven, and I know that I hold in my hands a quality instrument that, barring great clumsiness on my part, will certainly outlast me,” says collector Rick Mansfield on his website. “Cast iron is solid, and its weight when I hold it in my hand says to me that it will still be with me when I come to the end of my days, waiting to be passed on to the next generation.”

Cast iron enthusiasts like Mansfield, a professor and doctoral candidate in Kentucky, are legion, and growing. Websites abound, collectors trade information and cookware online, and traditional scrounging for cast iron cookware at garage sales and flea markets has gotten tighter and tighter.

Lodge Cast Iron cookware

Mansfield admits to a passion for cast iron, praising its versatility and perfect low-tech reliability. His 40-piece collection, including a wok and his grandmother’s treasured skillet, holds pride of place in a baker’s rack in his kitchen. But his emphasis is on actually using his collection every day.

“If you enjoy cooking, you want great tools to cook with, and that naturally leads to cast iron,” he says.

Lodge Cast Iron cookware

The American Foundry
As one of the last cast-iron cookware foundries left in the United States, Lodge is especially proud of its history and commitment to quality. The company was founded by Joseph Lodge, an Englishman who came to this country in the late 19th century and worked for various foundries in the South before starting Blacklock Foundries in South Pittsburg. In 1910, when that foundry burned, he moved his business down the road to its current location and reincorporated as Lodge Cast Iron.

The company is still family-owned and -operated – a great-grandson, Bob Kellerman, is chairman and CEO, Henry Lodge is president and COO, and a fifth-generation family member is special projects manager. The family tradition also extends to employees, some of whom are third- and fourth-generation workers.

Lodge Cast Iron employee Jerry Don King

Making, Seasoning Cast Iron
Changes have certainly been made over 112 years – Lodge today also sells two highly successful lines of colorful enameled cookware, has improved the melting process, and pursues a vigorous pro-environment policy. But the basics behind Lodge’s cast iron cookware remain much the same.

Pig iron and stamped steel are melted down at 2,800 degrees and poured into specially crafted sand molds, tooled to create the impressions of individual pieces. The iron cools in the molds as they go down the production line, molds split open and the red-hot cookware cools and is cleaned and seasoned before packaging. Total time elapsed from melting to packaging: 90 minutes.

On an average day the foundry produces 800 pieces an hour. “If all the cast iron gods are aligned,” says Kelly, the foundry can turn out 1,600 pieces an hour.

Lodge Cast Iron cookware

Factory seasoning has been particularly critical to Lodge’s success. An unseasoned gray iron pan, as many cooks can attest, takes a long time to become that trusty blackened heirloom, the result of much cooking, gentle cleaning and a lot of oil. Eight years ago the company decided to give customers a head start on the process by spraying its cookware with a soy-based vegetable oil and then baking it. The result was a much more user-friendly product that appealed to contemporary cooks. [Learn how to clean your cast iron skillet by clicking here.]

“Between that and the Food Network, it rocked our world,” says Kelly. “We got a lot of instant press. We had a huge article about seasoning in the Washington Post, and a Good Housekeeping Good Buy award, and we’ve been on a roll ever since. We had been primarily a regional brand, but now we’re a national brand. If I go to Seattle or New York or wherever, people in the food business know exactly who we are.”

Visit Lodge

Lodge offers tours of the foundry during the National Cornbread Festival each spring. Click the link for more information, contact them at www.lodgemfg.com, or download the Lodge Cast Iron Catalog (PDF).

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Comments

  1. Donna Martin says:

    I have a cast iron skillet that my great grandmother gave me when I got married 38 yrs ago and she used it before she ever gave it to me. The older it is the more seasoned it is and that makes a perfect skillet. You never wash it with soap and water, i just wipe it clean with a damp rag and it is clean. I love them…

  2. Marian Ridley says:

    I have three lodge-cast-iron. A dutch oven, med. skilled, and a small skilled. the dutch oven belong to my grandmother it was passed down to my mother, and now I have it, and would not trade it for nothing I love it. I got married in Nov. and recived one as a wedding gift. That was a great gift and I have used it faithfuly as well as I use the others. Nothing sticks in them.

  3. Kristi Schmidt says:

    Interesting article. We just started cooking with cast iron and I don’t know why I was so nervous about using the skillets.

  4. Coleen Harris says:

    Can you please send me your address I can’t find you. I want to come to your festival in April it looks like great fun. Can you also send a store phone number. I have and love your products but I need more items. Will they be for sale at the festival. Thanks Coleen

  5. mary fowler says:

    i like to use lodge cast iron products for my cooking because it doesnt have the teflon in it and food seems to have a better taste when cooked in my cast iron thanks for your products .

  6. pat freshour says:

    I live in Jackson Tn. Do you know who sells your Lodge Cast Iron products here or close to Jackson.
    Thank you Pat

  7. Carol Melroy says:

    I have a glass top stove and some of my older cookware doesnt make good contact with the heating surface. How well does Lodge cookware do? I understood the bottoms had to be perfectly flat to be most efficient

  8. Amy Triplett says:

    How do you spell CORN BREAD? ………..LODGE :)

  9. Jannette Randle says:

    Enjoyed reading about the Lodge in Farm Bureau magazine and web page, we are planning on visiting in April. We did know cast iron cookware was made in Tennessee. We are from Ripley, TN

  10. bob duncan says:

    cast iron rules long live the king!

  11. guenda vincent says:

    I have 3 of your cast iron skillets that I have had for years & I wouldn’t take nothing for them. Love them.I use them every day.They never wear out. I not only use them for frying but they are great for baking cornbread.

  12. Paul says:

    Corn bread really tastes great in the Lodge cast iron skillet!

  13. Maryann says:

    Does Lodge make a sizzler pan with a removeable handle? I see other brands do..But, i want to stay with lodge.

    • Blair Thomas says:

      Maryann,

      I’m not sure if Lodge makes the particular pan you’re looking for, but you can find all of Lodge’s cookware by visiting its website, http://www.lodgemfg.com/ and clicking on “Shop” in the menu.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

      Blair Thomas
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  14. 30AEATS » Julia’s Succotash and The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook Giveaway says:

    [...] cooking fried chicken at a hot stove using her heavy black skillet. Although a wonderful memory, Mark Kelly, PR and Advertising Manager of Lodge Manufacturing “says, the goal of Lodge for the past 10 years has been to make cast [...]

  15. Darlene says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE my LODGE cast iron!!! I cook everything in my pots and skillets. It is the ULTIMATE cookware!! From pinto beans and cornbread to chicken n dumplins’ to pineapple-upside-down cake :O) Anybody hungry yet :O)

  16. Vic Fowler says:

    My wife and I started back using cast iron cookware and bought some lodge skillets and dutch ovens, I had inherited a couple of skillets from my Grandmother one #9 unmarked and a #5 Griswold and I got to noticing that my Grandmother’s skillets were polished inside and were much easier to clean than the lodge skillets and Dutch Ovens so we started looking for some older skillets and pots and have gotten rid of our Lodge skillets because they were not as easy to clean or cook in due to not being polished. I do have one 9 qt. dutch oven made by Lodge I use for Chili and such but if I could find one this size or bigger I would sell it also. In my opinion if Lodge went to polishing the inside of their products you would see a significant increrase in your sales as it is getting harder to find the old skillets and dutch ovens due to everyone buying them up because they like them better than the rougher Lodge cookware. My question is when are you guy’s going to start polishing your cookware like the old companies did and why did you quit as I believe I have some of your earlier cookware that is polished and does a super good job much better in fact than your new products and if you would go back to polishing I would go back to buying Lodge rather than rummaging through Antique Shops and junk stores looking for the older cookware..

  17. George Miller says:

    Would like to coordinate a Seniors Citizens group to a Cast Iron Plant Tour in South Pittsburg, TN. Group is from Chattanooga, TN, a group of about 20-25 Seniors. What days of the week, weeks of the month, or is it seasonal for tours?

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi George,

      To find out about tours of the Lodge Cast Iron Foundry, please contact Lodge directly at lodgemfg.com/contact or by calling 423-837-7181. Thanks!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm

  18. robert Tidwell says:

    I have a dutch oven we used to cook stew and chile. we have had this item many years. After washing it we take a white paper towei and wipe the bottom (inside) and it has a black residue on the wipe. Re seasoning it does not eliminate the residue. the inside of the item is perfectly clean. How do i solve the residue problem?

  19. Susan Roden says:

    I am looking for anyone that may collect cast iron. I have two antique pieces; first is the giant pot with tripod seperate for fireplaces, the second a huge teapot with lid. If interested please let me know or if you know someone else please let me know. Thanks Susan

  20. harold e jones says:

    need a catsiog for resturant to 443 indian hills ests gray kentucky 40734

    • Jessy Yancey says:

      Hi Harold,

      To contact Lodge Cast Iron directly, please visit lodgemfg.com. Thanks!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor
      Tennessee Home & Farm