Cast iron pans are essential pieces of cookware and one of the most popular, widely available, and affordable brands comes from Lodge Cast Iron. On this episode of Dan Does, host Daniel Geneen takes a tour of the company’s massive factory in South Pittsburg, Tennessee to see how the over 100-year-old brand creates one of the most consistent and widely loved cast iron pans in American history.
Geneen’s first stop is a giant pile of metallic rubbish. These scraps of pig iron, steel, and rejected cast iron pans get picked up with an enormous magnet and dropped into a furnace to melt down at a temperature of 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. A robot then “slags” the molten metal, which means it removes all of the impurities such as rust and sand that has floated to the top. From there, a robot transfers the molten metal to what is essentially a giant ladle which will transport it to the next stage of the process.
While all of this is happening, molds for pans are being made out of fine, pliable sand that’s compressed in massive machines. The ladles pour the molten metal into these molds. Once the metal is poured and cooled, the sand molds get placed into a shake-out machine that shakes the sand away from the pan, and then into an enormous drum to shake off the rest. The pans are finally put on a giant conveyor belt to be sorted and inspected. Any pans that are not up to muster get thrown back into the original scrap heap to be melted down again and remade into another pan.
Once the pans are deemed worthy, they’re blasted with stainless steel pellets in a giant tub along with soap and water to clean and burnish them. Then the seasoning process begins. Pans are hung on hooks and sprayed down with soybean oil and baked in high temperatures.
“If you think about what we’re doing here,” says Lodge’s operations manager, Larry Raydo. “We’re taking these raw materials that were nothing when they came into Lodge, and in a matter of a couple of hours, we’re making a brand new product that someone is going to take out of the box and cook a meal in for their family that night. That’s what drives a lot of us here. ”