The $180 Cast Iron Skillet I’m Totally Obsessed With
I have a giant collection of cast iron skillets, ranging from a tiny six-incher to a gigantic 16-inch one, from plain to enameled, and from vintage to new. Although my collection includes several different brands, it’s all mostly Lodge because the brand is great and super affordable. (It’s hard to pass up a 10-inch pan for $15.)
But because I live in Portland, Oregon, I couldn’t avoid running across Finex skillets. These American-cast, Portland-finished babies cost at least 10 times more than a Lodge of the same size, but they’re considered premium because they’re super heavy-duty and kitted out with a bunch of features.
I was skeptical if these features were worth the extra money. I’d see the skillets at kitchen stores and boutiques all over town, and although their shiny handles and intriguing octagonal design always stopped me in my tracks, I couldn’t justify dropping that sort of cash on one.
Then I got a 10-inch Finex skillet with a lid as a gift. (And yes, it makes a great holiday gift!)
Let me use a car analogy to explain things (probably a first for Kitchn!) Lodge is the trusty, hardcore Corolla you buy as a college student and keep for decades. Finex is what you buy when you get a promotion and want something fun for weekend tinkering. Both will get you from point A to point B, but the journey in each is quite a different experience. (To be clear, I think that everyone should still have a Lodge or two, I just think it’s also nice to have one of these Finex pans.)
Right from the start I was in love with the extremely smooth cooking surface. The only thing that comes close is my little vintage Griswold, which is similarly smooth but far thinner (and smaller). Most cast iron skillets made these days have a bumpier surface than how they were made in the past. Finex, which had its heavy-weight Dutch ovens and skillets cast in several different foundries around the country, mitigates this by machining the cooking surface until it’s sleek and shiny. It’s part of the multi-step finishing process completed in the company’s Portland factory. After machining and polishing, the cookware is coated in flaxseed oil then tumbled with millet to absorb the excess and leave a thin, even coating of flaxseed oil behind. It’s then baked at high temps to create an extremely tough pre-seasoned nonstick surface.
The pan is really heavy, but it still heats up quickly. And because the pans are super thick, they seem to retain heat better. I noticed immediately things browned and seared more evenly and didn’t stick. The big coil steel handles stay relatively cool, so I can move the pan on and off the heat without always having to reach for an oven mitt.
The octagonal shape means I essentially have six spouts to pour from, so I can do it from nearly any angle, and I’ve noticed I prefer to use the spout closest to the handle. Somehow the ergonomics just work better for me when I’m holding the pan with two hands. (And the helper handle is big enough to really allow a good grip.) But more importantly, all those spouts are also like little vents when I set the lid on top without lining things up. It allows for even evaporation and the lid sits nicely even though it’s technically not on correctly.
I know, I know — the Finex pans are super expensive. But they’re in line with other premium, smooth-bottomed, American cast iron skillets like Smithey Ironware Co. and The Field Company. And, yes, you can get a $15 Lodge to essentially do the same job. But a cheap Lodge doesn’t have nearly the special-gift appeal, nor is it as much of a pleasure to look at and use.
It seems, despite the steep price tag, Finex seems to be on to something with its unique features. Last year, Lodge actually bought the company, carving out a foothold in the premium category along the way. The venerable foundry will cast the pans, and they’ll still be shipped to Portland for the finishing touches.
Lodge is banking on the idea that cooks will find Finex skillets worth the steep price tag. After cooking with mine for a year, I think they’re right.