For the past five and a half years, Smithey Ironware has been bringing the sleekest cast-iron cookware you've ever seen to life. But for founder Isaac Morton, the journey to building this business started over a decade ago—with a gift from his sister-in-law that turned into a full-blown hobby.
"This cast-iron journey began 10, 15 years ago, when my sister-in-law gave me an old vintage piece of cast-iron cookware," Morton tells House Beautiful. "Up until that point, I hadn't really cooked as much on cast-iron because it was all very rough and I wasn't really skilled in how to work with it. But this piece was really beautiful, it was well-polished, the surface was super smooth, it had really nice logo on it, and it got me."
Vintage cast-iron—with its smoother finish and texture—it turns out, made all the difference for Morton. "I thought, well, hey, there are people that are crazy about these old vintage skillets that had these beautiful surfaces—there's no reason that we can't make cast-iron in a vintage style today," he says. "It costs a little bit more, but for something that lasts a lifetime, it's well worth it."
At the Smithey Ironware Workship in Charleston, South Carolina, where the brand has been crafting its wares for the past two years, these vintage-inspired skillets start out as raw castings with a sandpaper-like surface. These castings (essentially, pieces of metal that have been poured into a mold) come from one of several foundries the company works with. From there, Smithey takes over by grinding each piece down, deburring it (removing raised edges and bumps in the metal), polishing it, smoothing the surface, and, of course, seasoning it with vegetable oil and allowing it to cure, before shipping it out to customers.
The casting process, Morton says, can be very intricate. First you have to identify the right temperature for molten iron to cool—and not just to cool down in general, but to do so in a way that it still keeps its structural integrity and shape. And that's not the only step that can be complicated.
"The machining and polishing process is also very, very technologically driven and very precise, that's a big challenge," Morton explains. "And coordinating a lot of people to sort of march in that parade is a real process as well."
Unsurprisingly, the journey from hot, molten iron to beautifully-seasoned cookware requires several hours of handiwork for every individual piece. "I would say that each skillet easily has more than two to three hours of hand work before it gets into your door, probably more," Morton explains. "It's coming from a foundry where people are working on it and it's being ground there, it's being ground down here, it's being machined here, it's being polished here—there are a lot of hands that touch it along the way before it reaches your kitchen."
And when your Smithey skillet does arrive in your kitchen, you'll notice something interesting about it—something that sets it apart from other cast-iron cookware on the market: its coloring.
"Most people think of a cast-iron skillet as being black or dark," Morton says. "And in reality, it takes on that color as you cook on it over time, as the oil that you're cooking on carbonizes."
That's why pieces from Smithey Ironware actually start out a more natural shade of copper and then take on that traditional darker black color with use. So, go ahead and fry an egg, sauté some mushrooms, or sear up a steak (yes, those are all Morton's favorite foods to cook in cast-iron)—your Smithey skillet won't just be ready for it all, it'll be better for it, too.
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