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How Cast Iron Went From Weapon to Skillet

The history of your favorite cast iron pan begins 800 years before the common era

Cast iron skillets, pans, and Dutch ovens are among some of the most prized cookware in many modern kitchens. But how did they achieve such levels of adoration and status?

On the premiere episode of Eater’s new series How we Eat, we sit down with food historian and cast iron lover Dr. Leni Sorensen, who talks us through the history and journey of the material. “My sense of the first use of cast iron is that it’s from China,” she says, going on to explain how China’s early invention of the blast furnace was used to create stronger versions of smelted iron. Early evidence of this smelted iron dates back to 800 BCE during the Zhou Dynasty. The smelting process made it stronger and cheaper than bronze and copper, and made it one of the most important materials in China for the next 1,000 years, where it was used mostly to forge weapons and tools for farming and agriculture. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Sorensen notes, “there is an iron industry among the Bantu — again for weaponry. So there are a number of different groups that have a desire for this technology.” But in the beginning, the majority of its uses didn’t involve cooking.

So who discovered that this property would be great for cooking and heating food? And when did it become more widely affordable for the common household? Find out how the material went from sword to skillet in the full episode.

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