Smooth vs Rough Cast Iron: Does It Matter?

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When looking into buying a cast iron pan, you might notice that some cast iron pans have a very smooth and polished surface, while others are rough. Manufacturers usually don’t really mention this difference as a significant feature. Read below to learn the lowdown on smooth vs rough cast iron.

Why are some smooth and some rough?

The manufacturing process determines the cast iron’s smoothness. Vintage cast iron was made differently than cast iron is made today, which is why it was smoother. Smooth cast iron is polished after it is removed from the mold by hand, which can take days.

New cast iron is made in a machine in about 90 minutes. The melter iron and steel is poured into a mold made of sand, water, and clay powder. This sand gives it the rough texture seen today, as newer manufacturers tend not to polish the cast iron after taking it out of the mold. Eliminating this polishing step led to cast iron to be cheaper, and produced much faster.

Which is better: smooth or rough?

The answer to this is really is up to who you ask. Lodge and other new cast iron manufacturers mantain that the rough surface allows for seasoning to adhere better. They claim the texture allows for oil to really get into the nooks and cranies and create a better seasoning patina. It’s hard to say whether this is really true, though.

The brand Butter Pat Industries which specializes in vintage-inspired polished cast iron believes smoothness is very important to the cooking experience, and creates a more non-stick, easy-to-work-with surface. This video demonstrates the differences between smooth and rough when scraping the pan. Though, I’m personally not too sure what this proves other than how loud the pan is?

There is no real concensus on which is better, it’s up to personal preference.

Can you polish a rough cast iron pan?

I wouldn’t recommend it. You can try to sand down the roughness of your pan yourself, but you have to be careful, because you do not want to make it too thin. You can break your pan by over-sanding. It’s hard to do this evenly yourself, so if you desire a smooth cast iron pan, I would just spend the money to buy a professionally done smooth cast iron pan.

Brands that are smooth:

Brands that are rough:

  • Lodge
  • Cheap ones on Amazon

Smooth vs Rough Cast Iron Final Thoughts

I personally prefer working on a smooth cast iron pan, though I can’t really say exactly why. I think it feels like food glides around better, and when using utensils in the pan, you don’t get as much drag on the rough surface. Additionally, the smooth finish looks prettier to me. You probably are paying a premium for the polished asthetics more than anything.

That being said, there isn’t really a big difference, and your cast iron will be sure to please for generations—rough or smooth.

If you’re interested in other naturally non-stick pans, check out my articles on Enameled Cast Iron, and Carbon Steel.

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