In the midst of trying out different cornbread recipes, I stumbled upon a quite new cast iron cookware company.
Stargazer Cast Iron was apparently founded just last year, and is filling a big hole in the market that Lodge has left wide open: pans with smooth cooking surfaces. This is the #1 reason I've seen people recommend vintage pans over newer ones. They also claim that their pans are relatively lightweight, which is admirable and not all that surprising: my grandma's old Size 10 Wagner is significantly lighter than the Lodge grill-pan I have.
So, Lodge can no longer claim to be the only company that manufactures solid cast iron cookware in the US. It'll be interesting to see how cast iron connoisseurs approach this. How will the new pans stack up against the old, now that one of Lodge's major flaws has been addressed? To what extent will a "vintage is always better" attitude persist among collectors as Stargazer expands their repertoire?
It will be interesting to see what new directions their designs may take. For the moment, their only product is a basic (but no doubt most universally useful) 10.5-inch skillet. I have little use for this particular product, due to owning the aforementioned vintage Wagner, but their feature sets are slightly different. The Wagner has pour spouts on the sides, and lacks the small handle opposite the main one that many modern pans include. The Stargazer pan claims to have pourable ("dripless") edges all around, and a slightly more sophisticated main handle in addition to the small one. There will probably be some demand for some of the oft-seen "quirky" cast-iron pans: cornbread pans that make wedges or sticks, popover pans with gaps between the cups, dutch ovens with a rim around the lid (great for camping), grill pans, and so on. Though a distinctive old pan can inspire a cook to hunt down the classic recipe that called for it, perhaps new specialty pans will begin to take shape to suit the quirks of modern taste. And perhaps some shapes have become obsolete altogether. Last weekend I saw a cast iron waffle iron at the Niles Antique Faire: a relatively large and elaborate piece, probably meant to sit over a stove burner, with space underneath to flip over the waffle. How much demand will there be for newly-made versions of that, when electric models have been popular for so long? And I don't expect to see much repeat of an old Griswold ashtray.
I'm very happy to see this gap get filled. There's only so much vintage cast iron to go around, and each piece can only risk getting worse. Though one family may appreciate its own heirlooms--as it should--this will make it much easier for new cast-iron users to get started without getting stuck with a common Lodge pan that will later prove inadequate. I love the philosophy of making things that can potentially last for generations--there's no reason planned obsolescence should be a problem with simple, non-electric cookware--and if Stargazer succeeds at that, it'll be a great thing.
Stargazer got their start on Kickstarter, and I see a lot more cast iron projects there. So clearly they're not the only company working to fill the need for new cast iron cookware. Grandma's pan and I are doing fine for ourselves, but I'll definitely be checking back to see what developments arise!