Before the introduction of the kitchen stove in the middle of the 19th century, meals were cooked in the hearth or fireplace, and cooking pots and pans were designed for use in the hearth. This meant that all cooking vessels had to be designed to be suspended on, or in, a fireplace. Cast iron pots were made with handles to allow them to be hung over a fire, or with legs so that they could stand up in the fireplace.
In addition to Dutch ovens, which were developed with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, a commonly used cast iron cooking pan called a spider had a handle and three legs used to stand up in the coals and ashes of the fire. Cooking pots and pans with legless, flat bottoms were designed when cooking stoves became popular. This period of the late 19th century saw the introduction of the flat cast iron skillet, and I am sure glad!
Cast iron cookware was especially popular among homemakers and housekeepers during the first half of the 20th century. Most American households had at least one cast iron cooking pan. Brands including Griswold and Wagner Ware were especially popular, although both of these companies folded in the late 1950s and the brands are now owned by the American Culinary Corp.
The Lodge Manufacturing company is currently the only major manufacturer of cast iron cookware in the United States, as most other cookware suppliers use pots and pans made in Asia or Europe.
Most bare cast iron pots and pans are cast from a single piece of metal in order to provide even distribution of heat. This quality allows most bare cast iron pans to serve as dual-purpose stovetop fryers and oven baking dishes.
Many recipes call for the use of a cast iron skillet or pot, especially so that the dish can be initially seared or fried on the stovetop then transferred into the oven, pan and all, to finish baking. Likewise, cast iron skillets can double as baking dishes. Cast iron’s ability to withstand and maintain very high cooking temperatures makes it a common choice for searing or frying, and its excellent heat retention makes it a good option for long-cooking stews or braised dishes.