You’ve undoubtedly heard of cast iron pans and skillets before, but I’m going to bet that you’ve never heard of hard nitriding cast iron skillets before. They’re obscure, they’re relatively unique (at least in the cooking world) and I want to tell you why I believe that nitrogen hardening makes for the absolute best lightweight cast iron pans a person can buy.
But first, I’m going to say something that may be controversial: I think that regular cast iron pans suck.
I’ve read about the many benefits over the years, from their ability to get hot and stay hot, to their wonderful heirloom quality, and the beautiful seasoning they develop over the years and decades. But frankly, I don’t care about any of that. I want a pan that’s easy to work, that doesn’t weigh as much as the armor plating in a bulletproof vest, and that doesn’t need to be babied every time I go to clean it.
I want a lightweight cast iron pan that I can use just as easily as the $20 “non-stick” aluminum pans and not have to worry about it. And it was through researching alternatives to all this nonsense that I stumbled upon a process called Nitriding, and a very cool company called Lehman’s that does one of the few nitrogen hardened skillets on the market.
What the heck is Nitrogen Hardening?
Also known as nitriding, Wikipedia describes it as follows…
Nitriding is a heat-treating process that diffuses nitrogen into the surface of a metal to create a case-hardened surface. These processes are most commonly used on low-alloy steels. They are also used on titanium, aluminum, and molybdenum. –Wikipedia
This process is commonly used for industrial applications, such as strengthening gears, valves, and firearm components. It’s highly effective, and yet we rarely see it used outside of industrial-grade products.
If you’re interested in the full process and science behind nitriding, check out the article I linked above. It’s pretty interesting, and given how inexpensive and effective the process is, I think it’s an absolute travesty that nitriding isn’t being used in more consumer goods beyond a few lightweight cast iron pans.
(Seriously, why aren’t more people using this? I would love to know. If you have any information on this, leave me a comment below.)
Why are hard nitriding cast iron skillets better?
In other words, what is it about the nitrogen hardening process that makes them so much better than regular cast iron skillets? Simply put, this treatment means that Lehman’s can make a cast iron skillet that’s exceptionally light (under 2lbs) while being highly scratch resistant and naturally non-stick. You don’t even need to season it (I haven’t in the time I’ve been using it, and it’s been fantastic), but you can if you want.
So it has all the qualities of a regular cast iron pan, but… not annoying.
How does it look after many months?
Here’s a little update now that I’ve been using the pan for more than 3 months. In short, it still looks fantastic. I’ve used it probably hundreds of times or more, and it’s still in great condition. I haven’t seasoned it or done anything special to it, and it’s still naturally non-stick.
One thing I’ve picked up is some “chain mail” to scrub the pan after each use, especially if anything got crisped onto the surface. These are readily available for less than $10, and they make cleaning a breeze.
The surface continues to be fantastically non-stick, which is pretty exciting for me. I’ve never had a pan that I could use this little oil in and still get such consistent results.
And here’s another update after approximately 6 months.
And yes, it continues to be nicely non-stick. I just use the previously mentioned chain-mail to scrub it as needed, and I’m ready to go for my next meal.
And here’s how it looks after just under a year. Still working great!
But Lehman’s, when are you going to release a bigger size? I would buy one immediately.
Where can you buy a nitrided cast iron pan?
I’ve seen only a handful on the market, and the skillets that Lehman’s makes are clearly the best. If you do a search for nitrogen-hardened pans from their competitors and read the reviews from other folks on Reddit, Twitter, and other platforms, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Lehman’s, on the other hand, are affordable and extremely well made.
My only gripe is that I would really love to see them release a larger size than 11″. It’s a good size, but a version a few inches larger would allow me to replace the remainder of my existing pans with the Lehman ones.
Otherwise, I highly recommend you pick one up to try. Once you’ve tried lightweight cast iron like this, you never go back. At $29.99, you really have nothing to lose. Let me assure you that I’ve never been this excited about frying pans before, so take that as you will.
18 comments on “Hard Nitriding Cast Iron Skillets – Why They’re Superior in Every Way”
meh… I’m not sold on these. And if you are having that much trouble with cast iron, then you are doing something wrong. And you write this article like you are the first one who has every seen these pans. And if you can’t find bigger than 11″, there are at 12″ pans in Marshall’s under the Brandani name. I think you wrote this article just for filler without really having any expertise on the topic. Also, you give no real back-up to your claim why Lehman’s is the best, and their whole store is kind of uppity and annoying anyway. And whatever the basic graphics under your ads on your page are… childish.
What is it about these pans that you’re not sold on? It sounds like you’re an expert, so I’m assuming you’re either a chef, or work on the manufacturing/metallurgy side? Since my article is clearly filler and I have no idea what I’m talking about, I would love to hear from someone with your knowledge and expertise.
The Brandani brand has almost universally terrible reviews no matter where I looked, which is why I wasn’t interested in their 12″.
Have you used it? The pan turns completely black from the oil. How do you recommend fixing that? I agree with Bob, there isn’t much substance to this review.
Have I used the pans? Yes, of course. These are my photos.
I’m not sure what you mean about the pan turning black from the oil. I mean, it’s black to begin with from the nitriding process.
Hi Chad, before my deep dive, I just want to point out that some of the criticisms to your post are uncalled for. There isn’t much written about these hard nitriding pans and your article is one of only a handful that I could find. So thank you for writing about these.
I’m a home cook and a collector of cookware. I own multiple Wagners, Griswolds, and BSRs along with a Matfer and a De Buyer for my daily users. I’m a seasoning veteran and know how to care for my cookware. I keep a lye bath in my back porch and perform cast iron restorations for myself and family/friends alike. I’m also always on the lookout anything new and obscure.
I saw a Brandani pan a couple weeks ago at Home Goods/Marshalls for $17. These pans are VERY different indeed. At first glance thought it was carbon steel that had been mislabeled. It did look very different from any carbon steel pan I ever saw though and it had zero flex to the material. So I immediately bought one went into research mode. I’ve used it every single day since then and want to share my cliff notes here in case other people wanted to learn more about these pans….
First off, these ARE cast iron. It’s just not casted in the traditional sand molds that we’re accustomed to here in the US. Its manufactured using a process that is sort of a hybrid between casting and stamping. Molten iron is poured into the lower half of a pan mold. Then the top half of the mold is pressed down to stamp out the round shape. After that, it is milled and polished before going through the hard nitriding process. The hard nitriding process is a treatment, not a coating. It does not affect food anymore than any other cast iron does. The equipment needed to create this pan is extremely expensive… I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons you don’t see more companies creating them.
Now, I’m no metallurgist but apparently this method of manufacturing along with the hard nitriding produces a pan that is super durable, and resistant to warping under sudden temperature changes. You know that grey residue people keep mentioning? That’s just oxidization from the fact that this is cast iron and that’s what unseasoned cast iron does. So despite the hard nitriding process, this pan still needs to be seasoned and treated like any other cast iron.
Once that’s done, what you get is the best of both worlds… The excellent thermal mass of cast iron with the weight of carbon steel. On top of this, It doesn’t warp or rust, and when properly seasoned is as nonstick as any other properly seasoned carbon steel/cast iron cookware. It handles high temp cooking like a boss, easy to clean, and is gorgeous to look at. I’m totally sold on these. The first pan has become my new daily user and I bought a second one today so I can run more experiments on it including seeing how it reacts to a lye bath.
So far I’m blown away by how versatile these pans are. Mine has a hollow stainless steel handle that’s been riveted to the pan so it moves easily between the stovetop and the oven. If anybody reading this is on the fence here’s what I recommend….
DO NOT buy this pan if you are not already familiar with the typical maintenance of carbon steel/cast iron cookware. It needs to be seasoned before you use it, I don’t care what the label says. Search on youtube if you want to learn how to season a pan. And despite it being called “lightweight”, it still has some heft to it. My 10″ pan was about 3.2 lbs. That’s still heavier than an aluminum pan. So if that’s too heavy for you to maneuver with, then either hit the gym or don’t bother with this pan.
For the veteran home cook who is familiar with carbon steel/cast iron cookware, then don’t pass up on a chance to buy this pan. It is deceptively inexpensive for high end cookware. But this will elevate your game. It takes time to get up to temp like any other cast iron and will retain it so not quite as responsive as carbon steel. It is seriously next level stuff though and you’ll feel the difference right away. I’m honestly shocked that we don’t see this type of cookware from other companies. I really do think it is revolutionary and totally agree with Chad that these are superior to traditional cast iron in every way.
Agreed Chad and Jonathan! Great material for pans. I have an 8” Brandini and it is truly non-stick, lighter than cast iron but heavier (slightly) than carbon steel.
I definitely plan to purchase a larger couple of 11 or 12 inch pans.
I just bought one 8in for eggs etc. I just wash it really well to get the black stuff off . So not I wash it nothing comes off . Then i heated added oil gave it a min. cooked 3 eggs over easy . No sticking it was as good as my carbon steel de byers without all the care to keep up seasoning. Will see over time how it holds up . I think it will ….
My wife and I have been cooking with the Lehman 11” skillet now for 7 weeks. We seasoned it one time in the oven for one hour. The first few times some things stuck to it but over time it has become nonstick. Just made some pizza steaks for lunch. Cooked them perfectly. Made fried potatoes and eggs this morning. The skillet browns beautifully. Just wish they made a pie pan like this. I wash the skillet with soapy water and then dry immediately. Very easy to care for. I’ve noticed that you can now buy Lehman’s Nitrogen Hardened Cast Iron
Skillet on Walmart.com and Amazon. Will be buying another as soon as we visit Holmes County again.
I purchased a Brandani omelette pan a few years ago at Marshals in Toronto.
I’ve enjoyed using this pan since it doesn’t have the heft of cast iron. Eggs literally do not stick to the surface, and true to form it doesn’t warp under high heat use (e.g. caramelizing Mushrooms). I’ve managed to warp my carbon steel this way and have to re-flatten them periodically.
I was hesitant about the Lehman product, but will definitely consider giving that product a try since I haven’t been able to find a larger 11″ Brandani pan.
I haven’t had any concerns about the Brandani brand. I don’t know what others might have experienced. It seems to me that you can’t go wrong with either Brandani or Lehman, considering own experience with Brandani and the positive reviews of Lehman pans.
The bottom line for me is that I prefer the weight of nitriding cast iron pans over traditional cast iron and the heat management and warping stability over carbon steel.
Thank you for this article and all the contributing respectful, informative and researched commentary. (some commentary has not been respectful). I did some prior research as well and agree with the post from Jonathan. Love the skillet, got at Home Goods this December. Going for another for my dad. The small one is perfect for cooking a single portion. Use it every morning for eggs!
I appreciate your blog post on why cast iron skillets are superior in every way. You’ve done a great job of explaining what nitriding is and how it’s related to the benefits of cast iron skillets. I was also happy to learn that you were familiar with the benefits of cast iron pans and how they’re better than non-stick aluminum pans. I also loved the part about how you wanted to buy a lightweight cast iron pan to use instead of the cheaper, non-stick aluminum pan. It’s so true that you get what you pay for.
Thank you for this article. I just bought the 11″ pan from Lehman’s. Well, it is 11″ at the top, but it’s tapered and only 7.25″ at the bottom. Smaller than what I thought it would be, they offered no measurement on their website, other than the 11″.
I washed it and seasoned it @ 350 F in the oven, like they recommend. When I take a paper towel, black residue is coming off. I contacted them and they said that this is normal and harmless, and it can take up to 6 months until it’s gone.
I bought it because it’s lightweight, since I am not able to lift those heavy cast iron pans.
I saw them at Amazon, and they said there, that they are not oven safe. It’s a bit confusing. It says nothing on the package about oven use or temperatures in general.
I have not cooked in it yet, because of the black residue. I don’t want that in my food. Any idea how to get rid of it? I want to like this pan!
Unfortunately, I’m not sure how to get rid of the residue. I fried some eggs with it a few times, and it was gone after that.
Thank you, Chad, for your response. I guess I will have to do the same! 🙂
Check out the Japanese line of carbon steel pans called Cocopan. They are advertised as having an iron nitride heat treatment, which I didn’t know was a thing. I did end up buying one and am very impressed with the quality of the pan as well as how it cooks. My only concern is the nitriding process. As I understand it, it is not a coating so there isn’t the same health risks as the coated non-stick pans have with the off gasing of toxic chemicals into the food?
Thanks for the heads up on Cocopan! Japanese products are often very high quality.
Interesting article and comments. I tried not season mine but rust started showing up. So, despite what the product label says, I would season nitriding cast iron pans. I got mine at a discount chain (Winner’s) in Toronto. A great buy.
Thanks for sharing your experience!