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 the wonderful heirloom quality of them, and the beautiful seasoning they develops over 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 weight 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 non-sense that I stumbled upon a process called Nitriding, and 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.
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. The 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.