‘Skilletheads’ shares the secrets of cast-iron devotees

by Tallahassee Table
Tallahassee author Ashley L. Jones delves into the world of collectors and manufacturers in her new book.

When Ashley L. Jones received her first cast-iron Dutch oven from her mother-in-law more than a decade ago, she felt connected to a proud tradition of down-home cooking.

It was the first major step in a journey that has led to two books about the world of cast-iron cookware and a new description for this Tallahassee mom, author and blogger: “Skillethead.”

Ashley Jones, author of the new book, Skilletheads and Modern Cast Iron. Photo provided.

After years of research and meeting some of the most ardent collectors and manufacturers, Ashley has earned her cast-iron chops. She’s joined the ranks of devotees who collect these pieces and are passionate about restoring rusty relics of the past. 

“I love the term, Skilletheads,” Ashley said. “You can really be passionate about cast iron even if you’ve never restored it.”

Skilletheads, A Guide to Collecting and Restoring Cast-Iron Cookware was released in 2023 by Red Lightning Books.

Ashley’s book, Skilletheads “is about whatever level you’re at,” she said. “If you geek out over cast iron then you qualify.”

Ashley began geeking out over cast iron when she discovered its many cooking and health benefits. She has since joined a resurgence of interest in cast-iron cooking, appreciating its role in history (which starts in China in the fifth century BC) and what’s available for today’s kitchens (like an octagonal-shaped cast iron pan). 

A before-and-after look of restoration work by Cast-Iron Savannah. Photo provided.

As several articles point out, cast-iron is having a moment and it seems to be a long one. 

Ashley remembers her own grandmother cooking on a cast iron pan but she became a true fan when her future husband, Robby, took her to meet his parents, who told her about a proud past —  “cooking hoe cakes on a cast-iron stove and baking biscuits in Dutch ovens over hot coals.”

These are cast-iron pans in my household, most given to us by my husband’s grandmother. Photo / Tallahassee Table

Cast iron is affordable, easily restored and versatile. It’s a rock star at holding heat and creates a first-class sear for your steak. Cast-iron “is so forgiving,”  Ashley said, after working on her first book, Modern Cast IronThe Complete Guide to Selecting, Seasoning, Cooking and More, which was published by Red Lightning Books in 2020.

After all her research for Modern Cast Iron, Ashley decided to write a second book, Skilletheads, A Guide to Collecting and Restoring Cast-Iron Cookware, published in 2023 by Red Lightning Books. 

“I realized there was more to say,” Ashley said. “Skilletheads covers all the new manufacturers and to understand what’s in the market. Most of it is not available in stores.”

Skilletheads features websites and expert advice on purchasing cast iron from some of the most active collectors in the field today. She offers side-by-side comparisons of the major manufacturers in the country and interviews with each company.

Ashley also presents detailed how-to guides for restoring cast iron, including such methods as lye baths, electrolysis tanks, and chemical products. If you don’t want to take on the restoration task, she has information on people that will do that for you.

Lodge Cast Iron shares Henry Lodge’s favorite cornbread recipe in Skilletheads. Photo courtesy Lodge Cast Iron

And even if your interest is only in cooking, Ashley includes 35 recipes.

On the book lovers’ site, Goodreads, Skilletheads has already garnered a 4.56 rating with reviews such as this one from reader Debbie Rozier. 

“I learned a ton from this book,” Debbie said in her review. “This book is the insider info on buying and restoring cast iron. It also lists manufacturing companies that have made and are currently making cast iron. As I read this one, I felt like I was in a secret cast iron society and now I’m inspired to find at least one cast iron piece from a yard sale or thrift shop.”  

An octagonal-shaped pan, from Finex Cookware, is one of the new styles of cast-iron cookery. Photo courtesy of Finex via Skilletheads.

Ashley owns both new and vintage pieces including nine cast-iron pans and two Dutch ovens as well as cast-iron bakeware. She’s a fan of cast-iron pans that are covered in enamel. “I wouldn’t recommend old enamel. New enamelware does not contain lead at all, and there are no heavy metals on the cooking surface.”

Cast-iron pans release some iron, which can be helpful. But the use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in nonstick pans has raised concerns and there have been mixed messages about their safety.

Find out how to make this blueberry cobbler (gluten and dairy free) at https://youtu.be/LwCQTHVn Picture by Carissa Fassnacht

“When I started learning about cast iron, I felt like it was a vintage thing and that people were reintroducing it for a feeling of nostalgia,” Ashley said. “But now it feels like people are starting to hone in on the health benefits.”

One of the cast-iron aficionados in her book is Tallahassee chef Lance McGinnins (formerly of the Gritz N Greenz Old School food truck) and a proponent of cast-iron cooking.

As he explained in Skilletheads, cast-iron “is a natural element from the earth. It’s just iron forged. And that’s the beauty of it. We talk about holistic health. It’s kind of like a holistic part of cooking.”

Lance, who also leads cooking demonstrations at The Prepared Table in Tallahassee’s Bannerman Crossings, offered this cooking tip: “For perfect cornbread, heat the pan with a little oil in it until it’s hot and sizzling.’ Then pour in your batter and bake as usual.”

Ashley writes that a big interest in cast-iron occurred between 2010 and 2015, when “a dozen individuals realized that there was a difference in workmanship between vintage pans and their modern equivalent.

“Where the vintage pans were handcrafted, smooth and lightweight, the modern pans were mass-produced, highly textured and relatively heavy.”

They decided there was a market for “modern vintage” cast iron and “thus began the Craft Cookware Movement that spawned a dozen different manufacturers, each with its own take on cast-iron cookware.”

While she encountered cast-iron pans from different backgrounds and interests across the country, Ashley found that “we’re all on the same page when it comes to cast iron and taking care of our families.”

Through all her endeavors, Ashley said spending time with her family, sharing food and memories has been paramount. 

“People are passionate about history and cast-iron and how people cooked and ate and how to keep that history today,” Ashley said. “It’s something to pass on to your kids and grandkids.”

Modern Cast Iron, the first book about cast-iron cooking by Ashley L. Jones. Photo provided.

Ashley, originally from Lake City, said she “always wanted to be a writer,” but she studied risk management and insurance at Florida State University. A 2003 graduate, she “was in the insurance world a long time.”

Ashley L. Jones with her husband, Robby, and son, Gordon. Photo by Courtney Wahl

She attended the Tallahassee Christian College & Training Center, where she taught a few classes before her son was born. She writes a blog called “Big Sister Knows” — she is a big sister to three siblings — and works from home as a portfolio manager for a boutique consulting firm.

Another passion: Ashley is also sharing information about parenting special needs children because her son is on the autism spectrum.

“I’ve learned so many lessons from my autistic son,” she said. “People really appreciate those bits of honesty and insight and what I’m learning.”

Ashley and her family will be moving to the Gainesville area to be closer to family, but in the meantime, she’s still sharing her knowledge in Tallahassee.

You can find out more about Ashley at a free program titled “Skilletheads: Care for and Caring with Cast-Iron Cookware”  from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. April 18 at the Bruce J. Host Northeast Branch Library, 5513 Thomasville Rd.

You can order Skilletheads at these sites:

Follow Ashley’s journey at: www.ashleyljones.com; YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/@ashleyljones; or Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ashleyljones_author/

Here are a few tips from Skilletheads:

  • It’s a good idea to pamper your freshly seasoned pan. For the first few meals, avoid acidic foods like wine and tomato sauce, which can destroy a thin layer of seasoning. Instead, feed your seasoning by deep-frying vegetables or doughnuts.
  • You can use a mild dish soap on a cast-iron pan but skip the scouring pad. Use a gentler scrubber or silicone scraper instead.
  • After you wash your pan, dry it with a towel and then place it on the stove on low-medium heat until it’s thoroughly dry. Then you’ll want to season it, which involves rubbing the pan with a half tablespoon of oil (or your favorite seasoning blend), letting the oil heat to a bit lower than the smoke point (Ashley has a list of the smoke points for a long list of oils: https://bigsisterknows.com/2024/01/28/smoke-points/). Turn off the heat, wipe off any residue and wipe the outside of the pan with remaining oil.

Here’s one of the recipes from Stargazer cast-iron manufacturer, in Skilletheads (top photo from Stargazer via Ashley L. Jones :



2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, cubed,

½ white onion, chopped

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 zucchinis, sliced into ⅛-inch thick rounds

2 yellow squash, sliced into ⅛-inch thick rounds

5 Roma tomatoes, sliced into ⅛-inch thick rounds

2 long eggplants, sliced into ⅛-inch thick rounds

1 teaspoon salt

Cracked pepper

Fresh parsley, chopped


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • In your 10 or 12-inch, cast-iron skillet, heat a bit of olive oil, then add minced garlic, red pepper and onion and cook until soft. Pour in crushed tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add remaining vegetables to the skillet, arranging them in a circular pattern. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Bake covered (with lid or foil) for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

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