New Life for an old Cast Iron Oyster Fryer

Being a culinary history, oyster and cast iron cookware enthusiast, I couldn’t resist snagging a vintage cast iron “oyster fryer” on ebay.  Arriving with an impossible layer of ancient hardened grease and rust, it sat on the back porch for a few years. I’d look admiringly at it’s “bones”, imagining how it might clean up, imagining frying oysters in in.


But it never  happened, at least until I moved and needed to pack up or  dispose of things. The oyster fryer confronted me, goaded me. I could hear it saying, “Don’t you think it’s about time I had some meaningful attention?”

Guilty as charged. I resolved to get the job done. How in the hell does one remove a several decades worth of hardened frying grease and rust. I put queries out on Twitter and Facebook. Creatve and plausible solutions were offered, including burying the pan in hot coals. This sounded reasonable. To clean a badly scorched cast iron skillet, I merely leave it on the burner until the crud burns off . Then  reseason. Tried and true. I was about to scout out a place to build a fire and make a bed of  coals when I got a message from Brandon Petitt at Delancey, everyone’s favorite pizza joint, in Ballard.

“Bring the fryer over. We’ll leave it in the pizza oven overnight and it will be is good as new”, wrote Brandon.

I did and it is indeed as good as new.

When I went to fetch it, we both admired the hammered metal. You don’t see that kind of hand work anymore.

The hand-crafted wire fry basket came clean as well.

What kind of oil do you recommend for deep frying?

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13 Responses to New Life for an old Cast Iron Oyster Fryer

  1. I always use the cleanest, brightest oil I can find, and swear by organic rapeseed oil–which is called canola oil these days. Loved the rebirth story.

  2. Hot Oil, how hot, really hot, I guess.
    In the era the cast iron Oyster fryer was made, how did they measure the tempature of frying oil?

    Then where did this fryer originate, East or West, South, or North. Why?, the type of Oyster, firstly. We know prior to 1950 Oysters were very generous in size, very large.

    Now to your question taken it was a large, let’s say, the old term of grade, for an Eastern large frying Oyster, it was a BOX Oyster.
    Maybe Jon it was not an oil at all, but a rendered lard. Most likely it was, again assuming the Oyster Fryer was of a period, mostly likely a home rendered LARD.

    • jonrowley says:

      Great questions, Rodney. “In the era the cast iron Oyster Fryer was made, how did they measure the temperature of frying oil?” Here is one answer from several internet deep frying advisors: “If you don’t have a thermometer, the oil is ready when a 1″ cube of white bread dropped into the oil browns in 60 seconds; that oil temperature will be about 365 degrees F.”

      Origin unknown, My guess is the South where deep frying has long been a part of the culture. I’m guessing the fryer is around 100 years old but am not sure how one would verify.

      I think you are right about lard although Crisco came along in 1911 and became widely used.

      Some good information here on deep frying:

      I’ll do a follow up on using the fryer. I see a wild mushroom frito misto in the fall.

  3. Tags says:

    Animal or vegetable, my favorite oil is trusted oil.

  4. Amy says:

    Great story, great pictures. I may find myself lurking around your neighborhood come fall.

  5. heatherinsf says:

    Lard. Oh but wouldn’t duck fat be outrageous and then you could make chips as well? Better get some ducks to roast! My last duck gave me a full quart mason jar of gorgeous fat, wish we lived near each other (as I often think).

  6. Tom says:

    Drain oysters and reserve the juice. Mix milk, corn meal, griddlecake combine, salt and pepper in a very medium bowl. Place oil in a very pan and warmth. Drop batter from tablespoon into oil (take care to urge two oysters in every container). Cook till golden brown on both sides. If batter becomes thick whereas operating add a number of the reserved juice to skinny it out.

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