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Cooking With A New Casting

Brian Sandalow, Associate Editor
Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting.

Sometimes a Eureka! moment can completely change the course of a company. For one company, a jolt of inspiration didn’t bring radical alteration but a couple new challenges and a chance for innovation.

That’s what happened with Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co. (Columbus, Georgia), and a product they had never produced before. It was somewhat flawed, originally invented thousands of years ago and practically asking to be modernized.

The Thought Process
Kamado grills evolved from Asian clay cookers, are well-known for their outdoor use and are usually fueled by charcoal. Low-temperature cooking is possible, but the grill can get up to 800F, making it a versatile, preferred choice for serious grillers.

Typical kamado cookers on the market today are made of ceramic because it’s a good insulator, but the material isn’t perfect. Despite its weight (routinely over 250 lbs.) and being difficult to transport, the cookers are fragile. The steel bands which hold the shells together can rust. Problematically, those bands attach to a hinge, and if the steel band isn’t tightened well, the shells can fall out. Also, those bands fatigue and need to be replaced. When it’s fatigued, the ceramic cracks due to the heat and reheat cycles, and failure can begin with just the smallest of cracks in the firebox. The shells also must be removed when replacing the sealing gasket that runs along the shells’ rim.

Could a strong, portable cooker be light enough to take to cookouts and tailgates? It would need to be attractive to consumers and last long enough to be an heirloom, not to mention be built in the U.S.

“(Development) began with us trying to walk through what are the elements of a cooker that need to be preserved and what are the elements of the cooker that are pain points for the user,” said George Boyd Jr., vice president, Goldens’. “We saw elimination of steel bands holding ceramic shells and the lack of durability as being two of the primary deficiencies that we can take advantage of, so we engineered toward eliminating those user pain points.”

Goldens’ converted the standard ash grate, firebox and fire ring found in a typical kamado grill into a single cast component. It’s a thick-walled cast iron shape that provides durability and resiliency. The design allows for air insulation between the heat source and the exterior of the cooker, extending the heat cycle life. 

There are no bands to hold the top and bottom together, since the hinge is integral to the casting. The product also can be fitted with a trailer hitch attachment so it can be taken to any tailgate.

“This is an heirloom product,” Boyd said. “This is just like your grandmother’s frying pan that came down a couple generations. This is something your great-grandkids will be cooking on, so that’s pretty awesome.”

The cooker, which was prototyped in nobake sand before being cast for production in green sand, has a 20.5 in. diameter and 330 sq. in. cooking area. The 100% cast iron construction is made in Goldens’ casting facility with a powder-coated exterior. Split-design cooking grates with legs allow cooking close to or away from the heat source.

“We knew from our experience professionally and personally about the superior characteristics of cast iron both as a structural material and as a cookware material,” Boyd said. “It seemed like a perfect fit to us.”

Cast iron cookware has been popular for generations. It cooks evenly, holds heat well and lasts forever, making it ideal for use.

When the finished product was released to the market in January 2016 after a little more than a year of development, Goldens’ confidence that a cast kamado grill could be achieved was rewarded.

“We did a prototype and once we satisfied ourselves after prototyping that we had addressed the issues and that we had a good working product we tooled it up and began our marketing efforts,” Boyd said.

Facing the Issues
Two separate and very different problems faced the cast iron grill:

Weight management and entrance into a different market sector.

Cast iron has many strengths and admirable qualities, but low weight isn’t one of them. For all the hopes Goldens’ had for its new cooker, they would be rendered moot if the product wasn’t light enough. It also would not live up to their hopes if it were light, but not durable.

“One of the biggest hurdles that we faced was how do you deal with the fact that cast iron is not only durable but it’s dense, so it’s a heavy product,” Boyd said. “We had to engineer both our hinge design and our wall thicknesses and make the appropriate decisions so that you had something that gave you all the durability you needed, and was as strong as a tank but not as heavy as a tank. We had to find that balance.”

After testing and development, the cooker ‘s design features a 3/8 in. wall thickness for a total weight of 330 lbs., with a 120-lb. cart, which makes moving the grill easier. No, it’s not light like a feather, but light enough to be portable while staying strong enough to take a beating from repeated usage. The hinge helps take the strain off of lifting the iron lid.

“What can I say?” Boyd said. “It’s engineering. Science. Math.”

Engineering, science and math can help solve some problems but not all. Obviously, Goldens’ development of a radically different product meant they’d have to market it to different consumers.

Founded in 1882, Goldens’ began selling agricultural and textile products to the consumer market. But like many facilities, the priorities changed when World War II broke out. The company converted to production in support of the Navy, and after the war Goldens’ didn’t convert back to consumer-facing production.

Goldens’ specializes in machined ductile iron castings and provides solutions for construction equipment, heavy duty trucks, farm machinery and equipment and many other industries of that nature. So when a member of the Goldens’ team realized they could improve on ceramic kamado grills by manufacturing them in cast iron and fixing some of the shortcomings, it represented a shift for the company.

Instead of serving customers who deal with industrial equipment, Goldens’ was tasked with selling to retail consumers who were looking for a new way to cook while remaining strong and viable in its traditional segment.

“We’re working through understanding how fundamentally different it is to sell to an individual consumer or to the retailer as opposed to a large industrial OEM,” Boyd said. “That’s another world.”

To help navigate that world, Goldens’ has created a logo for the cooker and a separate website to promote the product. The site has an FAQ, blog and even a list of recipes.

“It’s a new product so it’s still making its space but for people that have been cooking on these style of cookers they immediately recognized the advantages and the solutions that it presents,” Boyd said. ““Now we’re just expanding our retail base, developing our distribution and engaging in marketing to spread the reach of the product.”

Luckily, some built-in advantages come with promoting a cast iron product.

“It hasn’t been terribly difficult because of the reputation of cast iron and cast iron cookware is already one that is so familiar to us,” Boyd said. “As soon as customers get around the product and are able to lift the lid themselves or see it cooked on, then the other concerns quickly go up in smoke.”   

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