When I was little, my grandmother cooked with only one pan—a big, black, cast-iron skillet that was too heavy for me to lift. She used it for as long as I can remember until she became elderly, and couldn’t lift it herself. I don’t know what happened to that pan, but more than twenty years ago, I bought one for myself, and I’ve been using it ever since.
Unlike chemically-treated, nonstick pans that can get scratched and start to peel, (not to mention releasing potentially harmful fumes into the air if used at a high temperature), cast iron will last indefinitely—and safely—with the proper care. While many people like to shop for bargains at a yard sale, you can buy a new, pre-seasoned, 10-inch skillet for about $20.00, which is still a bargain, considering that your great grandchildren could inherit it.
If you decide to buy a used one, or you inherit one, you’ll probably have to clean it, depending on its condition. Remove any rust with a steel wood pad, then wash it with soap and warm water, the ONLY time your pan should see soap. Rinse and dry it thoroughly,
then rub the skillet—inside and out—with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Too much oil will leave the pan sticky. Place it in a 400-degree oven for an hour with a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below the one the skillet is on to catch any drips of oil, allowing the oil to
absorb into the iron. This is how the pan is “seasoned.” Turn off the oven, and leave the pan there to cool.
In the beginning, you’ll have to use a little oil to cook with, and be careful: the handles are hot, so be sure to use an oven mitt! To clean the pan after cooking, just use a scrub brush and warm water, not the dishwasher. Dry it completely so that it doesn’t rust, or you’ll have
to go through the seasoning process again. After it’s dry, put a small amount of vegetable oil onto a paper towel, and rub the pan with it. It’s also a good idea to layer the inside of the pan with a paper towel for storage, if you’re nesting it with other pans.
All foods cook beautifully in a cast-iron skillet, with the exception of eggs, which tend to stick, but the more you use the pan, the more non-stick it becomes. No special utensils are needed to cook in it, it won't warp, and It can go from the stovetop to the oven, a grill or campfire, but don’t put it in the microwave!
One more added benefit—if you’re trying to get more iron into your diet, cooking with a cast-iron skillet will help.
About SJ Wilson
SJ Wilson has been writing novels for many years, including the recently published, The Soul of Fenway. She loves spending time with her family, especially at the beach. Her hobbies include genealogy, photography, American history, and baseball.