Why you need cast iron skillets

My well-loved cast iron skillet.

My well-loved cast iron skillet.

Why would I take time out of my day to write about cast iron skillets? Because they're awesome on so many levels. In an age of disposable everything, cast iron skillets are evergreen.

All of my cast iron skillets are made by Lodge Cast Iron. I'm a fan. No they didn't pay me to say that. Regardless of the fact that I take care of my skillets with the same attention as I would use to take care of baby birds, these cast iron skillets are perfect from the get-go. They're pre-seasoned so you don't have to worry about building that all-important nonstick surface yourself. They also stand up to the test of time. How many products in your house were built to last generations? Exactly. Not very many. Heck, if your house burns down, these skillets will probably still be salvageable!

Two cast iron skillets part of a growing collection.

Two cast iron skillets part of a growing collection.

Cooking with cast iron is where it gets fun. Heat, even intense heat, is evenly distributed, making every part of the skillet equally effective. Food, in particular meat, forms a nice crust by attaching just enough to the bottom of the skillet. If you want a dark, brown sear on something, use cast iron. It's a necessary tool when cooking from these books which all have to do with the theme of fire and food (I own all of these...I'm a bit obsessed) : Seven FiresMallmann on Fire, Around The Fire and Cooking With Fire.

But Pat, you say, I'm intimidated by the work needed to take care of these things. Aren't they super finicky? Yes and no. I know there are a million ressources to answer this question. See Mr. Lopez-Alt's take on the question and the first episode of the first season of the indispensable Good Eats. But here's what I do :

1. As soon as stuff comes out of the pan, add water. It will sputter everywhere but don't worry about that ;

2. With a wooden spoon, scrape off everything that got stuck to the bottom of the skillet ;

3. Empty the water and clean as you would anything else. Yes. I use soap and water ;

4. Return skillet to the stovetop and heat until it's screamingly hot. Add a tablespoon or so of peanut oil and rub all over the inside of the skillet.

I used to skip steps 3 and 4. I'd just wipe off any food bits with a paper towel and stuff the skillet in the drawer. I'd sometimes use kosher salt and a paper towel to grind off stubborn bits. But the method mentioned above works great for me with the last step assuring a well-maintained surface. Plus, my skillets are actually clean. 

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