Cast-iron is hands-down the best cookware around. The benefits include low cost, durability, even heating and a distinct flavor imparted to meals prepared in them.
I have four pans that I bought from antique stores. Two are Wagners (Sydney, PA) from the Depression era; ca 1932. The other two are Griswold; 1939-57. I have twelve LODGE® pans (awesome, affordable American-made product) that range from small skillets to dutch ovens, muffin tins and a 14-pound monster wok. These are less than fifteen years old.
It has taken YEARS to put a smooth black, super-hard carbon finish on them. My wife now understands how much work this is — and how valuable the payoff is. They’ve already outlasted all of her favorite pans. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Two were gifts from my father-in-law who is now deceased.
Take care of them and they will easily last 250 years. Seriously. Compare that to your crappy $40 Circulon aluminum skillet which will warp and peel the non-stick coating off in one year flat.
If you’re interested in refinishing an old pan, review this article for the proper way to restore it.
CARE AND CLEANING AFTER COOKING:
DO NOT place your pan in the dishwasher! The chemical cleaners are too harsh and will immediately strip the finish off your pan.
DO NOT USE SOAP!!! I know this goes against all common sense, but boiling or scalding hot water is enough to kill any bacteria that may be present on a pan after a meal is prepared. The only time soap should be used is the first time you clean your pan before seasoning.
Carefully WASH IN YOUR SINK using only boiling or very hot water and a plastic scrubber brush (the kind used to clean potatoes).
You can also place enough water to cover the bottom of a skillet and boil on medium heat until the residue breaks free from the surface.
Rinse, dry, very lightly re-coat with olive oil, vegetable oil, Crisco, or rendered bacon fat and heat in the oven at 375° or your stovetop until the pan smokes. Shut off and allow to cool.
If you follow these directions, the oil, fat and food residue will eventually convert to shiny black hard carbon. The heat will also sterilize your pan for the next use.
If you see a crusty buildup after a meal is made in the pan, resist the temptation to scrub the surface with anything harder than a plastic scrub brush. For baked-on residue, use a wadded up ball of aluminum foil and gently work the buildup loose (great camping trick.) Ordinary table salt also works well – a light scrubbing with salt, a bit of cooking oil and a damp dishrag will actually polish the carbon surface and prevent gunk from building up. Rinse and dry as usual.
Bacon and other types of cured pork contain nitrates, which has a tendency to stick to the pan. Scrub using the methods described above to remove these deposits.
FOOD MAY STICK TO YOUR NEWLY-COATED PAN THE FIRST FEW TIMES OF USE.
This is normal. It takes patience and time to build a non-stick patina.
Store in a dry area. Do not seal stored dutch ovens or pans with their lids. Leave open and place a paper towel inside to absorb any residual moisture. Occasionally check the bottoms for rust and give them an oil or fat wipedown as needed.
IMPORTANT TIP FOR FLAT-TOP STOVE (CERAN OR INDUCTION) USE:
Cast-iron cookware will SCRATCH your stove top if you are not careful. NEVER slide your cookware over the ceramic stovetop. The iron is hard enough to easily put deep scratches in the glass surface.
Here’s an easy safeguard: Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the burner surface and then place your cast-iron skillet or wok on the aluminum foil. By using reasonable care and low to medium heat, you will never scratch the ceramic surface or risk melting the aluminum foil.