The oldest of my cast iron pans is fairly new for cast iron. I bought it new 5 years ago. To be truly perfect a cast iron should be handed down from one generation to another, well used and well loved (Val, when I die you can have my cast iron if you want it). Unfortunately, it seems that in the last generation or so cast iron has gotten a bad rap. My mother never had cast iron because she was under some strange illusion that they were hard to clean, hard to season which made food stick to them, got all rusty, and were heavy as hell.
Let's take all these things one by one.
Being hard to clean is dead wrong. Cast iron couldn't be easier to clean. A well seasoned pan only takes a dry rag to clean it up. For stuck on food a paste of oil and salt will take care of stuck on bits.
Hell yes, they are heavy. That is what makes them heat evenly. Unless you plan to hang them on your fancy pot rack (ensuring that it will pull down your ceiling.) embrace the weight.
Some people think they are ugly but a well seasoned pan is a thing of beauty. They don't look all pretty and shiny and they shouldn't; they should be black and sort of pitted and to have real authentic rustic charm a dent or two goes a long way. (I dropped one of mine and the looped handle broke off. Did I throw it out? Of course not! It had just seasoned to the perfect degree.)
They will rust if you wash them with water which some people insist upon doing. resist! You really don't want to wash them with water, though I've been known to take a slightly damp rag to mine if needs be. The coarse salt, oil and a rag trick is all they need to keep them clean. A quick coat of some sort of oil or fat (I stick with olive oil) to keep them non-stick. After I've re- lubed my pans I put them in the oven where they wait patiently until I preheat the oven for use. After the oven has warmed up I take the pans outs but only if I need the room. Otherwise they stay in there to continue seasoning.
I baked this fritatta over the weekend:
|Yummmm....veggie and goat cheese|
An added bonus, you won't be paying a fortune for them. I pick mine up at the thrift store or the hardware store and I've never paid more then $10.
That brings us to seasoning your new pan. If you bought new you will need to season your pan. Do not believe what the label says. They are not pre-seasoned. They are sort of, kind of seasoned. You will need to season them again before you start to use them. I won't go into detail on how to do this because there are tons of how-tos on the Internet. Just know that it is a simple matter of lubing up your new pan (top, bottom, sides, handle, all over) stash it in your cold oven, turn on the oven to 400 degrees and bake it for 1 hour. By storing mine in the oven and keeping them in there every time I warm up my oven the pans are continually seasoned. Easy Peasy.
If you have bought your pans used (which I rarely do anymore, mostly because I almost never find them in the thrift stores and I'm a freak about meat having been cooked in a pan that is porous and that I will cook in. It's that crazy vegetarian thing) then you will have some added work but not insurmountable. It is the rust that causes the most work. I've found that buying them from my local sporting goods store is the cheapest place to buy new pans and so much less work than rehabilitating an old one. And, if there is one thing I am...it's lazy.
If you haven't gotten a cast iron pan go get one. They are the best non-stick pan you'll ever own, and without all that nasty Teflon stuff.