Traditional cast-iron skillets don't emerge from the box with a nonstick surface. That comes with seasoning, or coating the skillet with cooking oil and baking it in a 350° F oven for an hour. It won't take on that shiny black patina just yet, but once you dry it with paper towels, it will be ready to use. You'll reinforce the nonstick coating every time you heat oil in the skillet, and you can hasten the process by seasoning as often as you like. Or you can forget seasoning and go with Lodge Logic (available at hardware and cookware stores), a line of preseasoned skillets from Lodge Manufacturing, the oldest U.S. maker of cast-iron cookware.
A cast-iron skillet isn't ideal for a set-aside-to-soak sort of person. For best results, rinse the pan with hot water immediately after cooking. If you need to remove burned-on food, scrub with a mild abrasive, like coarse salt, and a nonmetal brush to preserve the nonstick surface; you can also use a few drops of a mild dishwashing soap every once in a while. If the pan gets a sticky coating or develops rust over time, scrub it with steel wool and reseason it. To prevent rust, dry the skillet thoroughly and lightly coat the cooking surface with cooking oil. Cover with a paper towel to protect it from dust.
- Although everything from Dutch ovens to cactus-shaped cornbread pans comes in cast iron, nothing is more versatile than a basic skillet. Either a 10- or 12-inch will do.
- There's only one thing you shouldn't attempt in cast-iron cookware: boiling water, which will cause the pan to rust.
- Cast iron takes longer to warm than other surfaces but retains heat remarkably well and diffuses it evenly.
- Cast iron remains hot long after you remove it from the stove. As a reminder to be careful, drape a thick towel or a mitt over the handle.
- To avoid getting smudges on all your kitchen towels, designate one to use exclusively for drying your cast-iron skillet.
- Cooking in cast iron increases the iron content in food. The longer the food is in contact with the skillet, the more it absorbs.