A cast-iron skillet may seem like an old-fashioned cookware choice. But this dependable object is a must in the modern kitchen. Cast iron conducts heat beautifully, seamlessly transitions from stovetop to oven and lasts for decades. Plus, cooking with cast iron can be good for your health.
When you clean your skillet, never use soap because it can strip the pan's seasoning (ditto a cycle in the dishwasher or using a steel-wool scrubber). Instead, scrub your cast iron with a stiff brush and hot water, then wipe dry with a towel or set the pan over low heat until completely dry.
A well-seasoned cast iron pan is virtually nonstick, so it's worth taking the time to season (or reseason) correctly. If you have a new skillet or an old one you want to rehab, the method is the same:
• Cover the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of kosher salt.
• Add about 1/2 inch of oil and place over high heat.
• When the oil starts to smoke, pour the salt and oil into a heatproof bowl to cool before discarding.
• Using a ball of paper towels, rub the inside of the pan until smooth.
Your skillet is now seasoned!
Pictured Recipe: Strip Steaks with Smoky Cilantro Sauce & Roasted Vegetables
Now that you have a beautifully seasoned skillet, it's time to get cooking. The joy of cast iron is its ability to get hot and stay hot. Here are a few ideas:
• Seared meats
• Roasted vegetables
• Fruit crisps
Additionally, a cast-iron pan is oven-safe, so you'll use it for recipes that start on the stove and end in it.
Have a flat-top stove? Although some manufacturers warn that cast iron can damage the top of the stove, just avoid dragging the pan across the surface.
Pictured Recipe: Skillet Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
That lovely sheen on cast-iron cookware is the sign of a well-seasoned pan, which renders it virtually nonstick. The health bonus, of course, is that you won't need to use gads of oil to brown crispy potatoes or sear chicken when cooking in cast iron.
The repellent coating that keeps food from sticking to nonstick pots and pans contains PFCs (perfluorocarbons), a chemical that's linked to liver damage, cancer and developmental problems. PFCs get released—and inhaled—from nonstick pans in the form of fumes when pans are heated on high heat. Likewise, we can ingest them when the surface of the pan gets scratched. Both regular and ceramic-coated cast-iron pans are great alternatives to nonstick pans for this reason.
While cast iron doesn't leach chemicals, it can leach some iron into your food... and that's a good thing. Iron deficiency is fairly common worldwide. In fact, 10% of American women are iron-deficient. Cooking food, especially something acidic like tomato sauce, in cast iron can increase iron content by as much as 20 times. Try these Charred Tomato & Chicken Tacos.
A cast-iron recipe has an additional bonus: keeping the food in its cooking vessel will keep the recipe warm. It's also a Pinterest-worthy photo opportunity! For serving, be sure you place a hot pad underneath the skillet and have an oven mitt or hot pad to manage the handle.
Storing your pans doesn't require any special solution. Julia Child chose to store hers on a pegboard wall. Because the pans are attractive and hearty, storing them on top of your stove is a popular option. The drawer below your stove is a fine spot or even in the oven (just don't preheat it while the pan is inside).