A Cast Iron Skillet

Before you fill your kitchen with high-tech gadgets, make sure you get the one thing you really need.
Photo: Courtesy Lodge

A Lodge cast iron skillet

As any cowboy or Boy Scout will tell you, one good 10″ cast iron pan can be far more useful than an elaborate set of gleaming, bonded-metal cookware designed to be admired more than used. Buy one of these and it will soon become the workhorse of your kitchen. Forged in an iron foundry, skillets are tough and versatile: they can go in the oven, on the grill and, of course, they’re at home on the range. The even conductivity of the metal makes browning everything from steaks to cornbread to potatoes to grilled cheese easy (it also makes burning yourself easy. Never grab an iron skillet handle barehanded).

Even better, one develops a relationship with a cast iron skillet through years of daily use. Since cast iron is porous, it takes on the accumulated flavors of whatever you cook on it—this is called “seasoning”—developing a glassy, oily coating that renders it nonstick without employing the possibly toxic chemicals sometimes used on other pans. Once you have a seasoned skillet, you’ll never want to part with it. Thankfully, you won’t have to. Cast iron skillets have been known to last for centuries. Just don’t use scourers or soap, which strip away the hard-earned seasoning.

Even better, skillets are reasonably priced. A good new 10″ pan from Tennessee’s Lodge, the undisputed king of the cast-iron genre since 1986, runs between $75 and $100. But don’t be afraid to scour—just not literally—flea markets. Cast iron pans last longer than most cooks, so you might find your skillet in the rough.

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  1. Pingback: How to Pan-Sear a Steak | Gilt [MAN]ual

  2. Anthony says:

    Lodge cast iron is far cheaper than that. Even a 12″ skillet is less than $20 on Amazon.

    Cast iron is slow to heat up and slow to cool down, which makes it great for staying hot when you plop that big cold steak in the pan. However, you may be disappointed in the uneven results if you don’t let your pan pre-heat on low/medium for several minutes. The middle will be searing hot and the edges will still be cold.

  3. George says:

    Anthony’s right- Lodge pans are so inexpensive as to seem almost free, especially considering the many, many years you can use one. However, today’s Lodge pans are made with rather poor QC and often arrive with a pebbled, rough surface.

    This can be sanded down or simply lived with until the carbon buildup mitigates it, but in the meantime, it means the pan is a pain when cooking sticky things like eggs, or cheese, and the pan won’t transfer heat as well, either.
    For those willing to spend more in the price range Gilt originally postulated, Japan’s Iwachu company makes a spectacularly finished iron skillet in the $50-70 range. Its surface is quite smooth and the pan is an absolute joy to use.

    That said, I learned to cook with Lodge pans, and they do a nice job. After 8 or so years of serious cooking, though, I was happy for the upgrade to the Iwachu. Full-on fritattas and trouble-free risotto in an iron pan? Sign me up. ;)

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