Well seasoned and properly cared for, cast-iron cookware develops a natural nonstick finish and lasts for decades and decades. I use some of my grandmothers’ cast-iron cookware on a regular basis. Talk about value and eco-friendliness! And cast iron spreads heat well, making for even cooking. Plus cooking in cast iron is healthy for you and your family, unlike those modern nonstick surfaces that may not be the safest stuff on which to cook your nice organic foods, nor are they very durable (and you really, really don’t want to cook in a scratched or chipping chemically treated nonstick pan). Do yourself a favor and get a good cast-iron pan. You may even luck out and find used cast-iron cookware at a thrift or antique shop. It may be better quality than the new stuff sold today, and any old cookware with rust or caked-on gunk can easily be rehabilitated as long as it isn’t cracked, badly pitted, or badly warped. When rehabilitating cast iron, it's all about the seasoning—a patina of oils and fats that are tightly locked into the natural pores of the metal. A well-seasoned cast iron pan has a dull black shine and is very smooth, and using it properly will make it even blacker and smoother (and more naturally nonstick) over time. Here’s how you start the process right.
Preparing to Season
This is done ONLY prior to the first seasoning, or before starting from scratch if your seasoning gets abused beyond hope. I even do this for new "preseasoned" cookware. Lodge (the most well-known brand around today) uses a soy-based vegetable oil on its cookware, but I prefer to strip it all off and start fresh.
Start by washing in hot soapy water (this is the ONLY time you will EVER use soap on your cast iron), rinse it well, and put it upside down in the oven, set to 200 degrees F or less, to dry completely. If your pan is now a dull gray all over, you can move onto the actual seasoning process (below). If there are patches of rust or cooked-on gook of indeterminable origin, grab some steel wool or a wire brush. For really stubborn greasy residues, try covering them with this natural oven cleaner and let it do the work.
Seasoning Your Cast Iron
There are dozens of strongly held views on the "right" way to season cast iron, but they all boil down to this: Apply a very, very thin coating of an edible fat or oil (grass-fed lard, olive oil, or even duck fat) to all surfaces of the item, including the underside, handle, and sides of the pan. Wipe off any excess, then bake it in a moderate (300- to 350-degree F) oven for a few hours, allow it to cool, and repeat a few times until it starts to turn an even or speckled brown. It is simple to do it right, but you just have to be patient. Globbing on a thick coating and baking once will not achieve good seasoning, and doing so will leave you with a sticky, gooey, gloppy layer and you'll have to start over.
Stick to frying or cooking in oil and fat the first few times you use your cookware to keep the seasoning process going.