My cast iron pan is easily my favorite pan to cook with.  It is versatile, oven-safe, conducts heat evenly (always a plus when cooking) and really easy to clean.  Once upon a time, I was clueless about what a fantastic pan this could be and never imagined how much I would come to rely on this pan for cooking up dinner.

After getting married, I wanted to try my hand at some of mom’s dishes.  The first step to this was getting a wok.  Having absolutely no idea about how to pick one out, I asked mom to help me find the right kind.  She produced a small cast iron wok and explained that we needed to season/cure it before it could be used.  She poured oil into the pan (imagine enough for frying something) and cranked up the heat.  Once it was good and hot, she used a metal spatula (the sides on this tool are turned up and they are typically used with woks) to baste the entire wok with the hot oil.  The wok sat on the stove with the oil marinating in the pan and every couple of days, she repeated the process.  Finally, after about two weeks of this, I was presented with the wok.  It was a sleek black and non-stick and I couldn’t wait to use it.

Even having seen the starting process, I remained hesitant to pick up a cast iron pan, convinced that it couldn’t possibly be that easy.  My husband and I visited a kitchen store and I saw cast iron pan.  It was the kick in the pants that I needed.  I’ve been cooking with it since and haven’t looked back.

Preparing your pan is very easy.  Wash it in warm soapy water with a sponge.  You don’t want to use a harsh abrasive or steel wool on it or you’ll never get it to be non-stick and you’ll be scrubbing off the seasoning every time you wash it.  After drying the pan, coat it in oil or shortening and stick it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.  When you pull the pan out, let it cool down and then wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel, then you can start cooking with it or store it for future use.

One of the things I love most about my cast iron is how easy it is to clean.  Once you’re done cooking, make sure that there is some grease in there (just add some vegetable oil if you need a bit of extra oil), add coarse salt to the pan and scrub it out with paper towels or a cloth.  This seasons the pan while it cleans it.  Once the salt is dirty the pan is clean.  Dump out the salt, wipe the pan clean, and you’re good to go.  And if that’s not enough for you to start using the pan, here’s Alton Brown on cooking a rib eye.  I was surprised by how hot he had the pan and the oven, but the steaks came out perfectly done and incredibly juicy.  Just remember to let the steak rest for 10 minutes after it’s done to redistribute the juices so that you don’t end up with a dry steak.  🙂

By the way, this pan will absorb the seasonings and flavors that you cook in it, so unless you want a fishy steak, you’ll want to keep a separate pan for fish.  I’ve got an 8-inch pan that I’ve been cooking with and will soon be sizing up to the 10-inch pan.  Once I have the new one fully seasoned, I’m going to use the smaller one as my fish pan.  I wouldn’t recommend going larger than the 10-inch pan unless you are ready to do some serious weight lifting!