My chef friends immediately gravitate to my cast iron cookware. Cast iron is superior to all other types of cookware because it is inexpensive, retains heat exceptionally well, is long lasting, and develops a non-stick surface that is a joy to cook on. From a low simmer to ridiculously hot, cast iron can be used on the range, in the oven, or over an open fire… it can literally do everything.
Caring for cast iron is easy but chefs can get into heated arguments about how best to care for cast iron. There are those that say the seasoning, which is just another way of referring to the buildup that gives the surface non-stick properties, should never be washed. Some say that the seasoning takes years of repeated use to develop, while others rely on exotic rituals to initially season and then maintain the surface.
I’m in the camp that says cast iron is a lot more forgiving than the above suggests and a few simple guidelines will ensure that your cast iron performs optimally for decades.
1) Cast iron comes pre-seasoned and good is good. There are many “artisan” skillets that are available and some expensive alternatives but I will always select the basic Lodge 12″ skillet. It comes pre-seasonsed and the old days of slathering on lard and bringing it to a smokey monstronstrosity under extreme heat are no longer necessary. Maintaining that seasoning is simply a matter of cooking with fat and instead of washing it off, drain it and wipe down the skillet with a paper towel. Stuck bits of leftover food are no problem, just scrape it off with a spatula.
2) Washing it is not necessary but scrubbing it down won’t hurt it. I rarely wash my skillet with soapy water, instead preferring a method of scrubbing it with coarse salt and a really cool chainmail scrubber that I have had for years and will literally last for several lifetimes, which is not a bad value for $10. If you do wash it with soapy water, nothing catastrophic will happen but you will need to coat the surface with some oil to replenish the seasoning.
3) If the skillet surface appears dull and dry it probably needs some fat. When I cook bacon or duck, anything fatty, I pour off the leftover fat to a foil lined container that I keep in my refrigerator. I do not use this fat and when the container is full I discard it and start over, however if my skillet needs some attention I will take a tbs of this reserved fat and swirl it around the skillet on high heat. I remove from heat and wipe the inside of the skillet with a paper towel, and voila, the seasoning is back in tip-top shape.