What To Look For
A Seasoned Surface
All regular cast-iron pans require periodic seasoning to prevent food from sticking; to season, coat the inside of the pan with oil and heat it in the oven for an hour. The more a skillet is used and seasoned, the less food will stick, so cookware connoisseurs seek out vintage pans. Today, many new cast-iron skillets are preseasoned at the factory.
Skillets with nearly straight sides hold oil better for deep-frying and have more surface area for searing.
Because cast-iron skillets are heavy, their handles are usually short, so the pan is easier to pick up. Some styles, like the Lodge Logic (right), have a second, U-shaped helper handle that allows the cook to lift the skillet with two hands.
Compared to regular cast iron, the enameled kind is more stick-resistant; plus, it won’t react with acidic ingredients like tomatoes, which can make food taste metallic. But metal utensils can chip the enamel.
Caring for Cast Iron
Soap removes a regular cast-iron pan’s seasoning, so it’s best to scrub solely with a brush or abrasive sponge and hot water, while the pan is still warm. To prevent rust, set the skillet over a burner on low heat so water can evaporate, then wipe the interior with a few drops of vegetable oil.
Three Cast-Iron Winners
Lodge Logic 12-inch $30; 423-837-7181 or lodgemfg.com.
Emerilware 12-inch $25; 800-255-2523 or emerilware.com.
Le Creuset Iron Handle 12-inch (enameled) $120; 877-273-8738 or lecreuset.com.