There are two kinds of cast-iron skillets: regular and enameled. Both heat evenly, if slowly, so they’re great for cooking pancakes and searing meat. They’re also good at keeping oil hot for frying and can withstand the high temperatures of an oven or grill.
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.