I finally asked for a cast iron skillet for my birthday last year. My parents bought me the economical choice—an inexpensive Lodge pan that didn't require the rust removal and re-seasoning that a thrift store find would. After all, I read all of the posts about maintaining a cast iron pan and was sure it was difficult and tedious.
It's not! At all! In fact, this has become the easiest pan in my kitchen to clean. I just run some hot water over it and loosen any baked-on bits with a scrub brush. The surface is left slick, oily, and a tiny bit grimy—which is perfect. Once it's clean, I put it back on a burner and turn on the heat until the water evaporates. If the surface looks dull at all, I wipe a little vegetable oil around.
In fact, the only reason I get out my beloved (and it is still very much beloved) 14-inch All-Clad pan is if I'm making a tomato sauce, since the acidity of the tomatoes can react with the iron, or simply need a lot of surface space for a huge dish.
The only downside to a cast iron skillet is the weight. It's hard to lift this baby with one hand while trying to spoon ingredients with the other, and of course the handle gets extremely hot, unlike fancier stainless steel pans. Overall, though, it's one of the smartest pans you can own. Take it from a skeptic.
• Buy the Lodge 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet, $33.95 from Lodge
(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)