Cast-iron skillets are flying off the shelves—no small feat for a piece of cookware that weighs up to eight pounds. With more of us Covid-cooking at home, new chefs are embracing the back-to-basics pans that Grandma used for fried chicken, reports Isaac Morton, whose Smithey Ironware Co. of South Carolina more than doubled its workforce last year.
The attractions of one-piece forged cookware are durability and simplicity. The skillets can go from stovetop to grill to oven and sear a steak, simmer chili or bake a pie. Their heft means they easily conduct and retain heat for even cooking. And with just a bit of care, a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is nonstick, chemical free and nearly indestructible.
Without sacrificing quality you can pick up a 10-inch skillet from the renowned Lodge Co. for less than $20. Or you can splurge on pans from Field or Smithey Ironware that can cost 10 times as much, but are smoother and weigh less. (Lighter pans warm up faster, but don’t hold heat as long.) Whichever you choose, be sure your skillet has a small “helper handle” opposite the main grip to aid in wielding that heavy, sizzling behemoth.
Seasoning is key: coat a new pan with vegetable oil and bake it in the oven for an hour. (Pre-seasoned pans can be used right away but won’t perform optimally until used a few times.) Good dishes to try in a new pan are cornbread—a crusty wonder that will change your relationship with food and cooking—and mouth-watering pan-seared steak. But don’t end your culinary pilgrimage there. A good skillet has many more uses.
Cleaning cast iron can be as simple as wiping out a warm pan and polishing it with a little vegetable oil, although they also can be scrubbed with a natural bristle brush, a non-scratching pad and even steel chain-mail scouring pads. Don’t fear soap and water, but never soak a pan. As for running a skillet through the dishwasher, that’s a serious mistake that may well be punishable by law in several Southern states.