cast-iron skillet
Image: Kristin Belz
Cast-iron is a classic due for a comeback. Even a 10" skillet like this is heavy but worth its weight – lifting it will make you strong, and cooking in it will literally add iron to your diet. Sizes range from 6 to 12" diameter, as well as reversible griddle versions for one or two burners.

You may have a cast-iron pan. And it may be a cast-off – inherited from some older relative  and forgotten about as you've added to your collection of pristine, gourmet-worthy cooking implements over the years. But the cast-iron pan deserves to be brought back to the front burner. It's healthy, economical (read: inexpensive and durable), and generally an old-fashioned, no frills high-performer.

Cast-iron is also heavy enough that you might use cooking with it as a replacement for reps at the gym, though we don't recommend that. But you do get used to the weight-lifting aspect of cast-iron cooking, and it's one of the many side benefits you'll realize as soon as a cast-iron skillet becomes your go-to pan. Leaving it on the stove or a highly accessible shelf (instead of shoving it to the back of the cupboard like mine was for years) makes it a lot easier to use (I say this from firsthand experience).  

Benefits of cast-iron:

  • Conducts and retains heat well.
  • Is the original, natural non-stick surface.
  • Can go in the oven.
  • Super durable.
  • Adds healthy iron to the food cooked in it (especially important for anyone anemic or low-iron). Literally, your cast-iron cooking vessel is an iron supplement. Depending on the food and cooking time, cooking in a cast-iron pan can add significant iron content. Example: iron in a serving of spaghetti sauce cooked in cast-iron increased 7 mg (from .35 mg/100g to 7.4 mg/100g). For many of us, this is nearly the entire RDA for iron: 8 mg/day for men and post-menopausal women (18 mg/day for pre-menopausal women). And it's more than twice the iron in a 1 cup serving of quinoa (which is a not-too shabby 2.8 mg).
WHAT TASTES SUPER GOOD COOKED IN CAST-IRON – just about anything, but especially seared or fried foods; the cast-iron lets you get that perfect blend of tender yet browned and crispy, and the seasoned pan means you don't have to use much oil to cook in. 
  • Pancakes (including oven baked Dutch babies or Austrian pancakes), cornbread and biscuits
  • Grilled cheese
  • Pizza
  • Burgers
  • Eggs
  • Asparagus, greens and other quick-cooking vegetables
How to care for cast-iron – It might seem mysterious – all that talk about seasoning your pan, as if it's a religious ritual. (We'll get further into that in a moment.) But it's really not that hard. Just develop a couple easy habits:
  • Clean (by hand) soon after you’ve used it.
  • Don’t let it sit in water.
  • Use soap or not – either way seems to be OK; just don’t overscrub (or you’ll wear away the magical “seasoned” coating that comes with proper, frequent use.
  • Dry thoroughly soon after washing – towel dry and then put it on a low-heat burner for a couple minutes to eek out all the moisture and completely avoid rusting!
  • Optional: rub with a touch of oil (about a quarter-sized dab rubbed in with a paper towel) if you want to seal in the seasoning, and heat another minute on the low burner.
Where to get cast-iron in Portland:
  • Thrift stores are a good source, though your find might take some refinement and seasoning before you can use it.
  • Lodge Manufacturing is the only company in the U.S. still making cast-iron; they're sold at Fred Meyer, Kitchen Kaboodle, Williams-Sonoma, Mirador Community Store and others. Prices tend to be about $13 (6" skillet) to about $40 (12" skillet).
  • Williams-Sonoma also carries a lightweight, sleekly styled Japanese import – Komin Fry Pan, about $80 in the 2 lbs, 9 1/2 inch size.) Antique dealers sometimes have Griswold or Wagner Ware, which were high-quality brands popular in the first half of the 20th century, before cast-iron fell out of favor and was supplanted by teflon and newer non-stick pans.
ABOUT SEASONING YOUR PAN – If you buy a new pan, it will likely be from Lodge, and will be "pre-seasoned" because that's all they sell. If you buy an old pan, you'll probably need to refurbish it. Either way, it's good to know that seasoning, or "curing," a cast-iron pan just means coating or sealing it by "baking on multiple thin coats of oil" to create the natural non-stick surface
All it takes is to rub a thin layer of neutral, food-grade oil or shortening into the pan, then bake the empty pan at about 450 degrees for about 30 minutes. The more times you do this process, the better the surface coating will be – glossier, sleeker, and more non-stick. Which is why cooking in a cast-iron pan makes the pan better and better: each use, especially with fatty foods, adds to the coating. (What's Cooking America has a detailed and helpful article online.)
Mirador Community Store
2106 SE Division Street
Portland, OR 97202
503-396-5090 

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