My grandmother cooked with a cast iron skillet, who passed on her knowledge to my mother who then passed on her knowledge to me. They are the first “no stick” pan. They last forever, able to be passed down from generation to generation (if cared for) and are often times easy to find at thrift stores, yard sales, or flea markets. They are worth their weight in gold. They can be used on the stove top or in the oven, and because they are so good at distributing the heat evenly throughout, food gets cooked evenly with no cold spots in some areas and hot spots in others. Be careful, though, because that heat distributes even to the handle. Always use an oven mitt when handling one while cooking.
If your skillet isn’t handed down to you or given to you by someone whom you trust has taken care of (in other words, if you have bought your skillet used or new), then the first thing you need to do is season it. This is a very important step and should not be overlooked.
For ones that are bought brand new, the cast iron skillet needs to be washed in hot water, the hotter the better. There has been much debate on whether or not to use soap on a cast iron skillet, but I always have and it has never caused any problems for me. If you choose to use soap, use a mild one, such as ivory or dawn. Use a non-abrasive scouring pad (such as one made of synthetic materials like a Scotch Brite pad), but do not use steel wool or anything that will scratch the surface of the skillet. Never ever put your skillet in the dishwasher or submerge it in water. Ever. Always hand wash it without submerging it.
Once you have washed the skillet thoroughly, the next step is to put a light coating of lard or edible oil on it (such as olive oil). Now put it in the oven set to about 300 to 350 degrees for thirty minutes. Remove it (remember to use an oven mitt), drain any liquid oil, and replace back in the oven. Leave it in the oven for an additional hour. A fully seasoned pan will have a no stick surface, but it may take a few times of using it before this happens. It is important to season it that first time to protect it from rusting.
When you are cooking with your iron skillet it is important to remember not to use metal cooking utensils because these will scratch the surface and leave your skillet vulnerable to rust.
When it comes to clean up for your skillet, don’t allow food to sit for long periods of time in it. It is actually best to transfer the food to another container and wash the pan immediately after it has cooled down a bit, but is still a little warm. This will help to remove any food from it easily, especially when cooking eggs or when the skillet is new. Also, never put cold water into a hot skillet. If you do this it can (and very often will) causes the skillet to crack or even explode. There is no way to salvage it if this happens.
Two common problems with iron skillets are rust, and nasty odors. To remove rust, you simply scrub it off, and then re-season the skillet just as you did the first time you received it. To remove nasty odors you do the same. If the odor is too bad, however, you may want to scrub it down with baking soda, allow the baking soda to sit for an hour or so, and then re-season again.
Lastly, when storing your cast iron skillet, make sure that it is completely dry. once it has been cleaned, and dried lightly coat it with lard or edible oil (make sure it is a very light coating). To be extra cautious that it is dry, you can put it in the oven at 300 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to insure that any condensation evaporates. Also, make sure you never store it with a lid on it because this can lead to condensation which will cause the skillet to rust.
If you maintain your cast iron skillet, it will last you a lifetime, and for generations thereafter.