Photo by DTR
Cast iron: When properly maintained, cast iron pans are superlative cookware. They are inexpensive, durable, and because they’re so dense, they’re slow to heat, but when they do get hot, they stay that way. When they are properly “seasoned,” they are virtually as good as the fanciest non-stick sauté pan, better in fact, because they can take a beating. They do react to acid and salt, however, so you wouldn’t want to salt food down in cast iron, and the acid in tomatoes will actually draw iron into a tomato sauce (iron is good for you but tomato is bad for the pan).
To season cast iron, pour a half-inch layer of oil into it, put it over high heat until the oil is very hot or put it into a 300 degree oven for an hour or so, then let it cool completely. Pour off the oil and wipe it dry with a paper towel. (If you make fried chicken or deep fry potatoes in your cast iron, it will season itself.) Never use soap on it, only an abrasive (a copper scrub pad or some kosher salt), dry it with a paper towel, and if it needs it, rub some more oil into it. It will stay seasoned and glossy indefinitely. If you neglect it, it can be re-seasoned. Even old and abused cast iron pans can be cleaned, seasoned and reborn as first-rate cookware.
Enameled cast iron is cast iron that has an enamel coating—and therefore is non-reactive to salt and acid and should not be “seasoned”—is also an excellent cooking material. It can be used on the stove top or in the oven and is especially suited to braising because, while its surface is semi-non-stick, it still allows food to brown and the bottom develops a fond.
—From The Elements of Cooking
Some readers have asked me about cast iron cookware—I have the three pans above and I use them all the time, love them. I don't think I paid more than $10 for any of them. Great for any kind of cooking. It's what I roast chicken in, and bacon seems to taste better when fried on cast iron. Turn them upside down and use them as a pizza stone. They truly are some of the best cookware available from a practical standpoint, but also there’s something satisfying in cooking food in these elemental vessels, in this age of plastic handles, non-stick surfaces and marketing ploys. Food looks great when it's cooking in these things (see Moonstruck for one of the most memorable food shots in film). Look for used pans in antique stores—all of my pans were found on travels through Amish country in central Ohio. They're easily brought back to gorgeous gleaming black life, they make great gifts, they last forever. Heavy expensive copper pans hanging in your kitchen intimidate. The sight of cast iron inspires.