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Few tools are as essential as the cast iron skillet. Durable, affordable, and virtually nonstick, it's a workhorse: We sear fish, sauté vegetables, scramble eggs, and even make pizzas in them. And because cast iron conducts and holds heat so well, it's the best choice for skillet-fried chicken. It's also the only kitchen tool that I'm emotionally attached to. Maybe that's because I'll be able to pass mine on to my grandkids if I maintain it properly.
Most new cast iron pots and pans these days come pre-seasoned, meaning the manufacturer applies a vegetable-based oil to the cast iron and bakes it at a high temperature so the oil penetrates the iron. (If your cookware didn't come seasoned, just coat it with cooking oil and bake it at 350° for an hour. Wipe off the oil, and it's ready to use.) This process creates a nice seasoned pan to get started with, but for a real, authentic patina, it's still crucial that you maintain your cast iron and keep it clean and well oiled at all times. There are a handful of ironclad rules to obey (see two below), but if you follow just one, let it be this: Don't put it in the dishwasher. "It's in the book of Leviticus," jokes Mark Kelly of Lodge Manufacturing Co., the 116-year-old foundry in South Pittsburg, TN. "If you put your cast-iron skillet in the dishwasher, then you go straight to hell!" Want more info? Go here.
How to care for your pan
1. To remove stubborn bits of food, pour 1 cup coarse kosher salt into the still-warm skillet. Use a folded kitchen towel to scour. Discard the salt and rinse the skillet with hot water. Dry immediately with a kitchen towel, or heat skillet over a medium-low flame to evaporate the moisture.
2. To season the pan, rub a light coat (1 Tbsp.) of flaxseed oil on the cast iron. This helps the pan develop that glossy patina, ward off rust, and retain its nonstick properties. Vegetable oil or rendered lard (for nonvegetarians) does the trick, too. Gently heat the pan to help the oil soak in.