If you have never owned a cast iron frying pan, you are in for a wonderful surprise. I rarely start a meal without heating up one of mine first. My favorite is the one given to my mother by her mother. My second favorite is the huge one I bought new. My third favorite I picked up at a second hand store and it is very small. You can see a large selection at http://www.lodgemfg.com/. New or ancient, cast iron frying pans and kettles are prized kitchen items. Why? Their ease of use, the reliability of performance, ease in cleaning and their durability are unequalled.
To make a raw one work for you, it needs to be "seasoned". This means filling the small holes in the cooking surface. Simply, you lightly coat the inside of the cast iron frying pan with vegetable oil, shortening or lard. Lay it upside down on a rack in the oven. Put a piece of aluminum foil on the rack below to catch drips. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 or 60 minutes and cool. If it is brand new, it will be brown and blotchy, but a couple of frying uses later, it will turn an even, rich black. This surface now has no tiny pockets, grooves or high points. They are filled and covered with the baked on oil. If you buy one at a thrift shop or second hand store, cure it again.
Originally, wood burning stoves or fireplaces were standard in kitchens. We don't use those much any more. Today's gas burner is best for the pan. The intense heat from the coils of a very hot electric burner can cause an empty cast iron frying pan to warp out of shape. If you have an electric range, increase the heat by steps to the desired temperature, or make sure there is something in the pan when you put it on the stove.
Cooking is so much easier with these pans because the heat is distributed evenly. Cast iron is a very quick and efficient heat conductor. There simply aren't any "hot spots" or cooler areas. The weight of the pan is also far superior to anything but the most expensive of the other types of pan. This means the pan holds the heat long enough for it to get to the food inside.
Once seasoned, the surface is far better than any non-stick coating. You can use metal utensils with confidence. De-glazing the pan to make sauces or gravy after frying is a breeze. Sauces or gravies are simple in a cast iron frying pan. Seasoning seals the metal from liquids and prevents any metal flavor or rust.
Compared to most pans, everything just slides off during cleaning. Slight food sticking can be removed by a boiling a little water in the pan after the frying is done. A little dish soap and a scrub sponge will not harm the seasoning, and neither will soaking the cast iron frying pan. Just fill it with water and set it on a dry counter. Avoid soaking the un-seasoned parts, and dry with a dish towel before storing. Never clean in an automatic dishwasher. This will damage the cured surface so that you have to season it again. It will also rust the outside of the pan. Should you happen to burn something on the cooking surface, scrubbing smooth with a metal scouring pad and re-seasoning will bring it back to its best condition.
If you have owned any other type of skillet, you will know what I mean when I say that the outside of a cast iron skillet is incredibly durable. There is no copper to shine. There is no pretty enamel color to scrub back to original. There is no stainless steel ( which is definitely not "stainless" ) to scour and avoid scratching. The outside will remain a soft black that is a perfect kitchen accent that looks good with any décor from modern to rustic. I hang mine over the stove for easy access and to compliment my black-and-white kitchen. I've hung them in a country kitchen of tile and pine. I've hung them in a modern kitchen with bronze glass backsplashes and high-tech lighting.
While the care of a cast iron frying pan is a bit different, it is very easy. Keep it dry when not in use to prevent rust. Don't use abrasive cleansers. In general, treat it like any skillet otherwise. How simple is that? The fantastic cooking results will make you a lifetime user, as I have become. Around my house, "butter's in the pan!" means dinner is about twenty minutes away. And there's no question about the pan I'm talking about. It's cast iron.