I have a set of very old cast iron skillets. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is as good as any expensive nonstick frying pan. At camp, as well as at home, this skillet can quickly become a family favorite. With proper care, it will last for several generations.
The first rule of cast iron is NEVER clean it with dish soap. That will remove the seasoned patina that keeps food from sticking. If food residue sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a bit of water, bring it to a slow boil and wipe the pan clean with a soft scouring pad or paper towel. Never put it into a dishwasher!
Before storing, dry the pan completely and wipe the inside surface with a thin film of vegetable oil. That will help prevent rust and maintain the seasoned patina so the pan is ready for the next use.
Should you come across a mistreated skillet or Dutch oven, or if your cast iron cookware starts to look gray and dull instead of shiny black, it can be re-seasoned and brought back to life. The best method I’ve found to do this is to run your oven’s self-cleaning cycle with the pan inside. When the pan has cooled, it will have a coating of white ash. Wash off the ash, coat the entire pan inside and out with a thin layer of vegetable oil, and bake it in the oven at 350° for one hour. You could also season the pan in your barbecue to avoid a lot of smoke in your kitchen.
The patina will then improve with each use, and it may take several uses to get a skillet back to its finest state. Like many things that we traditionalists love, a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven just gets better with age.
Editor’s Notes: Contrary to popular belief, cast iron CAN be used on a flat glass-top electric stove. Just be careful not to drop it or slide the pan across the glass surface.