Because other countries may not regulate what goes in the metal, I buy only American made which means Lodge brand. It can be bought in big box and specialty stores as well as online. Although Lodge has enamel coated cast iron, I use the pre-seasoned series so that is what I discuss in this project.
Pre-seasoned cast iron only has one layer of vegetable oil. Technically, it should be seasoned more before you use it. Three or four layers would be fine for a skillet you’re going to be using oil in. However, one of the benefits of working on this book is I was able to justify buying lots and lots of different cast iron pots and pans. Over the years I got less and less inclined to season before I used them for the first time. Often I’d just put some oil in the pan to sauté onions and considered it seasoned. And my family is still alive and the cast iron is in fine condition.
That said, if you’re going to cook lots of tomatoes or other acidic food, you want to use a pan that is well seasoned. So either use an old, well used pan or season a new piece of cast iron multiple times. I made eggplant curry once in a new pan that wasn’t well seasoned. The acid in the food ate at the new cast iron and turned the food an icky black. My husband said it looked like something that fell out of the engine block. (It tasted good, it was just black.) However, don’t let that experience scare you. I’ve been cooking in cast iron for four years now and that’s the only experience like that I had. (And now that my pots are well used so well seasoned, it’s unlikely to happen again.)
Cast iron only needs to seasoned when it is new or if the seasoning is stripped (by using soap, acidic foods, or steel wool.) If the pan gets rusty, soak the rust off with vinegar then scrub with a green scrubbie, chain mail, or brush, then re-season. Every time you cook with oil, the seasoning will thicken. If you put oil on your pans after you wash them, the next time you cook, that oil will season your pan more. I’ve read that some folks in more humid environments put their pans on a low stove after they’ve washed them to facilitate drying. Once they’re dry, they let them cool a bit so that they’re warm (not hot) and apply a layer of oil while they’re warm. That probably helps season.
As you use cast iron, it changes in appearance. When you first get it, it’s bumpy and light grey. After you’ve used it, it becomes smooth and black. I mainly use my 12″ skillet and you can tell the difference between it and my less used cookware by both color and texture. Within 6 weeks of getting my 12″ skillet, the bottom was completely smooth.
We are a family of 4 and a 12” skillet is best for us. The size of skillet you will use most depends on the quantities you cook. My recommendation is to get 1 skillet and use it and see what you think. They’re not that expensive and, on the off-hand chance you don’t like it, you can donate it to a non-profit thrift store and someone will be super glad to get it and the non-profit will benefit. If you want a skillet lid, your cheapest option will probably be to buy a dutch oven with a lid. The 7 qt oven lids fit the 12″ skillets and the 5 qt lids fit the 10″. It usually doesn’t cost that much more to buy a dutch oven than it does to buy the lid by itself. I got a 7 qt used dutch oven and frequently use the lid on my skillet. The oven is bigger than I’d normally use for soups and such, but it still works fine for that purpose and I can make a full batch of my favorite broth in it. Someday I may buy a 5 qt just so I’ll have the lid for my 10″ skillet. For now I just use the lid off my stainless steel set for the 10” skillet.
I know it sounds complicated, but it’s not. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look back at the No Need for Intimidation section. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ll laugh at how easy it is and how scared you once were.
One final thing, if you are going to use a specialty shape of cast iron, read the online reviews. You never know what helpful tips you might gain. (This is how I learned that you can preheat your cast iron if you want to bake something with a crispy crust. I inferred that if I DON’T want a crispy crust, I don’t preheat the cast iron.)