I rarely pass up a chance to purchase a good piece of cast iron at a thrift store or yard sale. I sometimes buy pieces that duplicate what I already have — I’ll leave them to my children someday. (One my my daughters even said she’d like to have some of my cast iron.) Old made-in-U.S.A. pieces are especially desirable. Look for very smooth cooking surfaces that are typical of well-made older skillets and griddles. Once at the local thrift shop I found a 13-inch frying pan in wonderful condition. Inside, it was almost as smooth as glass. Not one, but two people (an older man who looked like someone from Duck Dynasty and a black woman who clearly appeared as if she knew how to cook any southern dish) followed me, eying my find, from the time I picked it up until I paid for it and left the premises. They might have considered what degree of bodily harm they were ready to inflict on me if doing so would gain the prize, but after all, I was a man openly carrying a 13-inch cast-iron frying pan.
Cast iron is tough. Durable enough to last pretty-much forever. With proper care it develops a natural nonstick surface that gets better the more you use it. If the surface is ruined through careless use, it can be restored. The basics of caring for cast iron is to clean it no more than necessary. For light cleaning, just wiping it with a clean, dry paper towel may be all that’s necessary. For medium jobs, scrub it with a clean dish brush and hot water (no soap or detergent). Only rarely, for the heaviest cleaning, should you use a small amount of dish detergent with hot water and a brush, and only for a short time. Never allow cast iron to soak in water, especially not soapy water. Dry well, perhaps heating for a minute on the stove, before putting it away. It’s also good to melt a small amount of vegetable shortening and use a clean paper towel to wipe the cast iron inside and out with it before storing.
Almost every day, I use cast iron pots, skillets, and griddles that belonged to my grandmother. Others belonged to my grandmother-in-law. I also have pieces that I purchased at a church yard sale years ago, and they are in better shape now than when I got them. They have outlasted almost every piece of nonstick cookware I have ever owned. In my experience, moderately-priced nonstick cookware always starts to lose its nonstick surface after a few years; it actually peels off into the food that’s being cooked. Yuck. Super-expensive nonstick cookware may last longer, but its price is a big downside. In my house, the few expensive nonstick cookware skillets I own get used only for cooking eggs … scrambled, fried, sunny-side up, over-easy or omelets. (Scrambled eggs made with a double-boiler are the best. But that’s a story for another post.)
Be on the lookout for old cast iron and you will eat well and save money for the rest of your life.