I think there is a misconception that cast iron pans are a pain to care for. Personally, I had this general impression for most of my life. But when thinking about what equipment I would use in college, cast iron pans kept coming back to mind: they are equally great on the stove and in the oven, for dinner and dessert, and best of all they're very inexpensive. While a good quality stainless steel pan could set you back several hundred dollars, you can get the gold-standard Lodge Cast Iron Skillet for just over $25. When cared for, these pans can last a lifetime and they only get better with time. I use a 12" inch cast iron pan because it's big enough to roast a chicken, but small enough to make a couple of eggs.
I never used a cast iron skillet, why should I start now?
Cast iron is a heavy-duty hunk of metal that can withstand the chaos of a college kitchen. There is no other type of pan that packs as much bang for its buck either; in one pan you can perfectly sear a steak, roast vegetables, grill pizza, sizzle bacon and eggs, and bake a cake. Chefs love cast iron for its heat-retention capabilities and its natural non-stick qualities.
Cast iron is naturally porous. The pores in the material could cause sticking, but over time when oil is heated, the particles bond to the pores in the iron and create a flat, non-stick surface. A strong season is developed, maintained, and improved over time – but you don't have to start from scratch. Lodge cast iron pans come pre-seasoned — which means all you have to do is not fuck it up. You don't need to spend years priming the pan to be usable; it is ready to go when it's brand new.
Okay, you sold me. How do I take care of my cast iron skillet?
I actually find cast-iron care easier than washing stainless steel pans. In general, keep in mind that moisture is the enemy of cast iron -- you don't want a rusty pan. After using a cast iron skillet, (1) let it cool down first. (2) Wash the pan with hot water and no soap. If you need more abrasion to unstick, use some kosher salt to help the sponge along. Once cleaning the pan of any debris, you need to (3) dry it thoroughly. You can use a dish towel, or to ensure full dryness, put the empty pan on the stove to evaporate all the cleaning water. Finally, use a paper towel to (4) rub the thinnest possible layer of canola oil all over the pan (top, bottom, and handle). The pan should now look dark and shiny. After these 4 steps you are all set to store the pan for the next day. I generally like to store the pan with a little paper towel underneath, and one on top if I'm storing stacking something else on top.