Long before Teflon or other spray coatings were on your pots and pans, cast iron was easy to use and easy to clean. It’s been around for hundreds of years and although always heavy, was brought from Europe by the early settlers to North America.
The large cauldrons and kettles, now no longer in use, were once common on hearths and outdoor fires.
Many modern cooks stay away from cast iron because it is heavy and thought to be hard to clean, especially compared to light aluminum pots and pans that come with a coating of nonstick spray. Used properly, however, cast iron is almost as easy to maintain as these modern pans – but is much better to cook with because it spreads heat.
Frying pans come in sizes to hold one egg or a dozen, and pots, griddles and dutch ovens are readily available new or at second hand stores and garage sales.
Prices vary based on the size and quality of the item. Some more expensive to very expensive cookware comes with an enamel or porcelain-like outer coating, which makes the piece look more attractive in your kitchen and easier to keep clean.
These pieces are not suitable for open fire use, like the more familiar, black cast iron pieces. This coloured outer coating is also easy to chip if you bump these pots together in the cupboard or on the stove.
Cast iron is much too heavy for backpacking, but perfect for boat or truck-camping where things are only carried a short distance in camp. Their even heating and heat retention is ideal for cooking outdoors when it might be cool or even cold. Second helpings stay warm a lot longer in cast iron. Usually cast iron pieces come without lids, but lids are important and ordinary steel ones can be found at the Salvation Army or other second hand stores.
The best quality plain black cast iron pots and pans are made in Canada and the United States. These cost a little more than imports from Asia, but are a better buy in the long run because of higher quality. Just look at the bottom of the pot/pan and the place of origin is usually marked there. If no country is identified, it is probably a less expensive model made in Taiwan. These can be okay, but it takes more seasoning work to get and keep them in good cooking condition.
Many new items come pre-seasoned, but proper and regular seasoning is still required to keep the piece at the peak of quality. The steps are the same for the first and all subsequent seasonings. Wash and dry the pan, then coat the inside with lard, shortening or oil. Invert on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven or barbecue. Bake for an hour (it will smoke.) Turn off heat and let the pan cool in the oven. Once is a good starter, but repeating the process a few times is best and of course, re-season when needed.