A cast-iron pan is one of the only cooking instruments that actually adds nutritional benefit to a dish. When you cook, these pans release small amounts of iron into the food which can be really helpful in combating iron deficiencies, especially if you cook with a lot of high acidity.
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They have been the tool of choice for chefs for decades, due to their durability and excellent heat retention — not to mention that nice sear you get when grilling a rib-eye. Cast iron, also known as “casting metal” has been found to date all the way back to China in the fourth century B.C, although before it was used as a cooking material its primary use was to make weapons. We saw the introduction of the cast-iron pan as we know it today, in the late nineteenth century, but prior to that the “spider pot” was its predecessor — “the spider” being that ancient cast-iron, cauldron-like pot, designed with three legs and a handle for use in a hearth or fireplace, often used for slow-cooking stews. Interestingly enough, besides adding a handle and eliminating the legs, not much about the original idea behind the pot has changed.
The process for making cast-iron cookware is essentially melting blocks of iron and steel together in a factory. Then, in order to raise the carbon levels, chemicals are added to the mix and the molten metal is poured into a clay mold. When the pan is cool, the mold is broken and the cookware is released. The pan is then smoothed and sometimes seasoned before it’s ready to be sold.
If you buy a pan that is already pre-seasoned — like the Lodge Pan — it’s unnecessary to then treat the pan again upon initial use, although I recommend going through the seasoning process regardless of which pan you buy. Seasoning a pan is basically coating the pan with fats and baking it for an hour in the oven in order to create a non-stick surface. Think of it as a bonding activity. You’ll have a better understanding of your pan, and it will most likely last longer.
When you do decide to take your cooking to the next level, we have scoured the internet and ranked the 15 best cast iron pans under $50 so you don't have to.