Though the cliché with cast-iron skillets is steak, it is good for far more than that.
Cast-iron cookware’s utility is derived from iron’s stubbornness in absorbing and letting go of heat. That is to say, once you’ve heated a cast-iron skillet through, a refrigerator cold chicken quarter isn’t going to pull its temperature down much at all. Why is this useful? When you place food in a heated pan, the food will begin to release moisture within in the form of water, fats and so on.
If the temperature of the pan drops significantly, the food’s (especially foods with high moisture) released moisture will simmer, not evaporate, as it needs to if the goal is browning. Once this process has begun, it’s very difficult to stop. Thus, a pan that keeps its surface temperature in the area of 300 degrees (roughly the temperature minimum of the fabled Maillard reaction) and up is one that is great for achieving a proper brown.
This all said, cast-iron skillets can reach prices up to $300 new (and much, much higher for some vintage pieces). The truth is, you really don’t need one of these super premium skillets, unless you’re already a hobbyist.
Instead, get this hardy, very large Lodge skillet. For the uninitiated, Lodge is the most prolific cast-iron cookware producer in the US (potentially the world), and its wares come at a satisfyingly low cost. The pans are poured and sand-cast in Lodge’s South Pittsburg, Tennessee factory (the same town the company was started in in 1896), which results in the pebbly surface most people have come to know as the standard (it wasn’t always this way) and are typically pretty heavy, meaning you need to be patient when heating them through.
This 12-inch Lodge pan is 53 percent off today on Amazon, marked down from $40 to $19.
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