Living in West Virginia for a few years, I learned to love things au naturale. And though I broke my tailbone snowboarding, I can clip-in on my mountain bike and ride down a trail full of snakes, spiders and crazy cliffs to qualify for a role in Thelma and Louise.

But one thing I never figured out while I lived in the Wild and Wonderful state is why everyone has a cast-iron skillet on their stove-top.  I mean, seriously, old-school is the new high fashion, but I’ll take my Emeril Lagasse Cookware because I live in the future.

But when my mom bequeathed the cast iron skillet that my great-grandmother (1897-1985) used her entire life, I was nostalgic enough to try it. And while there’s no infomercial with a b-list celebrity inspiring loyalty to a brand, I fell in love with it on day one, and it’s place on my stove top is front and center.

I can’t claim that I discovered cast iron…but if I can get credit in the re-discovery, I’ll take it!

Benefits of Cooking in Cast Iron:

  • Finding a rusty, old, beat up skillet in a garage sale is BETTER than buying it new. But even if you buy it new, expect to pay a fraction of the cost for nonstick, stainless steel pans.
  • Teflon and other non-stick surfaces can’t produce restaurant quality food. If you want a deep, high-quality, seared flavor, cook with cast iron.
  • Cast iron has high heat retention, and is environmentally friendly because it requires less energy. It also can be used on any cooking surface. So if you are a camper or a survivalist, this is perfect for you.
  • Cast iron can be moved directly from stove top to oven, which reduces dishwashing time.
  • Health benefits are amazing, and especially helpful for the vegan diet. Cooking with a cast iron skillet actually increases the iron content of food. The following research is by Pyroenergen.

Foods Tested (100g/3.5oz)

Iron content when raw/Iron content after cooking in iron skillet

Applesauce, unsweetened: 0.35mg/7.38mg

Spaghetti sauce: 0.61mg/5.77mg

Chili with meat and beans: 0.96mg/6.27mg

Medium white sauce: 0.22mg/3.30mg

Scrambled egg: 1.49mg/4.76mg

Spaghetti sauce with meat: 0.71mg/3.58mg

Beef vegetable stew: 0.66mg/3.4mg

Fried egg: 1.92mg/3.48mg

Spanish rice: 0.87mg/2.25mg

Rice, white: 0.67mg/1.97mg

Pan broiled bacon: 0.77mg/1.92mg

Poached egg: 1.87mg/2.32mg

Fried chicken: 0.88mg/1.89mg

Pancakes: 0.63mg/1.31mg

Pan fried green beans: 0.64mg/1.18mg

Pan broiled hamburger: 1.49mg/2.29mg

Fried potatoes: 0.42mg/0.8mg

Fried corn tortillas: 0.86mg/1.23mg

Pan-fried beef liver with onions: 3.1mg/3.87mg

Baked cornbread: 0.67mg/0.86mg

How to Season or Re-Season a Cast Iron Skillet: For new cast iron skillets, or rust spots, uneven color, and poor results with sticky-food, you’ll need to season, or cure it.

Cover the bottom of the skillet with a thick layer of salt. Add 1 cup of a vegetable-based cooking oil and heat until oil begins to smoke. Pour the oil/salt mixture into a bowl and use a “wad” of paper towels to rub the inside of the pan until it’s smooth. Put oil/salt back into the pan and bake at 350 for one hour. Pour off oil/salt and rub the cast iron with the wad of towels one last time. You now have a seasoned cast-iron skillet. Cook away!