Every seasoned (no pun intended) home cook knows the value of keeping at least one trusty cast-iron skillet in their cook–and bake–ware arsenal. If you’re just starting to cook with them, it will only take a few dishes to discover that this piece of kitchen equipment is unmatched in terms of versatility, durability, and functionality. Their purpose goes way beyond simple cornbread to make delectable appetizers, desserts, main dishes and much more, so here are our top reasons to unlock the limitless potential of this must-have kitchen tool.
1. They’re inexpensive.
You can purchase a good-quality skillet at most local home-goods stores for $15-20. Cast-iron maintains and distributes heat just as well as some of the most expensive cookware, making it an easily attainable, cost-effective way to take take the quality of your dishes from good to great without much added expense.
2. They’re virtually indestructible.
Cast-iron is some seriously heavy-duty kitchen equipment that will last you forever–given that it’s properly cared for. You can even scrape away excess food from its non-stick surface using metal cookware (a usual no-no). The seasoning in cast iron is chemically bonded to the metal so it’s extremely resilient. Acidic food, however, is the one thing to steer clear of when cooking with cast-iron, as any unseasoned spots on your skillet can potentially leech metallic flavors into your food.
3. They’re incredibly versatile workhorses in the kitchen.
Cast-iron skillets can be used for sautéing, pan-frying, searing, baking, braising, broiling, roasting, and even more cooking techniques. Pro tip: The more seasoned your cast-iron skillet is, the better flavor it’s going to give to whatever you are cooking–from cornbread to chicken. To learn how to season (and re-season) it, keep reading.
4. They heat up and stay hot.
Cast-iron cookware is unmatched in its heating properties and capacity–which means it gets extremely hot and stays extremely hot. This is important for many reasons, but especially when searing meats to create a nice char, making great hash, or pan-roasting chicken and vegetables.
5. Cleaning them is easy.
Cast iron skillets should never be washed with soap (unless you’re about to re-season them). For those lazy-when-it-comes-to-the-dishes home cooks, like myself, this is wonderful, wonderful news. To wash, simply rinse in really hot water while scrubbing with a stiff brush. For stubborn food that’s stuck to the pan, boil water in the skillet and let it stand for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse again. Another note: Never allow cast-iron to drip dry–you should always towel-dry it immediately to prevent rusting. After patting it down with a clean towel, you can also place you cast-iron over low heat on the stove to dry it completely.
6. Re-seasoning them is too.
You’ll know it’s time to re-season your cast-iron skillet when food begins to stick or the once shiny black pan starts turning a dull color (which means the food may start sticking soon). Here’s how to do it:
Simply preheat your oven to anywhere 350° to 400°. Line the bottom with foil. Clean your pan with hot soapy water and a scrub brush and dry it well. Spread oil over the entire surface (inside and out) of the pan. Place the pan upside down on the top rack and bake for one hour. Turn the oven off and let the pan cool in the oven completely (you can just leave it overnight). The next morning, take it out, and voilà!
This article originally appeared on myrecipes.com.