the all-seeingeyeThe Object in Question: Cast Iron Frying Pan

If you truly need to light the fires of hell under a piece of food, there is nothing quite like a cast-iron frying pan. Cast iron melts between 1100 and 1200 degrees centigrade, and finding anything outside a foundry that will even soften it is a challenge. I have an eight-inch model of unknown manufacture that is now on its third generation in my family.

This one has a very smooth surface-partly from the original manufacture, and partly from years of seasoning and scraping by metal spatulas. Most of the modern ones have machine tool marks where they've been turned, or the rough sand-cast texture fresh from the foundry. Neither of these is really workable. I suppose with a flap-sander, a bead blaster and some time, you could achieve the right finish on the iron. Then, of course, you'll need to spend about a century seasoning the surface. This is easy. For the first thirty years or so cook a lot of bacon in it. If you use it for non-fatty things, be sure to cook them in oil or grease. After the surface has developed a slick black crust, all you need to do after each use is rinse it our with scalding water and rub it down with some form of grease or oil-not too thick. Not to worry about anything growing on that surface, as you'll be heating it well above sterilization temperatures next time you use it. That black crud is an excellent non-stick surface that only improves with age.

In my ownership of this pan-now going on thirty-years-soap has touched its surface exactly once. My mother-in-law decided to help with the dishes-and it got into her head that with a little elbow grease she could do something about getting all of that black stuff out of the pan and making it all shiny. The pan survived-better than a century of seasoning is pretty tough stuff. I successfully resisted the urge to cudgel her with the pan-though that was a close thing. I take my cast iron very seriously.