Food & Drink

The Search for a Beginner’s Cast-Iron Skillet

For some Southerners, skillets are reverentially handed down from generation to generation. But since my mom still happily cooks with hers, I had to buy a skillet of my own. Here’s what I learned

photo: Lydia Mansel

The author's new cast-iron skillet—complete with skillet biscuits.

When I moved back down South, to Charleston, South Carolina, from New York City earlier this year, I knew I’d need to make a few purchases to help smoothly re-enter the society that raised me. These would be non-negotiables—items that would suit life in the familiar Southern humidity and help me feel completely at home again.

First, I cast away my all-black ensembles and thick, down coat, making room for breezy summer dresses, and a pair of espadrilles or two. Then, I needed to shell out a few bucks for a cast-iron skillet (an item that had no space or use in a 200-square-foot Manhattan studio apartment). After all, how else would I cook the blueberry cobbler, charred corn, and other cast-iron dishes that float across my screen each day as G&G’s social media editor?

But the skillet, unlike the clothing, would require expertise beyond by current skill-set. When deciding on which pan to purchase, I asked the most knowledgeable Southern culinary expert I know: my mother.

Born and raised in North Carolina farm country, she’s the owner of a cast-iron skillet she pulls out weekly to make her famous fried chicken or sausage gravy. To my chagrin, her response when I asked her where she bought her skillet was, “I found it in a flea market in Asheville, thirty-two years ago.” And she has no intention of giving it up anytime soon.

My search continued. This time, like any other immediate gratification-craving millennial, I went to the Internet, where there are an endless number of probably decent skillets to scroll through. So I narrowed them down by…

1. Care: My skillet had to be pre-seasoned—one less thing to worry about.
2. Price: Anything under $50 worked for my bank account.
3. Reviews: How did the skillet hold up in real life?

And then I found it. Rated more than 2,000 times and averaging a solid 4.3 out of 5 stars, the Pre Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (12.5 inch) by Utopia Kitchen checked every mark. At $24, it met my budget. Coming in at 7.9 pounds, it’s sturdy, but manageable, and slightly lighter than the equally well-rated Lodge pan I also considered. But what made me click to buy was reading the testimonial of someone in a similar position, who wrote, “This is my first cast iron I’ve ever purchased and used, and I can’t believe I’ve been missing out.” Sold.

Because it’s pre-seasoned, all I had to do was take it out of the package—which was followed by another call to my mother asking if I should wash it before I started cooking. This time, her answer was more helpful: “Yes.”

Since my skillet’s arrival, I’ve made a cobbler, a casserole, a gourmet grilled cheese with brie and bacon, and fluffy, buttery biscuits. I’ve washed the pan with soap and water after each use, letting it dry in the oven (a trick I picked up from my mom). When clean and dry, it resides on my stovetop, reminding me of all the Southern recipes I love, as well as the ones I plan to master.

Lydia Mansel is G&G’s social media editor. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lydiamansel.