I love cast iron. It gets super hot. It's lovely for putting a nice crispy brown crust on potatoes, and I could use it to kill zombies in a pinch. I'm currently baking some potatoes for lunch (post on this later), and seasoning a new cast iron piece. This has inspired me to post my rules for cast iron.
Rule #1: Buy used! I only have four pieces of cast iron cook-ware, but I am constantly scanning thrift stores for new finds. Seriously, what is anyone going to do to hurt cast iron? I found a beautiful Le Creuset 10-inch round grill pan (which they do not make anymore) in a Goodwill for $30. Even if the piece has a little rust on it, it can be cleaned up with a little steel wool and elbow grease.
Rule #2 (Actually more of a myth): Cast iron is not difficult to clean. Two of my pieces were given to me by my mother. She hates cast iron because she thinks it's too heavy and difficult to clean. Here is how you clean a cast iron pan: Simply wipe out the mess after use with a paper towel or sponge. That's it, really. If the mess is really terrible, or you cooked gravy in your pan and didn't clean it for a few days (not that I would ever do this. Heh) then you can put some water in the pan and boil out all the stuck on bits. Pour the water out, and wipe dry with a paper towel. Then put a thin layer of oil on the pan. The oil will help to season the pan and give it a non-stick finish. This will also protect against rust.
Rule #3: Season your pan. This is a very important step in cast iron cooking, and oh so easy. To season my pan I wait until I will have the oven on for baking potatoes or a roast. Then I coat my pan with a layer of Crisco. You may want to use gloves for this unless you want to be picking Crisco out of your rings for hours afterwards. I put the pan in the oven and let it bake. I leave the pan in after the other items are done baking. I let it cool with the oven. When the pan is cool, I pour out the excess Crisco, and and wipe the pan clean.
I hope if you were intimidated by cast iron, you give it a try now. My newest cast iron piece? A corn muffin tray in the shape of ears of corn. I'll be experimenting with corn muffins soon, and will post a recipe when it is perfected. Next post: lunches.