I have exactly one cast iron pan.
It’s a grill pan – the kind with the little ridges in the bottom to make those cool “I grilled this but not really” marks in your hamburgers and steaks (and also to hold whatever you’re cooking up and out of the grease while it drips off, but that’s boring, since there’s no fire underneath to flare up at every drop of fat that sizzles into it). I bought it when we upgraded our range this past spring to one with an induction cooktop, which if you’re not familiar with, uses a magnetic field to excite and heat up the metal rather than heating coils (so the stovetop doesn’t actually transfer heat to the pan, it just excites the metal in the pan until the pan itself gets hot). I wanted to try something in cast iron on it, and since our patio is far too warm to use for actually grilling in the summer (never mind all the yellowjackets looking for a handout), a grill pan seemed like a good choice.
I’m not normally one to want to fuss with maintenance on anything, including pots/pans and dishes. I make very few exceptions – pretty much everything in my kitchen needs to be dishwasher safe, or it doesn’t stay long. The grill pan is one of those exceptions though, and I have a love/hate relationship with the extra care it requires.
My stainless steel all just goes in the dishwasher and gets nested back into the cupboard until I need it again. Easy peasy, no effort on my part.
The grill pan though…I have to scrub the larger bits loose with a scraper, then use a finer scrub brush to loosen the rest of the gunk, and then wipe it out with a dish cloth and rinse several times before it’s clean (yes, I know if I cleaned it shortly after using, it would probably be easier, but I’m not that person and never will be, so it’s not going to happen). Then, after it’s clean, per a web site on “easy cast iron care” I read, I rub a tiny bit of oil all over the inside, heat it back up for 10-15 minutes, and then leave it to cool overnight to keep the seasoning strong. It’s either that,or re-season it long and slow in the oven every so often, and I can guarantee you I will never remember to do that. And if I did by some chance, I’d never actually make the time. I know this about myself.
Needless to say, on nights I reach for that pan, I sometimes hesitate a few seconds, wondering if I should just use a stainless steel one instead so I don’t have to worry about the care ritual later that night. And I always find myself grudgingly placing that pan on the stove, knowing I’m going to be annoyed by having to care for it later, but still inexplicably drawn to…well, something about it.
It’s not even the cooking, really – sometimes I can finish what I start in it on the stove, but with thicker or still-somewhat-frozen steaks, I have to finish them in the oven (the grill pan is small enough to do that, but it is heavy, and then I have to move things around, etc). The grill marks and searing are nice, but that’s hardly worth the effort. And yet…I still reach for that pan several nights a week, even for things like grilled cheese that is going to seep into those grooves and make the cleaning process even longer.
I think a lot of it is the aesthetics. I like how it looks, and I like watching food cook in it. Basically the same reason I use actual bone china teacups for my late night cuppa, even though they also require washing by hand. Also, it’s the only pan that requires that kind of care. If I were using several cast iron pans for different things and had to scrub and season all of them every night, that would probably make me rethink my options. Though this one in particular is harder to clean by default solely due to all those ridges. A flat pan would take far less time to clean and care for.
And it would also be far less interesting.
I often find myself standing at the sink, scraping gunk out of the pan ridges, and trying to decide whether I’m enjoying the meditative task, or just enduring it for the joy of actually using the pan. I still haven’t decided, honestly. Maybe it’s a little of both.
I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.