skillet.jpgWe've gotten a lot of hand me downs from the family basement over the years -- furniture, lamps, art, an espresso maker -- but our hands down favorite is the cast iron pan. It's likely that there's one lying around in your family's basement or just waiting to be picked up at a stoop sale or online. For a very low price, you'll have a pan that's strong, durable, has excellent heat retention, and with the right care, a non-stick surface.

The trick with cast iron cookware is the seasoning process. If you are buying new cast iron products, they are often pre-seasoned, and just need to be maintained as you use them, but that gem you find in the basement may very well be rusty, so you will need to give it a hard core scrubbing with steel wool to get started. Once it is clean and dry, give it a very light coating inside and out of vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, or lard if you've got it. Place it in a 300 degree oven for an hour upside down with a baking sheet or foil underneath to catch any drippings. Let it cool before use.

To wash your seasoned pan after using, just use a brush and hot water; never use soap. If food gets stuck on, boil some water in it, let it sit for a bit, and try again with the brush. You can also use a paste of kosher salt and oil as an abrasive. After rinsing, place it on the stove on medium heat and spread a thin film of vegetable oil on the surface of the pan with a paper towel (wad it up so you don't burn yourself), let it heat up for a minute or two, then turn of the heat and let the pan cool on the burner. When completely cool, wipe off any excess oil before storing. With proper care, you'll be able to pass on your cast iron pan to your grandchildren, because everyone needs iron in their diet!

Other kitchen essentials: one sharp knife.