How does one season and care for cast iron cookware?

This is one of those culinary topics for which the scientific "optimal" answer has only recently really been even pursued, but there are dozens of answers that get close and have been handed down through the ages. It's like finding a marginally faster clever sorting algorithm only after a near-optimal, very intuitive method has become the gold standard.

Sheryl's blog post on the topic has become the Internet's preferred method for the actual seasoning, but if one goes farther afield at all--perhaps to find alternate ways of stripping the old seasoning, or notes on upkeep after the pan has been seasoned once--then one must wade through all kinds of resources advocating Crisco, bacon fat, etc.

I started looking into this because I was given a vintage Wagner pan that had originally been Grandma's. I used the self-cleaning oven method because I have an oven that self-cleans, and didn't want to use harsh chemicals if I could help it. So far I've cooked a grilled cheese sandwich and some fish, and they've come out very nicely, so this pan may indeed become a new staple of my kitchen.

Cast iron cooking has taken on a sort of nerdy seasoning in recent years. It's a "retro" cooking method that appeals to food hippies (who are wary of Teflon chemicals), and the amount of prep work that goes into seasoning or even restoring a pan means that there's a certain "I built it myself" aspect to the tool. Using cast iron vs. a nonstick pan is like using a faithful, super-customized Linux box versus a shiny Mac: the Mac may be slick, and works right out of the box, but you have to replace it every couple years if you want to stay cutting-edge. The Linux box takes a little more TLC, but it is yours in a way that the Mac is not. Those who can use Linux well take great pride in it, sometimes to an evangelical degree; those without the patience for it let the metal sit in an attic until a new retro-hardware enthusiast comes along.

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