One—and perhaps the only—benefit of hipster-esque, back-to-the-land cooking is the resurgence of a collective love for cast-iron skillets. They are the Filson of fryware: reliable, long-lasting, and ruggedly handsome. They are just as handy for frying a plate full of bacon as they are for a gooey, sticky skillet cake. Maybe you inherited one from your grandmother, or maybe you purchased a brand spanking new one off Amazon; either way, if you treat it right, it could last you a lifetime.

Beloved by cooks for their ability to impart flavor, these family heirlooms are often misunderstood—and, at worst, neglected. Maybe that's because there are a whole lot of wive’s tales and warnings you’ll hear when cast iron comes up. Never ever ever use soap! Don’t let a drop of water touch your pan! Acid is your enemy! And so on, and so forth. It can be enough to scare you away from your own stove.

But as long as you’re keeping your pan well-seasoned and rust-free, explains author Charlotte Druckman, they’re quite easy to maintain, and quite versatile. For her latest book, Stir, Sizzle, Bake: Recipes for Your Cast-Iron Skillet,��Druckman investigates all the best ways to cook—and fry, and bake—with cast iron. Stir, Sizzle, Bake delves into not just what you can do with these pans, but also how to keep them in tip-top shape. Through her research, Druckman has developed a very intimate understanding about how these basic, yet fickle, pans work. 

Here, we talk to the skillet savant about the most important things to keep in mind when buying, seasoning, storing, and cooking with cast iron.