A reader emailed to ask what black iron I would buy if I was just getting started.
I tried to imagine a scenario where I would find all my iron had vanished. Perhaps a UFO with a magnetic tractor beam had horked all my iron in an attempt to improve the food on Planet Claire?
What would I start with? I'd most likely begin with a few skillets. I would probably keep my eye on Ebay and look to snag a couple of older Wagner Ware skillets in 8" and 10.25". The older Wagner Wares are very nice skillets and for some reason collectors don't get all goofy for them so you can buy them for very little money. The Wagner Wares with model numbers (like 1056 or 1058) are older and smoother than the newer pieces. You could also search for a number 6 and a number 8. I think it would be reasonable to expect to buy both the 8" and 10.25" for less than thirty dollars total. If you like shopping around look at flea markets or yard sales (forget antique stores $) or auctions.
Next I would buy a new Lodge pro-logic L10SK3 12" skillet. Lodge is the last cast iron foundry in the USA making cookware and it will be a sad day if they close their doors. Fortunately, for both Lodge and us consumers, their iron cookware is way better than the Chinese made junk that is polluting the shelves of too many stores.
The Lodge L10SK3 is a big, heavy, well made pan that I like a lot (I own 2, or I did before that freaking UFO came around). It is just the thing for high heat cooking and it is roomy enough to cook lots of food in one pan. You will probably save money if you buy one in a hardware store rather than a kitchen shop. I saw them for $18.99 in a local Ace Hardware. Quite a bargain considering it'll probably last forever.
Skillets are very versatile. They make great roasting pans in addition to the stovetop uses. Lids can be picked up in thrift stores. Look for some with a domed shape and the skillet can function as a shallow dutch oven.
Down the road I'd add a 5 quart dutch oven and a griddle.
By starting with these choices one can count on cookware that gets better with age unlike teflon coated pans. They don't emit gasses or flake toxic particles into your food and they aren't made of mystery metals that have voids, inclusions, and other unknown surprises.