Few pieces of kitchen gear improve after years of heavy use. In fact, we could think of only one: the cast-iron pan. As you cook in it, a cast-iron pan gradually takes on a natural, slick patina that releases food easily. Well-seasoned cast iron can rival, and certainly outlast, a nonstick pan. Cast-iron pans are virtually indestructible and easily restored if mistreated. Their special talent is heat retention, making them ideal for browning, searing, and shallow frying. Our longtime favorite and best cast-iron skillet in the test kitchen has been the Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet ($33.31) for its low price, generous size, sturdiness, smooth factory pre-seasoning, and ability to get ripping hot.