When I asked Test Kitchens professional SaBrina Bone to name her favorite kitchen gear, she didn't even blink.

"Cast-iron anything," she said. "That's what I learned to cook on as a kid. It sears better."

"When it's seasoned, a cast-iron skillet is virtually a non-stick skillet," added fellow Test Kitchens staffer Mike Wilson. "You can get it to higher heat than you can a non-stick pan without ruining it."

I learned Mike's last point the hard way, after ruining a perfectly good non-stick skillet by subjecting it to the high heat required for stir-frying. That's when I invested in a quality cast-iron wok, as well as a traditional skillet. I had never realized what I'd been missing. I soon realized that cast-iron pans are perfect for frying bacon, creating a lovely golden crust on foods such as scallops or lamb, and deglazing to transform the tasty browned bits that stick to the pan into a rich and flavorful sauce. (If you've never tried this, you really must.)

Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for seasoning your cast-iron before first use and cleaning it afterward properly. Good care makes cast-iron cookware a worthy investment that can last a lifetime.