Still cooking with non-sticking pans? They're great if you never want a piece of meat with grill marks or if you never want a gratin where the potatoes and cheese are bonded together in a delicious brown crust on the outside. Take the leap to cast-iron. Preferably enameled cast iron like Le Creuset.
I picked a few additions to my collection last weekend at an estate sale. A couple of small skillets in beautiful french blue and a nice covered sauce pan in forest green. Like with most trad things, the older, vintage goods are best and I think that it's true here too. However, there are two problems that arise as you acquire new pieces. The first problem is that sometimes the pans aren't 'seasoned.' Seasoning is the thin black coating on cast-iron that, when combined with butter or oil, provides a very nice non-stick surface for surprisingly easy clean-up while imparting that perfect crust and grill marks on meat and other foods. Wipe on a thin coating of vegetable oil on the inside the piece and put it a 200 degree oven for one half hour. That should give the pan a good start and go ahead and fry a big slab of bacon to finish the job. When cooking's done, rinse the hot pan in the sink and wipe down the insides with a dish rag or paper towels. Hang and re-use.
The second problem is too much black carbon residue on the inside of the pans. Enamel-lined pieces like a shallow gratin dish or Danish pieces from Copco or Dansk need no seasoning and are surprisingly non-stick right from the start. These pieces still aid in imparting the proper golden brown crust to casseroles while retaining and distributing heat evenly like no aluminum pan ever will.
However, frying pans like the canary yellow Cousances piece above sometimes have to be cleaned out. This is surprisingly difficult. Here's what you do. Take your choice of cleaner that you would use to clean your oven and spray the inside of the pan and put it in a plastic bag and set it outside for an hour. Then, scrub it with a steel brush or pad in a bucket of soapy water until the black gunk is gone. Re-season if necessary.