The smell of spices and fried chicken fills the kitchen and leaks out of the open windows. It makes your stomach grumble and your feet walk faster, because you know what that fragrance means. Someone is cooking.

Most of us fire up the stove with a sacred quest in mind. We have a goal in mind, a battle that begins as soon as we start cooking. Our full attention is devoted solely to the task at hand. Frantically searching for the secret ingredient, the kitchen transforms into a battlefield with messy explosions all around. Cooking is no longer a daily task, but a thrilling adventure in which every step takes you closer to the ultimate destiny. It’s the quest for a memory revived in the taste of a current meal. The prize: we want this meal to taste just like Grandma used to make it.

People always say that the secret ingredient of your mom’s cooking skills is love. That might be true, but since you can’t buy a bottle of love at Trader Joe’s down the street, you probably want a more practical solution. Stop searching for this secret ingredient in your pantry, fridge or grocery store. The rules of cooking are relatively straight forward. The right combination of spices brings the flavor, the right ingredients bring the quality, and the right temperature brings the meal to completion. But the secret to timeless cooking is one many have never even considered. The key ingredient is a cast iron pan.

How To Unlock Your Grandma’s Recipe Secrets

There are many reasons why iron pans are the most commonly used cookware in the kitchen and have been used for centuries. One of the best benefits of cooking with cast iron is they last a lifetime and they are one of the few  things that get better with age. Also, as it’s used more, the more stick-resistant it becomes. First of all, the quality of iron pots and pans allows it to be transferred to the next generation. Believe it or not, there used to be a time when things were made to last for more than one lifetime, and iron pans are the remnant of a bygone era, when the products you bought weren’t designed to disintegrate at the one-year mark. You can ‘season’ your iron pan, which creates a natural non-stick coating. “Seasoning” is vegetable oil baked onto the iron at a high temperature. The more you cook, the better it gets. Because you can create, maintain, and repair the “seasoning”, your cookware can last for decades. This is in contrast to chemical non-stick coating, which cannot be repaired and therefore has an extremely limited lifespan.

Iron pans are very forgiving. Everybody makes a mistake once in a while, especially when you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It would be a bummer if you were punished for every mistake by having to buy a new pan. Luckily, this is not the case with cast iron. Let’s say you cooked at too high of a temperature and you ended up with one big, baked-on mess in your pan. Of course the first step is scrubbing out all of the stuck on food. Evaluate the condition of the seasoning to see if there are areas where the seasoning was removed while scrubbing. If necessary, re-season the pan before you use it again. The same goes with rust. First of all, you can prevent your iron pan from rusting by properly seasoning it and not using it to boil water. But even if the pan is starting to rust after a while, there’s no need for panic. Just scour the rust, rinse, dry, and rub with a little vegetable oil, and the pan is as good as new again. Other pans have to be thrown away when rust introduces itself or when the non-stick coating is removed, but iron pans are easy to fix.

Cast iron retains heat remarkably well and diffuses it evenly and consistently. Cast iron cookware is a precision cooking tool, as it enables precise control of cooking temperatures. Its heat retention qualities allow for even cooking temperature without hot spots. This makes it a perfect match for any cooking task; baking, searing, frying, roasting, stir-frying and much more. Take it from the stove to the oven and back; your iron pots and pans can handle it. This dual purpose is what has made cast iron cookware so popular over the years. Cooking with iron pans can even help you to lose that extra pound, since it’s an old-fashioned way to cook fat free. When the pan is well seasoned, it is stick resistant and it doesn’t need additional oil. Your meal tastes better, because the flavor of the food is maintained by the natural non-stick coating and you can use those lost calories for an extra cupcake as dessert. Need I say more?

Follow in the footsteps of your great-grandmothers and use the secret ingredient of a cast iron pan. Leave a legacy for the next generation, because thanks to the long-lasting quality of cast iron, you are not only able to give your children a book full of secret recipes, but also the high quality iron pans you used to cook them with as well.