There are only two reasons why you would need to season your cast iron: you have low-quality cast iron or you are cooking with industrial seed oils (also known as “vegetable” oils) like corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and canola (rapeseed) oil. Most of the lower priced cast iron today is much more porous than the cast iron of yesteryear; back in the day the cast iron was denser and milled smooth and slick.
If you run your finger across the cooking surface of your pan, is there a pebbly feel? If so you have a low quality pan. I highly suggest going to rummage sales, estate sales, flea markets, and the like and find some old cast iron. When you look at the cooking surface of the pan, you should see faint concentric rings in the bottom and it will feel slick to the touch.
Even if you have the porous, pebbly cheap stuff, if you cook with saturated fat like animal fat or coconut oil, your food will stick much less than if you used the highly processed vegetable oils. Saturated fat is less susceptible to oxidation than vegetable oils, so it is less likely to allow your cast iron to rust. You know that crusty black stuff that is so revered in the cast iron world as “seasoning”? It is gross and unnecessary; it is a buildup of old food and old, oxidized industrial seed oil that has turned into a hard plastic coating. Example (ewwww):
A good pan, properly used with saturated fat remains slick and smooth with no buildup of residue. It will turn a pleasing dark brown with use. When you use saturated fats with your pan, you clean your pan either by wiping it out with a paper towel if it is very clean oil (frying eggs in coconut oil), or by using very hot water and a stainless steel scouring pad (after removing all fat – you don’t want to put that down your drain), and for the really tough jobs you can even *GASP!* use dishwashing soap. I know, blasphemy!
After cleaning and drying your pan, simply rub a little coconut oil or bacon fat into the pan and it is good to go. I have gone from using the new cheap cookware with vegetable oil and accumulating that gross stuck on crusty surface in an attempt to make my pans nonstick, to using the old quality pans with saturated fat and no “seasoning” and the way I cook now is so much better. The only times I have to wash the pans beyond a simple scrubbing with steel is when I cook something thick and sticky like chili.
There are a lot of makers of the good old pans, including Griswold (who also made Victor, ERIE and Iron Mountain), Wagner, Lodge (old Lodge is unmarked – look for 3 notches in the heat ring on the underside of the pan), Wapak, Favorite Piqua, and Birmingham. There are also a lot of really good unmarked pans, so just look for the slick cooking surface with milling marks.
My favorite cast iron pan came with our house when we bought it abandoned. I have looked at hundreds of pictures of old cast iron and haven’t seen a handle configuration like mine yet. I have no clue what brand it is but it is very light-weight, slick, and the handle doesn’t get hot. I have another unmarked pan that was my grandmother’s and its handle doesn’t get hot either. It is warm to the touch, but you can cook in it for an hour and still pick it up without using a hot pad. That’s a well designed pan!
Edited to add that here is a vintage Lodge pan for $10.50!