Rippin' hot skillets/fry pans
I've always wondered about this and would love to hear about your insight/experiences. On several cooking shows and in cookbooks, they'll say something along the lines of, "Put some oil in the pan over high heat and let it get really hot and then put "X" on and let it brown..."
I understand the idea is to get good browning/flavor, but what about damaging the pan? I don't have a big enough cast iron pan, so I usually use a 12" All-Clad or Calphalon frypan and they specifically say "Unless boiling, use only med-high heat" because the aluminum or the cladded layers can warp or melt. So am I just being too cautious by keeping the burners shy of high?
I think you're wise not to heat your steel pans on high - they WILL warp.
As for the cast-iron pots and pans - you can buy the old fashioned kind very cheap. Lodge 12 inch skillet is $10.95 at Amazon.com, 3 qt is $19.95 at Crateandbarrel.com and cooking.com, and I've seen them at hardware stores and Walmart.
But even the pricey Le Creuset can be found in a discount store or outlet mall, as low as half price if you buy second quality (cosmetic blemish but not flawed.)
Finally, do as I do and brown in a roaster pan in the oven, at maybe 450 farenheit. This works great for beef - just prep it (flour, oil, whatever the recipe calls for), put it in the pan, and forget about it for a while. I go by smell -- if I can smell it from my living room or home office, it's ready. No need to stir, no need to turn.