Cast Iron had always appealed to me. I don't know why but I really wanted cast iron cookware. The problem was - it intimidated me. As a teen, a friend's mom always had her cast iron filled with nasty rusty water (she was not a good housekeeper anyway). Her excuse was they were so hard to clean.
I am an overthinker so when I had decided I wanted cast iron, I started doing some serious research. Everyone I talked to made it clear that cast iron was not hard to clean and soaking it was ruining it. I took a scout class on cast iron cooking from a neighbor. Not long after, I found my chicken skillet (it's a deep skillet with a special lid for frying chicken) on the clearance rack. It was so inexpensive I had to buy it.
Once I got it home, I called up my neighbor in a panic - I didn't know what to do next. It was still intimidating. The truth is - in the beginning cast iron can be work. Many come pre-seasoned but my neighbor said he didn't put much stock in it. To season a cast iron means coating it with oil and baking it at 300 degrees for an hour (this may be debatable).
You can season your cast iron any time but I am a lazy owner so I rarely season my cookware this way. The reason is - I use them all the time and have gotten a good coating on my pans. My husband hasn't quite gotten the hang of it but it's not really that difficult.
The trick with cast iron is to have patience and never use soap on it. If you do use soap, rinse well and season in the oven. (I'll get to cleaning in just a moment).
I always set my cast iron (empty but with a thin coating of oil on the inside) on high heat and let it warm up. Sometimes the oil coating disappears and that's okay, I just brush on a little more (I use a silicone basting brush to oil my pans). Then I turn the heat down and cook. I can make fried eggs this way with just a little oil and no sticking but I have to remember that some foods just stick - like bacon so I always make the eggs first.
To clean my pans, I buy a round toilet brush from the dollar store (they look like large bottle brushes). The reason I use a toilet brush is because the handles are a little longer. This allows me to use really hot water to clean the pan. They won't come out squeaky clean but should be completely smooth and devoid of any food particles. The reason they don't come out super clean is because you want to preserve that oil finish. I wipe my pans with a towel and give them a quick oil if I think of it. I do have some cast iron seasoning stuff that comes in a tube but plain ole oil works just fine (I won the tube at a Dutch Oven contest).
I pick up my cast iron anywhere I can that's reasonable. I would love to have the money to buy the "good" stuff but I don't. I usually pick up my cast iron at grocery stores. They may not be brand name but they sure hold up just fine. It's not like buying any other cookware. The trick to cast iron is the care not the brand. You can even buy cast iron second hand. If it's really yucky - clean it really good and season well. They are amazingly durable. Don't let a little rust scare you - clean well and oil.
We had a garage fire (that took half the house) a few years ago. The garage was completely leveled - nothing salvagable. As my family is cleaning up the rubble, two cast iron pans were found completely unharmed. We had steelbelt tires and expensive tools that didn't fare as well so let me tell you - they are practically indestructible.