I generally clean my cast iron pots and pans with steel wool, but I've recently turned to this bamboo cleaning brush that I picked up from a market in Chinatown. It's called a Sasara, and it turns out it's a Japanese tool that's generally used to clean woks or hangiri (a wooden bowl used to prepare sushi rice). It has proven to be a really effective cleaning tool. Find out why after the jump!
Most obvious is the length of it: I don't have to get my hands in the mess and close to the surface like a sponge or steel wool, and it's actually really effective for getting things that may cake on the surface (like rice) off of the pan. The brush itself also cleans much easier - food doesn't stick to the coarse bamboo bits the same way they can get absorbed by a sponge or even stuck in steel wool for that matter. I'll still probably use wash cloths and sponges, but for the coarse bits, this is the best option that I've found yet! And better yet, there's no plastic, just bamboo!
You can get them cheap at most Chinese or Japanese markets, or for convenience sake, you can pick one up today at Korin for $8.19.