You turn to the best cast iron skillets for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is the strength and resilience of these pans; they’re workhorses.
They’re also versatile, moving from the stove to the oven with ease. Many also cook incredible meals over campfires and backyard grills.
And, let’s face it, this type of skillet makes you feel as if you’re making the comforting food that nourished generations, as food writers at the New York Times clearly understand.
What’s this business about seasoning?
Cast iron pans must be seasoned before use. It’s simply a process of coating the pan with a fat of sorts and baking it at a high temperature. Not only does this protect the pan, but it also creates a non-stick surface to make it easier for flipping, searing, frying eggs, and more.
Seasoning your cast iron is a task you need to undertake occasionally over time. Martha Stewart knows exactly how to do it, of course.
Martha, as you would imagine, knows a lot about the best cast iron skillets. (As do we after weeks of tests - and reading reviews from both experts and users.) Now, isn’t it time you checked out our list?
You can use this skillet for heats up to 600ºF and the thumb grip on the handle makes it easy to maneuver. It’ pre-seasoned and PFOA and Cadmium-free.
Not everyone finds the pre-seasoning up to scratch and the manufacturers recommend you continue doing so every now and again.
Why would you choose this skillet over the industry leader, Lodge? For a start, it can handle serious heat and the manufacturer also provides step-by-step instructions for seasoning your pan over time (though it does come pre-seasoned). It has everything you’ve come to expect from non-enameled skillets - and the extra bonus of a thumb grip on the handle. That may not seem like a big deal until you get your groove on with adventurous cooking (indoors or out), but we like it a lot and think you will feel the same.
Shape, size, and weight? It’s a 12” round skillet with a weight of 9 pounds. We say it’s an almost perfect balance, though definitely on the heavy side.
Enameled or pre-seasoned? The flat cooking surface has been pre-seasoned on this bare skillet. But, some users report that it wasn’t done to their standards. That’s okay, actually, as the manufacturer provides instructions for seasoning and states that you should undertake to do so every now and again. This is truly a pan that gets better with age.
Suitable for all cooking surfaces? Use it everywhere – indoors and out. And, because it’s safe for use in ovens up to 600ºF, you can really undertake serious cooking with this skillet. As long as you have the wrist strength, this is the skillet you need for crazy, high-heat cooking adventures.
What about pour corners and handles? The handle and helper handle are about as long and strong as you would expect, but we are very impressed with the thumb-grip on the long handle. Even with oven mitts, this is a bonus we wish every skillet would offer. There are also pour corners that get the job done.
Range options? T-fal offers a little bit of everything in the kitchen without actually specializing in a single product. We do think that the 10” skillet they offer is, however, also one of the best.
Will it break the bank? The price varies, of course, but you should expect to pay somewhere around $35 for this cast iron skillet. That’s not bad at all given the size and the features.
This cast iron skillet is pre-seasoned and comes with a silicone hot handle holder (albeit only in red). It can be used with just about every cooking method (though perhaps not with that handle).
It’s a ridiculously big skillet and costs a bit more than the intro line.
If you have a lot of people to feed (every night or just around the campfire), this is the skillet you want. It’s huge and yet it cooks so evenly. That already should tempt you in its direction. But, then there is the pre-seasoning which has been done just right. And, you get a bonus silicone hot handle holder to help with the cooking process. Also, while the price is on the higher end, it’s not priced out of the competition. In fact, given the size, we still think this is one of the best deals on the market.
Shape, size, and weight? It’s a round skillet measuring 13¼“ and has a flat-bottom cooking surface. It is a weighty 12.1 pounds though, so you can expect big muscles after working with this pan.
Enameled or pre-seasoned? It’s a bare pan (there’s no enamel) and it does come pre-seasoned. The reports of inadequate seasonings are rare, so you can rest assured knowing it's seriously good quality.
Suitable for all cooking surfaces? Yes. You can use it everywhere – even on the backyard grill. Though we would recommend you take the silicone handle cover off before putting it in the oven especially a hot one.
What about pour corners and handles? There’s one handle, which is much needed given the weight and size of this skillet. It’s not the longest handle out there, but it’s generous enough to handle the pan. The silicone hot handle cover is very useful, and covers the whole handle. There’s also a helping handle with a hole for hanging and two pour corners on either side of the pan (though you may have difficulty lifting this without holding both handles.)
Range options? This particular range of skillets has a couple of sizes available, all the way down to 8”. You don’t get any options on the color of the handle cover; it comes in red and that’s what you get.
Will it break the bank? This isn’t the cheapest – not for Lodge nor for cast iron skillets in general. But, we’re chalking that up to the size because the smallest sells for under $20. This particular size will set you back between $80 and $100.
This skillet can be used with every cooking method and is a solid all-rounder (on price, size, weight, and more).
The pre-seasoning isn’t great. You will need to do more yourself.
We know you’re inching away from this pan because you want to compare it to the products you can get from Lodge. After all, they are so similar. And then there’s the strange description on Amazon that will leave you scratching your head. But wait… despite the fact that we recommend you season this yourself (we don’t believe the majority of pans leave the factory properly done), we want you to consider the terrific prices on all the cast iron cookware offered by this brand. And, people that get this skillet do fall in love with it quickly.
Shape, size, and weight? It’s a round 10½“ skillet with a decent weight of 8 pounds. The cooking surface is a bit rough when it arrives (and that has to do with the pre-seasoning).
Enameled or pre-seasoned? We understand this may cause a little unease, but hear us out before turning the other way. The manufacturers claim this is a pre-seasoned pan – and it certainly appears as if they’ve begun the process, but not completed it. You could use it as is if you really wanted to, but we strongly recommend seasoning it yourself beforehand. Once you do that, you will find yourself falling in love.
Suitable for all cooking surfaces? Yes, yes, and yes. You can take it with you to the campfire and toss it in the oven. It’s remarkably versatile.
What about pour corners and handles? There’s a decently-sized handle with a side bud that works as a second, helping handle. There is a hole in both (á la Lodge) and excellent pour corners.
Range options? Utopia Kitchen does have a wide range, from skillets to griddle pans and Dutch ovens. They also offer enameled cookware as well. And everything is reasonably priced. That’s one of the reasons we truly appreciate this line. You can get this skillet as the starting point for your collection of value-for-money cast iron cookware
Will it break the bank? The listed MSRP is $100. We wouldn’t buy it for that, given that Lodge offers its pans at a much lower cost. However, you will snag this for less than $40 and we think that’s more than fair. It’s a solid pan with a line that you won’t overpay for.
The large loop helping handle makes it easy to lift this skillet and it’s dishwasher safe (though read the full review for notes on that). This skillet comes pre-seasoned and in a range of colors.
It’s super pricey and rather on the heavy side.
If you want superior cookware, ideal for searing, frying, and more, you’ll want to take a close look at this French brand. It’s that good – even though the price will scare you. This is quality that you pay for, but you can easily recognize as soon as you work with it. It’s gorgeous and you’ll want to show it off. While not as old as Lodge, Le Creuset is an iconic brand that's committed to the idea that "the moments we share together in the kitchen and at the table are still the ones we treasure most."
We need to make a note on the cleaning and pre-seasoning, though. The manufacturers suggest it is fine to tuck into the dishwasher and it is. But, you will need to occasionally re-season the pan if you do so. That’s just the nature of the cast iron beast. However, it does take awhile to get to this point and we’ve found that the easier cleaning of the dishwasher is a real bonus in real households.
Shape, size, and weight? This 11¾“ skillet is round and it weighs 6.8 pounds. It will feel heavy in your hand, but it’s not the worst out there.
Enameled or pre-seasoned? The outer edges of this pan, including the handles are coated with an enameled color of your choice (and really, there are some beautiful options). The interior, flat cooking surface is bare, but well seasoned.
Suitable for all cooking surfaces? As with most enameled cookware, you don’t necessarily want to use it across every cook surface you have. You can put it in the oven and on the stove (any stove), but you will want to think twice before putting it on a campfire or the outdoor grill. Sorry.
What about pour corners and handles? This is where Le Creuset really shines over other brands of cast iron cookware. The handle is substantial and has a hanging hole. No shock there. But, the helper handle is larger than standard. That makes it much easier to grip even when using oven mitts. And, the large pour corners are designed for slop-free draining of whatever you’re cooking. We love that. A lot.
Range options? The options are endless and designed to fit into just about any kitchen. Take, for example, the choices of blue between Caribbean and Marseille and you’ll get an idea of color. There are also Dutch ovens, griddle pans, and more. Truly, you could stock your entire kitchen with this brand if you can afford it.
Will it break the bank? Yes. Well, a single skillet at $200 isn’t going to completely do you in. But, as soon as you become addicted to Le Creuset, you will need to begin saving like mad.
This 10¼” skillet is pre-seasoned and has a sturdy, albeit short handle. Both the long handle and the helper handle have holes for hanging if desired.
Though it is pre-seasoned, it could potentially do with another coating before use with foods like eggs.
If you have a single cast iron skillet, it should be this one. And, given the price, you probably don’t need to make a decision between this one and another one. There are a lot of sizes available, but the 10¼ inch is a fabulous size. The handle is big enough without being bulky… and the skillet is pre-seasoned. That’s a bonus (once again, given the price). But, you might want to think about another coating. All in, this is incredible and you know you want it.
And, if value-for-money doesn't move you, consider the timelessness and sentiment behind these skillets. This missive from Jan Barker, a writer for Atlanta Magazine, demonstrates the power a Lodge skillet can have in anyone's life. (At the very least, it's an incredible read.) All-American company, Lodge, has been around since 1896 - and their tagline demonstrates their intention to make memories in the kitchen, "We don't just make iron; we make heirlooms that bring people together for generations." They're serious about all things good, including the environment. They have an Energy Star partnership and developed an environmentally melting system.
Shape, size, and weight? This round skillet is 10¼ inches. And, it’s not the worst cast iron skillet to handle at all of 5 pounds.
Enameled or pre-seasoned? It’s not enameled, but it is pre-seasoned. That said, some users report issues with the condition of the pre-seasoning. You may want to give it a try. It’s a flat bottom so it’s not terribly tricky.
Suitable for all cooking surfaces? You can use this in just about any way you want – including induction stove tops and over the camp fire. It’s also useful in the oven; you will have a difficult time finding an occasion when you don’t reach for this pan.
What about pour corners and handles? It has a short handle which makes it difficult to flip food without putting excess pressure on your wrist, but that makes it perfect for smaller ovens. There’s also a helper handle because you have to add 5 pounds to whatever you’ve put in the skillet. There are also pour corners on both sides.
Range options? It’s Lodge. If you’ve not heard about this company, then you really should take a moment to read up on the entire range.
Will it break the bank? No! Not even close. You’ll pay less than $20 for this cast iron skillet. We would love it even if it were two or three times more expensive, but we’ll certainly take it at the price point given. (You should too!)
Why would you buy a cast iron pan when one of those aluminum non-stick jobs are so much cheaper? For a start, a cast iron skillet will last forever, so it’s an investment and they’re in a class of their own.
Plus, they cook like a dream - well, they cook most everything better than alternative cookware. To find out how, it’s important to understand cast iron just a little better before picking out the perfect piece for you.
Cast iron is actually a combination of metals, usually including scrap iron and steel, along with limestone, carbon, and pig iron. Pots and pans are made by melting these ingredients together in a single mold which includes the handle. Although compositions vary, all cast iron cookware shares the same strength: the ability to withstand high heat, both direct and indirect.
Aluminum, stainless steel, and copper are also used to create cookware - and although these may include the handle as a single piece, they’re more often attached separately. The materials used for the handles on un-coated cookware often determine whether or not these items can be placed in the oven or over the campfire as well as on the stove top. Pots and pans coated with Teflon (or a similar non-stick coating) aren’t safe for oven cooking; it’s one of the reasons that oh-so-durable cast iron remains popular in kitchens across the world.
In case you’re wondering, Teflon isn’t a chemical compound, it’s a brand name for the man-made chemical polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). And, although the coating definitely makes it easier to cook and (perhaps more importantly) clean, there are some health risks associated with the compound. Okay, it’s not dangerous to cook your food on it, but if you heat it to excess (which is dependent on the pan and your stovetop), the fumes can give you flu-like symptoms and actually kill pet birds.
Now, we’re not saying you shouldn’t have a good Teflon pan around, but the high heats that cast iron can maintain make it a solid option for every kitchen.
The most obvious benefit of cast iron pans is their durability; as witnessed by the number of cast iron pots and pans handed down through generations. These items are built to last forever, and they do. They’re hard-wearing and because the handle isn’t a separate piece, you have even less to worry about.
If you were to ask any serious cook (home or professional), however, they would tell you that the best feature is the ability to move your cast iron from the stove to the oven to the campfire and so on. While it’s tough to think of a recipe that requires so many elements, there are plenty (think frittatas and casseroles) that benefit from both the stove and the oven. And, you can’t do that with any other cookware. And, most pots and pans transfer to the table equally well (with a heat-resistant pad underneath, of course).
Cast iron is superior for searing meat. No really. The high heats you can reach make the Maillard Reaction that much easier. (It’s a French term for the chemical change meat undergoes when caramelized on a hot surface; it’s that amazing savory flavor that makes you crave steaks.)
It’s also safer when compared to Teflon pans (remember that you don’t want to overheat those pans). The only trace element that could be transfered from the pan to your food is iron, which your body needs (as opposed to a man-made chemical which isn’t really supposed to be in your body). Nutritionists actually recommend fortifying food in this way.
Caring for your cast iron pan is a little more intensive than other cookware. But, it’s not as bad as you may think - you just need to follow a few rules. (We’ll get to those… below.)
If your pan isn’t properly seasoned (yes, we’ll get to that too) or you haven’t pre-heated it properly, you’ll find your meal stuck to the bottom of the pan. It’s a bummer, but something you can work around.
Considering the temperatures cast iron can safely reach and maintain - and that it’s solid metal - these pans are crazy hot. You definitely need to be careful, especially with kids in the kitchen.
Oh, depending on the make and size of your cookware, it can be wildly heavy.
There are a few foods that don’t benefit from cast iron cooking. Largely, these are delicate pieces of fish (though larger or firmer pieces will benefit) and acidic dishes (think about anything that needs deglazing or those with tomato bases, such as marinara)
You’ll quickly find a variety of sizes in the relatively limited variety of cast iron cookware types. Basically, you’ll get pots (Dutch ovens) and pans (skillets), with a sprinkling of braisers, saucepans, and roasters. And there’s a motley assortment of colors and shapes in the enameled category (think about all those pretty Le Creuset cast iron options).
The most commonly sized skillet is 12” (though you’ll certainly find bigger and smaller sizes). The 10.25” size is also easy to find and both common sizes should run between $15 and $70 for an unseasoned pan or between $40 and $200 for a seasoned, enameled pan.
Dutch ovens with a lid are often sold in 5-quart or 6-quart sizes and are typically more expensive. More than with skillets, high-quality Dutch ovens are worth the splurge; you want the tight-fitting lid and handles that are just large enough to hold (without being too large).
Enameled cast iron pans (both skillets and Dutch ovens) are typically easier to care for as the enamel adds an instant level of non-stick to the iron. Besides the extensive range of colors, you won’t need to season these pans. But, you can’t use these on campfires; you’ll need a non-enameled pan for that. Otherwise, it’s up to you whether you want to pay more for an enameled cast iron pan or you’re happy with the seasoning process. (We’re getting to that still; promise.)
New cast iron pans from companies like Lodge or Le Creuset are readily available, but if you stumble on a used cast iron piece at an auction, garage sale, Craigslist, or your grandmother’s house, there’s no reason not to consider it. These pieces are workaholics and will truly last as long as they’re cared for. Depending on the age and brand, you could pay more or significantly less than a new pan - and, while you may add your own level of seasoning, it’s often not necessary before you begin cooking with them.
This is the point where most would-be cast iron cooks walk away. Seasoning is the application of a hardened, non-stick, enamel-like layer through fat-polymerization; it is, as it sounds, a process - not something that just happens.
The science is a little complicated. How does a fat release enough free radicals to create a hardened surface that’s absolutely safe for cooking? Most people are simply content with the fact that it just works, but if you really want to know about the chemistry behind seasoning, blogger Sheryl Canter does an impressive job explaining the basics without getting into crazy chemical formulas.
What you really need to know is that the process of seasoning cast iron is really only as difficult as you want to make it.
First and foremost, you should know that even pre-seasoned, unenameled pans can benefit from seasoning. You may be able to get around it for now, but at some point, your pan is going to need some seasoning. So, you should get to grips with the process sooner rather than later.
If you’ve purchased your cast iron second hand or you need to restore something that’s rusty and covered with food crud, this post clearly outlines what you’ll need to do (and the photos will give you plenty of hope… and inspiration).
But, assuming you’ve bought a new skillet, you should start with a clean, dry pan. And, we mean really clean and really dry. After hand-washing with dish soap and a towel dry, place your cast iron in an oven that’s been pre-heated to 200°F. Allow the heat to dry the pan for 10 minutes or so before removing - and remember it will be super hot.
When it’s cool enough (but not ice cold), rub flaxseed oil all over your pan - everywhere, including the tiny indents in the handle. (Why flaxseed oil? We’ll get into that in a moment.) Then, use paper towels to remove all the oil. Yes, all of it. You’ll never actually get all of it off, which is the point, but you want the oil film to be as thin as humanly possible. So, keep wiping until your cast iron makes it appear as though there is nothing left on your skillet.
Place your skillet upside down in a cool oven and set the temperature to 500°F (this slow heating is critical, so make sure your oven is cool so your cast iron can warm as the oven does). When the oven hits 500°F (or the hottest temperature yours can reach), let the pan bake for 1 hour, then turn off the oven but wait at least 2 hours to open the door.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And it is. Except (sorry), this is when you learn that you need to repeat this process at least 5 more times for a previously unseasoned (or a reset to zero) skillet. At the point where your pan begins to take on a sheen rather than the matte finish it will have after the first few coats, it’s ready for cooking.
Seasoning isn’t a process you’ll need to go through very often (well, depending on how addicted you are to collecting and using your cast iron pots and pans). But, you will still be tempted to speed everything up at some point. Right now, stop yourself from thinking that a thicker coat will make it faster. It won’t. Worse, it could force you to restart the process. Thicker oil coats simply lead to a messier oven, uneven cooking surfaces, and ugly, set drips.
You want a super hot oven that exceeds the applied oil’s smoke point as it accelerates the release of free radicals and creates the polymerization that you want. Yes, it will smoke some, but that’s exactly what you want. (May we suggest turning on the exhaust fan or waiting for a warmer day to season your pan?) And, we want to remind you that you don’t want to reach these temperatures and smoke levels when cooking; that’s not healthy.
If your cast iron comes out sticky rather than hardened, you probably left too much oil on the skillet or you cooked at too low of a temperature (possibly for too short a time). Sadly, you’ll probably need to reset your pan and start over.
Choose the right oil. Your grandmother’s grandmother used lard to season her pans, but there’s a good chance that you either don’t have access to it or you’re not willing to pay as much as the butcher wants for it. (Let’s not even mention how vegetarians feel about seasoning their cast iron with animal fats.) The good news is that you don’t need lard. Flaxseed oil has a remarkably low smoking point which is what you want and, while it’s not exactly cheap, it also won’t break the bank.
Flaxseed oil can be found in the health food section (perhaps as an omega-3 supplement) and it should be in the fridge. If you just can’t get your hands on it, look for an organic oil (or fat) with a low smoking point. Stay away from avocado and soybean oils as their smoke points are way too high.
Cast iron, enameled or otherwise, isn’t dishwasher-safe. It’s not that they’ll fall apart, it’s that you don’t want to damage the enamel or seasoning. (How often do you really want to go through that process?)
But, if it’s a well-made, properly seasoned pan, you’ll find it’s as easy to clean by hand with ordinary dish soap as a non-stick pan. If you need to really scrub food grub from your cast iron, use kosher salt. Just sprinkle some into your pan, add a little warm water, and use a dishcloth to work away the grime. Just know that the more often you salt scrub your skillets, the more often you’ll need to season them.
Make sure your cast iron is bone dry before packing it away. Rust is a killer with cast iron pans and you’ll need to reset your cookware through a rather elaborate (and somewhat painful) process if your pan begins to rust. You also need to check that the other pans on top of or underneath are dry (or place towels between each layer).
You can also give your cast iron a little once over with flaxseed oil before storing them - especially if re-seasoning is imminent. Just allow it to dry with the oil on before putting your cast iron skillet away.
Believe it or not, that’s about the extent of it when it comes to caring for your cast iron cookware. Apart from the seasoning, it’s pretty straightforward. Though, you should know that cast iron will absorb some flavor from the food you cook. If you don’t want your chocolate chip cookies to taste like fish (yes, chocolate chip cookies come out perfectly with cast iron cookware), you probably want to use a separate pan.
And, on that note, isn’t it time you picked out the best possible cast iron pan for you?