Cast iron pans are a kitchen essential. Alongside spoons, spatulas, and skillets, you should always have a cast iron pan or two in your cabinet. These super-durable pans can be used on a grill, on a stove, in an oven, and even over a campfire.
That's why buying cast iron pans and skillets should be viewed as an investment. The right pan, chosen by the right cook and used the right way, can be called upon for decades of dinners, desserts, and more. Here, we pulled together the 8 best cast iron pans and skillets so you can find one that matches your cooking style and needs. We relied on the thousands of reviews from avid cooks just like you, plus our own experiences, to create this list. We think you'll find a great piece or two that will be as beloved by you as all the reviewers suggest.
Cast iron is adored by home cooks and professionals alike because it can be heated to a very high temp, it stays hot longer than stainless steel or non-stick pans, and it develops a natural non-stick surface that's second to none. But for all that there is to love about cast-iron skillets, there are a few things that may narrow your selections and help you decide what's right for you and your kitchen.
The typical cast iron skillet is 10 inches, but 8 and 12 are also common. Larger sizes are available but may require special ordering.
Recipes like cakes and cornbread may call for a specific size, so it's important to have and use the one your recipes call for so you get the best results. Beyond that, it's a matter of preference. The bigger the skillet, the heavier it is. But the bigger the skillet, the more surface area you have for cooking chicken, steak, and more.
Seasoning is a cast iron skillet's natural non-stick capability. With use, cast iron pans become more seasoned. As seasoning builds, the pans become more non-stick, which is precisely why vintage pans are so popular with antique and consignment shoppers.
Today, most manufacturers pre-season skillets before they leave their factories, and all cast iron pans will need periodic seasoning. To do that, coast the inside of the skillet or pan with a high-temperature oil, like vegetable oil. Bake the pan in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour. Let cool. Wipe down with a cloth, and store.
Cast iron skillets and pans are very heavy, and the larger they are, the heavier they will be. (Lids add extra lbs, too.) To make carrying or moving these hefty pans from place to place in the kitchen, many manufacturers have added U-shaped helper handles across from the long, narrow handle on any pan. If lifting weighty objects is difficult for you, look to purchase a cast iron skillet that's made with these supplemental handles or one that's lighter weight.
In the realm of cast iron pans, Lodge is royalty — and for good reason. The American-made company (their foundry is in South Pittsburg, Tennessee) has been making heirloom-worthy cast-iron skillets and pans since 1896. The brand's popularity has grown by word of mouth and now by enthusiastic online reviews. They produce skillets in all shapes and sizes, and they've expanded out into fun accessories like silicone handles and special-edition pans for historic occasions.
But their 12-inch skillet is by far the most popular and certain to get a workout in any cook's kitchen. The large size can hold a whole chicken or several steaks. It is a bit heavier than Lodge's smaller pans, at eight pounds, so Lodge added an assist handle. The pan also comes with a silicone handle to make moving the skillet into and out of an oven easier. (It's oven-safe up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Lodge's cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, which means they're ready to use right out of the box. However, we've found that you'll need to reseason the pan pretty quickly, so make sure you know how to season a cast iron pan so it keeps its non-stick quality.
On Amazon, the skillet has over 43,000 reviews, and still maintains 4.5 stars. One reviewer wrote, "[T]he more we use the pan the better it gets. My husband and I both just love this thing."
Buy it: Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet, $44; amazon.com
Field Company, headed by two brothers in New York's Catskills, makes skillets that are modeled after the cast iron of the 1930s. With a seriously smooth cooking surface, they're thinner and 25 to 50 percent lighter in weight (and, thus, easier on the wrist) than most similarly sized cast iron.
That makes these lighter weight cast iron skillets ideal for cooks that need a hand with heavier pots, or for campers who appreciate cast iron's campfire cooking prowess but don't want to tote an extra-heavy skillet for miles into the woods.
Buy it: Field Cast Iron Skillet, from $75; fieldcompany.com
Staub's Dutch ovens are beloved for the easy-to-clean coating and black enamel interior that doesn't show stains, and those great benefits are also present in the brand's cast iron skillets. The 10-inch enamel-coated cast iron skillet comes in seven colors and features two spouts on either side of the pan for easy pouring. The smaller size is easier to handle, but they also make a very popular 12-inch skillet.
Among other enamel coated cast iron skillets, Staub's is prized by professional cooks and home cooks alike because the thick cast iron heats evenly and retains heat well. If you have a glass or induction cooktop, you'll appreciate the flat bottom of this pan, as it's OK to use on those surfaces.
Buy it: Staub Skillet, from $170; surlatable.com
Why would a first-time cast iron owner need to make this large of an investment with a pan? Because a well-built cast iron pan forgives a lot of newbie mistakes. And by the time you've learned how to care for a pan properly, this one will have already built up its natural defenses (that is, seasoning) so it's good for year and years of use.
The surface of a cast iron skillet can tell you a lot about its quality. The smoother the surface, the higher the quality — and the more easily you can build up natural seasoning, the more quickly your pan will reach the beautiful stage of naturally non-stick. This FINEX cast iron skillet is polished and machine-smoothed for the easiest release, which is precisely why it's ideal for the first-time cast iron owner.
The 12-inch skillet has an unique octagonal shape that makes for easy pouring. The pan is quite heavy (just over nine pounds), so having the multiple spots for pouring will allow you to find a natural position that works for you. Plus, the coiled spring handle cools quickly, so it's safe to touch nearly as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Buy it: FINEX 10-Inch Cast Iron Skillet, starts at $200; williams-sonoma.com
For cooks who prefer the double-handled style of Dutch ovens, this double-handed cast iron skillet from Lodge is a great pick. You get the beloved quality of Lodge with its pre-seasoned, ready-to-use finish and a sturdy dual-assist handle design. Like Lodge's many other products, this one is designed for just about any type of cooking you prefer, from stovetop to campfire.
Made in the USA, this cast iron pan boasts more than 3700 ratings on Amazon and still maintains 4.8 stars. "[T]he only problem I anticipate with owning this beautiful creation is who to leave it to in my will. The two short handles are a dream come true to me as long handles and my short arms don't always co-exist peacefully. I would give this Lodge cast iron pan more than 5 stars if Amazon would let me," one reviewer wrote.
Buy it: Lodge Cast Iron Dual Handle Pan, $20; amazon.com
Smithey Ironware founder Issac Morton started his business in cast iron cookware by saving and restoring rusty pans that were otherwise destined for a scrapyard. After a few years of this, where he was up close and personal with a variety of ironware, he decided to begin making his own line of pans that reflected the classic techniques of decades-old ironware but made with today's technology and know-how.
The result is the Smithey Ironware collection of heavy gauge cast iron pans that are expertly polished to produce a satin-smooth nonstick surface right from the beginning. But it's designed for building its own natural seasoning over time, so get to work caramelizing onion, browning pork chops, and sautéing mushrooms. The three-finger handle also makes for easier, more secure gripping, and if you're a cook with a limited amount of cabinet space, both handles have holes for easy hanging.
In short, this line of cast iron skillets are designed to become an heirloom. They look, feel, and cook like they already are.
Buy it: Smithey Ironware No. 10 Cast Iron Skillet, $160; smithey.com
Cast iron skillets can be used on grills, but cast iron skillets can also be the grill. Cast iron gets very hot, which makes it similar to a grill: a quick sear on the outside seals in moisture, caramelizes natural sugars, and produces a hint of smoky goodness.
The raised rows in this Lodge cast iron grill pan also help fat or liquid melt and roll away so the food cooks and sears, not steams. The U-shaped assist handle makes carrying or moving the pan (it weighs 6.5 pounds) easier. And with more than 8,900 ratings on Amazon, this Lodge pan maintains a 4.4-star ranking, with thousands of customers testifying to its usefulness any night of the week.
"I sincerely love this pan and wish I had tried using one indoors vs buying multiple indoor grilling options that never worked. I definitely recommend this pan if you are considering grilling indoors and from all of the cleaning methods I’ve been recommended washing under hot water then wiping and adding an oil then heating has worked best for me," one reviewer wrote.
Buy it: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grill Pan, $20; amazon.com
Cast iron skillets get hot quickly, heat evenly, and stay hot, which makes them ideal for frying when you need the oil to be bubbling hot batch after batch, like you need for this fried fish recipe. Plus, this pick comes with a lid, which makes it a versatile option if you decide to bake bread or cook stews and soups in this skillet.
On Amazon, this skillet has over 2,400 reviews and maintains a 4.5 rating with a reviewers raving about its quality and value (some similarly sized pans can be over $200).
"This cast iron pre-seasoned chicken fryer is the quality that you would expect from Cuisinart. This is 12-inch cast iron and is large enough to sear a roast on the cooktop and transfer it to the oven for easy roasting. There is even heating throughout and its easy to clean. Obviously being cast iron it is heavy. Overall a good product," one reviewer wrote.
Buy it: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Seasoned Cast Iron Chicken Fryer, $70; amazon.com
Most cast iron pans today come pre-seasoned with oil applied at the factory, but it's always a good idea to rinse the pan with water and season it again before the first time you use it. Why? Pans sit on shelves for weeks, even months, before they're shipped out to buyers, so the pans can collect dust. A quick rinse and a round of seasoning will help you be safe.
Got a rusted cast iron pan? Here's how you can bring rusty cast iron back to life.
When you're ready to wash a cast iron pan, remember that water is the enemy, and soap is an evil second. You can use a brush or abrasive sponge to knock of cooked-on bits, but don't use soap — it removes the natural seasoning — and make sure the pan is very well dried if you rinse it with water.
The best way to dry cast iron is to heat a freshly-washed skillet on low on a stovetop and let the water in the skillet evaporate. If you notice a lot of seasoning is going after that rinse, you can seasoning the pan again right then and there, or wait until the next time you need to use it and season it right before it's necessary.