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Cast iron is extremely durable and can be used on just about every type of stove, and sometimes even on grills or campfires. It can be used in the oven and under a broiler, and can withstand high heat. There are few ways to irreversibly damage cast iron, so a pan can be passed down from generation to generation. Even if a pan rusts, it can be sanded and re-seasoned. While thermal shock could crack a cast iron pan, even that is unlikely.
When you cook food in a cast iron pan, it can increase the iron content in the food, which can be a good thing, since iron is a required dietary mineral. However, if you cook acidic foods in cast iron, the food can acquire a metallic taste. The better seasoned a pan is, the longer it can be exposed to acidic foods, but you might not want to simmer your all-day tomato sauce in an uncoated cast iron pan.
There are a few downsides to cast iron. First, it’s heavy, so it will take a strong arm if you plan on flipping foods in a cast iron skillet. Larger cast iron pans can be heavy to move, particularly when they’re full. And large cast iron pans might not be recommended for use on glass cooktops that could break from the weight. Another downside is that cast iron needs to be seasoned unless it’s coated. Many cast iron pans come pre-seasoned, but more seasoning will make them even better. Seasoning isn’t a difficult process – it’s just a matter of oiling the pan and heating it - but it’s important to take care of the seasoning or the pan could begin to rust.
Some cast iron pans are enamel-coated and don’t need any seasoning. However, enamel can chip or wear, so it’s not as durable as uncoated cast iron, and coated cast iron might not be suitable for use on a grill or campfire.
01 of 07
Best Overall: Lodge 10.25-inch Cast Iron Skillet
One of the big selling points of Lodge cast iron pans is that they’re made in the USA, yet they’re just as affordable as pans made overseas. This 10 1/4 inch skillet is pre-seasoned, so you can use it as soon as you buy it, but additional seasoning makes it even more nonstick.
The long handle has a hole for hanging, if you have a hook that’s sturdy enough to hold the weight. A helper handle on the opposite side makes it easier to move, carry, or pour from the skillet, or you could hang the pan from the helper handle, as well. This pan does not have pouring spouts on the sides.
02 of 07
Runner Up, Best Overall: T-fal Pre-Seasoned Nonstick Durable Cast Iron Skillet
This 12-inch cast iron pan has an extra-long handle with a thumb rest that makes it easy to hold. It also has a helper handle that makes it easy to move, even when it’s full. Pouring spouts make it easy to empty the pan without making a mess.
The pan comes pre-seasoned, so you can start cooking right away, but it will get better with additional seasoning and use. It includes step-by-step seasoning instructions for folks who are new to cast iron ownership. The pan is oven safe to 600 degrees and can be used on any cooktop, including induction. You can also use it on a grill or campfire.
03 of 07
Best Budget: VonShef Black Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 3-Piece Skillet Set
Cast iron cookware is typically very affordable, but this set makes cast iron cooking even less expensive since it includes three pans in three very useful sizes — 6-inch, 8-inch, and 10 inch.
The pans are pre-seasoned so you can start cooking with them right away, but additional seasoning makes them even better. Even better, they can be used on any type of cooktop. The long handles have a hole so you can hang them from a hook, if desired. They do not have helper handles, but they do have pouring spouts on both sides of the pan.
04 of 07
Best High-End: Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle Skillet
Le Creuset is known for its high-end enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, and this 11 3/4 inch skillet is made with the same quality and attention to detail. The black enameled interior is resistant to staining and dulling and the exterior matches other Le Creuset cookware, so you can buy a pan to match or complement your existing cookware.
While the black interior looks much like uncoated cast iron, it never requires seasoning and you can cook any food in it, even highly acidic foods. A newly designed large loop helper handle makes the pan easy to move, even when you’re wearing bulky oven mitts. The long handle has a hole for easy hanging and there are pouring spouts on both sides of the pan. This pan is dishwasher safe and it comes in a wide variety of colors.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Best Compact: Lodge Miniature Cast Iron Skillet
Bigger isn’t always better. While you won’t be cooking a chicken in this 3 1/2 inch skillet, it’s perfect for cooking and serving an egg dish for one or for baking individual cookies or brownies. The pan is also great for heating up dips, melting butter, heating small amounts of sauces, or for serving small snacks.
This is made just like the larger pans, so it’s pre-seasoned for cooking as soon as you get it, although it gets better with more seasoning and use. It has a hole in the long handle so you can hang it, and it has two spouts on the sides for easy pouring. There is no helper handle, but this pan is so small, you won’t need one.
06 of 07
Best Grill Pan: Tramontina Gourmet Enameled Cast Iron 11-inch Grill Pan
A grill pan can do almost everything a flat pan does, but with a little more style, since it leaves attractive grill marks on steaks, chops, burgers, fish, vegetables, and even grilled fruit. Meanwhile, fat and juices drain into the wells, so your food won’t steam or simmer, the way it can in a flat pan.
This pan offers excellent heat distribution, and the included grill press ensures that the entire surface of the food touches the pan for even cooking and pretty marks. The interior has a porcelain enameled finish so food won’t stick, and the pan is easy to clean, while the handles make the pan easy to move while cooking.
While you won’t use this to scramble your eggs, your frying pans will see a lot less use once you start using this grill pan.
07 of 07
Best Deep Skillet: Lodge Cast Iron 3.2 Quart Covered Deep Skillet
Everyone loves fried chicken, and this deep skillet makes it easy, while using less oil than a typical deep fryer. The tall sides make it ideal for simmering soups, reducing sauces, or cooking casseroles on the stove or in the oven. It can also be used as a standard skillet, to sear meats, fry burgers, or cook bacon, while containing some of the spatter because of the tall sides.
When not in use on the stove, it can be used in the oven to bake buns, bread, biscuits, cornbread, and more. It can also be used as a roasting pan for poultry or small roasts. The tall sidewalls retain heat for even browning, and the skillet stays hot, to keep finished foods warm. This includes a cover that makes it even more versatile for all your favorite recipes.
This comes pre-seasoned, so it can be used right away, but the nonstick properties improve with additional seasoning and use. This can be used on any cooktop. It should be washed by hand.