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If there's one type of cookware in a kitchen that can do just about anything, it's cast iron. Constructed of an ultra-durable alloy of steel and carbon, cast iron pans heat and cook evenly and stand up to the nicks, dents, and scratches one might typically find with other types of pans. It can sear a steak beautifully, hold a constant temperature for deep-frying, and can also be used as bakeware for your favorite cornbread recipe. While many other types of cookware have to be replaced after a period of time, a cast iron pan only gets better with time (as long as you maintain them properly).
If you're in the market for this kitchen essential, we've put together the perfect list. From the classic skillet to pans for grilling, here are the best cast iron pans.
Lightweight for cast iron
Made in USA
Easy to clean
Only moderately nonstick after seasoning
Pricey leather handle holder of questionable value
The main selling point of this 10.25-inch, 5-pound skillet is its user-friendly size. "Weighing a pound less than competitors puts this Lodge skillet in a class of its own, and I'm more likely to reach for this pan time and again," our reviewer declared. It comes pre-seasoned, and our tester says it's very easy to clean. It also comes with a Nokona leather heat-resistant handle holder, but our tester felt this "extra" isn't worth the additional price and thought it should be sold separately.
"The Lodge seems to take a bit longer to heat up than its competitors, but once it does, the pan holds the heat well." — Gayle L. Squires, Product Tester
Easy to store
Can be used on an outdoor grill
Heat adjustment depends on stove
This pan is just as at home on the stovetop as it is on the grill or the campfire. With one smooth side for flipping flapjacks and one ribbed side for grilling steaks with perfect sear marks. At 20 x 10.5 inches, it's large enough to serve a family (it'll cover two burners on the stovetop), but it's less than an inch thick, so it's a cinch to store. The space it does require is well worth it considering it's essentially two pans in one. However, our reviewer did note that it's pretty heavy.
Like all Lodge cast irons, this grill/griddle combo takes a little while to heat up but boasts terrific heat retention. It's wonderfully affordable and comes preseasoned for an easy cooking and cleanup process.
"With one burner on medium-high and another on medium-low, I was able to sear on one part of the grill and maintain a more gentle heat on the other." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Beautiful, high-quality design
Le Creuset is known for its high-end enameled cast iron Dutch ovens, and this 11.75-inch skillet is made with the same quality and attention to detail. The black enameled interior is resistant to staining and dulling, and while it looks much like uncoated cast iron, it never requires seasoning and you can cook any food in it, even highly acidic foods. Reviewers love the color options, and most agree that the high price is worth it for such a quality, durable design.
Our tester found the large loop helper handle particularly useful when carrying or emptying the skillet—in her words, "this is a lot of cast iron, and it’s not a lightweight pan." It's also dishwasher safe.
"I tried hard to find things this skillet couldn’t do, and I failed spectacularly since it did everything I asked of it." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Creates distinctive grill marks
Heavy-duty and durable
Oven and broiler safe to 500 degrees
Difficult to clean by hand
A grill pan is an affordable way to get the char marks of outdoor grilling, and this 9.25-inch square option is a top choice for its versatility and quality. While it has all the heat-retention properties (as well as the durability and weight) of cast iron, this one is enameled so you don't have to worry about seasoning. Our tester said, "The interior is also coated with porcelain enamel, which ensures the pan doesn’t absorb odors or flavors."
While it's not nonstick, it is dishwasher safe. "Sure, it requires a little more upkeep than, say, nonstick pans, but the beautiful, even results are worth it, and the grill pan will likely last forever," our reviewer reported.
Unique, attractive design
Multiple pouring spouts
Handle may be hard to clean
Designed to last a lifetime, the versatile FINEX Cast Iron Skillet is perfect for searing meats, making hamburgers, roasting vegetables, baking bread, and so much more. It works on all cooktops—including gas, electric, and induction—but it’s also oven safe and can be used on the grill.
Our reviewer was a fan of the unique octagonal, “multi-pour” design and spring-covered, speed-cool handle, which stays cool longer and releases heat quickly. "This is the skillet you want to imagine that the pioneers might have used, but in reality, the design is very modern, with close attention paid to all the details," she raved.
Size is somewhat limiting
This deep skillet makes it easy to fry chicken and uses far 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 its sides contain some of the spatter. It also includes a cover that makes it even more versatile for all your favorite cast-iron recipes.
Reviewers say it's an incredible value for a pan that will last forever. It comes pre-seasoned, but additional seasoning and proper maintenance (hand-wash only) are important.
Fits in toaster oven
Too small for practical use
While you won’t be cooking a chicken in this 3.5-inch skillet, it’s the right size for an egg dish for one or for heating dips and sauces, melting butter, or serving small snacks. "If you do like your sweets petite, a major advantage of this miniature skillet is that you can easily slide it into a toaster oven to bake a little brownie or cookie," our tester said.
While it's "admittedly adorable and affordable," our tester said it's also less practical than other sizes. "The skillet’s handle is short, gets hot quickly, and is a mere 1 inch above any cooking surface," she said.
Our top pick is the Lodge 10.25-Inch Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet, which, at 5 pounds, made it lighter and more versatile to use than its competitors. If you're interested in cast iron cooking but not the special care required, try the Le Creuset Signature Skillet. While it comes at a higher price tag, it does everything a cast iron pan does, but doesn't need to be seasoned, and is dishwasher safe.
Why Trust the Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats writer and cookbook author Donna Currie is a self-avowed lover of cast iron cookware, especially those that add versatility to her kitchen collection. "I’ve had Lodge skillets knocking around in my kitchen for decades, acquiring seasoning and becoming beautifully nonstick," she says. In addition to three products in this roundup, Donna has tested nine other cast iron and nonstick cookware products for the brand.
This piece was edited by Bernadette Machard de Gramont, an LA-based writer who specializes in global food and wine content. She researches and tests a variety of cookware, bakeware, and wine tools, and interviews field experts for their insight.
How do you clean a cast iron pan?
While enameled cast iron doesn’t usually need special care, uncoated cast iron should be treated with special attention. Scrape out any bits of cooked-on food (you can boil water in the pan to loosen it), and then, use a stiff-bristled brush or scrubber to scrub the pan with mild soap and hot water. Some people say not to use soap, but mild soap will ensure you remove the grease from the pan (and not the seasoning). Be sure to dry thoroughly and then wipe on a thin layer of oil to prevent rust during storage.
How do you season a cast iron pan?
Cast iron cookware should be cured—or seasoned—inside and out including lids if the pan is new and has not been pre-seasoned by the manufacturer, or if your pan is old and the finish has worn off. An easy method is to apply a small amount of oil to the pan, wipe it onto the sides, and then heat it on the stove until it’s very hot. Wipe the exterior with oil and place the pan upside down (to allow excess grease to drip) in the oven at 450 degrees for an hour. Let the pan cool for at least an hour and then scrub it with hot water and kosher salt to remove any oil residue.
What should you not cook in a cast iron pan?
Uncoated cast iron cookware can cause food to taste like metal if the coating gets worn down, which will happen if you cook acidic foods for long periods of time. Therefore, it’s best to avoid simmering acidic foods, like tomatoes for a sauce. Cast iron also gets extremely hot and retains heat well so it’s best to avoid cooking delicate fish that will easily break apart. Finally, before your cast iron pan is seasoned properly it’s best to avoid sticky foods, like eggs.
The Ultimate Cast Iron Pan Buying Guide
Cast iron is the original nonstick cookware. While new cast iron isn’t always nonstick, a well-seasoned cast-iron pan can be just as good as modern nonstick—you can even cook eggs that will slide right off. Cast iron is extremely durable, and often pieces are passed down from generation to generation. Even better, cast iron cookware can be used on almost any cooking surface, including induction, and uncoated cast iron can even be used on your grill or on a campfire. However, it may be too heavy for some glass cooktops, so check with the manufacturer of your stove to make sure it's safe.
Cast iron cookware retains heat very well, which means that although it can be a little slow to completely heat up, it heats very evenly. Once it’s hot, it stays hot for a long time, even after the heat is turned off or the pot is removed from the oven. This makes it ideal for frying, braising, grilling, and other cooking applications where it’s important for the pan to stay hot after adding food. It’s also great for stovetop braising since the sides and lid will get hot for even cooking on all sides. Because the cookware retains its temperature even after the heat is turned off or adjusted, it’s not as desirable when you’re cooking foods that require a quick temperature change.
When you’re buying cast iron, the two types you’ll find are uncoated and enameled. Uncoated cast iron tends to be among the most affordable cookware you can buy, starting at under $20 and going up depending on size, while enameled cast iron is more expensive, reaching up to several hundred dollars per piece. Of course, there are brands that break those rules on both the high and low ends.
Enameled or Uncoated
Enameled cast iron pans never need seasoning, and some can even be washed in the dishwasher for easier cleaning. The enamel coating prevents the food from making contact with the raw metal, so you can use enameled cookware with any type of food, including acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus. The downside to enameled cookware is that the coating can crack or chip, rendering the cookware unfit for cooking. Enameled cast iron cookware can be used on any cooktop, and is oven safe as well, but the knobs on the lids of some cookware may not be able to handle extremely high oven heat.
Uncoated cast iron may come preseasoned so it can be used immediately, but it becomes even more nonstick with additional seasoning and use. Other uncoated cast iron cookware is not preseasoned but arrives with an oil coating that protects it from rusting. Before use, it must be washed, dried, and seasoned. Cast iron cookware is virtually indestructible, and even if the seasoning is somehow damaged, the pan can be re-seasoned easily, and you can even use it on your outdoor grill or on a campfire. Cast iron cookware needs different care than your typical stainless steel or aluminum cookware, but once you learn how to handle it, it’s just as easy as any other pots or pans you own.
The one downside to uncoated cast iron is that it’s a reactive metal, and the seasoning can be damaged if you cook acidic foods in it for long periods of time, and then the food can take on a metallic taste. A well-seasoned pan will have no problem with short-term cooking of acidic foods, but if you’re planning on a long braise with tomatoes, you might want to choose a different pan.
One of the downsides to cast iron is that it is much heavier than cookware of a similar size that’s made from other materials. While bigger is often better, allowing you to cook more food in the pot or pan, when you’re buying cast iron cookware it’s wise to keep the weight in mind so you don’t buy something that you can’t lift after you’ve filled it with food. The weight might also affect your storage options, since shelves need to be strong enough, and you probably won’t want to stack any but the smallest pots or pans. Super-large Dutch ovens certainly look enticing, but you might need a helper to safely get a filled pot out of the oven.
Type of Pan
Cast iron cookware is great for specific purposes, which is why you won’t see entire cookware sets made from cast iron. Frying pans are one of the most popular uncoated cast iron pans, while Dutch ovens are one of the most popular enameled products. Consider what you’re going to cook, then find the pan that fits the purpose, whether you want to grill, fry, or braise. There are also a number of specialty cast iron pots and pans available. While those might not be your first pick in a new kitchen, they can be great additions to expand your cooking repertoire.
Until recently, all cast iron cookware was relatively thick, which helped with its heat retention properties, but that also increased the weight. Today, there are some manufacturers that are producing cast iron cookware made from thinner material. This cookware is lighter in weight, so it’s easier to handle, but it doesn’t heat quite as evenly as thicker cookware and it won’t retain heat as long. The difference is minimal, so if weight is a concern, it’s worth looking at some of the lighter pans.
Since cast iron is heavy and it retains heat, the handle configuration is important. The handles need to be sturdy, and they need to be large enough to make them easy to hold onto when using oven mitts or potholders. Frying pans tend to have a single long handle with a helper handle on the opposite side to make it easier to move and empty the pan. Smaller or less expensive frying pans might omit the helper handle, so you might need to use a two-handed grip on the long handle.
Types of Cast Iron Pans
Frying Pan/Chicken Fryer
Uncoated cast-iron frying pans are quite popular—with good reason. They’re great for any kind of shallow frying, as well as for searing steaks and chops, and they can go from stovetop to oven. They can also be used for shallow braising. Cast iron frying pans are ideal for baking cornbread and can be used for other baked goods, like biscuits, bread, or even pizza. When it comes to oven use, you can use your cast iron pan as a roasting pan for chicken or vegetables or for making casseroles. While most cast iron pans don’t come with lids, some companies offer them as a separate option, or you can use a lid from another pot or even a flexible silicone cover.
Chicken fryers are similar to standard frying pans, but are deeper, to accommodate more oil along with chicken parts to be fried. They usually include a lid, which sometimes has small spikes underneath to channel moisture onto the food for moist cooking. Since these are deeper than frying pans of the same size, they are heavier, but you can use them for all the things you use a cast iron frying pan for. Plus, the higher sides allow you to add more food and help prevent food from splashing out of the pan.
There are some enameled cast iron frying pans as well, but they aren’t as popular as the uncoated ones.
While Dutch ovens are available in enameled as well as uncoated cast iron, the enameled versions are much more popular since you can use them to cook any type of food. They don’t require special care or seasoning, and some can even be washed in the dishwasher. They come in a variety of sizes and can come in round or oval shapes. These are ideal for braising on the stove or in the oven and have become quite popular for baking artisan bread. They can also be used for making soup stocks or soup, as well as for any long-simmering foods.
Uncoated Dutch ovens can be used on, or even in, campfires, and on your barbecue grill. Some Dutch ovens designed for camp cooking have legs that allow them to be placed over hot coals, and some include concave lids so coals can be put on top, which allows the pot to heat from both the bottom and the top.
You can find grill pans, grills, and griddles in both coated and uncoated cast iron, from frying pan size all the way up to those that span two burners on your stove. The heat retention is great for producing impressive grill marks when using a grill pan, while griddles can be used for searing steaks or for making pancakes without the pan losing its temperature. While cooking on a cast iron grill isn’t quite the same as cooking on your outdoor grill, it can be very convenient when the weather isn’t cooperating. Griddles can be used much like giant frying pans, except that liquid has to be kept to a minimum. If you can’t decide between a grill and a griddle, you can find some that are reversible, so you can grill on one side, while the other side is a griddle.
Woks, Pizza Pans, and Other Specialty Pans
There is a wide range of specialty pans made from cast iron, including woks, pizza pans, cornbread pans, tagines, baking pans, specialty braisers, scone pans, casseroles, biscuit pans, and more. While these may not be kitchen essentials, they can be handy to have depending on how much time you spend in the kitchen.
Lodge is well known for its reasonably priced, but high-quality uncoated cast iron cookware that is made in the US. You’ll find a very wide range of products from common frying pans to unique items like aebleskiver pans and fancy cornstick pans. They also have a line of enameled cookware that is made overseas.
You might have guessed from the name, but Camp Chef is known for its camping products, including cast iron cookware. While cast iron is heavy, it’s also uniquely suited for camping since it can be used on, or even in, a campfire.
While Finex isn’t as well known among the general public, it has become popular among foodies who love high-end cookware. While it’s at the high end of uncoated cast iron cookware, the unique design makes it stand out in any kitchen.
Best known for quality enameled cookware in a variety of colors, Le Creuset Dutch ovens are often handed down from generation to generation. Besides Dutch ovens, the company makes a wide range of enameled cast iron cookware, all of which is made in France.
Another high-end French brand of enameled cast iron cookware, Staub has a wide variety of pots and pans that are similar in quality to Le Creuset. The design is slightly different, so the choice may come down to aesthetics.
Tramontina manufacturers budget-priced enameled cast iron Dutch ovens and other cooking products. While these are less expensive, reviewers find that they are well made. These might not last for generations, but they’re a good buy for people who are looking for a cast iron Dutch oven that won’t break the bank.
Care and Cleaning
Enameled cast iron generally doesn’t need special care, and some of it can even be washed in a dishwasher. Some manufacturers suggest seasoning the cooking surface by heating it with a little oil prior to the first use. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific care requirements.
Uncoated cast iron does need special care, but it’s not difficult. While most uncoated cast iron is pre-seasoned and can be used right away, it will perform better after seasoning. Cast iron that is not pre-seasoned will have an oily coating that prevents rust before use. It should be washed in soapy water, dried thoroughly to prevent rust, and seasoned immediately.
Seasoning cast iron involves coating the pot or pan with cooking oil or grease, then heating it to bond some of the oil to the pan. Almost any cooking oil can be used, but it’s best to use an oil that can withstand high heat, or it can smoke excessively during the seasoning process. While canola oil can be used, it can also leave a sticky residue. Vegetable shortening, grapeseed oil, or your favorite vegetable oil are all acceptable.
While there are a number of seasoning methods, one of the simplest methods is to add a small amount of oil to a pan, brush or wipe the oil onto the sides of the pan, and then heat it on the stove until it’s very hot or slightly smoking. After, place the pan upside down in the oven at 450 degrees. Placing the pan upside down will allow excess grease to drip from the pan, for a more even coating. It’s a good idea to have some aluminum foil on the rack below the pan to catch the drips. Brush the exterior of the pan with oil, as well. While you won’t be cooking on the outside of the pan, the extra seasoning will prevent rust. The pan may smoke during this time, but if you don’t open the oven door, it shouldn’t be a problem.
After an hour at 450 degrees, turn off the oven and let the pan cool for at least an hour. If you don’t need the oven, you can leave the pan there until it is completely cool, or remove it from the oven and place it on a stove burner or trivet until it is cool. It will still be hot, so you’ll need mitts to move it.
When the pan is cool, scrub it with hot water and kosher salt to remove any oil residue. A second seasoning is recommended unless you’re going to be using the pan right away. If you have time, a third seasoning will improve the nonstick quality even more.
Any time you cook something with fat or oil, the pan’s seasoning will improve. A very well-seasoned pan will be smooth, black, and shiny, and drops of oil will bead up on the surface. To clean a seasoned cast iron pan after cooking, you can use hot water, kosher salt, and any kind of kitchen scrubber. Stainless steel mesh scrubbers are particularly useful, but not required.
After washing, the pan should be dried well. If it is not very well seasoned, you can use a paper towel to wipe on a thin layer of oil after cleaning to prevent rust during storage. If you like, you can use this opportunity to heat the pan on the stove again to improve the seasoning.
Once a pan is well seasoned, it will need little additional seasoning or maintenance, but if your pan starts to look dull or water doesn’t bead on the surface, you can repeat the seasoning steps or just make sure to cook some bacon or other fatty foods.
In normal use, there should be no reason to remove the seasoning, but if you need to, you can remove it by placing the cast iron pan in your oven on the cleaning cycle or heating it in on grill if it can reach high temperatures. Once the seasoning is removed, the pan should be treated like it's new—with washing, drying, and seasoning.