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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. Cast iron can sear a steak beautifully, hold a constant temperature for deep-frying, and even 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).
We took more than a dozen popular cast iron pans and tested them side by side in the test kitchen of our product testing Lab, rating their heat conductivity and distribution, comfort and maneuverability, and nonstick ability. While most of the cast irons baked cornbread and seared steaks similarly well, there were a few winners. And because we know it's important to see how the pans perform in a real-life setting, we also sent them to our experienced food writers and editors for home testing.
From the classic skillet to pans for grilling, here are the best cast iron pans, based on our testing data and input from our at-home testers.
Best Overall: Stargazer 10.5-Inch Cast Iron Skillet
Extremely nonstick and easy to clean
On the pricier side
This super-smooth, made-in-the-USA pan is an excellent, reliable addition to the kitchen for nearly anything you'll want to whip up. Not only is it attractive, but it is also built to last. While all cast iron is heavy compared to other cookware, the Stargazer is relatively lightweight. It had excellent heat retention in our lab testing, leading to even browning in nearly everything we made. It was especially great at searing meat, giving us an impressive crust on steaks while hardly smoking at all.
We paid special attention to comfort and maneuverability when lifting and tilting each pan and were pleasantly surprised to discover that the Stargazer's long handle didn’t get hot as quickly as some of the others we tested. This, along with its light weight, meant we were able to move it with ease on the stovetop and in and out of the oven. In our egg-frying tests, the Stargazer was the only pan where not a trace of egg whites stuck, and it was also rated the easiest to clean. When it was time to sauté, the high-sloping walls kept oil from splashing out of the pan, and its flared lip minimized mess while pouring out hot grease. Essentially, the Stargazer is a star that is worthy of its price tag.
Available Sizes: 10.5 and 12-inch | Pre-Seasoned: Optional | Lid Included: No
"This pan impressed us with its amazing browning and nonstick abilities, acing tests where many other pans failed. Plus, it has a great design and was easy for all of our lab testers to maneuver and lift.” — Julia Warren, VP of Commerce
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Lodge Blacklock Triple-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Heats up fast
Looped handle stays cool
Some spillage from pour spouts
The versatile Blacklock Triple Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet is part of Lodge's line of pans replicating antique cast iron. While available in 7-inch, 10.25-inch, 12-inch, and 14.5-inch versions, we tested the largest size and found it to be one of the best on the market—second only to the Stargazer.
The pan is thinner than a classic Lodge design, which in our tests we found allows it to heat up twice as fast. That also means that relative to its ample diameter, it's extremely lightweight compared to its competitors, making it easy to move on and off the stovetop. Its looped handle boasts a higher arch that's more ergonomic and stays cooler when pulling it in and out of a hot oven.
While the pan's pour spouts are not the best—in our tests, pouring out hot oil resulted in a messy countertop—its nonstick abilities are top-notch; fried eggs came out of the pan effortlessly with a spatula, with minimal egg whites still stuck to the pan. Reach for this pan to get nearly the same functionality as our top pick at a lower price.
Available Sizes: 7, 10.25, 12, and 14.5-inch | Pre-Seasoned: Yes | Lid Included: No
"This triple-seasoned pan was low-maintenance between foods we made; it did not lose its seasoning after the first couple of tests and washes." — Collier Sutter, Review Editor
Best Budget: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron
Retains heat well
Silicone handle cover is comfortable to hold
Easy to clean
Some sticking in the egg test
Runs a little too hot
The main selling point of this 10.25-inch, 5-pound skillet is its user-friendly size and affordable price. "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 at-home reviewer declared. It comes pre-seasoned, and it's very easy to clean.
Constructed of thicker cast iron than the Blacklock, our lab test revealed that this sturdy, made-in-America pan is slow to heat but will retain its temperature easily—perfect for getting a fantastic sear on steaks and anything else that needs browning. While not a dealbreaker, we found this pan ran a little too hot in comparison to competitors once heated; a minute too long, and our steaks would have quickly burned.
On the flip side, the Lodge performed pretty well in its nonstick abilities. Cornbread baked in the pan came out with a clean release, though when frying an egg, there was a bit more sticking than we'd like. Plus, it came with a silicone handle cover, which made taking it out of the oven and moving it onto the burner really easy. Overall, it's a great pan at an unbeatable price.
Available Sizes: 3.5, 5, 6.5, 8, 9, 10.25, 12, 13.25, and 15-inch | Pre-Seasoned: Yes | Lid Included: No
"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
Best Design: Smithey Ironware Company No. 10 Cast Iron Skillet
Beautiful, high-quality design
High sides minimize splatter
Two spouts for easy pouring
Smooth, easy-to-clean interior
Only moderately nonstick
This 10-inch pan by South Carolina-based Smithey Ironware is the first skillet that the company produced, and it has become one of the brand's most popular products. Made of thick cast iron, it features a smooth, polished interior which makes the skillet easier to clean and maintain.
With holes in both handles, it can be easily hung for storage and also has two pouring spouts that make it easy to transfer liquids to their storage or serving containers. The 10-inch model is the perfect size for skillet cornbread, but it is also available in 8-inch and 12-inch versions, so you can scale up or down in size as needed.
In our tests, the Smithey's high sides minimized oil splatter while searing up steaks. However, it's a little less nonstick, as there were crumbs of cornbread still stuck after flipping the pan upside down to release. As with most cast iron, some special handling is required to maintain this pan's seasoning, but the beautiful, American-made craftsmanship is worth the extra care—and can be handed down as an heirloom later on.
Available Sizes: 6, 8, 10, and 12-inch | Pre-Seasoned: Yes | Lid Included: No
"This triple-seasoned pan was low maintenance between foods we made; it did not lose its seasoning after the first couple of tests and washes." — Collier Sutter, Review Editor
Best Enameled: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Signature Iron Handle Skillet
Beautiful, high-quality design
Easy to clean
Shallower sides cause slight splatter
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's dishwasher-safe, never requires seasoning, and you can cook anything in it—even highly acidic foods.
In our lab and home tests, we found the pan's larger helper handle made it incredibly easy to maneuver when carrying or emptying the skillet, especially given its substantial size and weight. In our reviewer's words: "This is a lot of cast iron, and it’s not a lightweight pan."
The pan heated evenly and allowed for a perfect deep brown steak crust while searing, with very little smoke and minimal muscle needed to clean up afterward. It's shallower than other pans, though, which causes a bit more oil splatter. In the baking test, cornbread came out cleanly, and in the egg test, only a small amount of whites stuck. As a bonus, we love all the color options, which you won't get with unenameled options. Overall, the high price is worth it for such a quality, durable design.
Available Sizes: 10.25 and 12-inch | Pre-Seasoned: N/A | Lid Included: No
"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
Most Versatile: Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle
Easy to store and clean
Great heat retention
Heat adjustment depends on stove
This multi-use griddle has a smooth side for flipping flapjacks and a 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 most cast irons, this grill/griddle combo takes a little while to heat up, but once hot, it boasts terrific heat retention. Our tester was able to cook everything from steak to bread with ease. It's wonderfully affordable and comes preseasoned for an easy cooking and cleanup process. Ultimately, this pan's versatility earned it a near-perfect rating and a permanent place in our tester's kitchen.
Available Sizes: 20 x 10.5 inches | Pre-Seasoned: Yes | Lid Included: N/A
"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
Best Grill Pan: Cuisinart Chef's Classic 9.25-inch Square Grill Pan
Creates distinctive grill marks
Heavy-duty and durable
Oven- and broiler-safe to 500 degrees
Difficult to clean by hand
Though it lacks the versatility of a traditional cast iron pan (you won't want to pour batter into this guy!), a grill pan is an affordable way to get the char marks of outdoor grilling. This 9.25-inch square option is a top choice for its quality; not only is it enameled so you don't have to worry about seasoning, but "the interior is also coated with porcelain enamel, which ensures the pan doesn’t absorb odors or flavors," says our tester.
In testing, we found that this pan's hefty size requires a bit more time to heat up, but it distributes that heat evenly and stays hot for a long time. The handle got a little too hot for comfort, though, and while the shape was easy enough to grip, the pan was somewhat slippery due to the shiny finish.
Believe it or not, this cast iron pan is dishwasher safe, but our tester found that a brush worked best to loosen up food trapped between the ridges. It requires a little more upkeep than nonstick pans, but the beautiful, even results are worth it, and the grill pan will likely last forever with proper care.
Available Sizes: 9.25-inch | Pre-Seasoned: N/A | Lid Included: No
"Like many grill pans, this product took us some getting used to before we could consistently achieve beautiful char marks." — Camryn Rabideau, Product Tester
After testing each of these pans in The Lab and at home, our top pick is the Stargazer 10.5-Inch Cast Iron Skillet (find it on the manufacturer site); it outperformed all the others in every area, and its impressive nonstick qualities sealed the deal. The runner-up is Lodge's Blacklock Triple-Seasoned Cast Iron skillet (view at Williams Sonoma), which is incredibly lightweight and maneuverable and performed nearly as well in the heating and nonstick tests as our winner.
How We Tested
Our editors spent weeks researching cast iron pans, developing a standardized methodology against which to test them, and putting them through their paces at The Lab. We then collected the data—as well as insights from our home testers—and used it to determine ratings and placement on this list.
Beyond carrying out basic cooking tasks with each such as baking cornbread, frying up eggs, and searing steaks, we judged each one based on heating ability (conductivity, distribution, and retention); maneuverability (weight and size, the comfort of pulling in and out of a hot oven, and the ergonomics of each handle); nonstick abilities; and pour spout performance.
Other Options We Tested
- Staub Cast Iron Frying Pan (view at Amazon): Though we liked the slender handle, spouts, and design of this enameled skillet from the highly regarded brand, we decided to leave it off our list based on its sub-par performance in the nonstick category. In our lab tests, much of our egg stuck and quickly burned, with more oil spitting than almost any other pan. Given that cast iron isn't known for its nonstick quality, this might be something you can get past, though. The heating abilities of the pan ranked high but almost too high during our steak test: The ribeyes developed a dark brown, hard crust that veered on too dark; if we hadn't quickly pulled them off, the pan could have burned the crust.
- Finex 10-Inch Cast Iron Skillet (view at Amazon): A previous version of this list included the Finex, with its quirky octagonal shape and spring-covered handle, which initially got a positive review from our home tester. However, following lab tests, we decided to remove it from the list because we found its high heat capacity to be risky. During our testing, the whole pan actually caught on fire. It's also super heavy, and we found the coiled "ergonomic speed-cool" handle uncomfortably large in diameter—plus, it remained piping hot, as did the rest of the product, despite advertising itself as a quick cool-down pan. However, it did make the perfect cornbread, so it's possible the pan could be a fit for a professional chef, but certainly not a home chef.
- Victoria Cast Iron Skillet (view at Amazon): This pan ranked decently for its heating abilities; our steak had a good crust, but it got a little too dark on the edges, indicating hot spots in the pan. Plus, it was pretty bulky: at 13 inches in diameter, it was the largest pan we tested and also the heaviest, and we felt it while carrying it around.
- Butter Pat Heather 10-Inch Skillet (view at Butter Pat Industries): This aptly named pan had a silky-smooth finish and great heat distribution, but after two tests it left behind dark blotchy marks that were hard to get out. We also noticed while frying up eggs that this pan spit out the most oil, reaching the farthest out-of-the-pan range. Plus, it was the only pan that had a thin layer of cornbread stuck to the surface during our nonstick testing.
- Camp Chef 12-Inch Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (view at Amazon): This pan had a few things going for it: The sides of the pan were high enough to minimize oil splatter, and the steak got a good medium-brown crust that looked really good on both sides. The cornbread came out cleanly. But the two dealbreakers were excessive smoke (in our heating tests, it started smoking pretty early and got extremely smoky at the end) and weight (it was hard to lift with one hand).
- Utopia Kitchen Cast Iron Skillet (View at Amazon): There were a few marks against Utopia's pan, but the first was that it was hard to carry due to its heavy weight and the design of the helper handle, which was too close to the piping hot pan. Overall, the skillet seemed like it got too hot too fast, with the oil appearing to shimmer early, after only about a minute. When pouring, oil went wider than the spout and there was a lot of drippage over the side.
- Field Company Cast Iron Skillet (view at Field Company): Based on preliminary technical tests, the Field Cast Iron heats up fast and won't hurt your arm thanks to its light weight. As of right now, it's not ranked in our top picks, but it's still a good average pick. However, further tests are needed to reach a full conclusion. We will update this roundup when we know more.
What to Look for in a Cast Iron Pan
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.
Overall Size and Weight
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. The thickness of the cast iron used directly impacts the pan's weight. Until recently, all cast iron cookware was relatively thick, which helped with its heat retention properties but also increased the weight and the heating time.
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 for most thin pans, 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.
Then there's capacity: 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. There are also incredibly petite cast iron pans, which, while somewhat humorous and limiting, are actually quite nice for frying a single egg or serving personal-sized portions of casseroles or desserts.
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. Lids will add to the overall weight as well. While most Dutch ovens come with lids, most cast iron pans do not. However, some companies offer them as a separate option, or you can use a lid from another pot or even a flexible silicone cover.
Since cast iron is heavy and it retains heat, a pan's handle configuration is important. The handles need to be sturdy, and they need to be large enough so that they're 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 Pans: These are the most popular uncoated cast iron pans, while Dutch ovens are 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.
Los Angeles-based chef Elodie Introia (aka The Hungry French Girl) primarily uses her bare cast iron skillets for searing meats and other sturdy foods. "It cooks at a higher temperature and helps create the perfect crust," she says. "It's great for a beautiful piece of dry-aged ribeye, for example." Enameled cast iron cookers are a staple in her kitchen for soups, stews, curries, and other broth-based dishes.
Dutch Ovens/Casserole Dishes: Available in enameled as well as uncoated cast iron, enameled Dutch ovens 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. Introia sometimes uses her Dutch oven to also roast an entire chicken since its high sides prevent splattering and also provide consistent heat to help cook the bird evenly.
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.
Chicken Fryers: While similar to standard frying pans, chicken fryers 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.
Grill Pans/Griddles: 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 USA. You’ll find a very wide range of products from common frying pans to unique items like aebleskiveer pans and fancy cornstick pans. The company also has a line of enameled cookware that is made overseas.
Best known for quality enameled cookware in a variety of colors, Le Creuset pieces 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.
A relative newcomer to the market, Stargazer was founded in 2015 by kitchenware designer Peter Huntley. The direct-to-consumer, American-made brand is driven by an emphasis on quality and sustainability (Stargazer uses recycled sand in its casting molds, recycled iron for its skillets, recycled paper for packaging). You'll find just two products on the site: a 10.5-inch skillet and a 12-inch skillet.
Smithey Ironware Company
There's a reason Smithey Ironware products are so beautiful and timeless: The entire company was inspired by vintage cookware. Founder Isaac Morton is passionate about creating cast iron and carbon steel pans that are both beautiful and durable enough to become heirlooms. The company even offers engraving for added personalization.
How do you clean a cast iron pan?
Uncoated cast iron should be cleaned with special care. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions, but generally, simply 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). You can also use kosher salt and hot water.
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.
Enameled cast iron generally doesn’t need special attention when cleaning, and some (like the Cuisinart and Le Creuset pans on this list) can even be washed in a dishwasher.
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.
How do you season a cast iron pan?
While most uncoated cast iron is pre-seasoned and can be used right away, it will perform better after seasoning. 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.
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.
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. 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.
How do you remove the seasoning from a cast iron pan?
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 the 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.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The author of this piece, Review Editor Collier Sutter, personally tested cast iron pans in our lab to determine the best ones for this list, replicating the same recipes and measuring specific data points. She also included insights from our freelance reviewers to get the home cook's perspective.
This piece contains additional reporting and text by Donna Currie, who tested three products for this roundup (as well as nine other cast iron and nonstick cookware products for us), and Bernadette Machard de Gramont, our cookware beat reporter, who interviewed a professional chef for help with this piece.