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Best Cast Iron Skillets of 2020

Is there anything better to suit a nice BBQ meal than a cast-iron filled with freshly baked cornbread?
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday July 15, 2020
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Need the best cast iron skillet to season into a future heirloom pan? We researched over 25 before buying 11 of the best available in 2020, to test side-by-side. Our experts then spent over a week closely examining these pans, cooking every meal, and baking every desert in cast iron. Beyond sautéing onions, frying eggs, baking bread, and slow cooking roasts, our team developed numerically-based tests so that we can provide impartial conclusions on the performance of each pan. After hours of objective research and hands-on testing, we offer up the most in-depth review available of the best cast iron skillets on the market.

1

Best Overall Cast Iron Skillet


Lodge 10.25" Skillet With Hot Handle


Editors' Choice Award
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$34.50
(4% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 10.25 inches | Weight: 5lb 1oz
Easily seasons
Well-balanced
Go-to utility
Would benefit from a longer handle
Shallower walls don't catch sauce splashes

If we are going to suggest only one cast iron skillet to own, the Lodge 10.25" is it — and it could possibly be the last skillet that you ever purchase. This classic pan is backed by the USA-built quality and durability that has made Lodge a household name for over 120 years. From searing steaks to sautéing onions, you can expect a very consistent cooking surface on this go-to skillet. Compared to other models, this finely forged pan boasts outstanding temperature control, quickly preheating and maintaining a consistent temperature at both low and high heats. While the "pebble" finish may feel rough out of the box, you will begin building a quality seasoning almost immediately on this skillet, so it quickly starts feeling like an heirloom pan within the first few uses.

Although it would certainly benefit from a longer handle, this skillet is far from unbalanced — its 5-pound frame is very easy to wield compared to similarly-sized skillets. But if you are aiming to make large, single-pot meals, we suggest looking at some of the deeper options in this review. This pan is fine for dry frying bacon, but it will quickly fill up with oil if you try shallow fry chicken, and don't expect the sidewalls to block much of the splash-back. That said, nicely rounded side walls at the base make it a great option for baking pies and crisps, and it even includes a silicone "Hot Handle" so that you can easily remove your deserts from the oven without burning your hands.

From re-heating full meals to sauteeing fresh veggies and baking delicious deserts  the versatility of this skillet makes it our go-to for daily cooking.
From re-heating full meals to sauteeing fresh veggies and baking delicious deserts, the versatility of this skillet makes it our go-to for daily cooking.

2

Best Miniature Skillet


Victoria Mini 6.5" Skillet


Editors' Choice Award
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$12.99
(28% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 6 inches | Weight: 2lb
Impressively non-stick after seasoning
Long, articulated handle
Easily adjusts to temperature changes
Too small for full meals
Not super versatile

Even if it is somewhat limited by its compressed size, the Victoria Mini 6.5" Skillet is the most impressive cast iron skillet we tested. As soon as we pulled this skillet out of the package, we could tell just by the quality of craft that it was going to cook well. It's very thoughtfully designed: a longer, arched handle provides more agility when flipping eggs; the deep concavity of the pour spouts allow you to spoon brown butter with accuracy; and its lightweight build makes it easy to wield for even the youngest chef (baby's first cast iron?) The most remarkable characteristic of this pan, though, is how well it seasoned. After sautéing a few small dishes, we were able to bake cornbread without a flake sticking to the pan. Even in our fried egg test, this was the only pan to truly claim a non-stick surface, without oil!

We have very few negative comments for this incredible little skillet. Placed side-by-side with other pans, it is quite small — we had a tough time even browning a single sausage. It also does not seem to perform as well at high temperatures: searing steak was the only time we really had food stick to this pan. While they may not be a household name, this smaller-scale Colombian forge produces a large line of cast iron products, including high-quality cast iron skillets up to 12" in diameter.

Really  the size of this skillet -- as exhibited by the confines put on browning a few sausages -- is really the only downfall of a truly great cast iron.
Really, the size of this skillet -- as exhibited by the confines put on browning a few sausages -- is really the only downfall of a truly great cast iron.

3

Best for Large Meals and Baking


Lodge Dual Handle 12"


Editors' Choice Award
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$19.92
(38% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 12 inches | Weight: 7lb 6oz
Versatile
Surprisingly light for its size
Non-stick capability for baking
Thin cast of base
Large variation of temperature across cook surface

The Lodge Dual Handle 12" is a larger surface skillet that offers unsurpassed versatility in both cooking and baking. We love this skillet for cooking up generous, "one-pot" dishes like stir-fry and warm couscous salads. Don't be off-put, thinking that a large pan might be unwieldy. Thanks to its dual handles, this skillet is easy to grip coming out of the oven. Compared to other Lodge pans, this skillet is cast with a thinner base so it feels significantly lighter than its size might suggest. From pizza to Apple pie, cinnamon rolls to tarts, this skillet will become a go-to for baking. Again, the dual handles make it much easier to lift in and out of the oven, and a quality finish means that the pan quickly begins to accept excess oil and butter as seasoning.

In our cooking evenness and temperature control tests, this skillet performed poorly, likely due to its relatively thin bottom and large surface area.

However, the only time we really noticed any remarkable difference was when simmering sauces — the center of the pan is significantly hotter than the sides. While this pan does not specifically include a lid (which would come in very handy with some baked goods), it is universally compatible with any Lodge 12" top. For large family meals that you want to transfer directly from the stovetop to the table, this is our choice to double as a skillet and serving dish (paella, perhaps?)

A perfect lemon tart  lifted just moments before with ease out of this un-greased cast iron. Amazing!
A perfect lemon tart, lifted just moments before with ease out of this un-greased cast iron. Amazing!

4

Great Value as a 3-in-1 Set


Lodge Combo Cooker


Best Buy Award
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$36.97
(40% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 10.25 inches | Weight: 6 lb 5 oz (deep skillet); 6 lb 11 oz (shallow skillet)
A deep pan, shallow skillet, and Dutch oven all-in-one
Shallow skillet doubles as a top
Durable
No pour spouts
Heavy package

If you are going to buy "one" new cast iron to start your collection, then the Lodge 10.25" Combo Cooker should be it. It's really pretty unfair to rank this against the others in terms of versatility — this 3-in-1 set actually includes both a deep 4.6" deep skillet and a 2" shallow skillet. The shallow skillet has a specially designed lip so that it nests on top of the deep skillet, and voila! A Dutch oven! This was the first cast iron our lead tester purchased for himself, and it has seen daily use for the past five years. The deeper side is perfect for sauces or chili, the shallow side is a go-to for pan-frying and sautéing, and the Dutch oven works great for baking bread or slow-cooking roasts in the oven.

Reflected in the craft of these pans is the high-quality cast Lodge is known for. However, we noted that both sides of the skillet fall behind many others in terms of cooking evenness. These pans come pre-seasoned with a "pebble" finish that will take some time and effort to properly season. But with thoughtful care and maintenance, it is almost guaranteed that their cooking performance will only get better over time. The price certainly reflects the fact that it is really more of a set than a single skillet. But considering you gain the flexibility of owning a deep skillet, a shallow fry-pan, and a bonus Dutch oven, why not splurge?

The shallow skillet has a purposefully designed lip  allowing it to sit easily on top of the deep skillet. Helpful as a lid for covering sauces... even better used for baking as a Dutch oven!
The shallow skillet has a purposefully designed lip, allowing it to sit easily on top of the deep skillet. Helpful as a lid for covering sauces... even better used for baking as a Dutch oven!

5

Best for Serving


Lodge 8" Round Pan


Top Pick Award
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$21.99
(12% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 8 inches | Weight: 3 lb 3 oz
Easily doubles as a serving dish
Lightweight
Particularly non-stick after seasoning
Small cook surface
Odd shape for baking

The Lodge 8" Round Pan is not spectacular a pan for cooking, but its finely crafted appearance dazzles as a serving dish. The dual handles are arched and evenly rounded, and at just over three pounds, it's lightweight enough to pass around the table. The craftsmanship is exceptionally fine and seems to go above-and-beyond Lodge's already renowned high-quality standards. This pan responds well to seasoning and even the "pebble" finish was shining after just a few uses, also making it remarkably easy to clean.

But when it came to actually cooking, we were strained to reach for this skillet most of the time. The sides of the pan are so slanted that there isn't actually much of a cooking surface — it is shaped like a very narrow wok. The shape is a little too awkward and a little too deep for a regular pie crust. But it is great for a two-serving pot pie, or a blueberry crisp that you intend to serve at the table. We do like this pan for sautéing mushrooms and onions in a cream sauce to serve as a side dish — in this case, the wok-like shape makes it very easy to fold veggies into a sauce. But beyond some specific applications, this is not an everyday-cooking pan.

Who doesn't love a rustic  cast iron serving dish?
Who doesn't love a rustic, cast iron serving dish?

6

Best "Non-Stick" Skillet


Greater Goods 10"


Top Pick Award
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$39.95
at Amazon
See It

Size: 10 inches | Weight: 5 lb 6 oz
Well-balanced and ergonomic
Burnished finish
Even heat distribution
Steep sidewalls
Doesn't accept seasoning as easily as non-burnished pans

Think back to an experience when your first impressions were completely blown out of the water. That perfectly sums up our cooking experience with the Greater Goods 100. To start heaping on praise, this is the only skillet in this review that boasts a machine-milled, burnished cook surface. Often, this old-time craft-finish is only reserved for cast iron pans that cost three times as much as the Greater Goods. The smooth finish makes this pan incredibly non-stick compared to the competition — but you still must season properly by cooking with oil or butter. The pan is designed with balance and ergonomics in mind: the remarkably long handle is extruded for a more comfortable grip, and also doubles as a utensil holder.

We love the thoughtful design of this pan, but there are still some flaws. The sidewalls are steeper than most other pans, which means it cooks more like a classic sauté pan, rather than a skillet (that generally have more rounded sidewalls). The milling process results in a bottom that is quite thin compared to other similarly-sized pans. This presents an interesting dichotomy as related to cooking evenness: this skillet exhibits nearly uniform temperatures across its cook surface, but its lightweight construction results in poor heat retention. This type of fine temperature control will appeal to those who are on top of managing burners (read: professional chefs), but will likely prove annoying to some of us with less cooking experience.

The burnished finish of this pan makes it impressively non-stick after some proper seasoning. Check out how cleanly this quiche lifted off the bottom!
The burnished finish of this pan makes it impressively non-stick after some proper seasoning. Check out how cleanly this quiche lifted off the bottom!

7

Best for Slow Cooking


Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet


Top Pick Award
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$72
List Price
See It

Size: 12 inches | Weight: 6 lb 5 oz (without lid); 11 lb 15 oz (with lid)
Includes universally compatible 12" cast iron lid
Large volume
Consistent cooking temperatures
No pour spouts
Heavy with lid

For low and slow cooking, we can't get enough of the Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet. Not a far-cry from the deep skillet portion of Lodge's Combo Cooker — just with a larger footprint (12") and volume — this pan is perfect for sizable roasts and huge pots of chili. What sets this classically styled skillet apart from the pack is simply that it includes a lid. For those with a budding cast iron collection, it is important to note here that this lid is universally adaptable to all Lodge 12" skillets. The ability to cover this pan makes it a great option as a deep-fryer, a bread-oven, and a campfire pit-cooker. A deeper skillet is more useful when it comes to simmering sauces, as the high side walls create a more humid microclimate that helps keep your sauces from drying out.

Thank goodness for the dual handles, because this pan is heavy. At nearly 12 pounds, this is the second heaviest skillet in this review behind the Combo Cooker. Even with the extra handle, it is sometimes difficult to pull this hulking cast iron in and out of the oven. It takes quite a long time to heat up, and unfortunately, it does not score that highly in terms of cooking evenness. This skillet is better suited to slow-cooking brisket in the oven than it is to searing steak on the stovetop. But considering the quality of food this skillet is capable of producing, it is likely that this covered-option will quietly earn its place as one of your heirloom pans.

The fact that this deep skillet includes a lid made it our instant-favorite for slow cooking  like the carnitas pork pictured here.
The fact that this deep skillet includes a lid made it our instant-favorite for slow cooking, like the carnitas pork pictured here.

8

Best for Indoor Grilling


Lodge 10.5" Square Grill Pan


Top Pick Award
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$19.90
(56% off)
at Amazon
See It

Size: 10.5 inches | Weight: 7 lb
Impressive temperature stability
Easy to clean
Ergonomic handle
Single-purpose pan
Would benefit from a lid

A specific kind of cast iron skillet, the Lodge 10.5" Square Grill Pan specializes in one-thing: indoor grilling. This pan exhibits the craft of Lodge's established quality. For example, the grill ribs are actually part of the cast, rather than an extruded finish. The pan is fairly heavy, but is nicely balanced thanks to an arched handle. This design point gets your hand up and out of the way of the burners so that you can sear from a safe distance. This skillet achieved some of the highest marks for cooking evenness, with impressively consistent temperatures across the cook surface — this bodes well for nailing the temperature of your steak. Alternatively, the grill ribs are great for holding and evenly cooking sausages.

The greatest downfall of this skillet is that it is pretty much a single-purpose type of pan. Cooking performance and ease of use are curtailed by a skillet that cannot fry an egg, or even uniformly cook bacon. Even though the Square Grill Pan begins to develop a seasoning layer fairly quickly — thanks to the grooves catching and absorbing oils and fats — this pan can be pain to satisfactorily clean. But if you are a fan of collecting obscure cast iron, and cannot think of spending a while winter without a grilled meal, this pan will help fill that void.

A fan of perfect grill marks on nicely browned meat? Look no further than this indoor grill pan  that impressed us with its ability to retain even temperatures.
A fan of perfect grill marks on nicely browned meat? Look no further than this indoor grill pan, that impressed us with its ability to retain even temperatures.

9

Great Value for its Size


Backcountry 12"


Best Buy Award
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$39.99
at Amazon
See It

Size: 12 inches | Weight: 8 lb 1 oz
Surprisingly non-stick after seasoning
Large cook surface with deep sidewalls
Maintains consistent temperatures
Unbalanced with a short handle
Really rough cast

Considering its cook surface-to-price ratio, you will be hard-pressed to find a better value for a large cast iron skillet than the Backcountry 12". This pan has a classic design that will feel very familiar to cast iron aficionados — we think it is a great addition to any collection as a pit-cooking specialist. A very heavy cast increases heat retention, and deep side walls offer protection from coals and ash. All of this adds up to a great option for shallow-frying camp favorites like bacon and eggs over an open-pit fire. Despite our initial issues with its very rough finish, this pan ultimately won us over by seasoning very well. In our fried-egg test, it was one of the few lower-quality pans that didn't result in a sticky mess, reinforcing its bargain as a specialized camp-cooker.

Although this cast iron skillet impresses with ease of cleaning, it falls short in terms of ease of use — there are, without a doubt, some sacrifices in quality for a price-point pan. This is easily the heaviest skillet in our review, and paradoxically is fitted with a seriously small handle. This pan is unfortunately balanced, to the point where it is really difficult to lift with only one hand. Even though it is almost too big for a single burner, this skillet is undoubtedly a great option for cooking large meals, thanks in part to impressively consistent surface temperatures.

This 12" skillet has the volume and capacity for producing delicious pots of chili  in a quantity that can serve a family.
This 12" skillet has the volume and capacity for producing delicious pots of chili, in a quantity that can serve a family.

10

Great for Parties


Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle Pan


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$64
List Price
See It

Size: 20 x 10.5 inches | Weight: 13 lb 10 oz
Huge cook area
Ability to maintain different temperature zones
2-in-1 utility
Super heavy
Tough and annoying to clean

The Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle Pan is something of a novelty item in the world of cast irons. Unless you are using this as a cast iron stovetop in a professional kitchen, or looking to crank out large quantities of food for a party, it is unlikely you would use this pan on a regular basis. The reversible capability is utilitarian, offering both a flat griddle on one side and a ribbed grill on the other side. The Pro-Grid Reversible has a huge cook surface, flanked by a channel on one side to catch the grease of burgers or debris scrapings from a community pancake-breakfast. This pan impressed us with its ability to maintain two distinctly different temperature zones across two burners. At one point we measured a 200℉ difference across the board, meaning that you can sear steak on one side and slow roast veggies on the other.

But this pan is huge, heavy, and cumbersome. This is particularly obvious when cleaning, since the pan barely fits into a standard sink and can really only be rinsed by faucets with a removable spray head. Unless you regularly cook for large groups, or want to dedicate half of your stovetop to this pan, we suggest substituting two individual skillets instead — Lodge's 10.5" Square Grill Pan and 10.25" Skillet alternatively offer nearly the same amount of cook space.

For those that really love the capacity of a large griddle or grill pan  then this 2-in-1 will find a perfect home on your stove.
For those that really love the capacity of a large griddle or grill pan, then this 2-in-1 will find a perfect home on your stove.

11

Good for a Ramekin


Lodge Miniature 3.5" Skillet


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$14
List Price
See It

Size: 3.5 inches | Weight: 11 oz
Adorable
Great as a serving dish
Quickly adjusts to temperature
Actually too small to cook in
Tiny handle

The Lodge Miniature 3.5" Skillet is maybe the most remarkable cast iron in this review. We mean that literally — without a doubt, you will always receive a comment on the adorable nature of this doll-sized pan. It is also remarkable that it is one of the top-selling cast irons on the market. We feel like we would be doing a disservice to the cooking community if we did not clarify the size of this tiny skillet. We have many friends who have purchased this as a "single-serving" cast iron, only to be disappointed that it is tough to even cook a single egg.

The only apparent use for this cast iron skillet is as a single-serving dessert ramekin — for that purpose alone, it's perfect! It is easy to imagine the rustic presentation of a personal brownie sundae, hors d'oeuvre croquettes, or a miniature shepherd's pie. This skillet does actually bake those types of dishes very well, thanks to its ability to quickly preheat and its overall even temperature profile. But beyond novelty, this overly-miniature cast iron skillet has very little use in a home kitchen.

Cute? Absolutely; perfect for single-serving dishes like cornbread. This skillet is lined up next to the Victoria Mini 6.5" -- to better describe just how small 3.5" looks in real life.
Cute? Absolutely; perfect for single-serving dishes like cornbread. This skillet is lined up next to the Victoria Mini 6.5" -- to better describe just how small 3.5" looks in real life.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our expert in home cooking with heavy pans is Aaron Rice. When he's not out in the mountains — either testing for GearLab or having his own fun in the alpine — it's likely you'll find him at home and in the kitchen. Aaron learned to cook from family at a young age, and has worked in and around professional kitchens for the better portion of a decade. Devoted to good food, he and his wife now run an on-site culinary garden for a fine-dining restaurant in Santa Fe. From baking bread, to slow cooking carnitas pork, to pan-searing fresh veggies, Aaron cooks with his own personal collection of cast iron daily — including a few heirloom pans that are nearly 70 years old.

Cast irons of every shape and size  and a kitchen prepped and ready for hands-on testing!
Cast irons of every shape and size, and a kitchen prepped and ready for hands-on testing!

To kick off our testing process, we first performed our due diligence of online research and scoured the internet for the best and most popular cast iron skillets on the market. We purchased over a dozen pans, at retail cost, so that we may advertise an objectively-honest and comprehensively comparative review. With the pans in-hand, we lugged these cast irons into the kitchen for quality examinations, temperature measurements, and of course, lots and lots of cooking! Over the course of a week, we cooked every single meal — plus a ton of extra baking — in these skillets. We baked cornbread and quiche, fried eggs and bacon, sautéed onions and mushrooms, grilled chicken and slow-cooked pork shoulder. By using a carefully constructed testing plan and side-by-side comparison of these skillets, we are able to bring you one of the most technical reviews of cast-iron cookware available. Whether you are searching for your very first cast iron, or just looking to add to the collection passed down from your grandparents, we offer up a variety of models to suit the needs of any home chef.

Cast iron skillets are available in many different sizes. From the smallest on the left: 3.5"  6.5"  10"  and 12" diameters.
Cast iron skillets are available in many different sizes. From the smallest on the left: 3.5", 6.5", 10", and 12" diameters.

Analysis and Test Results


Cast iron skillets are trusted throughout the culinary world as both workhorses of the kitchen, and heirlooms that deserve the utmost respect. If properly cared for, these pans can easily last generations, and only become more refined with every meal. We took into account five key qualities that define a great cast iron skillet: cooking performance; ease of use; seasoning; maintenance & clean-up; quality & durability. We then tested these skillets side-by-side, analyzing and ranking them according to each metric. We have seasoned pans, cooked meals, measured surface temperatures, and scrutinized craft, all in order to bring you an in-depth comparison to help aid your search for the perfect cast iron skillet.

Large cast iron skillets in the 12-inch range  like the Lodge Dual Handle 12"  are the right size for "single-pot" meals.
Large cast iron skillets in the 12-inch range, like the Lodge Dual Handle 12", are the right size for "single-pot" meals.

Cooking Performance


While testing cooking performance through — you guessed it — cooking may seem an obvious approach, anecdotal evidence was by far the most helpful way to judge the efficacy of these pans in turning out delicious food. To supplement all of our cooking and baking, we identified and specifically tested a few sub-attributes that contribute to an overall great cast skillet: evenness, stickiness, searing ability, and temperature control. Not to our surprise, our award winners generally scored highest in terms of overall cooking performance — specifically the Lodge 10.25 Skillet and Victoria Mini 6.5 Skillet. But there are some other remarkable standouts when it comes to specific aspects.

The Lodge 10.25" Skillet is certainly a workhorse of our lead tester's home kitchen  serving daily duties like sauteing onions.
The Lodge 10.25" Skillet is certainly a workhorse of our lead tester's home kitchen, serving daily duties like sauteing onions.

Cooking Evenness


While cast iron is not generally known for cooking evenness, especially when compared directly to copper or stainless steel pans, there are certainly ones in this review that performed better than others. We took a scientific approach to this test: we set the skillets to warm up over a low burner setting, and then used an infrared thermometer to precisely measure the surface temperature in each quadrant and the center. By using a standard deviation approach, we then ranked these skillets based on a difference from their average temperature. While cooking and baking, we noted any exceptions to our lab tests — like if a pan burned sauce on the sidewalls, or if it produced an outstanding pie crust — and adjusted our rankings according to our more subjective experiences.

Baking pie crusts is an easy (and delicious) way to tell if there are hot spots on a pan. Here we have personal pies in the Victoria 6.5" (front) and Lodge 3.5" (back left)  as well as a tart shell out of the Lodge 12" Dual Handle.
Baking pie crusts is an easy (and delicious) way to tell if there are hot spots on a pan. Here we have personal pies in the Victoria 6.5" (front) and Lodge 3.5" (back left), as well as a tart shell out of the Lodge 12" Dual Handle.

We noticed throughout our test period that there is a direct relationship between quality of cast and cooking evenness: the more uniform the forging of the cast iron, the more even surface temperatures tend to be across the cooking surface and sidewalls. Excellently manufactured cast irons tended to score highest in this category, with the Greater Goods 10" (+/- 13.6℉) leading the pack, both in our thermometer testing and cooking trials. This is followed closely by the Lodge 8" Round (+/- 14.1℉), Lodge Miniature 3.5" (+/- 14.4℉), and Victoria Mini 6.5" (+/- 14.8℉). You may also notice that, with the exception of the Greater Goods skillet, these are all of the smallest pans in our review — clearly, as pans get larger, it is both more difficult to achieve consistent casting and the consequent even cooking surface temperatures.

To put exact numbers to cooking evenness  we used an infrared thermometer to precisely measure temperatures across the surface of each pan.
To put exact numbers to cooking evenness, we used an infrared thermometer to precisely measure temperatures across the surface of each pan.

Stickiness


Pan stickiness can be a real issue with cast irons, particularly if they are not seasoned properly out-of-the-box. However, if continuously seasoned throughout the lifetime of the pan — through both cooking and maintenance — these can ultimately become the most non-stick skillets in your kitchen arsenal. Again, cast and craft can play a major role in how sticky a pan will be, but it is not the end-all characteristic since these superficial qualities will change with each use. Seasoning is so important to cast irons that it has its own metric, and we will cover it in more detail below.

The ugly result of our initial fried-egg test... and a great reminder of why it is important to properly season your cast iron skillet before cooking!
The ugly result of our initial fried-egg test... and a great reminder of why it is important to properly season your cast iron skillet before cooking!

Before cooking, we took note of the finish of these pans. While nearly all of these skillets arrived with a rough-feeling finish, the exception was the machine-milled and burnished Greater Goods 10" — this skillet sports an inside that is smooth to the touch. It is indeed our facorite "Non-Stick" Skillet, but this must be taken with a hefty grain of salt — without first heating this pan with oil or butter, your food will likely stick just like any other pan. Despite having one of the rougher finishes of the group, the Backcountry 12 really impressed us with how easy it was to lift food from the pan.

The Greater Goods 10" is the only skillet in this review that is burnished. The patina is a natural result of the smooth finish that will develop and change over time.
The Greater Goods 10" is the only skillet in this review that is burnished. The patina is a natural result of the smooth finish that will develop and change over time.

While the Greater Goods skillet is impressively non-stick — particularly in the realm of baking — it did not always score top marks when cooking, particularly when it came to cooking meats. By reinforcing our testing experience with perhaps some unfair anecdotal evidence (our lead tester has owned this set for many years), we found that both skillets of the Lodge Combo Cooker earn high marks for non-stick pans, both in cooking and cleaning. But it is Victoria Mini that was actually the most impressive skillet in this category — both eggs and cornbread easily lifted from this pan without any residue.

The Victoria Mini 6.5" can truly claim non-stick capability after proper seasoning. This is the result of the 2nd round of our fried-egg test: without oil  this egg lifted easily out of the pan. Amazing!
The Victoria Mini 6.5" can truly claim non-stick capability after proper seasoning. This is the result of the 2nd round of our fried-egg test: without oil, this egg lifted easily out of the pan. Amazing!

Searing Ability


This may have been our favorite test of the whole process! With a small amount of high-heat oil (we used canola), we preheated each pan to an ideal searing temperature of 400℉ — again, we utilized an infrared thermometer to achieve a steady surface temperature. We then seared roughly equal ¼-pound cuts of red meat on each side for two minutes, monitoring the temperature and aiming for a perfectly rare steak.

Cast iron is capable of withstanding much higher temperatures than other types of pans without warping over time  which makes them a great option for browning meats.
Cast iron is capable of withstanding much higher temperatures than other types of pans without warping over time, which makes them a great option for browning meats.

Again, the Victoria Mini excelled in this metric. But there were some surprising contenders, namely the Home Complete 12" — a thick cast iron that takes a long time to adjust to temperatures — that seared a steak to near perfection. Runners-up included the Lodge 5-Quart Deep skillet and the Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle Pan, both of which eventually became crowd-favorites for their ability to consistently brown meat.

The delicious results (yet again) of testing the searing ability of each of these cast iron pans.
The delicious results (yet again) of testing the searing ability of each of these cast iron pans.

Temperature Control


Testing this metric was similar to testing Cooking Evenness, so again, we broke out our trusty infrared thermometer, this time assisted by a stopwatch. First, we set each skillet over a gas burner to medium and marked the time it took to come up to 250℉. For this first portion of our testing, the Lodge Miniature 3.5" (0:50 seconds), Victoria Mini 6.5" (1:02 minutes), Lodge Dual Handle 12" (1:17 minutes), and Lodge 8" Round (1:24) achieved the fastest preheat times. You will undoubtedly notice that the smallest pans in the review heated up the fastest — not a huge surprise. The exception is the Dual Handle 12"; we eventually concluded that this pan has a particularly thin bottom. This grants it the ability to maintain lower surface temperatures even in a hotter oven, a particular advantage for baking!

The diameter -- and thus  the overall surface area of a pan -- is a factor that directly correlated with temperature control. Here  you can see just how big different-sized pans are over a normal gas burner. Clockwise from top left: 3.5"  6.5"  12"  and 10".
The diameter -- and thus, the overall surface area of a pan -- is a factor that directly correlated with temperature control. Here, you can see just how big different-sized pans are over a normal gas burner. Clockwise from top left: 3.5", 6.5", 12", and 10".

These first results are mainly a product of pan size and thickness, which are helpful observations but don't exactly speak to absolute temperature control. Once the pan reached 250℉, we then turned the burner to low and waited for surface temperatures to stabilize. This simulates a very real-world situation, where you want ingredients to stay warm but not necessarily continue cooking. We deemed the pans that stabilized closest to 250℉ to have the best temperature control.

Consistent surface temperatures are a necessity when aiming for a particular internal temperature of a steak. Here  we are keeping time and measuring surface temperatures to ensure that each pan is being tested evenly.
Consistent surface temperatures are a necessity when aiming for a particular internal temperature of a steak. Here, we are keeping time and measuring surface temperatures to ensure that each pan is being tested evenly.

Based on the second half of this test, the Lodge 10.5" Square Grill Pan is by far the winner when it comes to temperature control, stabilizing only 1℉ away from the mark — definitely an asset in terms of aiming for that ideal internal meat temperature! The Lodge Reversible Grill/Griddle (+/- 6℉) is another standout. We were really impressed with this large pan's ability to control two very distinct heat zones across the cooking surface — at one point, we measured 340℉ on one side and 140℉ on the other, making it very versatile for cooking large quantities of different kinds of food.

Consistent temperatures across a pan's surface -- and not just its bottom -- is essential for evenly baked goods  like cornbread.
Consistent temperatures across a pan's surface -- and not just its bottom -- is essential for evenly baked goods, like cornbread.

Ease of Use


Ease of use can mean very different things to different people, but in our assessment, we tried to take into account some key components that can really change the cooking experience. Does the skillet have any additional features that make it remarkable? Is the handle ergonomic or thoughtfully designed? Does its weight and balance prohibit you from lifting the pan with one hand? Is the pan versatile enough for use in the oven, particularly when it comes to baking? We worked hard to use each pan in every way imaginable so that we could paint an honest picture of what it looks like to use these cast iron skillets in the kitchen.

What size cast iron is going to suit your particularly cooking needs?
What size cast iron is going to suit your particularly cooking needs?

If we were to suggest only one cast iron skillet to own based on utility and ease of use, it would be the Lodge 10.25" Skillet with Hot Handle. This pan has double-sided pour spouts that make it easy to pan-off sautéed veggies, dual handles that make it easy to pull out of the oven, and is both lighter-weight and deeper than other skillets of a similar size.

The 10-inch skillet is the workhorse of any kitchen  thanks to a size that can accommodate many tasks and a weight that is not too heavy to hold up with one hand. Here  we're pouring sauteed veggies out of the Lodge 10.25" into a quiche shell held by the Greater Goods 10".
The 10-inch skillet is the workhorse of any kitchen, thanks to a size that can accommodate many tasks and a weight that is not too heavy to hold up with one hand. Here, we're pouring sauteed veggies out of the Lodge 10.25" into a quiche shell held by the Greater Goods 10".

For the sake of this review — covering something as seemingly simple as a cast iron skillet — we considered features to be anything that goes above and beyond your basics. For the Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet, the glowing feature is that this is the only pan in the review that includes a lid, making it ideal for low simmering chili or slow-cooking brisket. The particularly deep pour spouts of the Victoria Mini are useful for accurately pouring off browned butter and other sauces.

A heavy-duty design and short handle affect the balance of the Backcountry 12"... Best to use two hands when handling this sizable cast iron.
A heavy-duty design and short handle affect the balance of the Backcountry 12"... Best to use two hands when handling this sizable cast iron.

Cast iron skillets can be heavy, so thoughtfully designed ergonomics — particularly in the handle — can go a long way to increase the balance of a pan and its ease of use. The Victoria Mini 6.5" and Lodge 10.5" Square Grill have arched handles, making them much easier to wield. The handle on the Greater Goods 10" is longer than most, and is notched, making it more comfortable to hold and a handle that doubles as a utensil holder! With the exception of the 10.5" Square Grill, expect that most Lodge pans will leave you longing for a slightly longer handle. On the poorly designed side of ergonomics, the Backcountry 12" has a peculiarly short handle, especially considering the size of the pan.

If you really value ergonomics  look specifically for a pan that includes an articulated handle to help you lift these heavy skillets.
If you really value ergonomics, look specifically for a pan that includes an articulated handle to help you lift these heavy skillets.

Directly related to ergonomics, the weight of a cast iron skillet can either positively influence or directly detract from ease of use. This factor was easy to judge with a digital scale — backed up, of course, by our personal experience and notes on the balance of a pan while cooking. Due to its tiny size, the Lodge Miniature 3.5" (11 ounces) is clearly the lightest pan in our review, but also too small to really even cook with. Taking into account its size, weight, and balance, the Lodge 10.25" Skillet takes the cake, earning our accolades as one of the only cast iron pans you may ever need. We were also impressed with the balance of the Lodge Dual Handle 12" — while it may not be that much lighter than other similarly sized pans, it felt much easier to handle, particularly when pulling it out of the oven.

The Lodge 3.5" is too small to accommodate any regularly sized spatula  and we tried three different ones.
The Lodge 3.5" is too small to accommodate any regularly sized spatula, and we tried three different ones.

Thanks to its thoughtful dual-handle design and size, the Dual Handle 12" also earned our respect as one of the most versatile skillets in this review. Equally suited for shallow frying chicken as it is for baking cinnamon buns, we were surprised by how often we found ourselves reaching for this pan. But without a doubt, the 3-in-1 capability of the Lodge Combo Cooker is the most versatile purchase option. This set covers all major bases: you get a deep pan for sauces and frying, a shallow skillet for sautéing, and then stack the two to get the equivalent of a Dutch oven!

Testing out bread baking with the Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet (back right)  as compared directly with our lead tester's trusty Lodge Dutch oven.
Testing out bread baking with the Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet (back right), as compared directly with our lead tester's trusty Lodge Dutch oven.

Many home bakers — including this author — use cast irons in the oven and find them particularly useful in creating the steamy microclimate that suits the notably chewy crust of a San Francisco-style sourdough bread. Deep pans that include a lid, like the 5-Quart Deep Skillet or Combo Cooker options from Lodge, are great choices if baking bread is one of your goals. For baking things like pies, quiche, tarts — anything that has a bottom crust — we found that pans with rounded sidewalls give these crusts the right shape, and make it much easier to lift from the skillet. The Lodge Dual Handle 12" sports the most curve at the point where the sidewalls come in contact with the base of the pan, whereas the Backcountry 12" has a notably angled transition at this point.

Cast irons stay hot for a long time compared to other material pans, so be careful of the "carry over" effect of heat — it will likely continue to cook your baked goods even after removing it from the oven! So we suggest reserving your cast iron baking for items that can be easily removed — like bread — or something that is okay to keep baking a little while longer — like a crisp or cobbler.

It's possible to bake delicious  artisan-grade loaves of bread at home with a covered cast iron. In fact  many home bakers insist on them!
It's possible to bake delicious, artisan-grade loaves of bread at home with a covered cast iron. In fact, many home bakers insist on them!

Seasoning


This is perhaps the most important factor when separating a truly remarkable cast iron from a sticky menace. Proper seasoning of a cast iron skillet cannot be understated — but certainly is over-discussed, and can quickly become an overwhelming conversation for those not-yet well-versed in the world of cast iron.

Seasoning is just oil baked onto cast iron…
-Lodge Cast Iron

The fine finish of the Lodge 8" Round skillet helped it season easier than many other pans in this review by simply sauteeing onions and mushrooms with butter or oil on a regular basis.
The fine finish of the Lodge 8" Round skillet helped it season easier than many other pans in this review by simply sauteeing onions and mushrooms with butter or oil on a regular basis.

You may also hear some experts refer to this seasoning as carbonized, or polymerized, oil. All that means is that by heating oil and cast iron together — which occurs gradually during the cooking process — the two combine to form a polymer, what we know and love as the naturally oily surface of a cast iron pan. Every single skillet in this review claims to have a pre-seasoning. Yet, food will stick to every single skillet in this review until the cast iron has been properly seasoned. Trust us, we tested by removing the packaging, wiping them off, and immediately attempting to fry an egg without oil. Pre-seasoning is a nice place to start, but expect to put some work into the process of seasoning — it's this process that begins to form a bond between you and your new cast iron.

Over years of cooking with cast iron skillets, our lead tester has decided that the best way to season one of these pans is by routinely using them to cook oily, greasy, and fatty foods. However, an oven-based seasoning routine right out-of-the-box is never a bad idea to start off on the right path to a well-seasoned cast iron.

Really pushing the capacity of our head tester's home oven  by packing it full of cast iron for seasoning!
Really pushing the capacity of our head tester's home oven, by packing it full of cast iron for seasoning!

After oven-seasoning all of these pans, and then giving each the benefit of cooking a few fatty meals, we conducted the same fried egg test once again — with very different results, in many cases. The skillets were ranked relative to one another based on how much food was left behind in the pan, and then assigned a score to assess seasoning potential. The most impressive pan, by far, is the Victoria Mini 6.5", which succeeded in entirely releasing an egg with no residue, and no oil — that may not sound like much, but it is an extraordinary feat for a cast iron skillet. The Lodge Dual Handle 12" was a close contender.

All of the cast irons laid out  showing the results of our 2nd fried-egg test that came after regular seasoning. The Victoria Mini 6.5" (bottom right) is at one end of the spectrum  with the Lodge Miniature 3.5" at the other end.
All of the cast irons laid out, showing the results of our 2nd fried-egg test that came after regular seasoning. The Victoria Mini 6.5" (bottom right) is at one end of the spectrum, with the Lodge Miniature 3.5" at the other end.

By cooking with these skillets continuously over the course of a week, we also furnished some pretty solid subjective evidence of how these pans adopt seasoning — and ultimately cook better quality food. As a generalization, Lodge pans — in particular the award-winning 10.25" Skillet and Combo Cooker — seem to do a much better job of accepting oil, as they quickly start to feel like an heirloom cast iron in terms of quality of seasoning. While the Greater Goods 10" is our favorite "Non-Stick" Pan, we noticed that the machine-smoothed surface doesn't accept oil as readily as other models. The rough finish of many cast irons fill in with polymerized oil over time, while burnished dimples of the Greater Goods skillet are significantly smaller and likely don't fill up as easily — although they don't necessarily need to to achieve a similarly seasoned state.

The oil from regular seasoning should result in a cast iron skillet that is naturally hydrophobic  repelling water even after washing.
The oil from regular seasoning should result in a cast iron skillet that is naturally hydrophobic, repelling water even after washing.

Maintenance & Clean Up


Cast iron maintenance may be as heavily debated as seasoning, but it doesn't need to be complicated! Our cast iron experts feel strongly that by following a few cardinal rules, cast irons are almost easier to clean up and maintain than many other material options.

Our lead tester follows the same routine after every meal cooked in their personal cast irons:
  • After cooking, immediately fill the pan with room-temperature water; let the pan soak while you enjoy your meal — this helps loosen up food debris. Just don't let it sit in water overnight!
  • Wash with warm water, but never soap. Contrary to popular belief, the cast iron will not "absorb the flavor" of the soap, but the grease-cutting power of soap will begin to strip away well-earned seasoning.
  • Similarly, try to avoid harsh scrubbers — like steel-wool — that will quickly start to abrade your pan. If you have soaked the pan after cooking, the scouring side of a sponge will be more than adequate for scrubbing power. If not, then let the pan soak for a half-hour or so.
  • After washing, place the pan over a medium-low heat to efficiently and completely dry the pan. Residual water will likely result in some rusting over time.

Water sizzling on the hot surface of the Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle pan really helped in loosening up hard food debris prior to cleaning.
Water sizzling on the hot surface of the Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle pan really helped in loosening up hard food debris prior to cleaning.

One of the downfalls of cast iron skillets is that they are not meant for a dishwasher — it's not that they are not "dishwasher-safe", but simply that dishwashers subject the pans to excessive water and heat that will ruin seasoning. It is also important that you try to avoid dry, high-heat cooking with these pans — the seasoning, which is just baked on oil, is guaranteed to smoke at excessive heat. This is unavoidable for activities like baking, so we suggest devoting a cast iron pan to that exclusive use.

Doing things like browning butter will definitely lead to a well-seasoned skillet  and may have had a hand in significantly increasing the non-stick ability of the Victoria Mini 6.5" over a short period of time.
Doing things like browning butter will definitely lead to a well-seasoned skillet, and may have had a hand in significantly increasing the non-stick ability of the Victoria Mini 6.5" over a short period of time.

Following the generally prescribed rules above, it was a pan's seasoning that often dictated how easy it was or was not to clean. While there are no particular standouts on the skillet side, the two Lodge grill pans are noteworthy. In particular, the Reversible Grill/Griddle was incredibly annoying to clean, mainly due to its size and weight — the pan is tough to fit into a normal size sink and nearly impossible to clean without a removable spray head. For this reason alone, we would suggest the 10.5" Square Grill Pan for anyone looking to grill indoors.

The grilling ribs on the Lodge 10.5" Square Pan makes it just as great for evenly cooking asparagus as it does for steaks.
The grilling ribs on the Lodge 10.5" Square Pan makes it just as great for evenly cooking asparagus as it does for steaks.

Craftsmanship


In many ways, cast iron is the durable, long-lasting alternative to more modern, lightweight, non-stick skillets. Many cast iron skillets become family heirlooms, passed down for many generations from kitchen-to-kitchen. So it is important to note the quality of a pan, rather than judging its durability — and not all pans are crafted equally.

A great cast-iron skillet is an heirloom kitchen item  that will ideally last for generations. This is the shallow skillet-half of our head tester's personal Lodge Combo Cooker: notice the beautiful sheen that has developed after years of nearly daily use.
A great cast-iron skillet is an heirloom kitchen item, that will ideally last for generations. This is the shallow skillet-half of our head tester's personal Lodge Combo Cooker: notice the beautiful sheen that has developed after years of nearly daily use.

There are certain qualities of craft, cast, balance, and finish that will make you want to use a certain cast iron skillet time and again. The manufacturer Lodge cannot be underestimated in terms of dependable quality — this is why you have likely noticed that these pans hold a solid majority in our review. As a testament to that quality, our lead tester has some Lodge pans that have been in daily use for years, and others that are more than two generations old. However, they are not the only manufacturer forging quality pans. The Victoria Mini 6.5" has the finest cast and craft of all of the skillets tested, displaying near perfect balance and softly finished features.

The Lodge 10.25" Skillet  all-seasoned up and on its way to becoming a well-loved pan for many years to come.
The Lodge 10.25" Skillet, all-seasoned up and on its way to becoming a well-loved pan for many years to come.

To point out another lesser-known brand, we were impressed by the overall quality of the Greater Goods 10". Unlike many modern cast-irons, this one sports a burnished finish that is more in-line with cast iron skillets of old. This skillet is also noticeably lightweight for its size, with a long, ergonomically designed handle. Despite its larger size, it is nearly as well-balanced as the Victoria Mini.

For some reason  the normal quality that Lodge is known for did not translate to the extremely rough finish on this particular Miniature 3.5" Skillet.
For some reason, the normal quality that Lodge is known for did not translate to the extremely rough finish on this particular Miniature 3.5" Skillet.

Cast iron is the exception where imperfections like a rough finish, sharp, un-filled edges, and casting blemishes do not lead to a less durable pan. But they certainly do detract from the user experience. A cast iron that you do not want to use will eventually find its way to the junkyard — that undermines the point of having a pan with long-lasting durability. Despite Lodge's usual reputation, the Miniature 3.5 is of a noticeably poorer quality cast, with particularly shoddy finishing. If you are going to invest in a pan for the ages, it is worthwhile to spend that extra 20 bucks to buy a cast iron skillet that is likely to stay with you for the long haul.

The Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet  quickly earning its keep on our stove top through regular use and its ability to continuously produce great quality sauces.
The Lodge 5-Quart Deep Skillet, quickly earning its keep on our stove top through regular use and its ability to continuously produce great quality sauces.

Conclusion


Cast iron skillets are a quintessential part of any home kitchen. Some folks come across truly great cast irons in antique shops or at yard sales; other lucky ones have them passed down as family heirlooms. Others must go out and create that experience to-be for themselves, buying a brand new cast iron skillet that will eventually become a well-loved pan. With this review, we hope to to offer some solid recommendations that will make your search for that soon-to-be-great cast iron skillet a little more manageable.

Aaron Rice