Searching for the best cast iron skillet in 2020 to season into a future heirloom pan? We researched over 25 options before buying the top 11 in all shapes and sizes — at retail price — to test objectively, side-by-side. We then spent over weeks comprehensively 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 experts developed numerically-based tests, so that we can provide impartial conclusions on the performance of each pan. After hours of research and hands-on testing, we offer up one of the most in-depth reviews available of the best cast iron skillets on the market today.
The Best Cast Iron Skillets of 2020
If we were going to suggest only one cast iron skillet to own, the Lodge 10.25" would be it — 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. You can expect very dependable cooking performance — from searing steaks to sautéing onions — on this go-to skillets. 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, this skillet begins building a quality seasoning almost immediately, so it quickly starts feeling like an heirloom skillet within the first few uses.
Although it would certainly benefit from a longer handle, this skillet is far from unbalanced — we found its 5-pound frame very easy to wield compared to similarly-sized skillets. If you are, however, aiming to make large, single pot meals, we would suggest looking at some of the deeper skillet options. Similarly, this pan is fine for dry frying bacon, but it will quickly fill up with oil when shallow frying, and don't expect the shallow 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.
The Victoria Mini 6.5" Skillet was likely the most impressive cast iron skillet we reviewed. While limited in terms of performance by its compressed size, this pan easily earned our accolades as the top choice for a miniature skillet. Pulling this skillet out of its packaging for the first time, 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, and 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. Our main point is that it is quite small — we had a tough time browning a single sausage due to the tight fit. It also does not seem to perform quite as well at high temperatures: we found that searing steak was tough without some of the exterior sticking to the 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.
The Lodge Dual Handle 12" is a larger scale skillet that we selected as an Editors' Choice thanks to its unsurpassed versatility in both cooking and baking. We loved this skillet for cooking up generous, "one-pot" dishes like stir-fry and warm couscous salads. Don't be afraid of its size — thanks to dual handles and a comparatively thinner base cast than other Lodge pans, this skillet is both easy to grip and feels significantly lighter than its size might suggest. From pizzas to pies, cinnamon rolls to tarts, this skillet was a particular favorite 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.
This skillet's relatively thin bottom and large surface area did lend to comparatively poor results in our cooking evenness and temperature control testing. However, through real-world testing in both cooking and baking, we could hardly notice any difference, except 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 top pick to double as a skillet and serving dish (paella, perhaps?)
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 probably somewhat unfair to rank this against others in terms of versatility — this 3-in-1 set actually includes 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 purchase of our lead tester and has seen daily use in their kitchen for the past five years. The deeper side is perfect for sauces or chili, the shallow side is a go-to choice for pan-frying and sautéing, and the Dutch oven works great for baking bread or slow-cooking roasts in the oven.
While the high-quality cast and durability that Lodge is known for is reflected in the craft of these pans, we noted that both skillets 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 Lodge 8" Round Pan is not spectacular when it comes to cooking, but it does offer a particularly fine finish that dazzles as a serving dish. The dual handles are arched and evenly rounded, and at just over three pounds, its lightweight makes it very comfortable to pass around a table. The craft is exceptionally fine and seems to go above-and-beyond Lodge's already renowned high-quality standards. The finish responds well to seasoning, and even the "pebble" finish was shining after just a few uses, making it remarkably easy to clean.
But when it came to actually cooking, we found ourselves strained to opt for this skillet. The sides of the pan are so slanted that it actually doesn't afford much of a surface area for cooking on the bottom of the dish. The shape is a little too awkward and a little too deep for a regular pie with a crust, but it could be great for a two-serving pot pie or crisp that you intend to serve at the table. We did enjoy it for sautéing mushrooms and onions in a cream sauce to serve as a side dish — the wok-like shape makes it very easy to fold veggies into a sauce. But beyond instances such as that, we're not so sure how often we would look to use this particular skillet.
Our time spent cooking with the Greater Goods 10" skillet is one of those experiences where, at first, you don't really expect much, and then all of your expectations are completely blown out of the water. To start heaping on praise, this is the only skillet in this review that boasts a machine-milled and burnished cook surface that is smooth to the touch. Often, this type of old-timey craft finish is only reserved for cast iron pans that cost three times as much. That special touch makes this pan incredibly non-stick compared to the competition — but only as long as you season properly, and cook with oil or butter! The pan is also thoughtfully designed in terms of balance and ergonomics: the remarkably long handle is extruded for a more comfortable grip, and also doubles as a utensil holder.
While we love the thoughtful design of this pan, there are still some flaws. The sidewalls are steeper than most, giving it the appearance of a more classic sauté pan, rather than a skillet (that generally has more rounded sidewalls). The lightweight milling process results in a cook surface that is quite thin compared to other, similarly-sized pans. This presents an interesting dichotomy when it comes to cooking evenness: this skillet ranks at the top of its class with nearly even temperatures across the cooking surface, but scored very lowly in terms of heat retention. This type of temperature control may appeal to those who are on top of burner management (read: professional chefs), but may prove annoying to some with less cooking experience.
When it comes to low and slow cooking, we couldn'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 really sets this skillet apart is less the design — it's pretty classically styled — but more the fact that it includes a lid. It is important to note here, mainly for those with a budding cast iron collection, that this lid is universally adaptable to all Lodge 12" skillets. The inclusion of a lid makes this a great option for a deep-fryer, bread-baker, and campfire pit-cooker. We also found that a deeper skillet is more useful when it comes to simmering sauces, as the high side walls create something of a 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, we sometimes found this hulking cast iron difficult to get in and out of the oven. It takes quite a long time to heat up as well, and unfortunately, it does not score that highly in terms of cooking evenness — we found that this skillet is better suited to slow-cooking brisket in the oven than it is to searing steak on the stovetop. But when it comes to seasoning and quality of food that comes out, it is likely that this covered-option will quietly earn its place as one of your heirloom pans.
A specific kind of cast iron skillet, the Lodge 10.5" Square Grill Pan specializes in one-thing: indoor grilling. This pan clearly exhibits the type of quality that Lodge is known for — as an example of that, the grill ribs are actually part of the cast, rather than extruded as a finish. The pan is fairly heavy but is nicely balanced thanks to an arched handle that gets your hand up and out of the way of the high-heat burners necessary to achieve searing temperatures. This skillet managed to achieve some of the highest marks in terms of cooking evenness, with nicely averaged temperatures and impressively consistent temperatures across the cook surface. This bodes well for nailing the temperature of your steak — but alternatively, we actually found that the grill ribs are great for holding and evenly cooking sausages too.
The greatest downfall of this skillet is that it is pretty much a single-purpose type of pan. It loses major points in terms of cooking performance and ease of use since it cannot be used for frying eggs or any type of baking — it is even difficult to uniformly cook bacon. While it does begin to gain a solid seasoning fairly quickly — mainly due to the grooves catching and absorbing all of the fat dripping off meats — we found that this pan can be a pain to satisfactorily clean. But if you are a fan of cast iron, and could not think of spending a whole winter without a grilled-meal, this pan will fill that void.
Considering its cook surface-to-price ratio, you may be hard-pressed to find a better value for a large cast iron skillet than the Backcountry 12". This pan takes on a classic design that will feel very familiar to cast iron aficionados — we think it could be a great addition to any collection as a pit-cooking specialist. A very heavy cast increases durability, and deep side walls offer protection from coals and ash, making it a great option for shallow-frying camp favorites like bacon and eggs over an open-pit fire. Despite our initial impressions regarding its very rough finish, this pan proved us wrong 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 — further supporting our claims as a camp-cooker thanks to its overall ease of cleaning.
But where this cast iron skillet may impress with ease of cleaning, it falls short in terms of ease of use — there are, without a doubt, some sacrifices in quality for this price-point pan. This is easily the heaviest skillet in our review, and paradoxically offers a seriously small handle based on its size. As a result, the pan is unfortunately balanced, to the point where it is really difficult to lift with only one hand. While it is almost too big for a single burner, this skillet is undoubtedly a great option for large meals, thanks in part to impressively consistent surface temperatures.
The Lodge Pro-Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle Pan is something of a novelty item in the world of cast irons. As the name suggests, unless you are using this as a cast iron stovetop in a professional kitchen, or looking to crank out the same amount of food as a professional kitchen for a party, we believe that it is unlikely you would use this pan on a regular basis. The reversible grill is certainly utilitarian, offering both a flat griddle on one side and a ribbed grill on the other side. Each offers a huge cook surface, flanked by a channel on one side to catch the grease of burgers or continual scrapings of debris from a pancake-breakfast. This pan also 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. We particularly noted this while cleaning, when the pan barely fit into a standard sink and was only able to be cleaned thanks to the fact that we had a faucet with a removable spray head. Unless you need to regularly cook for large groups, or want to dedicate half of your stovetop to this pan, we would suggest substituting two individual skillets instead — Lodge's 10.5" Square Grill Pan and 10.25" Skillet would alternatively offer nearly the same amount of cook space.
The Lodge Miniature 3.5" Skillet may be 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 as one of the top-selling cast irons on the market. We would feel like we were doing a disservice to the cooking community if we did not, first and foremost, make it clear just how tiny this skillet really is. 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 is perfect! It is easy to imagine the rustic presentation of a personal brownie sundae, hors d'oeuvre croquettes, or 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 its novelty, this overly-miniature cast iron skillet has very little use in a home kitchen.
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.
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.
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.
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, our Editors' Choice-Winning Lodge 10.25 Skillet and Victoria Mini 6.5 Skillet. But there are some other remarkable standouts when it comes to specific aspects.
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.
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.
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.
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 Top Pick for a "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.
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.
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.
Again, the Editors' Choice 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Editors' Choice 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.
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!
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.
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.
-Lodge Cast Iron
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.
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, with its non-stick potential supporting it as our Top Pick for Baking.
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 Top Pick for a "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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Quality & Durability
In many ways, cast iron is the durable, long-lasting alternative to more modern, lightweight, non-stick skillets. Many of these pans become family heirlooms, passed down for many generations from kitchen-to-kitchen. So it is important to note the quality of a cast iron skillet — and not all pans are crafted equally.
Of course, we are somewhat limited in assessing this metric by our testing period. But there are certain qualities of craft, cast, balance, and finish that will contribute to one wanting to use a certain cast iron skillet time and again — eventually passing that cherished pan down the line. Lodge cannot be underestimated in terms of dependable quality — which is why you may notice that this manufacturer holds 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: we felt that the Victoria Mini 6.5" had probably the finest cast and craft of all of the skillets tested.
Similarly, for a less well-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. This is, alongside the Victoria Mini, are probably the best-balanced skillets we tested.
While things like a rough finish, sharp, un-filled edges, and casting blemishes will not contribute to a less durable pan, they certainly do detract from the user experience — a cast iron that you do not want to use and care for will eventually find its way to the junkyard, and that undermines the point of having a pan with long-lasting durability. Surprisingly enough, the Lodge Miniature 3.5" is a noticeably poorer quality cast iron, despite Lodge's usual reputation. As a pan for the ages, we strongly feel it is worthwhile to invest — even $20 more — in a cast iron skillet that is likely to stay with you for the long haul.
Cast iron skillets are a quintessential part of any home kitchen. Some come across truly great cast irons in antique shops or yard sales; others 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, heirloom pan. Our hope in providing this review is to offer some recommendations that will make your search for that soon-to-be-great cast iron skillet a little more manageable.
— Aaron Rice