Best Cast Iron Skillet of 2021
If we are going to suggest only one cast iron skillet to own, it would be the Lodge 10.25". This classic utilitarian skillet has the potential to be the last skillet that you ever purchase. It's 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 still quite balanced — 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 sidewalls 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.
Le Creuset has built a name around creating top-quality, enameled cookware, and nearly 100 years of craftsmanship shine through with the Signature Skillet. From sautéing to searing, this relatively shallow skillet is more than capable of tackling everyday stovetop duties with ease. Nearly a whole pound lighter than other comparably sized skillets we tested, this pan is well-balanced and offers dual handles — just in case you completely top out its 1.75-quart capacity. But what really leads this skillet to stand out from the competition is the enamel finish. The exterior sports a beautiful porcelain enamel (available in a rainbow of colors), and the interior surface is finished with a "black satin" enamel that does not require the same level of care and seasoning as raw cast iron. This translates to quicker clean-up times and the enamel finish also provides an exceptionally even cooking surface.
Though the standard deviation of temperature across the cooking surface is remarkably low, this relatively thin pan is not great at low-temperature cooking. In our temperature control test, it measured 37°F above the ideal temperature on a low heat setting of 250°F. If you are going to be sweating mushrooms instead of searing steaks, we suggest keeping a close watch on this pan. This results from the special conduction ability of enameled cast iron and the fact that this skillet is particularly shallow. While this may present issues for those who want a versatile and easy-to-use pan, the price-point of the Le Creuset Signature Skillet suggests that it is by no means an entry-level cast iron. This beauty is ideal for experienced chefs and those well accustomed to heirloom-quality cast iron.
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 allows you to spoon brown butter with accuracy, and its lightweight build makes it easy to wield for even the youngest chef. 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.
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! — you have 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 very likely 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 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.This skillet performed poorly in our cooking evenness and temperature control tests, 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 pan's center 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?)
We were totally blown out of the water by the Greater Goods 10". We have loads of praise to pile on this cast iron skillet. For starters, it's the only product we tested with a machine-milled, burnished cook surface. This old-time craft-finish is often reserved for cast iron pans that cost three times the prices. Though it's still necessary to season the skillet properly by cooking with butter or oil, its smooth finish is remarkably non-stick compared to the competition. The Greater Goods 10" was clearly designed with balance and ergonomics in mind: it has a long, extruded handle that offers a comfortable grip, and it also doubles as a utensil holder.
Though there are many positives to this pan, it's not without its flaws. The steeper sidewalls means it cooks more like a classic sauté pan rather than a skillet (skillets generally have rounder 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 Bruntmor Enameled Cast Iron with Lid presents an interesting "entry-level" option for those looking to see what enameled cast iron pans are all about — without spending an entire paycheck on that investment. Savvy cast-iron enthusiasts will immediately recognize that Bruntmor draws heavily on French icons Staub and Le Creuset for the design of this pan, from shape to colorway to aesthetic. The enamel-coated cast-iron core offers impressive temperature control and consistency across the cooking surface, making it ideal for low-and-slow cooking. This point is further supported by the fact that this deep, 4.5-quart crock comes with a lid, making it versatile for both braising and baking. We fully appreciate its two extended handles, because at 14 pounds with the lid, this skillet is heavy.
While this deep skillet is improved by an enamel finish, do not expect to find the same quality as the quintessential cast irons it draws inspiration from. The interior enamel finish is too rough not to be seasoned and expect a non-stick finish, but not porous enough (like raw cast iron) to actually accept seasoning. And our concerns over durability were raised immediately after we took this pan from its packaging, which included an insert reminding us that cracking or chipping is "OK," since "there is just plain cast iron under the enamel." If we are going to spend this type of money on an enameled cast-iron pan, we certainly don't expect it to chip or crack — that is not OK with us. Indeed, the enamel finish on the inside of the lid began to crack within just a few uses, which is consistent with other user's experiences. So while the Bruntmor Enameled Cast Iron presents a price-point option for an enameled pan, we worry that it will not offer long-term value.
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. It is important for those with a budding cast iron collection to note 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 Backcountry 12 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.
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 a pain to satisfactorily clean. But if you are a fan of collecting obscure cast iron and cannot think of spending a whole winter without a grilled meal, this pan will help fill that void.
The Utopia Kitchen 12.5" skillet holds a lot of potential as a cast iron pan that could grow from average to outstanding over time. Like the Backcountry 12", it presents an even better value when comparing cook-surface to price. Even though it does not offer the same depth — this pan only has 2" sidewalls — it still offers plenty of space to cook up large, one-skillet meals. Upon first impression, this is not the highest-quality cast iron. But despite its rough cast, we are happily surprised with the overall level of craftsmanship displayed with this pan's smooth, well-ground edges. Most importantly, as we continually cooked and cleaned with this skillet, the rough cast started to give way to a much smoother, well-seasoned finish.
Like most large, heavy cast iron skillets, the Utopia Kitchen could seriously benefit from a longer handle. It is not quite as unwieldy as others we have tested in the past, but most folks will want to use two hands when maneuvering this pan. Although the large surface offers plenty of cooking space, the surface temperatures are incredibly uneven, with a difference of 68 degrees (Fahrenheit) between some spots. We were least impressed by how it initially seasoned in the oven — our standard process left a thick, sticky residue that somehow managed to collect lint from a supposedly 'lint-free' cloth. But as we mentioned above, we continue to have high hopes for this pan, and that includes an ever-improving seasoning with continued cooking and proper care.
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.
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 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 to create 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 of cooking. Over the course of weeks and then months, 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 a side-by-side comparison of these skillets, we can bring you a highly technical and useful review. 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 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 to bring you an in-depth comparison to help aid your search for the perfect cast iron skillet.
While testing cooking performance through 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, Le Creuset Signature Skillet, and the 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.
Throughout our test period, we noticed 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" and Bruntmor Enameled Cast Iron (+/- 13.6℉) evenly tied at the head of the pack, both in our thermometer testing and cooking trials. This is followed closely by the 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 and Bruntmor skillets, the others 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 pan's lifetime — 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. The other is the Le Creuset Signature Skillet, which offers another level of non-stick by coating the interior with a "satin enamel" finish, which does not require regular seasoning beyond heating the pan with oil or butter just before cooking. Despite having one of the rougher finishes of the group, the Backcountry 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 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 10.5" Square Grill 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), and Lodge Dual Handle 12" (1:17 minutes) 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 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 Le Creuset Signature Skillet is a notable exception when it comes to temperature control, continuing to heat up even on low, finally stabilizing around 287℉. Even though it is certainly a top-quality pan, the conductive nature of enameled cast iron means that it is incredibly sensitive to temperature input. While this may be a positive for professional chefs looking to change temperatures quickly, your average at-home cook may find that they accidentally overcook items before they even recognize what's happening.
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 notched handle on the Greater Goods 10" is longer than most, making the handle both more comfortable to hold and doubling 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 has a peculiarly short handle, especially considering the size of the pan. The Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned, with a similar diameter, is only a slight improvement on the Backcountry pan thanks to the fact that it weighs one pound less and has a slightly longer handle.
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 Le Creuset Signature Skillet takes the cake as an 11" skillet that weighs a mere 4 pounds. 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. For those who have a difficult time with the weight of cast iron already, steer clear of the Bruntmor Enameled Cast Iron — this beast weighs in at just over 14 pounds with the lid, and that's not including food weight!
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 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.
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.
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 the 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, will 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. The Lodge 10.5" Square Grill Pan was also particularly annoying to scrub clean due to the depth of its grooves. Although this goes against everything we have learned about cast iron maintenance, Le Creuset guarantees that the porcelain enamel coating of their Signature Skillet is even dishwasher-safe.
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. Certain qualities of craft, cast, balance, and finish will make you want to use a particular 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 one of the finest cast and craft of all of the skillets tested, displaying near-perfect balance and softly finished features. Similarly, Le Creuset is known for their impeccable craftsmanship — particularly when it comes to enameled cast iron — and their dedication to that craft shines through beautifully in their Signature Skillet. 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.
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.
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 offer some solid recommendations that will make your search for that soon-to-be-great cast iron skillet a little more manageable.
— Aaron Rice