A cast iron skillet is perfect for any season, whether you’re cooking dinner over an open fire or craving fried eggs for breakfast, no cookware matches the convenience of this essential pan for the home chef.
While frying pans heat up faster than a cast iron skillet, nothing sears a steak like a good cast iron once it has reached the perfect temperature, once it's properly seasoned, of course. These skillets also work wonders with pork, chicken, sausage, and many other recipes that require a slow, even cooking. The best part is that you don’t even have to try that hard, just keep in mind that maintaining that base layer of seasoning is key and that you will need a large burner to properly heat your skillet.
After putting some of the best skillets—from budget to heirloom—to the test, we found that the Lodge 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet(available at Walmart for $19.90), is the best cast iron pan for your money.
These are the best cast iron skillets we evaluated:
Lodge 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet
Utopia Kitchen 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge is a long-running staple in cast iron cookware and has been in business since 1896. But there is more than heritage to Lodge, there is durability, affordability, and availability at multiple retailers. It explains why Lodge has become a household name—and why they make our favorite cast iron pan.
The Lodge's factory seasoning is done with vegetable oil, and designed for even heating. It even has a helper handle to assist your cooking ventures. The Lodge cast iron skillet sells for just under $20 on sale, and is likely to sustain delicious recipes in your kitchen for years to come. Our only complaint? It doesn’t include a written warranty, though Lodge claims it will always stand behind its products.
Cast iron skillets will be one of the most versatile items in your kitchen and can be used on a stovetop, on the grill, in the oven, or even over a campfire. While it is not a perfect science, a cast iron pan holds heat for longer than an aluminum pan and will sear your food seamlessly if used right.
“It’s worth noting that it is a myth that cast iron pans will heat evenly,” says Lindsay D. Mattison, Reviewed writer and professional chef. “Hot spots develop wherever the pan is in contact with the flame. This won’t cause many problems if you’re frying in shallow oil, but I like to rotate my pan while preheating if I’m searing meats or vegetables. This helps create even heating throughout the pan, so the whole pan comes into contact with the gas flame. If I’m feeling lazy, sometimes I’ll throw the pan in a hot oven, then I’ll transfer it to the stovetop once it’s hot to start cooking.”
To even create a cast iron pan, manufacturers have to heat the cast iron over 2,200 degrees F, so you know this iron can conduct heat excellently!
What You Should Use A Cast Iron Skillet For
Mattison says: "Anything and everything!" She writes that her favorites "include caramelized endive, beautifully crispy brussel sprouts, breakfast hash, crispy chicken thighs, grilling steaks inside (and making an amazing pan sauce while the steak is resting), schnitzel and fried food, baking cornbread or Irish soda bread, and baked pasta like macaroni and cheese or lasagna.”
In other words, a cast iron skillet is perfect for meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans, carb lovers, and everyone in between. Some buyers worry that a cast iron pan will burn their food, but the secret is in the seasoning. A well-seasoned skillet should be perfectly non-stick, and while any pan can burn your food, cast iron is less likely to if properly pre-seasoned.
Don’t be intimidated by your new skillet! With some practice, you’ll soon be comfortable enough to fry an egg.
How Do I Season A Cast Iron Skillet?
Keeping a cast iron skillet properly flavored includes a cycle of seasoning, washing, and re-seasoning to keep your meals tasting their best. It can seem like a lot of work at times, but the flavorful payoff from that layer of seasoning is worth it.
The secret is fat from oils which break down and bonds to the metal, coating the pan. There are four steps to the initial seasoning: scrub, oil, heat, and repeat to begin building your layer. The Internet has tons of reliable step-by-steps, but the process can be broken down easily.
First, scrub the pan using a paper towel and Kosher salt, which will clear out any impurities in the pan beforehand. Take special care to then wash it with gentle soap and dry thoroughly afterwards. Then oil your pan by rubbing it with a paper towel soaked in corn, vegetable, or canola oil. Avoid heavily oiling the side of the pan and focus more on the center while you’re completing this step.
Heat your pan in the oven at 450 degrees for 30 minutes and repeat the process three or four times. You’ll know your pan is properly seasoned when it has cooled and is completely black, oily, and ready to make a delicious dish.
How Do I Clean A Cast Iron Skillet?
Many new owners wonder how they clean a cast iron skillet without stripping away the pan’s seasoning? The key is making sure that you have built up a significant amount of seasoning on your pan before you wash it in order to maintain that delicious flavor. By repeatedly oiling and heating the pan, you can build this layer up over time.
Contrary to popular opinion, washing your cast iron skillet with soap will not damage those precious oils that give your meals so much flavor. Seasoning is known as “polymerized oil,” which means it has already been broken down and bonded with the pan. Some cooks may be apprehensive, but we promise that a little gentle dish soap won’t hurt anything. You may use the scrubby side of a sponge, but avoid steel wool at all costs.
Moisture is the arch nemesis of a cast iron skillet, so keep your pan as dry as possible when cleaning it, using warm water and gentle soap sparingly. Do not under any circumstances soak it for an extended period of time or let it air dry when you are done. Make sure to re-season your new pan when you are done while it is still new until the flavor truly sticks.
Other Cast Iron Skillets We Tested
Utopia Kitchen 12-inch Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Similarly priced to Lodge, but made in China, this is one of the top-selling skillets on Amazon. Why do so many customers love it? Well, a clue might be the text of some user reviews: “I received this product free or at a discounted price n exchange for my honest and unbiased review.”
In other words, it’s a fine skillet—but chances are there wouldn’t be nearly as much buzz about it online if Utopia Kitchen weren’t giving it away for free in exchange for reviews.
The story of Finex might sound like a Portlandia sketch, but that’s ok—the founders of the artisan cookware company are proud of the attention they pay to detail.
For instance, the skillets are handmade in Portland, OR. Their octagonal shape is ideal for pouring, and the spring handle is designed to cool quickly. The skillets are highly polished, then pre-seasoned with organic flaxseed oil. It gets better: the remaining oil is reclaimed, added to birdseed, and fed to chickens at local farms near the factory. So, if you live in Portland, the chicken you’re sautéing might have eaten the very oil that pre-seasoned your pan.
If you haven’t inherited an heirloom skillet that your great grandparents brought with them on a covered wagon, this is the one to get. Of course, it’s many times the price of a basic Lodge—a 12-inch model sells for $195— but for some folks, a skillet’s story is just as important as its quality and design.
Universal is the polar opposite of Finex and contains none of the Portland-based company’s charming craftsmanship. Low-cost manufacturing has helped the company move skillets by the truckload on websites such as Amazon and Wayfair, where a three-piece skillet set often sells for less than some individual Lodge skillets.
One advantage of the Universal skillet is its nonstick surface, making the pan relatively easy to clean after cooking despite the lower quality in some areas than other brands we tested.
Universal’s pans are small—6.25 inches, 7.825 inches, and 10 inches—and manufactured in China. User reviews have complained about the rough finish and overall quality, but generally all agree that the skillets are perfectly serviceable for the price. Universal offers a lifetime warranty for their products, but the user must include $10 or return postage to take advantage of it.
Similar to Universal, Old Mountain’s skillets come in a three-pack and are manufactured in China. The only difference between the two is that Old Mountain’s cast iron skillets are slightly more expensive and are embossed with the company logo on the bottom.
They feel sturdy, but that is a basic requirement for a cast iron pan. We would only recommend Old Mountain’s cast iron skillets if they can be found on a substantial sale.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.