When it comes to cookware, few pieces perform as well as a cast iron skillet, with Lodge leading the way as the most popular brand.
Cast-iron has been used for thousands of years and is just as popular today as it ever has been. They are the best choice for searing, browning, slow cooking, stovetop frying, oven baking, and searing in high temperature. They are oven safe and can also be put on stovetop. Even with a constant influx of new materials, technologies and designs, Cast-iron continues to stand out as one of the best, thanks to its fantastic cooking abilities, natural non-stick properties and affordability.
Today, we’re rounding up the best cast-iron skillets available, testing them, reviewing them and stacking them up against each other. Here’s a quick look at the skillets that are currently ranked in our top 10 list:
Top 10 Best Cast Iron Skillet Pan 2021 – Buying Guide & Reviews
|1. Lodge 12″
|2. Calphalon 12″
|3. Le Creuset 11 3/4″
|4. Camp Chef 12”
|5. Victoria 12″
|6. Lodge 11″
|7. T-Fal 12″
|8. Rachel Ray 12″
|9. Staub 12″
|10. Tramontina 12″
Why Cooking is Better with Cast-Iron
The benefits of cooking with cast-iron are numerous.
- They’re nearly indestructible, and a good pan can last decades of regular use. You can also use them on any cooking method or at any temperature, too – whether it’s the broiler or the oven.
- Cast-iron is naturally non-stick, and doesn’t need a coating to easily release food; coatings tend to be composed of undesirable chemicals, and flake and chip over time, eventually being rendered useless. Cast-iron improves with age, and with proper care and seasoning, becomes more non-stick and better at releasing food the more it used. (There are enameled cast-iron pans, which have an enamel non-stick coating. See below).
- Cast-iron is one of the best-performing materials for cooking on; it conducts heat better than virtually all other materials, heating evenly and consistently across the entire pan. And it gets hot – very hot. That heat is then transferred to the food in the pan better than it is by other materials, resulting in better, more even cooking. Cast-iron is thus the pan of choice for searing and browning foods, like steaks, and roasting.
- Finally, cast-iron is inexpensive. Figure this in with how long it will last, and you can’t go wrong.
What is Enameled Cast-Iron, and Why Would You Want an Enameled Cast-Iron Pan?
There are two types of cast iron pans: non enameled and enameled. Some cast-iron pans come with an enamel coating, which adds a further non-stick surface and durability for the long haul. Enameled cast-iron comes at a (sometimes significant) an added cost; so why would you want to spend the extra money, since plain cast-iron already works so well?
Enamel takes care of cast-iron’s few blind spots. If you don’t ever want to deal with the trouble of seasoning the pan and would rather just wash it and be done, an enamel coating lets you to do that; it does the non-stick part of the job effectively, while also protecting the iron from rusting if not dried off.
Second, enamel allows you to cook acidic foods, like tomato sauces, lemons or wine. Raw cast-iron can react with these foods, ruining the seasoning and leaching tiny bits of iron into your food. This isn’t dangerous and the added iron is miniscule, but it can affect flavor and texture, adding a metallic taste. This isn’t a problem with enamel-coated cooking surfaces.
Enamel is also a better choice of non-stick surface than traditional coatings, which tend to contain dangerous and undesirable cancer causing chemicals like PFOA’s and PTFE’s. Enamel is stronger and more durable and doesn’t flake off or scratch as readily as traditional non-stick cooking surfaces. Still, it’s a good idea to not use metal utensils to avoid scratching the surface.
So to sum up, get an enameled cast-iron pan if you don’t want to deal with seasoning it, want to cook acidic foods and sauces, and have the extra money to spend. If you just want the trusty cooking performance of cast-iron, don’t mind the extra effort of seasoning (or enjoy it), and don’t want to spend big bucks, then a plain cast-iron pan will work. FYI, I’ve also see people apply enamel to their cast-iron pans as a DIY project.
Best Buy Cast-Iron Skillets – Reviews for 2021
1. Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Handle Holder
Lodge Seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet is both versatile and stunning to your pantry. No matter you are a beginner or a professional cook, this skillet is everlasting. You can also pass it on to the next generation if you care for it well. Make every meal delicious with this skillet.
Cast-iron pans may come in fancier forms than Lodge’s classic skillet, but it doesn’t really get any better – at least not for the price. For the complete cast-iron cooking experience in its simplest form, this is our Top Pick.
It is also very easy to care for this cast iron skillet as it is pre-seasoned. It is recommended to hand wash it. Just place it on burner and remove a thin layer of fat to retain its seasoning for years.
- The pan comes pre-seasoned. It’s satisfactorily non-stick right out of the box, and should only get better over time.
- It cooks super well. Cast-iron’s abilities are full display here; super-hot cooking surface, deep browning, crispy seared edges.
- It has a helper handle opposite the primary handle. This makes the weight more manageable, letting you use both hands to pick it up.
- Comes with a silicone handle holder; all these pans could benefit by coming with a holder.
- It’s built to last. Lodge makes all their cookware right here in the USA, and there is no reason this pan won’t last decades of use (or even centuries) if properly taken care of.
- It’s not the smoothest surface. Interior of the pan is bumpy, like sandpaper, and it’s not the best for things like eggs. More-expensive skillets are smoother.
2. Calphalon Pre-Seasoned 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet
Our runner-up choice, Calphalon’s cast-iron skillet is another great choice that won’t break the bank. It has a slightly unique curved design and handle, and though the cooking surface isn’t as smooth, it’s a worthy contender.
This pre-seasoned 12-inch cast iron skillet is made of pre-seasoned, durable cast iron to slide food smoothly and its long handle makes it easy to lift. It is safe to use in broiler and oven and comes with full lifetime warranty.
- It cooks and browns well. Browning and searing is deep and even, and everything from steak to roasts come out well.
- The gently-curved sides increase cooking area inside. They also make it easier to slide food out of the pan.
- The handle is large and easy to grasp, even with oven mitts. The helper handle is strong and easy to handle, too, thanks to it’s unique, triangular and thick shape.
- It’s lighter than other cast-iron pans. At 6 pounds, 12 ounces, it’s almost a pound lighter than the Lodge Classic and a 2 pound lighter than the T-Fal or Mario Batali models below.
- Food sticks to the rough cooking surface. Regular use and proper seasoning should help this, but it’s definitely not as easy-release as the Lodge Classic Skillet.
3. Le Creuset Enameled 11 3/4” Cast Iron Handle Skillet
From French cookware maker Le Creuset, this is our favorite enameled cast iron. It’s pricey, but the fantastic design, high-end construction and beautiful, buttery-smooth enamel coating make it an absolute pleasure to cook with. It comes with a helping handle which adds more control and easier lifting when it comes to move between oven, stovetop, and table. If you’d like the convenience and durability that enameled cast-iron offers, you won’t go wrong with Le Creuset. If you’re really in love with this pan but want to save a few bucks you can go down about an inch in size and save around $30 by going with 10 1/4″ version.
- The enamel coating is super-smooth and high-quality. It makes for anon-stick cooking surface that releases food easily, without seasoning or copious amounts of cooking oil. It’s durable to last years of repeated use.
- The flared, gently-sloping sides make sliding food (like omelets)out a breeze, while slightly increasing cooking area. The wide pour spouts let you easily and neatly pour out grease.
- The large helper handle is easy to grasp. Even with oven mitts on, you should have no problem moving it around while hot and full.
- It’s (relatively) light and well-balanced. At 6 pounds, you can still wield it with one hand.
- Comes in multiple color choices.
- You can’t stick it on the broiler (applies to all enameled cast-iron pans).
- Some foods (like eggs) will stick without enough cooking oil.
4. Camp Chef 12” Pre Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Camp Chef’s cast-iron offering is another solid choice, and is a bit cheaper than some of the others out there. It features a comfort grip on the handles for easier handling and includes dual pour spouts. It’s sturdy and well-built but is rougher and lacking in good non-stick properties compared to some of its competitors.
- The build is solid and even, and it cooks beautifully. Steaks and meats come out well-browned, while casseroles and breads are evenly-cooked throughout.
- The handle is large and sturdy. It even has small ridges for some thumb grip. Camp Chef calls this their “comfort handle design”. A small-yet-small helper handle sits opposite.
- It has tall sides, making it a good choice for making sauces and large amounts of food. Two pour spouts make it easy to drain grease when you’re done.
- It’s light – only 7 pounds.
- The cooking surface is rough. The pre-seasoning could be a bit better, and certain food – like eggs and breads – tend to stick. But it should improve with repeated seasonings.
- The logo on the bottom means it’s uneven. It can be difficult to balance on smaller stove grates.
5. Victoria 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet
Large, light and elegantly designed, this this cast iron skillet cooks superbly, is effortlessly non-stick and is ready for years of use. Victoria is an established manufacture of cookware products.
- The large 12” cooking area comes with softly-flared, sloped sides. This makes it effectively “larger” and easier to cook on, and food can slide out smoothly. The drip spouts are wide and contoured, too.
- It heats up evenly and cooks well. The inside is super-smooth and releases food (even eggs) easily with good seasoning.
- The long, curved handle is easy to wield, and the helper handle is extra-large.
- Victoria includes a lifetime warranty.
- It’s affordable.
- It’s not perfectly flat;the bottom is just slightly sloped and oil will pool at the edges.
- The pre-seasoning is poor. It’s advertised as being pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil, but it could use a good re-seasoning out of the box.
6. Lodge Enamel Coated Cast Iron Skillet, 11″
This enameled cast-iron pan is Lodge’s affordable alternative to Le Creuset’s Signature pan. It’s not quite as durable and high-end as Le Creuset but makes an excellent enameled option for the price. Do not buy if you plan on using your pan on the grill or open fire. Comes in either blue or red.
- The enamel surface is ultra-smooth and does a great job at releasing food. The pan heats evenly and browns and sears food very well, and since it isn’t reactive, you can cook sauces and tomatoes in it.
- The handle is very long and complemented by a large (for the pan) helper handle. It’s easy to pick up and move, and the compact size certainly helps.
- The curved sides are smooth, and easier to scoop food out of than the taller, straighter sides on other pans.
- It’s affordable.
- It isn’t as durable as we would like. The enamel coating isn’t as strong as on more-expensive pans and can chip and pit after a while, while the cast-iron is brittle compared to others.
7. T-Fal Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 12”
This pan from T-fal is another simple and durable option, and it offers a large, roomy cooking surface with tall sidewalls. This is an ideal pan for cooking over a campfire, as well as conventional style cooking. However, it’s non-stick performance and weight leave something to be desired.
- The large, 12” diameter and slightly-sloped sides make for plenty of cooking room. You can make multiple steaks at a time, as well as casseroles and breads. The wide pouring spouts make it easy to drain, too.
- The handle is extra-long and sturdy, and there’s a large, comfortable helper handle across from it. There are even grooves that serve as a thumb rest.
It’s heavy-duty and solid. It should last years, no problem.
- The cooking surface is rough and could be better at releasing food. The pre-seasoning it comes with is poor and needs to be redone. It also scratches pretty easily.
- It’s heavy, coming in at 8.5 pounds.
8. Rachael Ray Cast Iron with Helper Handle
This pan is strong and durable, but also relatively thin and lightweight while still offering plenty of cooking room. A bright-colored and sturdy porcelain enamel coating adds protection as well as a smooth, non-stick cooking surface. Comes in either orange or turquoise.
- The enamel coating is smooth and effectively non-stick.
- The tall, smooth sides are great for cooking casseroles, sauces and large dishes.
- The handle is large and sturdy, as is the helper handle
- It’s oven-safe up to 500F.
- The enamel scratched easily.
- It’s thin, which means it’s not the most even-heating or smooth. It can run too hot or too cold.
9. Staub Cast Iron 12″ Fry Pan
Staub’s enameled cast iron pan is expensive, right up there with the Le Creuset Signature Pan. It’s not quite as durable but has its own advantages that make it a worthy contender if you don’t mind the price tag.
- The flared sides mean it’s easy to cook with and slide food out of. The wide pour spots make it easy to dump grease out.
- It’s oven-safe up to 900F. That’s a lot hotter than most other enameled pans.
- It’s lightweight, clocking in at about 6 pounds.
- The enamel cooking surface is ultra-smooth and releases food easily (with a bit of oil).
- Comes in multiple color combinations.
- The exterior enamel coating scratches easily.
- In some cases, the coating on the bottom blackens or burns.
10. Tramontina Gourmet Enameled 12″
Another great enameled pan, Tramontina’s is significantly cheaper than Staub’s or Le Creuset’s offerings. It’s thick and tall, making it heavy and difficult to use, but does cook and brown foods very well.
- The handles are long and large. They’re easy to grasp with hot mitts on for lifting the pan in and out of the oven.
- The enamel cooking surface is smooth and releases foods well.
- The exterior coating is strong and scratch-resistant.
- It comes with a lifetime warranty.
- Comes with a lid.
- The tall, steep sides make it seem narrower than other pans, and make it difficult to slide cooked food in and out of.
- It’s not dishwasher-safe.
- It doesn’t heat as evenly or retain heat as well as some other pans – despite the thick build.
How to Properly Season A Cast Iron Skillet
Some people think properly seasoning and caring for a cast iron skillet is time-consuming, but it’s really not.
- First you need to make sure the skillet is clean. Scrub it well in warm, soapy water to remove any food or residue. Dry it thoroughly with a clean towel, but don’t let it rust.
- Take some vegetable oil or cooking oil (it doesn’t matter what kind – cheap is fine) and pour maybe two tablespoons into the skillet.
- Then, use a paper towel or clean rag to rub the oil thoroughly over and into the skillet, coating the entire with a thin layer of oil. Don’t forget to season the bottom and sides of the pan, too; this will protect them from rusting and corrosion.
- Finally, place the cast iron skillet in the oven, upside down on the rack, with a piece of foil or parchment paper underneath to keep it from getting too messy. Let it bake in there for 1 hour. It’s now seasoned and good to go.
When you remove the skillet, it should be shiny, ultra-smooth and non-stick. You may want to season more often in the beginning, so that the pan builds up a good, thick seasoning and patina.
Proper seasoning should last plenty of use if properly taken care of; you’ll know when it’s time to re-season when food start to stick to the pan or it starts to lose its shine.
How to Clean Cast Iron Skillets – the Right Way
A seasoned cast iron pan is a real pleasure to cook with, but a poorly-done one can be terrible. And improperly cleaning cast iron is a sure way to ruin that seasoning.
Cleaning cast iron isn’t the same as cleaning other materials; you don’t want to scrub vigorously or use soap, for fear of stripping the seasoning. Instead, you just want to lightly wipe away any food with a paper towel and if scrubbing is needed, use a mixture of kosher salt and water, not dish soap or steel wool. Another way to remove stuck-on food is boiling a bit of water in the pan.
You’ll get the best results by cleaning the pan when it is still a bit warm, as letting it cool lets food stick and soaking it can ruin the seasoning. Towel dry it after cleaning, and then immediately oil it lightly with a layer of vegetable oil, wiping away thoroughly any excess oil. This tops off the outer layer of seasoning – clean the pan this way every time and you will only have to do a thorough re-season occasionally.
And remember don’t use steel wool unless it’s necessary, such as when removing rust. If it comes to that, use a bit of warm water and dish soap to scrub away all the rust, and them immediately re-season.
Summarizing Our Review Article and Top Picks with America’s Test Kitchen
Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet
Frying Pan vs. Sauté pan vs. Skillet
Skillet, frying pan, and sauté pan are just the terms used for same cookware. Skillet has long handles and gently sloped edges. You may not find lids in most skillets but you can buy them individually.
Cast iron skillets generally have a helper handle on opposite site because they are a bit heavy. On the other side, sauté pans are usually deeper and have slight edges. They are versatile for any cooking style which needs liquids like sautéing and frying.
add in add for holder: Silicone Hot Handle Holder, Potholder (Red) for Cast Iron Skillets, Pans, Frying Pans & Griddles, Metal and Aluminum Cookware Handles – Sleeve Grip, Handle Cover