At first glance, the obsession with cast iron may not make much sense. Why would anyone willingly use a heavy pan that you can’t stuff into the dishwasher?
Despite their high-maintenance image, cast iron pans are durable and easy to care for. With little effort, your pans can last long enough to pass down to your kids. There’s a reason there are decades-old cast iron pans for sale at yard sales and antique shops!
The benefits of cast iron pans go far beyond durability, though. Here are the ways cast iron can help you in the kitchen – and the reason I have two pans myself!
Article NavigationOur Top 3 PicksBenefits of Cast Iron Pans1. Naturally Nonstick2. Versatility3. Durability4. Iron BoostCast Iron SafetyChoosing a Cast Iron SkilletSize & WeightSeasoning NeedsCleaningRecommended Cast Iron Skillet BrandsLe Creuset Signature Iron Handle SkilletLodge 12-inch Cast Iron SkilletUniversal Housewares 3 Piece Skillet SetT-Fal Pre-Seasoned 12-inch Cast Iron SkilletUtopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned 12.5-inch Cast Iron SkilletFAQ’s About Cast IronIronclad Cooking
Our Top 3 Picks
Benefits of Cast Iron Pans
1. Naturally Nonstick
Many non-stick skillets these days are made from Teflon. While this is effective at preventing sticking, it’s not so great for our health – especially when heated.
Not only can this harmful chemical wind up in your food, but it also pollutes waterways. The chemicals end up in rivers and streams when you’re done cleaning out the pan.
Cast iron skillets, when seasoned the right way with a little oil, are naturally non-stick. You can get that perfect sear without having to compromise the health of your family or the environment.
That means no more Teflon, as well as other consumables. You’ll eat fewer calories because your food doesn’t need oil to keep from sticking to the pan. You’ll also be able to stop buying expensive fat-free spray that uses propellants.
Cast iron can withstand temperatures far more extreme than you can reach with a home oven. This means it can move seamlessly from stove top to oven to campfire.
Many people take advantage of this flexibility. Dishes like frittata and cornbread can start off on the stove and move to the oven to finish cooking. This opens you up to a wide variety of dishes, with fewer dishes to clean!
My cast iron pan is always the first thing I pack on camping trips. It can withstand the heat of the flames and creates a delicious, hot meal after a day of hiking.
Remember that while the pan itself can withstand extreme temperatures, temperatures higher than ~500F may burn the finish.
In addition to versatility, cast iron is also extremely forgiving. Some people say cast iron is too finicky, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cast iron is the only cookware that gets better with age. With each use, the cooking surface becomes smoother. This allows oil to settle into the surface and improve the seasoning as time goes on.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t say the same for my traditional non-stick pans. One burnt dish or wrong turn of a metal spatula? Your Teflon pan is toast.
It takes a lot of effort to destroy a cast iron pan. Even a neglected, oxidized cast-iron skillet can be brought back to life with a wire brush and some elbow grease.
When you buy a cast iron pan, you’re making an investment! This reliable piece of cookware won’t let you down (even if you can’t say the same for the pan!)
4. Iron Boost
It sounds like an old wives’ tale, but cooking with cast iron actually boosts the iron content of your food!
Iron is important overall, but it’s especially important for women, athletes, and vegans. Iron is an essential nutrient that moves oxygen throughout the body via the blood.
To prevent deficiency or toxicity, you’ll need to meet an optimal amount based on your gender and age. You can read more about specific iron needs in our ultimate guide vegan iron sources.
Cooking in cast iron is great, because you’re amping up the iron content of your dishes with zero extra effort. By choosing a specific type of pan, and nothing else, you’re making you and your family healthier.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every healthy switch were that easy?
Cast Iron Safety
Though it has plenty of benefits, cast iron does come with a few safety notes.
Cast iron skillets are special because the entire pan is made of a single piece of metal. This makes for a durable piece of cookware that is literally made to conduct heat.
This means the entire pan conducts heat – including the handle!
I only had to learn it once. I use my cast iron pan to make tortillas and put myself in a bad spot the very first time. Once the tortillas were cooked and tucked into a towel, I went to move the pan to another burner. You guessed it – I grabbed that pan by the handle and gave myself a big red burn right across my palm.
The heat induction on cast iron skillets is amazing at searing food, but remember it’s good at searing your hands, too!
You could use an oven mitt to keep those palms safe, but I find that too easy to forget.
We’re used to grabbing pans by the handle.
Take the risk out of it and invest in a few handle covers. You can buy or make covers out of cloth, but I’m partial to silicone simply because they’re easy to clean.
Silicone is a synthetic rubber made from bonded silicon and oxygen. Though vegan-friendly, the “naturalness” of this material is the subject of hot debate.
Some eco-experts express concern about silicone, perhaps only because it sounds like a chemical.
However, there is little evidence to show that silicone is harmful. It is an inert material, so nothing used in the manufacturing process will leach into foods.
Of course, some of that is due simply to a lack of data – there aren’t many studies out there. Silicone as a kitchen accessory is a relatively new phenomenon, so there hasn’t been time for bad news, if any, to be published.
On paper, silicone is safe up to 428 degrees F, so be mindful of how hot you’re getting your oven. If you’re cooking at temperatures higher than that, consider slipping the cover on when you’re ready to remove the pan.
Personally, I have no problem using silicone covers for my cast iron pans. They function only as protection for the handle, and won’t come in contact with food. Even if it does, they are determined “food grade” by the FDA.
It all comes down to what you’re comfortable with. In the product section, I suggest a few silicone handle covers that will fit the pans. However, you can feel free to use a cloth cover or oven mitt. I happen to prefer the silicone because I can get an easier grip, and they’re convenient to clean.
Choosing a Cast Iron Skillet
You’ve seen the benefits of cast iron and are ready to make an investment.
With so many sizes and brands, how do you choose the perfect pan for your kitchen?
It’s easy to pick the best skillet for you when you consider just a few basic qualities. Read on to see what you should be thinking about when looking for a cast iron skillet.
Size & Weight
The size of your skillet will depend on a few things. Of those, the most influential will be the size of your household and the types of dishes you like to make.
A 10-12 inch skillet is a good “starter” size and will fit the needs of most families with 2-5 people. You may need to do some meals in batches, so you don’t overcrowd the pan, but it’ll get the job done nine times out of ten. If you’re not sure of your exact needs, or you cook a variety of dishes, this size should be perfect.
Of course, cast iron skillets come in a wide range of sizes, from teeny 3.5-inch personal skillets to jumbo sized 20-inchers.
However, it’s important to remember that the size of your cast iron skillet is going to affect the weight. That 20-inch skillet might sound like a great idea until you realize the thing weighs 23 pounds (By itself!)
Can you lift a 23-pound skillet filled with hot food out of the oven? If you’re even a little unsure, opt for a smaller size.
When I first heard about seasoning on cast iron pans, I was so confused. Why would you need to put spices on the pan?
In the world of cast iron, seasoning refers to the exterior of the pan. To season a cast iron skillet means to apply a thin layer of fat to the outside of the pan. Over time, the fat cooks into the pan, creating a non-stick surface without the use of chemicals.
You can buy an unseasoned cast iron pan and create the non-stick layer yourself.
Or, you can save a step and buy your cast iron skillet pre-seasoned. The company applies a soy-based oil at the factory and heats it. This factory seasoning is equivalent to 10-15 rounds of at-home seasoning.
This saves you effort, and allows you to unpack your new skillet and get straight to cooking, without fear of sticking.
The cleaning is the biggest reason people don’t buy more cast iron. There is a lot of misinformation out there – everything from you can’t clean cast iron, to it takes too much effort to clean!
I don’t blame people for feeling intimidated. Cast iron cleaning tips usually involve lots of “don’ts.” Don’t use soap! Don’t put it in the dishwasher! Don’t use the scratchy side of the sponge!
While it’s true you can’t just toss your cast iron in the dishwasher; it’s not that difficult to maintain. You need a few guidelines to keep your cast iron pan healthy and happy.
The best way to keep your skillet shining is to clean it immediately after use.
- Wash the skillet by hand using a sponge or a stiff brush. If you have stuck-on food, use a paste of kosher salt and water to scrub off the bits.
- Towel dry the pan or allow it to dry over low-medium heat. Leaving the skillet wet, or soaking, may cause it to rust.
- Use a cloth to apply a thin layer of oil to the surface of the pan.
- Store your skillet in a dry place.
The best part? Don’t forget how forgiving these things are. If you do somehow strip the pan of its seasoning, you can always re-season it. Good as new!
Here’s a video on how to clean a cast iron pan using just kosher salt (minus the bacon of course!). I prefer adding a thin layer of oil after but as you can see from this video, it’s not necessary.
Recommended Cast Iron Skillet Brands
You can pore over every cast iron skillet out there in search of the perfect choice for your kitchen and budget.
Or, if you’re busy like I am, you can look over our favorite cast iron skillets. You might be looking to splurge, scrimp, or just get a quality skillet that will last a long time.
No matter your needs, one of our top five will help you get the job done for decades to come!
Best High-End Brand (Money Ain’t a Thang)
This skillet from Le Creuset is an elegant and practical addition to any kitchen.
Le Creuset is known for quality – you’ve probably seen the brand on every wedding registry! Their cast iron skillet is no exception. Optimized for even heat distribution, the pan resists staining, dulling, and wear.
The skillet also shows that practicality and durability can also be beautiful. The exterior enamel comes in a variety of colors, from cherry red to Caribbean blue. There’s hibiscus for feminine kitchens, as well as classic white. It’s a beautiful union of masculine strength and durability, combined with graceful design.
No detail was overlooked in this skillet. A loop handle reduces weight, so you get nearly 12 inches of cooking surface for less weight. This makes the skillet easier on hands and wrists. It also provides a better grip when wearing oven mitts or using a handle cover.
The black enamel interior comes pre-seasoned, allowing you to start cooking right away.
What makes this skillet stand out is its easy cleanup. Unlike almost every other cast iron pan, this can go straight into the dishwasher. It takes all the inconvenience and excuses out of cooking with cast iron!
My Favorite Thing About this Pan
The attention to detail! From the convenient cleanup to the thoughtful design, you get what you pay for. Yes, it’s an investment, but you’re paying for good quality, and the pan could be the last one you ever buy (I’m talking decades of use).
My One Complaint
There is no lid that fits it. If you need to cover a dish while it cooks, you’ll need to improvise. That can be frustrating, considering the price tag.
Best Overall Value
The Lodge cast iron skillet is the Goldilocks of cast iron skillets. A known name in cast iron, the skillet is good quality – durable enough to last generations. However, you also won’t need to take out a loan for the thing.
The Lodge skillet is a reasonable price – a perfect balance of durability and value. If I could suggest one cast iron skillet for home cooks, this would be it.
As an owner of a Lodge skillet, I know firsthand that the quality is there. The skillet can move wherever you need it, be that stove, grill, campfire, or oven. I also love the fact that each Lodge skillet is American made.
This particular skillet is on the larger side at 12 inches. This gets you a lot of cooking real estate. The large surface area means you have plenty of room for getting a crisp, crunchy sear without overcrowding the pan. You can also make big, comforting dishes in this thing. The superior heat retention will make sure everything gets cooked through.
My large Lodge skillet also doubles as storage for dishes like this. Once a dish cools, I throw a little plastic wrap over the top and move it to the fridge. Maximum versatility, minimum dishes to clean.
If needed, you can also buy a lid for this skillet. Lodge makes a few lids that are easy to clean and fit these pans.
This skillet comes pre-seasoned and ready to use. Of course, any seasoning you add over the years will just make it stronger. With the right care, this skillet ages like wine.
My Favorite Thing About this Pan
How affordable it is for such a high-quality product. The sloped sides also make cooking easy, as you can maneuver around the food.
My One Complaint
The finish on this skillet is a little coarse. The resulting texture makes it a little more difficult to season the pan. Some reviewers noted that food stuck for a little while until it was seasoned well enough over time.
Best Bang for Buck
We all work hard for our money, so it’s important to squeeze every last bit out of that dollar. The Universal Housewares skillet set comes with not one, but three cast iron skillets. With a 6.25-, 7.8-, and 10-inch skillet, this single set has you covered for any dish you plan to make.
The company has been in the business of cast iron since 1842, so their roots and experience run deep.
Each of the three skillets in this set is pre-seasoned with vegetable oil and baked at high heat. This seals in the protective layer, making a durable, easy-release cooking surface.
The three sizes will have you covered for any recipe and any size crowd. Having multiples allows you to make several things at the same time. If you wanted to, you could pare your pan collection down to these three. They are durable enough for everyday cooking, and simple to clean if you do so while they’re still hot.
Most reviewers use the 10-inch skillet for entrees and large meals. The smaller pans are perfect for breakfast items like pancakes and scrambles.
In the case of these pans, you get what you pay for. This is a great set for someone considering cast iron but doesn’t want to pay a lot for something they might not use. This also functions well as an extra set of pans to keep in your cabin or RV.
While a tremendous value, be aware that these aren’t top-of-the-line pans. Many reviewers noted that they had to season a bit at home before the surface was truly non-stick. Others reported issues with the largest skillet cracking after prolonged use.
My Favorite Thing About this Pan
You get three pans for an incredible price! If you’re cooking for one or two people, it’s nice to be able to use a smaller pan. The versatility comes in handy.
My One Complaint
They aren’t durable compared to other cast iron cookware. You won’t pass these pans down to your grandkids. However, if you’re looking to get started on the thinnest budget possible, these are the number one pick.
An honorable mention, the 12.5-inch skillet from T-Fal is a smart addition to your home kitchen.
At 12.5 inches, this skillet is on the larger side of the spectrum. This is a good choice for families of 4-6, or people who do a lot of searing where the pan can’t be too crowded.
The T-Fal uses a lot of small details that help in the kitchen. The handle is extra long, and the shape and detailing helps keep a firm grip. There is a keyhole cut out of the handle to help with weight, and also to assist grip.
The skillet also has two small spouts, which allows for a controlled pouring. It’s always safer to pour off hot grease and oil when you don’t risk it spilling everywhere!
The T-Fal comes pre-seasoned and includes detailed instructions for seasoning at home. The pan is oven-safe up to 600 degrees F and is PFOA and cadmium free. You can use the skillet on your stovetop, grill, or fire pit, too.
This skillet is great at retaining heat – you can serve foods right out of the pan, and it will keep them warm throughout the meal.
However, there are a few key things that make this an “honorable mention” rather than a “best in show.”
The biggest issue with this pan is that the bottom is convex, meaning the middle of the pan is slightly raised. This presents a problem when you’re making foods like pancakes, or cooking in oil. The slope of the pan causes any liquid to run to the edges of the pan, creating a circle with a dry hole in the middle.
Additionally, some reviewers noted that the seasoning on this pan is not as durable as others. A few people wore through the non-stick coating in as little as four months.
While the T-Fal is a good pan overall, it wouldn’t be my first choice. At about the same price point, I’d be more likely to go with the Lodge skillet. However, if you come across this one at the thrift store, or it’s the only model available, you’ll get good use out of it.
My Favorite Thing About this Pan
The heft, as well as the thoughtful exterior design. With a larger skillet, the long handle, grips, and thumb rest are good additions.
My One Complaint
The uneven cooking surface in this pan. If you’re only planning to sear foods, it may work out just fine. However, if you’re hoping for an all-around tool, you may find yourself frustrated. Thin foods like batter and oil run to the sides. This pan is good, but not great.
Utopia Kitchen’s 12.5-inch skillet is an affordable addition to your kitchen. It can go from stove to oven to campfire and will keep your food nice and warm throughout your meal.
This skillet comes with factory seasoning. After applying soy-based oil, the company bakes these pans at high heat to create the signature non-stick finish.
Utopia Kitchen’s skillet is great for beginners. The company provides detailed instructions about how to clean and season your skillet.
Because you have these directions, you leave less up to chance. Your skillet will stay clean and healthy for longer. The company even includes details about what to do if your pan starts to rust.
By using your maintenance skills on a more affordable pan, you’ll be able to care for a more expensive pan down the road properly.
The skillet can be used on gas, electric, induction, and ceramic-glass top stoves. It’s important that you not drag the skillet on stove tops, though. The pan is heavy, and the sheer weight of its movement could scratch or damage the surface.
Utopia Kitchen’s skillet also incorporates good design for easy use. A keyhole in the handle creates less weight, and you can hang the skillet up on the wall for storage or display.
While an overall good pan, reviewers do express some complaints. First, the pan is made in China. While nothing in the pan itself is reason for concern, some reviewers are wary of chemicals coming from China. If this is an issue for you, opt for a skillet made in North America.
Secondly, the cooking surface of this pan is somewhat rough and uneven. This remedies itself after a few good rounds of seasoning. However, it does make food subject to sticking when used fresh out of the box.
What you save in cash here, you do pay for in convenience. While the pan is a good value, you’ll “pay” in some extra time and elbow grease. However, this skillet is a good introduction to cast iron cookware. It’s a good choice for beginners, or to serve as a backup pan.
My Favorite Thing About this Pan
The detailed instructions it comes with. While overall straightforward, cast iron care can be intimidating. Having step-by-step instructions for cooking and care helps you learn. This way, you can take the best possible care of your product.
My One Complaint
The uneven cooking surface. The beauty of cast iron is the ability to cook without oil and without sticking. An uneven cooking surface means food is more likely to stick, which can be frustrating. Not to mention, stuck-on food is difficult to clean.
FAQ’s About Cast Iron
1. Can I cook acidic foods in my cast iron pan?
The short answer here is yes, but with conditions.
A common myth surrounding cast iron is that it can’t be used with acidic foods like tomatoes. This might be problematic for prolific gardeners, or if you’re using cast iron as your sole cookware.
While acidic foods will wear through your seasoning over time, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid them. If you cook with tomatoes, citrus, or other acids, amp up your seasoning routine to help protect your skillet.
To err on the safe side, don’t start cooking with acidic foods immediately. Wait until you’ve built up a good layer of seasoning on your skillet, then break out the tomatoes.
Make sure to keep a rigorous seasoning regimen to avoid discoloration and metallic-tasting food.
2. Can I use metal utensils with my cast iron pan?
Absolutely! You can use any utensils with cast iron cookware. While some argue this ruins the seasoning, you just need to use some common sense.
When using metal utensils, avoid scratching or scraping (as much as you can). However, even a little tough love from a metal utensil won’t harm your cast iron skillet. Any scrapes from spatulas will be quickly repaired by the oils from the food.
If you do see particles removed after using metal utensils, this is most likely old fats and oils, rather than pieces of seasoning.
3. Can I wash my cast iron pan with soap?
This is a really controversial topic – some swear that soap will ruin your seasoning. However, the experts at Lodge disagree. In an interview with The Kitchn, Mark Kelly, public relations and advertising manager at Lodge, gave the verdict: soap will not ruin your pan.
When washing your cast iron pan, use a mild detergent. Even more important than the soap is to dry and oil your pan immediately after use. This is the step that will make your cast iron pan into an heirloom item.
Avoid unyielding soaps, the dishwasher (unless otherwise specified), and metal scouring pads. These things actually do have the potential to harm your pan.
In a lot of ways, cast iron cookware can help you simplify your kitchen.
With the ability to fry, sear, sautee, and even bake in the same skillet, you may find this pan is all you need. This can help you clear some cabinet space and de-clutter your kitchen.
Cast iron skillets are also good for your health! The non-stick surface allows you to get a perfect, crispy sear without the use of high-calorie oils or sprays with propellants. With cast iron, you’re getting delicious food with fewer calories.
This cookware can also boost the iron content of your food, sometimes by as much as 20%! Five times the iron, just from cooking in a certain pan! This makes cast iron a good choice for women, athletes, and vegans especially.
It’s not just your waistline either! Cooking with cast iron also means you’re not consuming harmful non-stick chemicals. By avoiding materials like Teflon, you’re reducing your risk of cancer and other ailments. Cast iron is the perfect non-stick solution for the chemical-free home.
Cast iron skillets keep you healthy and trim, but also help keep your wallet fat. These products are a one-time investment, meaning you don’t have to keep buying them. A quality cast-iron skillet can be passed down through generations. You can’t say the same for pans with non-stick coatings!
If you’re even a little interested in cast iron, it’s a worthwhile investment. Don’t let misinformation on the internet prevent you from benefiting from this cookware. There’s a reason cast iron has been around so long.
If you’re willing to put just a little effort and elbow grease in, cast iron will reward you for decades. Add one of our favorite skillets to your kitchen! A small monetary investment will deliver longtime returns for your health and your family.
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