Many people think that a kitchen isn’t complete without a cast iron skillet. We’re among them. These versatile cooking tools can last for generations when treated properly and are one of the most versatile additions to your home you’ll find anywhere. Of course, treated properly your skillet might just end up being an heirloom, so making sure that you’ve got only the best cast iron skillet makes a lot of sense. For most people we recommend the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet but there’s something out there for everyone.
So let’s dive into the wide world of skillets, and we’ll give you the information you need to pick the right one and then ensure that you’re able to take care of it and make it last for decades to come.
For a stove top skillet, this one from Lodge is probably the best on the market. The single piece casting, silicone or leather handle, and pre-seasoning makes it our favorite for the average consumer.
Top 5 Cast Iron Skillets
|Lodge Cast Iron Skillet||12”||5/5||Check Price|
|Lodge H5MS Heat Enhanced||5”||4.5/5||Check Price|
|Bayou Classic||16”||4.5/5||Check Price|
|Ultimate Pre-Seasoned 2-In-1||10 ½”||4/5||Check Price|
|Utopia Kitchen||6”, 8”, 10”||3.5/5||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Vast Iron Skillet
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge produces this fantastic cast iron skillet which has some real distinctions which set it apart from the competition. This is a great 12” skillet by any means, but the fact that it comes with a silicone, anti-heat handle makes it fantastic.
Cast iron has a tendency to heat up all over when it’s been exposed to heat for a long time, and that makes the handle a liability without careful positioning. You’re in good hands here.
If you’re looking to invest a little bit more money, it’s also available with a leather handle. This will let you remove it if you’re planning on cooking in the oven which you probably won’t want to attempt with the silicone handle.
Pros and Cons
- Silicone or leather handle
- Old-school, one piece casting
- American made and long trusted brand
- Silicone handle isn’t suitable for oven use
2. Best Mini Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge H5MS Heat Enhanced
Mini cast iron skillets are some of the best cookware around for those who are traveling or frequently moving. Since they don’t take up much space in a bag they can be carted around and you don’t ever need to worry about not having the right cookware for your breakfast.
We love Lodge around these parts, they use the same awesome casting process for all of their skillets and they’re super affordable for a piece which might end up lasting for generations so it’s hard to not recommend their 5 inch skillet for those who are frequently on the move.
If you’re looking for something smaller, we recommend parting with the cash for a couple of fancy coffees and adding this to your collection.
For those who want a small cast iron skillet, accept no substitutes. There’s simply no reason to when this affordable, durable option is sitting right in front of you.
Pros and Cons
- Small size makes it optimal for travel
- American made by Lodge
- Proprietary casting and seasoning formula
- Too small for large dishes
- Size is measured across spouts not bottom
3. Best Large Cast Iron Skillet
In contrast to the smaller options which are available, some people need something enormous to handle their cooking needs. If you’re looking to cook for large groups of people, we’d like to present this huge 16” skillet from Bayou Classic to you.
Apart from the truly gargantuan cooking surface, you’ll also have the knowledge that Bayou Classic produces cookware which is meant to last for a long, long time. Their skillets tend to come with a super smooth bottom as well as being pre-seasoned too, which puts them at the top of the class.
The biggest downside is that it lacks a normal handle, so you’ll need a couple of oven mitts to move it. It’s not all bad though, it’ll let you fit it over central burners and still have the pots you need around it as well, making it top notch for those who really do large meals.
If you’re in need of an extra-large cast iron skillet, take the plunge and splurge on the Bayou Classic 16”. It’ll make enormous meals a complete snap.
Pros and Cons
- 16” cooking surface
- Smooth bottom
- Trusted brand with great manufacturing
- No long handle
4. Best Cast Iron Skillet Set
Ultimate Pre-Seasoned 2-In-1
For those who want multiple pieces, Bruntmor has produced this fantastic set. While the finish might not be up to par with Lodge or Bayou Classic, the fact that you’ll have a skillet and a sauce pan made of great cast iron puts them a step ahead of the competition.
The best part: you can fit them together in order to use the entire ensemble as a covered pan or Dutch oven. How’s that for versatility?
It comes pre-seasoned, and the holes in the handle make it super easy to hang the pans when they’re not in usage.
If you’re willing to put up with a bit rougher finish. Then this set will help you make sure that you’re covered. Dutch oven, skillet, and sauce pan, sometimes you need to make sure you’ve got a great set hanging on the wall.
Pros and Cons
- Two piece set
- Holes for easy hanging
- Pre-seasoned and non-stick when you get them
- Perfectly sized for the average home
- Finish is a little bit rough
- Rather steep sides
5. Best Budget Cast Iron Skillet Set
If you want to fully equip your kitchen, then it makes sense to find a variety of cast iron to add. Of course, it can also get expensive if you’re purchasing the pans separately, which is why we dug up this fantastic set of skillets which come in 6”, 8”, and 10” variations to let you get things going.
Obviously, at this budget price the pans aren’t going to be superb in all instances but Utopia has done their best to make sure you’ve got things covered. They’re going to be around for a long time to come, although they’re a bit rougher than the truly high-end pans.
If you want to have a fully equipped kitchen then this set is a great, budget way to get started. For the price, you can’t do any better.
Pros and Cons
- 3 differently sized skillets
- Super low price
- Holes in the handles to hang them up
- Superior construction for the price
- Fairly rough finish
- Pre-seasoning is subpar, do it yourself when you get them
Why a Cast Iron Skillet?
If you’ve never had the joy of using a well-seasoned, venerable cast-iron skillet then you may be wondering just what all of the fuss is about.
The biggest factor is this: treated properly, cast iron is automatically non-stick. That means that you don’t have to worry about coatings disappearing over time or peeling like you have with Teflon and you can also avoid the disadvantages of ceramic cookware.
The truth is, despite their impressive longevity, cast-iron skillets are also usually quite cheap compared to stainless steel and non-stick cookware. That alone is attractive enough to most people.
Add in that it also adds some levels of iron, as a micronutrient of course, to the food you cook in it and you have a pretty clear reason why cast iron is so well regarded as a skillet material.
That’s not to say it’s perfect: it’s heavy and can rust if not maintained properly. This is a common problem with any non-stainless option. You may also want to be aware that acidic foods can be cooked in a cast iron skillet but should be removed afterwards and the pan rinsed thoroughly before you serve them since they can cause rust in the metal.
Tomato sauce and other acidic foods will also come out a darker color than normal as they absorb quite a bit more iron than your standard fare if you choose to use them.
In our estimation: a cast iron skillet is a central piece of any well, or even moderately, equipped kitchen and if your home is lacking one then you’re seriously missing out.
Picking Your Cast Iron Skillet
We’re going to be honest here, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between the different cast iron skillets which are on the market. As long as the construction is sound… well, it’s a skillet shaped piece of cast iron.
What is going to matter to the average person is the cooking surface of the pan. Skillets usually have roughly the same outside angle as each other so there’s nothing special there. As a general rule, how you maintain your skillet is more important than the branding when it comes to longevity.
As a general rule, most homes will be well served by a 12” skillet. That’s about the standard size, and smaller and larger variants do exist, including some 16-20” models which are awesome when you’re cooking for a large group of people.
The first time we saw one of the small ones, we wondered what kind of use they’d be but they really are one of the quickest ways to cook a couple of eggs first thing in the morning.
Basically: make sure things are sized appropriately and you’re likely to be fine. We’ll discuss the do’s and don’ts for your skillet in just a moment.
Seasoning a Cast Iron Skillet
You should season your skillet before you even begin using it, this makes sure that you’ll be able to get the most out of your cookware and reduce the incidence of rust. It also helps to create that famous non-stick coating which cast iron is known for.
When you get your skillet, remove it from it’s packaging and then you’ll want to scrub it thoroughly with soapy water. Dry it with paper towels or a dish rag immediately afterwards to avoid letting the water have a chance to oxidize things.
Next you’ll want to add just a touch of vegetable oil. Spread the oil extremely thin, there should be no dripping going on.
From there, you’ll pre-heat the oven to 375°F and set the rack in the middle. Once it’s reached heat, you’re going to add the pan by placing it on the rack upside down. Bake it there for an hour, then let it cool.
Seriously, let it cool. You can suffer serious burns if you just grab it at this point.
Afterwards you’ll have a slightly shiny layer on your skillet, which is exactly what you what you want to ensure the best of it. If the skillet isn’t shiny at this point, you may need to repeat the process a couple of times.
Maintaining Your Skillet
If you’re planning on having your skillet around for a long time to come, and remember that a well-treated cast iron skillet may very well end up being used by your grandchildren or further down the line, then you’re going to want to maintain it properly.
Each time you use it:
- Use paper towels to clean off debris and excess grease before you do anything else. Get as much off as you can.
- Rinse the skillet in hot water, you may want to avoid using soap depending on the detergent you have available. The idea is to not remove the seasoning.
- Afterwards, add half a tablespoon of oil and spread it around with a paper towel, just get the inside of the pan coated for the best results. You’ll want to put it on the stove and heat it until there’s no trace of moisture and the inside is slick and shiny again.
Of course, not everyone is going to want to have to re-season the pan each time. You may not even have to if you’re careful about how you cook with the skillet, but it’s definitely something which you’ll need to take a close look at to protect the pan.
If things get out of hand, and you’re looking at patches but no rust or other serious damage then you’ll probably want to do a quick stove-top repair.
It’s not too involved, just heat the skillet and grab some tongs and a paper towel. Dip the paper towel in oil and run it around the surface of the pan until its all nice and shiny again then let off.
Repeat the process 3-5 times for the best results, but you can stop once the whole thing is shiny again.
You can also do the same thing as you did when initially seasoning the pan by using the oven, but it’s not quite as fast.
Sometimes, however, you’re looking at serious damage. Even the best of us will occasionally end up with a skillet which needs to be handled properly, as opposed to just performing maintenance. If your skillet is suffering from any of the following, you’ll have to get to serious work:
- Damaged seasoning usually takes the form of chipping or peeling. It may also just get excessively dull and clouded.
- Rust which can’t be scrubbed away with a non-abrasive sponge or pad is also a good indicator it’s time to break out the big guns.
If that’s the case, then grab the sucker up and head outdoors. The next part is going to involve fumes and you’re not going to have a good time if you attempt to do it while inside.
You’ll need an oven cleaner, we recommend Easy-Off, a thick trash bag, and a concrete block. Wear rubber gloves, as long as possible, and a face mask when you’re using oven cleaners.
Seriously, oven cleaners are an extremely strong basic solution. More than one cook has scars from working with the stuff and not being cautious about it. If you’re butter fingered, then keep some vinegar around and wash off any spots that happen to end up on you with the stuff.
Cover the concrete block with the bag, then place your skillet on it. Spray the oven cleaner over the outside of the skillet, then flip it and repeat the procedure. If it’s a windy day… you’ll want to wait until the weather clears up.
Afterwards, fold the bag up and around and put the skillet somewhere it can be left alone for a day. Remove it with gloves and get some stainless steel wool, keeping the gloves on you can then scrub the pot until all of the residue is removed.
This will completely remove the seasoning, and you’ll want to let some vinegar stand in the cooking surface for thirty minutes to an hour to neutralize any remaining oven cleaner.
Then, repeat the oven seasoning process we described in the seasoning section until everything is nice, slick, and shiny black.
As long as you stay on top of things, this skillet could very well end up being in your family for a long, long time to come.
Things Not to Do
The biggest thing you need to avoid doing is leaving acidic dishes in your skillet for extended periods. While you may be able to just whip up a tomato sauce, or add it to a dish which is contained within the skillet, you’ll want to switch it out and rinse it off before you start serving food.
You should also avoid dropping your skillet. Cast iron is more brittle than the usual stainless steel fare, and it’ll break rather than bend if exposed to too much force.
You’ll also want to avoid dousing a hot pan in ice water, but other than that you’re pretty much free to do as you will with your skillet.
Not Just for Frying
Skillets have a reputation for just being for frying things, but this versatile cookware actually allows for quite a big range of different cooking techniques.
In fact, even frying can generally be done much more easily than you’d think. Try using a bit less oil in order to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet while still sparing the surface of your skillet from needing vigorous scrubbing.
Water-based methods of cooking such as braising and poaching are remarkably easy to perform while you’re using a cast iron skillet, especially since the surface has a tendency to heat so evenly as long as you’re careful.
Other people have found them useful for preparing dishes on the grill, although you’ll want to preheat things if that’s the case to avoid hot spots occurring from the flames. As long as it’s warm when it goes in you’ll be fine.
Some people even ratchet it up to the next level: you can actually prepare an entire casserole with just a cast-iron skillet. As long as it’s well seasoned you can avoid having to deal with food stuck to the surface at the end of the night, just be careful about letting things sit if they’re acid-heavy like tomato sauces.
Basically, if you get creative you’ll figure out quickly that a cast iron skillet, a pair of oven mitts, and some quick-thinking will let you prepare just about anything with one of these handy, old-fashioned pans.
You’re kitchen just isn’t complete until you take the leap and make sure you have the best cast iron skillet you can find. Whichever way you may go, they’re able to be used for just about anything, and they’re pretty much a staple for every home. If you don’t have one already: don’t you think it’s time to add one to your kitchen?