The cast iron skillet is the power of all kitchen equipment. Compared to aluminum or stainless steel, cast iron provides a non-stick surface free of synthetic chemicals and requires less oil. Although cast iron has low thermal conductivity, which means that it does not heat up evenly, it offers superior heat retention, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures, such as steak and caramelized vegetables. It is also the only utensil you can buy that will improve with use. Since cast iron can be a serious investment, cookbook author David Joachim tested these 10 pans to help you select the best one for your kitchen.
Check out the quick reviews below our top five cast iron skillets or scroll down for more useful purchase information and complete reviews of these models, as well as other high-ranking options.
Modern cast iron vs. vintage
While romanticizing the past often risks despising modern innovation, the generalization that things were better these days may be partly true for the cast iron skillet. This is because the cast iron you would find in your grandmother’s kitchen or at the flea markets was probably hand polished to create this smooth, coveted surface. Because polishing is time-consuming and expensive, most manufacturers today leave the rough texture of sand molds, so companies compensate by pre-tempering cast iron to reduce viscosity.
You can look for vintage cookware like Griswold and Wagner, but there is no need to lose hope in modern cast iron features. From the renowned Lodge name to the small Stargazer brand, the new high-quality cast iron still offers excellent non-stick surfaces that only get better with use. Some premium manufacturers are returning to time-tested manufacturing and polishing methods. With the skillet and the right skills, you can create the seasoning in your new pot to rival those found in antique stores. Plus, you get more satisfaction (and save money) by doing it yourself.
The chemistry of cast iron seasoning
A quick search on the Internet will reveal that almost everyone has an opinion on how to temper cast iron, but there is real science behind the right methodology. This “spice” is really just polymerized oil, created through the chemical process of monomer molecules that form polymer chains. Applying a thin layer of oil and heating it above its smoke point (usually between 400 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to an hour will vaporize lighter hydrocarbons, leaving heavier molecules to form a polymer in the iron.
Many experts – from Sheryl Canter to our tester David Joachim – advocates the use of polyunsaturated oils, especially 100% flaxseed oil, because they contain double bonds with less hydrogen and more carbon components, allowing the formation of larger polymers. Just like a drying oil that you would find in oil paints or varnishes in your workshop, linseed oil will also turn into a harder and more oxidation resistant surface. As the hydrocarbon bonds are hydrophobic or repel water, the surface becomes smooth and non-stick.
How to properly season and care for your frying pan
Cast iron has a reputation for being difficult to clean, but maintaining cast iron does not have to be a challenge. While each brand may have separate care instructions, here’s Joachim’s seasoning method and tips on how to maintain it.
- Heat your cast iron to about 200 ºF on a hob.
- Rub polyunsaturated fat like 100% flaxseed oil on the iron with a paper towel, leaving a fine oil shine.
- Place the pan upside down in the oven, heated to 500 ° F, and bake for an hour.
- Turn off the oven and let the pan cool completely for at least two hours.
- Repeat the process to obtain the thickest and most durable layer of seasoning up to six times.
To maintain his seasoning, Joachim recommends avoiding acidic ingredients, such as vinegar, lemon juice and tomatoes, despite a quick defrost with wine or vinegar. When cleaning it, do not use scouring pads or abrasive cleaners such as steel wool. Instead, let the pan cool slightly and then rub with hot water and a wooden spoon or wash with water and a soft sponge. Use detergent sparingly, as soap can dissolve the fat that makes up your seasoning. Dry the pan immediately so as not to rust. You can also dry it over low heat on the stove or in the oven.
How we test
Cookbook author David Joachim conducted a series of five tests on 10 well-known frying pans to assess their conductivity, heat distribution, smoothness, viscosity and ergonomics. All frying pans were 12 inches in diameter, with the exception of the 8-inch Finex frying pan and the 10.25-inch Field Company. First, we measure the smoothness by scraping a metal spatula on its surface and recording the decibel levels. We judge the seasoning of the factory by frying an oil-free egg over medium heat. Using paper circles in the pans, we observed burning patterns to assess the heat distribution. We then scald four boneless beef steaks to monitor the speed, uniformity and depth of browning. Finally, we pour a glass of water from each pot to consider the handle’s ergonomics, nozzles and weight. In addition to considering their value, we rated each skillet from 1 to 10 (from worst to best) in the tests of adhesion, burning, heat distribution and spillage.
Smithey Ironware does not. 12 Cast iron skillet
Weight: 8 lb. | Diameter: 11.5 in. | Height: 2.25 in. | Handle length: 5.5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 2.5 x 1.25 in. | dBa: 91.1 | Viscosity: 10 | Searing: 10 | Heat distribution: 10 | Pouring: 4
Smithey Ironware is one of the new companies that is inspired by vintage pots, polishing the inside of their frying pans to create a beautiful, glassy surface. At 8 pounds, no. Frying pan 12 may be the heaviest frying pan we tested, but its weight has potentially contributed to the excellence in our burning and heat distribution tests. Smithey cast iron quickly provided a uniform and dark dyeing, with no hot spots and little adhesion. With such a high heat capacity, you will need to ensure temperature regulation to avoid burns. The small auxiliary handle does not have a loop to help with your weight, but it does have three holes that signify the Smithey brand.
Stargazer 12-inch cast iron skillet
Weight: 6.2 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2.5 in. | Handle length: 7.5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 3.75 x 2 in. | dBa: 70 | Viscosity: 10 | Searing: 8 | Heat distribution: 9 | Pouring: 10
Another new brand that produces smooth cast iron, Stargazer reigned supreme with its non-stick surface. In comparison to Smithey and other more expensive brands, the Stargazer skillet is more balanced in terms of weight, thermal conductivity and distribution. Although it has no spouts, the leak was still accurate due to the unique and laminated rim. With a long handle and a large auxiliary handle that you can use while wearing an oven mitt, it is as comfortable as it is functional. The top of the handle has sunk a bit in our hands, but it’s also designed to stay cooler for longer, so we think it’s worth it if you’re used to handles that don’t conduct heat.
Best skillet every day
Lodge Classic 12-Inch Cast Iron Frying Pan
Weight: 7.6 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2.5 in. | Handle length: 5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 4 x 1.25 in. | dBa: 95.5 | Viscosity: 4 | Searing: 7 | Heat distribution: 4 | Pouring: 5
The brand of cast iron that you can find anywhere, the Lodge has been around for 120 years for a reason. The classic 12-inch frying pan does not necessarily exceed others in any specific task, but it is a popular and affordable choice that will last for decades. Despite its weight of almost 8 pounds, it is quite balanced. And, although it has a slower heat rate, it produced a good and uniform burn in our steak. Make sure to use a little extra cooking oil until the seasoning builds up more to prevent a little sticking.
11.75 inch Le Creuset Signature Iron Frying Pan
Weight: 6.6 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2 in. | Handle length: 5.5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 4 x 1.75 in. | dBa: 85.5 | Viscosity: 7 | Searing: 8 | Heat distribution: 7 | Pouring: 6
The French brand Le Creuset of high quality has fulfilled its reputation as a manufacturer of the best enamelled cast iron utensils. The matte black enameled interior is smooth with little adhesion, and the glossy enameled exterior is stain resistant, durable and available in several color options. The skillet heated up relatively quickly and the meat browned consistently. Along with solid performance, it features constant handling and a wide loop auxiliary handle that can be easily used with an oven mitt.
12 inch Victoria cast iron skillet
Weight: 7.4 lb. | Diameter: 11.75 in. | Height: 2 in. | Handle length: 7 in. | Auxiliary handle: 4 x 1.5 in. | dBa: 80.5 | Viscosity: 3 | Searing: 9 | Heat distribution: 8 | Pouring: 9
You can find this cast iron skillet made in Colombia for $ 25 or less, but it has outpaced some skillets that cost more than eight times the price. A little extra spice may be needed to improve its non-stick surface, as our egg has run out of oil a little, but in general it has provided even heat distribution and a great burn. The seven-inch long handle is curved for better handling, although the pan looked slightly heavy in the front during our leak test.
More expensive, but worth it
Butter Pat Joan 12 inch cast iron skillet
Weight: 6.4 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2 in. | Handle length: 5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 4 x 1.12 in. | dBa: 82.7 | Viscosity: 9 | Searing: 9 | Heat distribution: 9 | Pouring: 9
It’s hard to justify spending about $ 300 on a skillet, but Butter Pat’s performance justifies the high price. The butter trays are thin and polished on all sides, making them relatively light and even warm. The 12-inch Joan had the most consistent performance in all four test categories. After a quick and uniform preheating time, it produced a very uniform and dark burn in our steak. We found that the bottom of the handle sank a little in our hands, but overall it had a decent balance and poured well from the rounded spouts. It may be the most expensive new frying pan on the market, but it is as close as possible to the old cast iron.
12 inch Staub Cast Iron Frying Pan
Weight: 6.6 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2.25 in. | Handle length: 5.25 in. | Auxiliary handle: 3 x 1 in. | dBa: 78.7 | Viscosity: 6 | Searing: 8 | Heat distribution: 6 | Pouring: 4
In close competition with Le Creuset, Staub is another large enameled frying pan made in France, which you can currently find online to get big discounts at 30% off or more. With similar capacity to Le Creuset, this 12-inch Staub was left behind with an access point during our heat distribution test and a little grip when frying an egg. We also found that their spill spouts were more spilled, but we were satisfied with their smooth handle and balanced weight.
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10 inch Finex cast iron skillet
Weight: 5.8 lb. | Diameter: 10 in. | Height: 2.25 in. | Handle length: 6 in. | Auxiliary handle: 2.5 x 1 in. | dBa: 77.3 | Viscosity: 3 | Searing: 9 | Heat distribution: 5 | Pouring: 7
Standing out from the crowd of round frying pans, Finex features an octagonal design with each corner capable of acting as a pouring spout. It has a total diameter of 10 inches, but only 20 cm of cooking surface, which was sticky despite looking very smooth. Finex stood out for burning, although like Smithey, it has a high heat capacity that you will need to observe to avoid burns. The coil around the handle helps to keep it cool, although we found a very large diameter for good grip.
Lodge Blacklock 12 inch cast iron skillet
Weight: 5.8 lb. | Diameter: 12 in. | Height: 2.5 in. | Handle length: 6 in. | Auxiliary handle: 4 x 1.25 in. | dBa: 91.4 | Viscosity: 5 | Searing: 8 | Heat distribution: 3 | Pouring: 1
The latest frying pan in the extensive Lodge line, the Blacklock is the lightest of all the 12-inch models we tested under 15 kg. It is a little more expensive than a Classic Lodge frying pan, but it offers a longer, thinner and curved handle, in addition to its light weight. Our test results indicated that your shaved pounds may sacrifice some of the heating uniformity. In addition, the small leak spouts caused quite a drip. But in the end, it generated a better dark brown stain than the classic one.
Cast iron frying pan nº 8 from the field
Weight: 4.2 lb. | Diameter: 10 in. | Height: 2 in. | Handle length: 5.5 in. | Auxiliary handle: 2 x 0.75 in. | dBa: 76.3 | Viscosity: 4 | Searing: 7 | Heat distribution: 4 | Pouring: 1
If you are looking for a cast iron pan that is more portable, like carrying it to camp with you, we recommend this simple frying pan from Field Company. It has no leaking nozzles by design, so it won’t drip grease on your fire or grill. The field looks smooth with a grape oil spice, but our egg got a little stuck. We also noticed some hot spots during our heat distribution tests, which resulted in slightly irregular, but still dark, spots. Although its auxiliary handle is too small for practical use, its light and balanced weight means that you don’t really need help carrying it.