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Whether you cook every night of the week or just once in awhile, you almost certainly reach for a skillet on at least some of those occasions. The workhorse of cookware, skillets are perfect for scrambling, stir-frying, sautéing, pan-frying, searing, and much more. And while there are skillets made of a variety of metals, cast iron has its own unique strengths that make it a joy to cook with.
If you’re looking to buy a cast iron skillet and wondering where to start, we’re here to help. At BestReviews, our goal is to be your go-to source for unbiased buying information on all the products that make your life easier, healthier, and more productive.
We don’t accept free products or manufacturer perks in exchange for a good review. Instead, we do our own research, gather words of wisdom from experts in the field, and take in feedback from owners of the products in question. We then synthesize this information to create our useful buying guides.
So if you’re considering adding a cast iron skillet to your cookware collection, check out our five recommendations in the matrix above. All are sturdy skillets that would serve you well. If you’d like to learn more about cast iron skillets in general, read on. We’ll tell you how to choose, use, and care for your cast iron skillet.
There are plenty of other types of cookware on the market: copper, glass, stainless steel, and aluminum, to name a few. Each of those materials has compelling strong points of its own. And yet, cooks have been using cast iron pots for hundreds – some sources say thousands – of years. There are several compelling reasons for this.
Durability: Cast iron is incredibly durable. In fact, it’s not unusual for a cast iron pan to be used for decades without showing much wear or tear. Some families hand their cast iron pans down for multiple generations.
Nonstick: Another benefit of cast iron is that when it’s seasoned and used regularly, it’s fairly nonstick – though not to the extent of a Teflon-coated pan. Still, for cooks who prefer to avoid potentially harmful nonstick substances, the nonstick properties of cast iron are a huge plus.
Stays Hot: Cast iron heats up fairly slowly compared to other metals, and it doesn’t conduct heat exceptionally well. But once it gets hot, it stays hot for a long time – much longer than other types of cookware. That makes cast iron perfect for searing, crisping, or creating a crust on your food.
Oven-Ready: If you enjoy cooking stovetop-to-oven recipes, you’ll appreciate the fact that cast iron works just as well inside the oven as it does on top of the stove. Not only that, it’s perfectly usable over a campfire or other open flame.
Induction-Ready: Cast iron works on induction stoves. Many stainless steel, copper, glass, and aluminum pans do not offer this benefit.
Imparts Iron: Cast iron even has a health benefit: uncoated cast iron tends to leach small amounts of iron into food as it cooks. This is a big plus for those with iron-deficient anemia – or anyone who needs more iron in their diet.
Affordable: Cooks on a budget appreciate that cast iron is fairly inexpensive, especially when compared to copper and high-end stainless steel cookware.
Despite the common misconception, cast iron does not conduct heat especially well, meaning that a cast iron pan will be hotter directly over the heat source than at the edges. However, cast iron holds onto heat much longer than other cookware.
Of course, cast iron does have some downsides.
Requires Seasoning: Cast iron that isn’t enameled needs periodic seasoning to resist rust and maintain its nonstick properties.
Hot Handle: Most cast iron skillets are one piece, meaning that the handle is also made of cast iron. That handle can become extremely hot during cooking, so you’ll need to wear an oven mitt to pick it up – or risk a burn.
Heavy: Cast iron is very heavy. A 10-inch cast iron skillet weighs around five pounds. And because of its weight, if you drop a cast iron skillet, it could damage a tile or wood floor or a countertop … or your foot.
Requires Hand-Washing: You can’t wash your cast iron skillet in the dishwasher; it must be cleaned by hand. And without an enamel coating, cast iron is prone to rusting.
Reactive to Acidic Foods: Some acidic foods, such as tomatoes, can lift the seasoning off a bare cast iron pan, releasing more iron into the food and altering its taste.
A 10-inch cast iron skillet is the perfect size for most people’s needs. However, if you have a large family or like to cook big batches of food, you might want to size up to a 12-inch skillet.
Many cast iron skillets – as well as other cast iron cookware – are enameled. This means the iron is coated with an enameled paint. On the outside of the skillet, the paint may be a bright color; on the inside of the skillet, it is often black.
If you have an enamel-coated cast iron skillet, there’s no need to season the pan. The iron won’t rust, and you don’t have to worry about acidic foods leaching into the metal, either.
Enameled cast iron is more expensive, however, and the enamel could chip if the pan is dropped or treated roughly.
Are you looking for cookware suitable for use on your induction stovetop? Cast iron, whether with or without enamel, is a perfect choice.
The terms skillet, fry pan, and frying pan are all different words for the same piece of cookware. A skillet is a pan with gently sloped sides and a long handle.
Most skillets don’t come with lids, although you can often buy them separately. Because of their weight, cast iron skillets often have a small “helper” handle on the far side to make lifting the pan easier.
Sauté pans have straight sides and are typically deeper than skillets. A lid is normally included. Sauté pans are useful for any type of cooking that involves liquids, such as frying or sautéing.
Never soak your cast iron skillet in water or put it in the dishwasher. Doing so would remove the seasoning and promote rusting of the pan.
It should be a joy to cook with your cast iron skillet. Here are some features you might wish to look for when shopping.
Enamel: Consider an enameled skillet if you don’t want to be bothered with seasoning your cookware, or if you want a brightly colored addition to your kitchen.
Spoon Rest: Many cast iron skillets have indentations that serve as spoon rests while cooking.
Silicone Handle: Most cast iron skillets have metal handles. However, you’ll find some with silicone-covered handles. This makes it much easier to move or pick up the skillet once it’s hot.
Pre-seasoning: Pre-seasoned cast iron is ready to use as soon as you get it home. Most cast iron skillets sold today are pre-seasoned, but if yours is not, it will need seasoning before you use it. Of course, many cooks believe that even pre-seasoned cast iron benefits from a seasoning session prior to first use.
The Right Size: The most common skillet sizes are eight inches, 10 inches, and 12 inches. While all are useful, if you are only going to choose one, you’d probably find a 10-inch cast iron skillet to be the most versatile.
Although most cast iron cookware comes pre-seasoned, it’s a good idea to season it yourself to really develop the pan’s nonstick properties. The process is simple and is as follows.
Start with a clean frying pan.
Use a paper towel to rub oil over the pan’s surface, both inside and out. Corn, vegetable, and canola oil are all suitable.
Buff the oil slightly so it appears to soak into the metal. There should be no drips or puddles of oil in the skillet.
Place the pan upside down in an oven heated to 450°F. Leave the pan there for 30 minutes. You might notice the pan smoking slightly; this is normal. It’s a good idea to layer foil underneath the pan to catch any oil drips.
Let the pan cool down.
Repeat the process three more times.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.