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Is there a difference between cheap and expensive cast-iron cookware?

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

What’s the difference between cheap and expensive cast-iron cookware?

Cast iron is a multi-talented piece of cooking equipment unmatched for its versatility. You can use a traditional cast-iron skillet for cooking anything from roasted chicken and fried eggs to vegetable stir-fries or seared fish. 

Cast iron is a type of cookware material heats up relatively quickly. The durable cookware offers excellent heat distribution and heat retention, giving you perfect, caramelized food with little effort.

Cast-iron cookware is easy to clean and maintain with just a little insider knowledge. While they're an excellent option for the kitchen overall, the only real downside is its weight; cast iron makes for a heavier skillet. 

Shop this article: Finex 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet With LidLodge Cast-Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned with Silicone Hot Handle Holder and Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 3-Piece Set

What makes cast-iron cookware so great?

Cast iron is naturally nonstick

A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet has a natural nonstick coating, because it’s covered with a layer of oil which is its “seasoning.” Seasoning forms through a process called fat polymerization, in which a thin coat of unsaturated oil, like flaxseed oil, is applied to the surface of the iron and then heated in an oven. The coating of oil dries to create a thin, almost plastic-feeling layer on the surface of the pan. 

Cast iron holds temperature consistently 

Iron is a poor conductor of heat, which means that it takes a while to heat up and cool down. It’s easy to get it to your desired temperature and then keep it there. This allows you to cook your food more evenly, as the temperature in your pan won’t vary as it sits on the burner.

Cheap vs. expensive cast-iron cookware 

The critical difference between cast-iron cookware offered by cheap and high-end brands is the pre-seasoning included. Note that additional seasoning will be necessary later on to maintain your cookware. 

Cheaper models typically have a rougher surface. The smooth cooking surface of a luxury piece like this Le Creuset Dutch oven requires a time-consuming manufacturing process, so inexpensive brands don’t bother. This means you won’t be unboxing your cast-iron cookware to find a gorgeous layer of polymerization.  

Cast iron gets better with age. The cooking oil you use fills the pores in your pan and continue to add to the layer of finish. If the pre-seasoning on your cast-iron pan leaves much to be desired, hope is not lost as long as you continue to maintain it and cook oily, fatty foods in it. 

Many people don’t want to wait for their cast-iron pan to become nonstick through repeated use, which is why you get what you pay for.

The glossiest, smoothest cast-iron cookware will be the most expensive, including expensive brands like Finex and Le Creuset. 

A good choice for beginners is a Lodge cast-iron pan or even a complete Lodge set of cast iron. Budget options for heritage-brand cast iron will go a long way if you aren’t ready to invest in anything expensive. 


This cast-iron set has an enamel coating with nonstick abilities. The enameled cookware set includes a good-quality Dutch oven with a 5-quart capacity, a 5-quart skillet and a shallow braising pan, available in 9 colors to suit your personal preference.

Tips for cooking with cast iron 

  • Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomato sauces or lemon, vinaigrette or wine-based marinades in your cast-iron cookware. Cooking acidic foods in your cast iron can break down the seasoning, plus they may cause the pan to impart a metallic taste to your food. 
  • It will take a while for your cast iron to become adequately seasoned, so avoid cooking sticky foods in your pan for the first month or so.
  • Don’t store food in your cast-iron pan. While it’s tempting to cover the pan and pop it in the fridge, your cast-iron pan shouldn’t ever be left with food in it. Grab some Tupperware instead.  

How do I clean cast-iron cookware? 

You should avoid using soap on your cast-iron cookware because it can strip the seasoning from cookware.

To clean your cast-iron cookware after use, sprinkle some kosher salt into the pan and rub it around with a paper towel. This will pick up all the residue and oil. Discard the paper towel in the trash or compost it

The best time to clean your cast-iron pan is while it’s still warm, directly after use. Be sure to use tongs to hold the paper towels to avoid burning your hand. 

If the food stuck to your cast-iron pan is too stubborn to wipe away, don’t scrub your pan with steel wool or soap. Instead, add some water to the pan and boil it on the stove. This will loosen the food and allow you to wipe it away. 

Cast iron will rust if exposed to moisture, so it’s essential to get it completely dry before storing it away. To dry your cast iron, first, wipe away any moisture with a kitchen towel. Next, place it on a burner and heat it for a couple of minutes or until it smokes.

Before you store your cast iron, wipe it down with a layer of cast-iron oil to preserve the layer of seasoning. 

More top cast-iron cookware worth considering

Finex 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet With Lid

What you need to know: This is an exceptionally high-quality pre-seasoned cast-iron pan. 

What you’ll love: The 12-inch skillet is seasoned with organic flaxseed oil and has an ultra-glossy, smooth finish. It’s ready to use directly out of the box and has a gorgeous geometric design. 

What you should consider: This is a pricey model, but if you don’t want to wait for your cast iron to become seasoned with time, you’ll be glad you spent the extra dough. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned with Silicone Hot Handle Holder

What you need to know: This is a versatile, pre-seasoned cast-iron pan at an affordable price from a trusted brand. 

What you’ll love: You can sear stakes, fry eggs and bake cornbread with ease in this skillet from an iconic brand. People who use Lodge cast-iron skillets swear it's their top favorite brand. Some Lodge skillets, like this one, come with helper handles made of silicone for a safer cooking process.

What you should consider: This option will rust if not correctly cared for and seasoned regularly, but you can prevent this by ensuring it’s thoroughly dry before storing. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Amazon Basics Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven

What you need to know: This round cast-iron Dutch oven has an enamel coating and 6-quart capacity, with 4.3- and 7.3-quart options available, as well.

What you’ll love: It's a great mid-range Dutch oven for those who want neither cheap nor luxury cookware. The beautiful piece has a polished surface available in 12 colors. 

What you should consider: The brand recommends that the oven be washed by hand to preserve the enamel coating.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Camp Chef Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Griddle

What you need to know: This reversible design of this pre-seasoned Camp Chef offering allows it to function as either a grill or griddle. 

What you’ll love: The versatility of this grill/griddle combination lets you cook a wide variety of foods, from bacon and eggs for breakfast to delicious burgers and grilled steaks for dinner. It's not overly expensive, either.

What you should consider: Regular seasoning is required to prevent rusting. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Le Creuset Classic Cast-Iron Handle Skillet

What you need to know: This is a well-designed, 9-inch enameled skillet from a respected cookware brand.

What you’ll love: This skillet has the durability and quality of a family heirloom. The lightweight design makes it easier to handle, and its glossy exterior comes in seven stylish colors.

What you should consider: Premium brands of cast iron come with high price points.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 3-Piece Set

What you need to know: These inexpensive skillets are the perfect starter cast-iron cookware set if you're on a budget. The set includes a 6-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch skillet. 

What you’ll love: If you need multiple cast-iron pans for different sized dishes, your best bet is to buy a set like this one rather than buying individual pieces to make it more budget-friendly. This is a reasonably priced set with pre-seasoned, smooth finishes. 

What you should consider: It doesn’t come with a silicone handle for handling the hot iron, so you’ll have to use a potholder or order a silicone handle separately. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Evelyn Waugh is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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