There are fussy, transient kitchen friends: your favorite sponge, for example, which needs to be replaced with annoying regularity, or that delicate stemware you purchased and broke within the same month. Then there are those few kitchen tools which need almost nothing from you and last long enough to become heirlooms. We’re talking things like dutch ovens, high-quality chef’s knives, and—you guessed it—cast-iron pans. If you’ve already got one, move on! It never needs replacing. After all, the best cast-iron skillet out there is really just any one you choose to love and hold for decades—because, with a little care and tenderness, that’s how long it’s going to last you. But if you’re in the market for one (or somehow still need to be convinced) read on; we’ve got you. Here are our top picks at every price point.
What should you look for in a cast iron skillet?
Ten or 12 inches is ideal here; anything larger and heavier, and you might have a hard time lifting it from cooktop to oven easily. Within the 10- to 12-inch cast-iron skillet category, you have plenty of options: starting with pre-seasoned or unseasoned. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose because we recommend seasoning your pan regardless to maintain and improve its nonstick surface.
You’ve got choices here. Classic, heritage brands like Victoria and Lodge have been making high-quality, traditional cast-iron cookware for over a century. But you could also opt for a new-school, “vintage-style” pan like those from Butter Pat Industries or Field Company. With these new-school pans often comes a heftier price tag, but the tradeoff is beautiful design and a noticeably more lightweight product.
If you’ve been putting off adding a cast-iron skillet to your arsenal because the idea of needing to season it fills you with dread, never fear: All of the options listed below come pre-seasoned, which means you can practically sear a rib eye with it fresh out of the box. See the end of this piece for some tips on maintaining that lovely nonstick layer and developing it even more over time.
The budget picks
Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet
The Lodge skillet is a great pick for cast-iron newbies. It comes pre-seasoned, and it’ll only set you back about twenty bucks. At 5.35 pounds, it’s a bit weightier than some of the lighter weight, vintage-style options on this list, but not so heavy that it’ll stop you from sautéing veggies, pan-roasting chicken, and frying eggs with ease.
Victoria Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet
A similar but slightly larger pan is the Victoria 12-inch skillet. This one is beloved for its two pour spouts, a long handle that stays cool-ish plus a helper handle, and its smooth cooking surface, which heats incredibly evenly. It also comes pre-seasoned; the slick coating is 100% non-GMO flaxseed oil. It weighs in at 6.7 pounds, making it relatively light given its larger size.
The worthwhile splurges
Smithey Cast-Iron Pan
If you often find yourself cooking for one (or just want a really high-end small cast-iron pan) consider this highly polished pan from Smithey Ironware. Smithey, which is a small maker based in Charleston, gives this pan such a glossy sheen that the surface is quite nearly nonstick. It comes with a few thin layers of initial seasoning, and will develop a more mature, durable coating over time as you use it. The 10-inch skillet is around 5.5 pounds, more or less, and has an ergonomic handle for easy gripping.
Butter Pat Industries Cast-Iron Skillet
The hand-cast, USA-made skillets from Butter Pat Industries are a favorite of Bon Appétit food director Chris Morocco. Cast-iron geeks like Chris covet vintage cast iron skillets because their cooking surfaces are often worn down until glassy-smooth. They are often thinner and therefore lighter than their modern counterparts. “Butter Pat’s cast-iron manages to be just as slick as the old stuff,” Chris says, “saving you years of effort to break it in. It looks and feels great, and let’s face it, it’d better—chances are it will be around for a loooong time.” He’s not wrong: Butter Pat is so sure of their pans’ longevity, they offer a 100-year warranty that promises they’ll repair, replace, or refund any product that fails to last a lifetime.
The Field Skillet
Another one on the pricey but gorgeous side is the 13⅜-inch pan from Field Company, also made in the USA. Yes, it’s larger—but at 4.5 pounds, this one is lighter than most cast-iron pans because, similar to the Butter Pat skillet, it’s engineered to mimic the hand-poured vintage pans made around the turn of the 20th century. All that to say that if you’re after a roomy skillet, this is the one for home cooks who lack the upper-body strength of a rock climber.
Why do I want a cast-iron pan again?
Heavy-duty, even-heating, satisfyingly-weighty skillets are kitchen staples because of their versatility. A regular, lightweight stainless-steel frying pan gets hot quickly, but it doesn’t have the heat retention capabilities of cast iron. And while a nonstick pan is ideal for scrambled eggs and crispy-skinned fish, many are not oven-safe, and the ones that are shouldn’t be exposed to super high heat. But a cast-iron pan is as useful on the stovetop as it is in the oven, as dependable for braising cabbage as it is for shallow-frying chicken. It’s ideal for Dutch babies, frittatas, or these aromatic chicken thighs. Cornbread, obviously. Other baked goods, too. Roast a whole chicken in your cast-iron, and you’ll find that the combination of low sides and great heat distribution leaves you with perfectly bronzed skin, jammy lemon slices, and gorgeous, already reduced drippings. And lastly, it’s pretty much unparalleled when it comes to getting a great sear on pork chops or a New York strip steak.
But what if I don’t know how to season it?
When you first get your pan, you’ll want to season it (some pans will come labeled as pre-seasoned, but another coat doesn’t hurt). To do this, just lightly rub a bone-dry pan with a thin layer of neutral vegetable oil and place it upside down in a scorching oven—500°F should do the trick. Leave for an hour, remove, let cool, rub with a tiny bit more oil, and store. You can season cast iron as many times as you’d like to build up a glossy nonstick surface; when the pan looks dull or dry, it’s time to moisturize.
How do I wash it?
No, you can’t chuck it in the dishwasher, and you won’t be using your normal hand wash methods, but a cast-iron skillet really doesn’t require much love. When it’s time to clean up, simply wipe a damp rag across the surface of your pan, then dry it thoroughly. Often, that’ll be enough. But if there are any crusty bits, try pouring coarse salt in there and going at it with a Tawashi scrubber, which has soft bristles that whisk away any detritus. Many will tell you to avoid soap at all costs lest you ruin your careful seasoning, but a little dish soap is fine—just don’t let it sit in hot water. (Read our complete guide to cleaning cast iron.)
For really baked on crumbs, try The Ringer, a handy chain mail scrubber that easily rinses clean between uses. After cleaning your cast iron, be sure to wipe your fry pan very dry—this is key for preventing any rust spots. Then take a teeny bit of neutral cooking oil (like canola or vegetable), smear on a paper towel, and give it a light coating. Take care to get the handle and the bottom as well as the cooking surface, as rust can crop up anywhere (here’s how to save a rusty cast-iron skillet in case it happens to you). And you’re good to go! It sounds involved, but it really only takes a few minutes. (A well-seasoned pan takes virtually no time at all, so dutifully season and you’ll be rewarded.)
But what if you do notice some rusty orange spots?
Toss your skillet in the sink absentmindedly or leave it out in the rain, only to find it’s developed a layer of orange rust? Don’t panic—rusting can happen pretty easily if you allow your pan to come into contact with water for an extended period of time (it is made of iron, after all), but that doesn’t mean it’s ruined. A salt scrub will help with most small spots, while a vinegar soak is the cure for more serious cases. (Read more on dealing with pesky cast-iron rust patches.)