The top picks for 2020

A cast-iron skillet can last for generations with proper care, but are some brands better than others?

Have you or a loved one ever struggled to get a consistent sear on a ribeye steak? Do you often find yourself sweating over the sink in a battle with crusted-on food, or replacing cookware every couple of years? Would your life be drastically improved if you owned a single pan that’s versatile enough to be used for fried eggs in the morning, chicken for lunch, beef stew for dinner, and an apple crumble for dessert?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider a cast-iron skillet. 

Cast iron cookware: An extremely condensed history

While the oldest-known cast-iron artifacts (tools, specifically) date all the way back to ancient China, the concept of cooking with cast iron emerged in 18th century Europe, when pieces of the iron alloy were melted down and poured into sand moulds for cauldrons and pots. By the late 19th and 20th centuries, you could find cast iron cookware in most kitchens thanks to its durability and low cost of production.

While the popularity of cast iron was briefly dampened by the introduction of lighter materials like aluminum and stainless steel, it has seen a resurgence in the past decade and a half — and modern manufacturers aren’t the only people reaping the benefits. In her deep dive into cast iron cookware’s mainstream traction for The Kitchn in 2016 (which you can read here), writer Eva Katz says that lustrous vintage cast iron pans are a hot commodity among collectors, with resellers fetching thousands of pounds for well-restored antique pans from brands of yore.

Why cast iron?

Cast iron’s long-term popularity can be credited to a few factors. For one thing, as Katz points out, it’s more sustainable than cheap, Teflon-coated cookware (cast-iron cookware lasts for generations with proper care). 

It’s also naturally nonstick, provided you bake oil into its surface to produce a sheeny, protective layer of carbonised “seasoning.” And since the goal is to preserve that patina, washing cast iron calls for very little soap, if any, and minimal scrubbing. Plus, cast iron’s heft makes it unrivalled in the heat retention department, so it’s ideal for long-cooked foods like stews and braised meats. Aluminum and stainless steel could never.

Nostalgia may also play a part in the contemporary popularity of cast iron cookware, Katz muses: “Perhaps it’s part of a greater trend to return to traditional foods and cooking techniques our grandmothers practiced, like canning and fermentation (which are also having a big revival).” Everyone loves a throwback.

What’s the best cast-iron skillet?

Plenty of manufacturers have thrown their metaphorical hats into the ring throughout cast iron cookware’s centuries-long history, although many would argue that a brand name is irrelevant for what’s basically just a lump of metal. 

With this in mind, we have checked out everything that is on offer and lined up six of the very best cast iron skillets from a bunch of different brands. These are your best options for 2020.

Easy grip teardrop-shaped handle • Super affordable • Two pour spouts • Lifetime guarantee

High quality and great value for money.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet

Lodge’s simple and sturdy cast iron skillets are true workhorses, and this one is no different.

  • Preseasoned:
    Yes (with 100% natural vegetable oil)
  • Warranty:
You’re going to see a lot of Lodge skillets on this list, and the brand has been crafting what it calls “heirloom-quality” cast iron cookware in the small town of South Pittsburg, Tenn. for nearly 125 years, making it the oldest and longest-running U.S. cast iron manufacturer. 
The company’s most basic skillet, the Classic, is exactly what its name suggests — simple and timeless — and it’s very reasonably priced at under £40 for the 9-inch version. Whether you’re a total cast iron newbie or a (pre)seasoned pro, you can’t beat the utility and value a Lodge skillet offers.
Even if you don’t wind up buying a Lodge skillet, be sure to bookmark its website: It’s packed with lots of tasty-looking recipes and helpful tips on how to care for your cast iron skillet and make sure it lasts for decades. 

Relatively lightweight • Available in a bunch of different colours • Two pour spouts

Expensive • Scratches easily • Not suitable for use over an open flame

A colorful complement to a traditional cast-iron skillet.

Le Creuset Signature Skillet

Le Creuset’s rainbow of enameled skillets lets you reap most of the benefits of cast iron while cooking with acidic ingredients.

  • Preseasoned:
  • Warranty:
The traditional seasoning on cast iron skillets does not tolerate long-term exposure to acidic ingredients well. It’s not just about ruining the seasoning, either: If you’re not careful, the acid can cause trace amounts of iron to leach from the pan and funk up your food.
Enter: the enameled cast iron skillet, which sports a glassy coating that does two important things — it replaces the pan’s natural nonstick seasoning, and it makes the pan suitable for cooking with acidic ingredients like tomatoes, citrus, wine, and vinegar.
That being said, that coating is also an enameled cast iron skillet’s biggest weakness: It’ll crack if it gets too hot, which pretty much negates the appeal of using cast iron for its ability to retain heat.
If you’re going to go the enameled route, we recommend picking up one of Le Creuset’s French-made Signature Skillets: they’re dishwasher-safe, the wide loop handles are easy to grip, they’re covered by a lifetime warranty, they come in lots of fun colours, and the matte black interior enamel has been specially formulated to withstand relatively high temperatures.

Affordable • Doubles as a casserole dish when covered

If the Lodge Classic didn’t exist, we’d probably recommend making this one your everyday skillet.

Lodge Deep Cast Iron Skillet

The best option if casseroles, long-simmered stews, and deep-fried foods are often on the menu at home.

  • Preseasoned:
    Yes (with 100% natural vegetable oil)
  • Warranty:
If you took Lodge’s everyday cast iron skillet and made its sides just a couple inches higher, you’d get the Lodge Cast Iron Deep Skillet, an incredibly versatile piece of cookware that upholds the brand’s reputation for value and durability. 
There’s enough room in this puppy for baking and deep-frying on top of all the usual things one does in a cast iron pan. Plus, if you get a lid for it, you can use it as a casserole dish.
As with all cast iron cookware that bears Lodge’s branding, this deep skillet’s main drawback is the fact that it’s pretty expensive. You’re paying for a high quality product that could last for generations, though.

Heats up faster than cast iron • No rivets, cracks, or corners where gunk can get stuck

Carbon steel is more expensive than cast iron • Cools down faster than cast iron

A solid compromise for home chefs who are intimidated by the bulk of most cast iron cookware.

We’re sorry to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as a lightweight cast iron skillet. Well, technically there are, but none that we would recommend.
Making a lightweight cast iron skillet means making a thin cast iron skillet, which winds up defeating the point of making a skillet out of cast iron: The material’s thickness and heft afford it unmatched heat retention and distribution. 
If you want something that cooks like a cast-iron skillet but won’t sprain your wrist when you try to flip a pancake, we recommend looking into a skillet made of carbon steel. For one thing, its chemical makeup is actually quite similar to that of traditional cast iron. It also requires regular seasonings to keep it nonstick, and that coating of seasoning shouldn’t be exposed to anything highly acidic.
The biggest difference between the two materials is their ability to retain heat: Since there’s less mass in a thin, light carbon steel skillet, it doesn’t do as good a job with long-cooked foods.
As far as brands go, Matfer Bourgeat, a family-owned French manufacturer that’s been in the culinary biz for over 200 years. Its carbon steel cookware is remarkably durable and distributes heat quite well — plus, its 10.25-inch Black Steel Frying Pan weighs just 1.41 kilograms, which is about half the weight of your average same-size cast iron skillet. 

Easy-grip handle • Easy to drain grease

Difficult to clean and reseason

You’ll probably only use it for special occasions.

Lodge Square Cast Iron Grill Pan

This grill pan’s ridges will prop it above any drippings, avoiding all that unpleasant grease.

  • Preseasoned:
    Yes (with 100% natural vegetable oil)
  • Warranty:
A lot of people loath cast iron grill pans. They aren’t as multipurpose as regular skillets, and they’re an absolute nightmare to clean, apparently.
At the end of the day, there are really only two reasons why you might be inclined to add a cast iron grill pan to your cookware collection: either you don’t want your bacon to stew in its own grease while it fries (a grill pan’s ridges will prop it above the drippings), or you don’t have access to a traditional grill but still want those “sexy lines” on your food. 
If you’re still on board, just go with the Square Cast Iron Grill Pan from the ever-dependable Lodge. It’s nothing fancy, but since you’ll probably be relegating it to just giving meats and veggies a quick sear, it doesn’t need to be. 

Extremely versatile • Basically two pans in one • Excellent for baking bread

The best Lodge skillet for camping, if you can be bothered to carry it around.

Lodge Cast Iron Combo Cooker

If there is a cast iron pan worth lugging into the great outdoors, it’s this all-in-one skillet.

  • Preseasoned:
    Yes (with 100% natural vegetable oil)
  • Warranty:
A fancy Le Creuset skillet doesn’t belong in the great outdoors — leave that puppy sitting on your hob or hanging on the wall for everyone to admire.
A versatile, no-frills, extra-tough pan that can hold up to an open flame and withstand some scrubbing to remove the resulting soot makes a much better camping buddy when you’re roughing it in the woods. 
To literally no one’s surprise, Lodge makes a budget-friendly pan that fits the bill. Its Cast Iron Combo Cooker is a 10.25-inch, moderately deep skillet that comes with a multipurpose lid. You can place that lid on top of the skillet to transform it into a casserole dish, or cook with the lid separately as a shallow skillet or griddle. Realistically, it’s the only cookware you’ll need to pack. 

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