Welcome to the cult of the cast-iron skillet. From cowboys to great-grandmas, everyone thinks they know everything about cast iron. Wash it with soap! Don't wash it with soap. Season your cast-iron on the stove. On the stove? You have to season it in the oven! Things can get heated when it comes to the fickle cooking tool. But regardless of all the mystique that surrounds it, cast-iron skillets are some of the best cookware tools to own, and if you take care of it, it'll take care of you — and generations of your family.
The list of pros of cast-iron skillets is long: they get super hot and stay super hot, they're practically indestructible and you can cook almost anything in them. The pain in owning a cast-iron skillet is knowing when to be hands off, but also knowing when it needs to be babied. Here's what to know about your next favorite piece of cookware and the best skillets to buy at every budget.
The 7 Best Cast-Iron Skillets of 2021
- Field Company
- Butter Pat Industries
- Stargazer Cast-Iron Skillet
- Smithey Ironware Company Skillet
- Finex Cast Iron Cookware Company Skillet
- Borough Furnace Skillet
Best Overall Cast-Iron Skillet: Field Company
Field Company’s cast iron is lighter, smoother and simpler than that of many new brands. It also manages to keep its prices lower relative to some of its high-minded competition. Plus, the two-layer grapeseed oil pre-seasoning the skillets come with out-performed that of every other pan we tested.
Available sizes: 6.75-inch to 11.5-inch
Best Splurge Cast-Iron Skillet: Butter Pat Industries
Where to start? Butter Pat’s skillets were the smoothest and most non-stick out of the box of any we tried. Beyond making flip-easy fried eggs (or flip-easy anything, for that matter), the surface makes cleaning that much easier, as everything cooked in it was a towel wipe away from clean. A proprietary hand-casting method allows the piece to be thin where it can be and heavy where it needs to be, making for a lighter than usual skillet.
Available sizes: 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch, 14-inch
Best Budget Cast-Iron Skillet: Lodge
The Lodge of today is not in the business of making a pretty skillet, it’s in the business of making a workhorse skillet. The surface is grainy, rough and coated in a black pre-seasoning. It’s probably not as slim and trim as others on this list. But in terms of value for your money, Lodge’s American-made cast-iron skillets are unrivaled. Starting at $10 for an 8-inch pan (the smallest size you’d want to cook on), its cast iron is made of the same hefty, heat insulating iron that the boutique brands are using and the only serious trade-off is cooking surface and craftsmanship.
Available sizes: 6.5-inch to 15-inch
Terms You Should Know
Cast-Iron: Iron made with around 1.7 percent carbon, giving it its classic heavy, brittle nature.
Seasoning: The layer of polymerized and carbonized fats between what you’re cooking and raw iron.
Pour Spouts: If present, small areas cast into both sides of the pan meant to easily discard (or save) sauces or excess grease.
Wall Slope: The gradient at which the walls of a cast-iron pan run into the cooking surface; the steeper the wall slope, the less tossing can be accomplished
Front Grip: A protruding area opposite the handle where you grab hold of the pan with your non-dominant hand; meant to make heavier dishes and pans less cumbersome.
As-Cast: The result of skipping the milling and polishing process on the cooking surface; when a skillet’s cooking area is rough and sandpapery, it is as-cast.
Rust: Also known as ferric oxide, a toxic result of the oxidation of bare cast-iron; avoided by a layer of seasoning, but easily fixable.
Smoke Point: The heat at which fats begins to break down and smoke; also the point you need to reach to properly season a pan.
Cast Iron FAQs
How to Clean a Cast-Iron Skillet
Some cast-iron skillets have been around for centuries, so before you start panicking about your skillet, just know that you don't need to baby your cast iron. A little water is fine, as is a little bit of dish soap — just be sure to dry it completely as soon as you're done washing it. If you need to get any bits of food or debris off, a chainmail scrubber will be your best friend. All that matters is that after you clean your cast iron, you finish it with some oil.
How to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet
You can season a cast-iron skillet in the oven or on the stove. Both methods require getting your cast iron greased up, then absolutely blasting it with heat. In an oven, give it about an hour at 500°F. On the stove, hit it with high heat until it starts to smoke (and make sure to keep the window open). You can even season your cast iron by not seasoning it, though the assumption is you use it often enough that it seasons naturally.
What Are the Best Oils to Use to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet?
Grapeseed oil is the overwhelming favorite among experts. It has a high smoke point and makes for a super-slick finish. The next best things to use are animal fats and flaxseed oil. Never use olive oil.
More Great Cast-Iron Skillets
Stargazer Cast Iron Skillet
Though it’s hard to place it as absolute best at any one thing, the Stargazer is a great blend of all buying factors. High-sloping walls with a unique and fairly dramatic lip around the edge mean you can toss veggies and home fries up and back down with little oil splash. The seasoning it shipped with was excellent, but you can order it unseasoned if you prefer. It’s middle of the pack in weight, and it has a large square-angled front grip that is easy to get a hold of when you’re wearing an oven mitt.
Available sizes: 10.5-inch to 12-inch
Smithey Ironware Company Skillet
In most industries, retrospective homages to products past are meant more to trigger nostalgia than perform to the day’s standards. This is not so in cast-iron. Smithey’s skillets are made with heavy gauge iron, a three-finger front grip and an exquisitely milled down, pre-seasoned cooking surface. There’s even a heat ring on the base of the pan, so if you somehow find yourself standing in front of an old indented wood stove, you’ll fit right in.
Available sizes: 8-inch, 10-inch 12-inch (everything in between)
Finex Cast Iron Cookware Company Skillet
The Finex pan sports a similar machine-smoothed cooking surface as others on our list. The corners create many areas to pour out sauces or excess grease, yes, but there isn’t much out there on its proficiency in the oven. This particular skillet’s cooking surface is also just a quarter-inch shy of standard pie size. The base of Finex pieces is thicker than your typical cast-iron base, providing more balanced cooking temperatures. This is useful when dealing with the longer cook times baking often entails. The trademark corners are absolutely ripe to wedge spatulas into to lift your hard work out of the pan. You can even get a lid for the thing.
Available sizes: 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch
Borough Furnace Skillet
Based in Owego, New York, Borough Furnace has its eye trained on unique skillets. Its pans feature low walls that allow more air flow than any other on this list, an extra-large front grip and a really, really heavy base. But it’s also the most eco-minded skillet maker out there. The whole facility is run off wind off-sets and solar power, and every skillet is made with recycled iron. The only downside? The handle’s unique shape isn’t a very comfortable grip.
Available sizes: 9-inch, 10.5-inch