Reviewing The Best Cast-Iron Pans

After spending 35 hours on research and putting nine cast-iron pans through a battery of tests, we think the iconic Lodge pre-seasoned 12-inch skillet is best for most people. It has a nonstick-like factory seasoning, roomy cooking area, and easy-to-grip handles, and it’s widely available. Lodge cookware is affordable, made in the USA, and a longtime favorite of home cooks and professional chefs alike.

In our search for the best cast-iron skillet, we baked 16 boxes of Jiffy cornbread, seared 13 pounds of steak, fried 4 pounds of bacon, and cooked two dozen eggs. The roomy 10-inch cooking area is one of the largest of the pans we tested. The Lodge 12-inch cast-iron skillet delivered evenly browned steaks, crisp golden cornbread, and effortless eggs over easy.Lodge edged out the competition on performance, availability, and price.

If the Lodge sells out, we think the Victoria 12-inch cast-iron skillet is an excellent runner-up. The large pour spouts allowed us to drain off grease with zero drips. The sloped sides allow you to stretch the limits of its generous 10¼-inch cooking surface area (the Lodge’s measures 10 inches). In our tests, seared steaks and fried eggs were on a par with our top pick. It‘s not as nonstick straight out of the box as the Lodge, so cornbread crust stuck to its bottom. We also had some issues with the long handle, which throws off the weight distribution and makes the skillet seem heavier (even though it weighs less than our top pick).

For the price, the Camp Chef 12-inch skillet performed impressively. Cornbread released completely when inverted; steak had a thick, consistent sear. After a couple of tries, we successfully flipped fried eggs without any sticking. However, at 9 inches, the cooking surface is the smallest of our picks by 1 inch, and the helper handle is very small and difficult to grasp with a folded towel.

Why you should trust us

I’ve been writing about cookware for The Sweethome for three years, covering skillets (both tri-ply and nonstick), roasting pans, saucepans, and electric cookers. Before that, I was a cook in fine-dining kitchens for many years and a food editor in the Martha Stewart test kitchens for six years. I’ve spent my whole professional life working in some facet of food and have tens of thousands of hours experience working with all types of cookware.

In addition to my personal experience, we interviewed Nancy Fuller, host of Farmhouse Rules; Jeremiah Langhorne, chef/owner of The Dabney in Washington, DC; Mary Theisen, founder of The Pan Handler; Matt Hartings, professor of chemistry at American University and author of Chemistry in Your Kitchen; and Brad Schwarting, president of Griswold Cast Iron Cookware Association. We also read editorial reviews by Cook’s Illustrated, Serious Eats, and The New York Times (parent company of The Sweethome).

Cast-iron skillets have been an essential tool in American home kitchens for well over a century. Cooks turn to these durable pans for panfrying, searing, baking, and their morning eggs. Cast iron offers much of the versatility of a stainless steel tri-ply skillet at a fraction of the cost. When used and cared for properly, cast iron can also be an effective alternative to nonstick cookware, due to the seasoning (polymerized fat that gives the cast-iron skillets nonstick-like performance) that develops with use. And unlike Teflon-coated pans, cast iron is safe past 500 degrees and can go under the broiler. While nonstick skillets have a short life expectancy—three to five years depending on use—well-maintained cast-iron cookware can last generations.

Cast iron is ideal for searing because of how well it holds onto heat. Matt Hartings, professor of chemistry at American University and author of Chemistry in Your Kitchen, told us, “Cast iron is heavy and dense, and that is the biggest thing it has going for it. It takes a while for the cast iron to really be preheated to where you can use it. But once it’s there, it’s great for searing and high-temperature cooking.” All that stored heat translates to a thick sear on steaks and roasts, crispy fish skin, and deep caramelization on vegetables. Also, with careful tending, cast iron can be used for lower-temp techniques like omelettes and fried eggs (though they brown more than when cooked in a nonstick skillet). Nancy Fuller, host of Farmhouse Rules, loves to cook bacon and eggs in her cast-iron skillet, but warned, “It’s all about controlling the heat, because you can scorch those eggs in a heartbeat.”