Straight to the Point
You could say there's no better cookware investment than a cast iron skillet: The more you use it, the better it gets, and its versatility is nearly unmatched. Need to shallow-fry chicken cutlets? Want to make a pan pizza? About to bake some biscuits? Cast iron can handle all of that and more.
We set out to find the best cast iron skillet, putting 17 of the top models through a series of tests to determine which ones performed the best and were the easiest to use.
We tested two cast iron skillets in February 2022 that weren't available when we originally published this story (models from Stargazer and Lancaster), comparing them to our current favorite skillets from Lodge. We don't recommend either of these models over our top picks but have updated our findings at the bottom of this page.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Everyday Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge 10.25-Inch Skillet
Lodge's basic cast iron skillet has long been one of our most recommended pieces of kitchenware, and it remains so today. It's a little heavier than some of the other options out there, but it performs as well as anything else we tested and has a price that's hard to argue with. Add in that it's made in the USA by an established company with a proven track record, and we see little reason for most folks (living in the United States) to look elsewhere. This 10.25-inch size is arguably the most useful for most people, but the larger 12-inch skillet is nice to own as well, especially for bigger families.
The Best Lightweight Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge Blacklock 10.25-Inch Skillet
This new line of cast iron cookware from Lodge is clearly trying to capitalize on the renewed interest in vintage-style cast iron, especially now that the market has become crowded with startups attempting to revive the old cast iron standards of lighter weight and smoother surfaces.
While Lodge's Blacklock line does not seem to be smoother than any of its other cast iron, it is remarkably less heavy. We found little to no difference in performance between it and its heavier counterpart. So if you can spend more, you'll likely appreciate how much easier it is to move this skillet around your kitchen.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Cast Iron Skillet
We nearly drove ourselves nuts before initiating testing for this review just trying to decide what qualities a "good" cast iron pan should have. Cast iron is not a good conductor of heat, but it retains heat well. Those two characteristics are interlinked: The better a metal conducts heat, the worse it holds onto it. So if we find one pan that conducts heat better than all the rest, should we reward it for that or not?
We fretted similarly about how we would factor in each pan's weight. Cast iron is heavy, even for our tester, who is far from the weakest person you might find in a kitchen. So is a lighter-weight pan better? On your wrists, sure, but at what cost? The mass of a cast iron pan is, at least in theory, central to its ability to hold lots of heat. If a heavy skillet proves to sear steaks better than a lighter one, how do you decide what the ideal balance is between those potentially opposing qualities?
In the end, our testing solved these problems: The best cast iron pan is the one that performs its core tasks—searing, baking, and nonstick frying and sautéing—with success. And what our testing revealed is that for all the nerding out one can do about cast iron, there's practically no difference in performance from one pan to the next. Yes, you read that right: For all their variations in weight, size, smoothness, and form, most cast iron pans perform about the same under the same conditions.
This finding left us with a much easier determination to make, one that mostly took into account cost, brand reliability, as well as ergonomics, and other user experience (UX) considerations.
To assess these pans, we focused on tasks that would reveal how well each cast iron skillet performed its most important functions: searing, frying and sautéing, and baking. We also measured heat conduction over time at both the center and edge of each pan, and recorded each one's weight, bottom thickness and diameter, and smoothness, in case any of those attributes might help explain how the pans performed in the more practical tests.
On top of that, we analyzed ergonomic factors like handle comfort and pour-spout efficacy.
Test 1: Measuring Conduction
Cast iron is not a good heat conductor, but that doesn't mean all the skillets in our test would conduct heat equally poorly. We needed to assess how quickly and evenly each pan heated on the stovetop. (Whether being a better conductor of heat or not is good or bad was a question for the other tests to help us answer.)
To find out, we set a stovetop gas burner to what we would describe as a medium flame, then set each pan on top. From the moment each pan was set down, we used an infrared thermometer to record the temperature every 10 seconds for 20 intervals (totaling 3 minutes 20 seconds). We allowed all the pans to cool back to room temperature and then repeated the test while measuring each skillet at its edge. (To keep the "edge" position consistent on pans of slightly different diameters, we used the bars on the stovetop grate underneath to help set our sights.)
The results here were remarkably different: Some of the skillets still hadn't hit 200 degrees by the end of the heating cycle, while others were above 400 degrees. Now, there's no reason to assume a slower-to-heat cast iron skillet is worse than a faster one, nor vice versa. That's a question the performance tests would have to help answer.
Still, we did see some trends. First, while it doesn't map perfectly to the mass of each skillet, overall, the fastest to heat were also the lighter-weight ones, while the slowest were the heaviest. This makes sense: The more metal there is to heat up, the longer it will take.
One exception to this observation was the Butter Pat skillet, which is one of the newcomers to the cast iron market. It was the second slowest to heat but solidly middle-of-the-pack in terms of weight. In its case, the distribution of metal may help explain why it heated so much slower than the other pans of similar weight: The Butter Pat has much thinner walls and more of its mass in its base. (This accumulation of mass in the base may also explain why the Butter Pat, unlike almost every other skillet, had such similar degrees of heating at both the edge and center of the base since there is much less metal in the walls to siphon off heat continuously as it radiates towards them.)
Test 2: Egg Frying
After running through my heat conduction measurements, it was time to take these pans for a real spin. We were curious to find out how well-seasoned each skillet was out of the box (good seasoning = more nonstick). Since cast iron cookware requires ongoing maintenance to build up great seasoning, we didn't necessarily think skillets that underperformed in this test should be disqualified but figured it could help as a tie-breaker.
Judging by sight alone, some of the skillets arrived better seasoned than others. Some were a lighter brown color, indicating less build-up of seasoning applied at the factory. Others were jet-black, a sign of much more substantial seasoning accumulation.
To test each one, we first gave each skillet a bonus layer of seasoning (two skillets in the group required a pre-seasoning step before first use, so it only seemed fair to put them all through the same process). Then we preheated all of the skillets in ovens set to 250 degrees. Working one at a time, we removed a skillet from the oven and set it over a consistent moderate flame. Next, we added one tablespoon of oil and let it heat for 30 seconds before cracking two eggs into the pan.
Using this preheating process, each egg sizzled gently when it hit the pan, which was just what we wanted to see. Any cooler, and the egg wouldn't be frying. Any hotter, and we'd have a much easier time not sticking. This was exactly the heat level our tester uses in one of their prized cast iron skillets at home to gently fry an egg without it sticking.
The eggs fused to the metal in every single pan (except the Starfrit, but it's an outlier with some kind of coating on it). The Butter Pat and Smithey skillets had some of the most severe sticking. They also had appeared to the eye to be the least seasoned out of the box, but none of the other skillets performed well enough to declare an obvious winner. The clear lesson here is that almost no cast iron pan arrives with its potential nonstick surface fully realized. You will need to build up the seasoning at home no matter what.
Test 3: Steak Searing
The next test was all about high heat: How well could each skillet sear a steak? We used thick slabs of boneless beef short ribs to find out.
For this test, we preheated all of the pans in 500-degree ovens. Then, working one at a time, we removed them, added 1 tablespoon of oil, then seared two large short rib slabs in each, turning them every 30 seconds for a total of 3 minutes per side.
Just like in the egg-frying test, all the skillets performed incredibly similar, except this time they did their job well. Just about every single one produced deeply browned and crusty steak on both sides. If there was a difference, we had a hard time spotting it. The only one that we thought maybe wasn't as good was the Amazon skillet, which we thought possibly put less of a good sear on the second side of the steaks (but, again, we weren't certain even as we prodded it, so the difference wasn't by any means huge).
Test 4: Cornbread
Our third real-world test was baking cornbread. We hoped to see three things here. First, how deeply and evenly browned each cornbread was on the bottom and sides. Second, how much rise each cornbread experienced. And third, how much did any of the cornbreads stick.
What we saw instead were nearly identical loaves of cornbread coming out of every single skillet. Each one browned the bread evenly and deeply on both the bottom and sides, indicating that they all have enough stored heat all over, certainly more than the room-temp batter could counteract when it was ladled in. Each one also rose similarly, indicating they each delivered similar heat into the batter, causing similar levels of oven spring. And, finally, none of them stuck to the metal, indicating that after the first round of pre-seasoning, followed by the egg frying test and the steak-searing test, the seasoning was beginning to build up on all of them. With a few more uses, they'd all be ready to fry some eggs with no trouble.
Test 5: Comfort and Ergonomics
Given how little light was shed on the skillets based on performance, other characteristics like price, comfort, and some design considerations were going to be the primary deciding factors.
During all of the prior testing, we had been taking UX notes, including which skillets were the most uncomfortable to hold and which were just too heavy. We also ran an oil-pouring test, filling each skillet with a half-cup of oil, then pouring it back out into a narrow jar to see which channeled the fluid most effectively.
We learned that the best pour spouts are large and deep, and if you can't have that, you're better off having no pour spout at all. The skillets with shallow and small spouts tended to dribble the most. While good to know, We don't consider small spouts a dealbreaker if the pan otherwise performed well and is well priced.
How We Chose Our Winners
Given how similarly all of the cast iron pans performed in these tests, the real decision came down to comfort, ergonomics, and price. For that reason, We're recommending two Lodge skillets since they're affordable, reliable, and backed up by an established company with a proven track record. However, that doesn't mean that we wouldn't recommend some of the newer, more expensive skillets we tested.
Some of the pricier skillets in this group were a pleasure to use. Several feature a much smoother cooking surface, the result of a sanding or polishing step that removes the casting's naturally rough surface. This step adds labor and cost to the manufacturing process and contributes to a higher price. A smoother surface may not have much impact on performance, but it's without a doubt more pleasurable to run a metal spatula across it.
There are also economies of scale to consider. It's to be expected that smaller manufacturers that are just entering the market won't be able to compete with a large company like Lodge on cost. Competition is still a good thing, and we're glad it's been reintroduced into the cast iron cookware market. Hopefully, over time, the presence of these new contenders will be a benefit to the consumer overall. Please read about the other brands below to see if any are of interest to you.
The Best Everyday Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge 10.25-Inch Skillet
What we liked: Lodge skillets have been a staple in the Serious Eats test kitchen and many of our homes for years. They're affordable and well-made by a company with a longer track record producing cast iron cookware than any other in the United States. Unlike almost every other more affordably priced cast iron brand, Lodge still makes their plain cast iron cookware in the United States (their enameled cast iron, on the other hand, is manufactured abroad).
This skillet does run slightly heavy at about 5.5 pounds, which is about one pound heavier than the average for all the skillets in this review. Still, the handle is comfortable to hold both bare-handed and with a towel or oven mitt. And while the basic line from Lodge doesn't have the lighter weight and smooth finish of vintage pieces and more expensive contemporary brands, there's little to no impact on performance as a result of this.
Although this test focused on 10-inch skillets, it's also worth considering the larger 12-inch size, either in addition to this one or, perhaps for bigger families, instead of it.
What we didn't like: If we have one gripe, it's that Lodge's pour spouts are small and shallow, leading to more frequent dribbles and spills in our tests. Still, this is hardly a reason not to buy one, given the price and overall quality.
The Best Lightweight Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge Blacklock 10.25-Inch Skillet
What we liked: The Blacklock line from Lodge is the company's attempt at offering an option for those seeking cast iron forged to meet more heritage specs, which generally means lighter-weight and polished to a smoother finish. That's how many of the new players in the cast iron cookware space are positioning themselves—as a return to those old quality standards—and Lodge is smart not to cede that portion of the market to these new competitors entirely.
These Blacklock skillets deliver on the lighter-weight side of things. The 10.25-inch option weighs 4 pounds 2 ounces, making it the second lightest skillet in our tests and a full 1 pound 6 ounces lighter than the standard Lodge. It's a difference you can immediately feel. And based on our tests, that reduction in mass has no noticeable impact on how the pan is able to perform.
The skillet design is handsome, at least to our eyes, and evokes a certain old-timey aesthetic, particularly in the curving lines of the stay-cool handle. (Keep in mind, though, that no cast iron pan's handle truly stays cool for long.)
Where Lodge seems to have drawn the line on manufacturing costs was on polishing the surface of the pan. As far as we can tell, the Blacklock skillet has a similar surface texture to Lodge's basic line. While this isn't a knock to the pan by any means, if a smooth-as-ice cast iron skillet is what you're after, you'll need to seek a vintage piece or buy one of the pricier skillets from one of the other companies below that do invest in the smoothing step. But given that Lodge has managed to keep the price of this skillet close to its basic line, most folks would do well to consider this first.
What we didn't like: Like the other Lodge skillet, it has small, shallow pour spouts.
Below are notes on the other models we tested for this review. In addition to the models listed here, we also included two "chef-style" cast iron skillets in this review, one from Lodge and one from Smithey Ironware. Chef-style cast iron skillets are cast in a more traditional frying pan shape with sloped sides, which allow for tossing ingredients more easily when sautéing. They performed well in all the tests but baked up slightly wonky-looking cornbreads given the different form. We're on the fence about how we feel about them (they weren't bad by any stretch) but are inclined to suggest slightly lighter-weight carbon steel skillets for sautéing purposes instead.
- Smithey Ironware No. 10 Cast Iron Skillet: This beautiful skillet performed as well as all the rest, but it was the second heaviest of the group at 5 3/4 pounds and is expensive.
- Field No. 8 Cast Iron Skillet: This is another company offering lighter, smoother cast iron skillets, and it did a nice job with this one. Its design was simple and classic, and it performed well. Once again, due to the higher price, our recommendation for most home cooks remains Lodge.
- Stargazer 10.5-Inch Cast Iron Skillet: A handsome pan with a unique bronzed look, this pan earned high marks for aesthetics. The long, curved handle helped with maneuverability, though its heavier weight may be challenging for some. The absence of pour spouts makes this pan less than ideal for cooking tasks that accumulate a lot of fat, such as frying bacon.
- Lancaster Cast Iron Skillet: The heftiest thing about this light skillet is its $175 price tag. And while it got ripping hot quickly, it lost heat faster than most pans. The short handle was also difficult to use, but the ultra-smooth surface did make for a reliably nonstick experience straight out of the box.
- Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillets: These came as a set of three for only $23, making it quite the deal. Although, they arrived with visible flaws in the casting, including deep pinhole pits in one of the skillets, which was sufficient cause to eliminate them from further testing.
- Camp Chef 10" Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet: This arrived from Amazon with the handle cracked off. This doesn't necessarily mean it's a subpar casting job—any cast iron pan can crack and break if dropped or struck with enough force—but since it was the only pan to ship in the larger Amazon box without a protective box of its own, we can't recommend it. Cast iron should be packaged well enough to guarantee delivery in one piece.
- Amazon Basics Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Pan: While this skillet performed reasonably well throughout testing, and is certainly inexpensive, its surface was extra rough and, at least in the hand, it doesn't feel like a particularly high-quality piece of cookware.
- Victoria Cast Iron Skillet Large Frying Pan: Victoria is a Colombian cookware and cast iron manufacturer. It's a fairly well-established brand but has a rougher finish, similar to Amazon's. Given that Lodge costs more or less the same, appears to be better quality, and is made domestically, we recommend it instead.
- Nest Homeware 9 in Cast Iron Skillet: This company makes some pretty cast iron skillets, with handles cast to look like tree branches. Their biggest size is a 9-inch skillet but without the option of larger sizes that we find more practical.
- Starfrit's The Rock Cast Iron Fry Pan: This bills itself as a cast iron skillet with a specially finished surface, formed through a pellet-impact technology, though it seems to have a nonstick coating applied as well. It was the lightest weight of all the skillets in the review and has a riveted handle, which is unusual for cast iron. It managed to cook an egg without sticking. Still, its sloped sides and seeming inability to pick up layers of seasoning due to the nonstick coating left us puzzled about how this skillet relates to more traditional cast iron. It's a little too much of an outlier to recommend for those seeking a true cast iron skillet.
- Hallman Originals 12" Inch Cast Iron Skillet: This company only produces larger 12-inch skillets at the moment. Our tester ordered one since they find that size useful, but its chunky design makes it awkward to handle.
- Borough Furnace 10.5-Inch Frying Skillet: This is another small producer of high-end cast iron cookware that caught our attention, but in addition to their cookware frequently being backordered, the $300 price (at the time of publication) for a 10.5-inch skillet was something we couldn't justify.
- Marquette Castings No. 10.5 Skillet: This was lightweight, smooth, and had a particularly comfortable handle. It's worth considering if you're seeking a smoother finish. It didn't make the top picks due to its higher price relative to performance.
- Finex Fry Pan: This was, at least for a while, the darling of food stylists and Instagrammers, thanks to its unique octagonal design and massive coiled handle. Visual appeal, though, doesn't offset the downsides of this pricey skillet. We have no beef with the octagon thing, but this skillet was way too heavy, weighing in at about 6 pounds. All that mass makes it by far the slowest to heat up, but without enough gains in searing performance to justify it. Add to that its thick handle, which we found difficult to hold securely (we can only imagine how someone with smaller hands would fare), and we can't recommend it.
- Butter Pat Industries 10" Polished Cast Iron Skillet: The pans from this company are, to our eyes, the most handsome of this new generation of cast iron skillets. They've done an interesting thing by managing to successfully cast a skillet with thinner walls while allocating more of the mass to the base, where the cooking really happens. This design feature, though, didn't produce noticeable enough performance results to set it apart from the crowd, and, yet again, the high price means it's not the right pick for most folks. We also found the ridges on the underside of the handle to be uncomfortable to hold.
What's the difference between bare, seasoned, and enameled cast iron?
You have two choices if you're buying a traditional cast iron skillet: bare or pre-seasoned. Bare skillets require you to season the pan yourself before use. It's increasingly common to find pre-seasoned skillets, though, which have a layer of protective seasoning already built up by the maker. Cast iron companies say this allows you to cook with the skillet straight from the box (in other words, no pre-seasoning required), but it's worth noting that no cast iron pan is nonstick right out of the gate.
Enameled cast iron, like the cookware from Le Creuset and Staub, has a porcelain coating that doesn't require nearly as much care as traditional cast iron (that is, it doesn't need to be seasoned). Still, it won't develop seasoning or become more nonstick over time. And while cast iron is incredibly durable, the coating on enameled cast iron can chip or crack.
Do I need to pre-season my cast iron skillet?
It depends. If you buy a completely bare cast iron skillet, you will need to season it before cooking—at least once—to build up a layer of seasoning. If you purchase a pre-seasoned (also known as "factory seasoned") skillet, it's up to you whether or not you want to add a layer of seasoning before cooking.
Will food stick on cast iron?
Cast iron does not have a nonstick coating. However, over time and with regular use, a seasoning is built up. This seasoning is improved with fat, so it pays to use your cast iron for tasks like frying bacon and roasting chicken thighs. (Vegetarians can still build up a quality seasoning with regular oiling after use.) The more seasoning on your pan, the more naturally nonstick it will be.
What's the best fat for seasoning a cast iron pan?
There's no need to buy specialty oils for seasoning your cast iron. Although flaxseed oil is a popular choice, we've found that it flakes off with time and don't recommend it. Instead, you can use affordable, easy-to-find vegetable oils, such as canola or corn oil. Unlike other cooking oils, they have a high smoke point, like olive oil.
What's the best way to clean a cast iron skillet?
To soap or not to soap your cast iron? We find soap and water to be an efficient tool for cleaning cast iron. A non-scratch sponge, your usual dish soap, and a little elbow grease will get your pan clean without stripping away any hard-earned layers of seasoning. (Those layers become polymerized onto the pan during the cooking process.) It's important to immediately dry the pan well and oil it over moderate heat.
What should I do if my cast iron skillet rusts?
Rust can build up on a cast iron if the pan has not been properly cared for—and the biggest culprit is moisture. If you soak cast iron pans for hours or overnight before cleaning them, you'll likely notice rust on the cooking surfaces, sides, or bottom of the pan. Ditto if you let your pans air dry in the dish rack after cleaning. The appearance of rust is annoying, but it doesn't mean you should toss out your pan. It's just a sign that the layers of seasoning have broken down, and you'll need to get rid of the rust.