Choosing the Best Cast Iron Skillet

Choosing the Best Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron pans are the workhorses of the kitchen. The utilitarian tool can fry eggs and sausage for breakfast, revitalize leftovers for lunch, and perfectly sear a backstrap for dinner.

So what’s all the hype about cast iron anyways?

Cast iron conducts heat evenly, and once you get it screaming hot, it stays that way, and doesn’t fluctuate. It's hard to beat the conductive nature of cast iron when foods need that kind of immediate, hard heat—like browning shanks before braising or putting the finishing sear on a goose breast.

It’s also extremely durable. Many folks pass cast iron down from generation to generation within their families. Not many kitchen wares are so well-equipped to stand the test of time.

If you don’t have your great-grandmother's skillet covered in a few generations of bacon grease, never fear. The cast-iron cooking club is open to any and all. First, you have to pick which is right for you.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Cast Iron

A cast iron is a cast iron, right? Not quite. When choosing the right one for your kitchen, it’s important to consider how you primarily plan on using it.

For example, classic cast irons are great for outdoor cooking and you can cook anything from chili to cobbler in them. But if you’re looking for something for your home kitchen, enameled cast iron might be easier to clean and maintain when making things like spaghetti sauce or braised meats. The criteria you should consider when chooing a cast iron skillet are:

  1. Versatility
  2. Shape and Size
  3. Finish
  4. Price

Cast Irons We Use

What Makes a Good Cast Iron

Here's a detailed breakdown of the criteria we use to choose the best cast iron skillets.

1. Versatility

Cast irons are inherently versatile. However, the range of uses of a deep-sided skillet is far greater than a pan that comes with built-in grill marks. While those edges may make for a great grilled cheese sandwich, they’re not doing you any favors when trying to sear a piece of meat.

2. Shape and Size

A big 14-inch skillet might be a bit much if you’re only feeding yourself regularly. Conversely, if you’re cooking for a family of four, you might want to consider something bigger than an 8-inch skillet. Likewise, it's important to think about the depth of your pan. A flat skillet will fry eggs great but will fall short if you want to make something like a hash or frittata.

3. Finish

Most cast iron these days comes pre-seasoned. It’s up to you to keep up those non-stick tendencies that are already established. However, enameled cast irons offer another alternative that may not be quite as hardy as classic cast iron (they are prone to chipping and breakage) but have other notable qualities.

Where the smells and flavors of foods like fish and acidic sauces tend to stick to cast iron after being cooked in them, enamel provides a protective, easy-to-wash barrier that prevents unwanted lingering aromas. Enamel is also easier to clean and maintain than standard cast iron.

4. Price

You can buy a good cast iron for $20 or $200. Most higher price cast irons are associated with aesthetics and extra features that are nice but unnecessary to some folks. Perhaps you plan on keeping this cast iron on your stove and you want it to look nice, so it might be worth spending a little extra.

Field notes from the MeatEater Crew

These may not be the only cast irons in our kitchens, but they’re the ones we turn the heat to most often. Read on for more details and comments from the crew.

Shop
No. 12 Cast Iron Skillet
Save this product
Smithey

"By far, though, the easiest and nicest cast iron skillet I've owned"- Steven Rinella

14" Dual Handle Skillet
Save this product
Lodge

Perfect for shallow frying and enough room to roast a bird or two.

Traditional Deep Skillet 11"
Save this product
Staub

Danielle Prewett's go-to piece for high-temperature cooking.

12" Skillet
Save this product
Finex

A unique hexagon shape with a spiral handle that allows you to pick up the pan when it's hot.

14" Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
Save this product
Camp Chef

"14 Inches, Dual pour spouts, Comfort design handle, Helper handle to provide support while carrying or pouring

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article