Top 8 Most Recommended Cast Iron Skillets

Published on 10/30/2023 · 10 min readKitchen Expert Jacob Cummings lists his most recommended cast iron skillets, along with why these picks should be in your top choices as well.
Jacob Lewis, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Jacob Lewis

Photo by Jacob Cummings

The Criteria: What I Look for in a Great Cast Iron Cookware

A traditional cast iron skillet is made of one piece and will almost certainly be heavy with a thick base. There is no such thing as “lightweight” with cast iron. When looking at used cast iron skillets that you might find at the thrift store or garage sales, it’s important to look at the texture of the bottom cooking surface to see if there is heavy pitting or rust. A perfect cast iron skillet will be smooth and polished—although it’s common for many new, lower-cost skillets to have an unpolished surface. Committed chefs opt for the smoothest surface they can find.

When looking at used enamel cast-iron skillets, it is important to observe the texture and scratches on the bottom of the pan. Look for chips in the enamel coating and to see if there is bare and exposed metal. Next look to see if the used skillet has been overheated by inspecting if the cooking base is still flat or if it is warped. If the skillet is warped, you will have difficulty keeping vegetable oils and grease in the middle of the cooking area where tasty ingredients will then likely become stuck to the surface.

Does the Brand of Cast Iron Skillet Matter?

There are some differences between brands of cast-iron skillets. Brands like Wagner, Lodge, Le Creuset, Finex, and Staub are some of the top brands that will provide consistent, high-quality cast iron.

Are There Different Qualities of Cast Iron Pans?

When shopping for used cast iron skillets at the thrift store, it is common to find a ton of low-quality options. These days, most cast iron sold by reputable brands is high-quality and affordable. The more expensive options will have machine-polished cooking surfaces, helper handles for good grip, pour spouts, and often they will come with lids.

Does Price Matter for Cast Iron?

Everyone generally agrees that more expensive cast iron is also of higher quality in both the materials and finish. But it’s also common to find very low-cost options that are still amazing and arguably a better value. You do not need to spend $200 or more on a nice cast iron. However, you will never regret spending that money—as those pieces of cookware, when properly cared for, will last for generations.

Overall Best Cast Iron Skillet: Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet

The Lodge 12-inch traditional cast-iron skillet is a value that cannot be matched. This skillet is robust—with a helper handle and pour spouts. The design of the pan is a wide bottom with steep edges that are tall and great for up to six eggs, heating sauces, and browning just about anything. Since it is made in the USA, there is a bit of pride in owning the skillet. It’s available with either a glass or cast-iron lid for an additional price. The pan alone weighs almost eight pounds, which is definitely something to consider.

The pan may need to be re-seasoned with use which, even if you have never done it before, is a very simple process. It’s essentially bonding a thin layer of oil to the metal. With the value being under $30, you really can’t go wrong with this skillet.

Great For:

  • If you can’t find one of these laying around the thrift store, don’t worry because they’re really cheap to begin with, and will last forever
  • The 12-inch cooking surface is great for cooking for 3–5 people and fits well on most medium cooktops
  • Perfect for anyone who’s just getting into cast iron and needs a forgiving piece of cookware that has a large helper handle and takes only a minute to clean

Best Enameled Dishes

Enameled cast iron skillets are great for anyone who loves cast iron and never wants to deal with rust or seasoning ever again. The trade-offs exist, but for the most part it’s a great way to live life in the kitchen, either way. Enameled cookware needs special care so the coating doesn’t scratch or chip. For this reason, it’s recommended that you don’t use metal utensils.

Staub 11-Inch Traditional Skillet

The Staub 11-inch frying pan is enameled cast iron and the coating is completely around the exterior and into the cooking surface. The matte finish texture on the inside does not need to be seasoned (and should not be). Made in France, these pans are incredibly durable on all kinds of stove tops, including gas ceramic, glass electric induction, and halogen.

It’s oven safe up to 500°F and dishwasher safe. But it’s also recommended to hand-wash all enameled cast iron cookware with soap and a sponge. The pour spouts are easy for draining liquid; the enamel handle with tabs for both hands makes it a simple pick up from the stove to table. It comes in a wide variety of colors; my favorite is Grenadine.

Great For:

  • Beautiful colors and a lifetime warranty means you can enjoy this vibrant cookware without worry of rust and chipping
  • A helper tab and a comfortable handle lets you transport from the open flame to the table without worry of spilling your meal
  • The 11-inch skillet is perfect for 1–4 people and it’s a great size for smaller cooktops

Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle

Photo by Jacob Cummings

What’s so great about these skillets is the entire size run has a helper handle. On top of incredible enameled durability, beautiful colors, and a distinct, smooth shape, the skillets are overbuilt to last a lifetime. They’re easy to clean, require no seasoning, and are safe in the dishwasher and with metal utensils—although it’s best to use wooden or silicone utensils to avoid scratching. The skillets will bring contrast to your dinner table and are a joy to cook with. They are oven safe up to 500°F and compatible with all stove tops including induction burners.

Great For:

  • Enthusiasts who want the original and the very best will never be disappointed with this cookware
  • Lifetime warranty and incredible durability on the enamel coating lets you rest assured that this cookware is ready to perform and look great on the cooktop and the table
  • A wide variety of colors lets you choose exactly which palette matches your kitchen style perfectly

Most Practical: Lodge 5-Piece Iron Set

Nothing beats the value for overall function, timeless style and durability of this 5-piece Lodge set that includes two skillets, a flat griddle and a generous 5-quart dutch oven. There’s enough here to cook for a family of 5, and it’s all flexible to go from home to campsite.

Great For:

  • A set like this is priced well as a gift for a first time cook, or an affordable way of filling gaps in your own kitchen.
  • Having a wide variety of options for every meal—you can stew, bake bread, make breakfast for the crew and more.

Best Design: Finex

Manufactured in Portland, Oregon, the Finex cast-iron skillet is one of the most unique and advanced skillets ever made. The octagon shape and spring handle might be the first things you notice. The octagon allows for a number of pour spouts, while the flat sides in between allow for easy spatula access into cornbread and other tricky foods.

The spring handle stays cool longer and cools off faster than conventional cast-iron handles— plus it looks amazing. The CNC polished cooking surface makes it very easy to replicate a nearly non-stick cooking surface. This skillet will last you so long and be such an amazing piece of your kitchen, you might not want to cook with anything else.

Great For:

  • Helper tab and the spring handles encourage you to move the cookware confidently with both hands
  • Pre-seasoned cast iron is a small gesture, but the forever lifetime warranty is a peace of mind that makes splurging totally worth it
  • Several pour spouts let you separate the liquids easier and form more angles

Best for Frying: Staub Daily Pan with Glass Lid

Frying in cast iron is amazing: once the pan is at high heat, even heat distribution abounds. The deep 2.9-quart capacity of this daily pan allows for frying larger objects with less splatter, and the helper handle with the lid makes sure hot oils don’t spill when you’re done. The enameled surface keeps the cleanup easy and the presentation colorful.

Not just for frying, this pan is great for reheating leftovers, simmering a small batch of chili—while providing the glass lid for easy viewing of the food while it cooks. Only real downside to this pan is the price point can be hard to justify for anyone who doesn’t know for sure that it’s a pan they want.

Great For:

  • Home cooks who want some color in their cookware and a durable, low-maintenance enameled finish that will stand the test of time.
  • Enough to serve 2-4 people with ease, this larger capacity skillet still holds a smaller footprint and is great for compact kitchen surfaces.

Best for Grilling Indoors: Lodge 10.5-Inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan

Sometimes food needs to be cooked in a single layer, and a square pan offers a little bit more surface area. The large square grilling pan is cheap and easily produces the sear and texture that everyone wants. The ridged bottom allows for fats to drop away and for hotspots to form on the food to make browning lines. Available with a glass lid, there are very few grilling options that would be comparable to this pan.

Great For:

  • The low cost of this pan is unbeatable and the durability will hold for a long time
  • Searing a crust onto your food adds a wonderful texture that makes meals memorable
  • Chicken and vegetables altogether, it’s big enough to feed up to three hungry people

Best for Grilling Outdoors: Lodge 12-Inch Dual Handle Grill Basket

When you’re cooking over an open flame, it’s essential to let the flames lick whatever you’re cooking. This grill basket has an open bottom to let fats and oils drip out over the flame, which will cause them to flare up and cook your food faster and tastier. I’ll be honest, I don’t understand why this model has pour spouts since everything is going to drain out the bottom anyway, but it does, along with two handles for carefully transporting the basket from the flame to its resting place.

It's important to note that this basket is not ideal for cooking indoors as the open holes on the bottom will make a mess all over your cooktop—however it could work great in the oven if you have a catch pan underneath!

  • Great For: Flame grilling larger quantities of meats and veggies over an open flame without spilling.
  • This pan is perfect for the camping kit, toss it on top of the campfire for that flame-grilled effect, and you won’t have to think twice about contaminating your food with char.

How Do You Know if Your Cast Iron Is Messed Up?

If your cast iron has endured lots of rusting, then it’s possible the surface is pitted and rough. If it’s just surface rust, try scrubbing it away, and then take a paper towel with a little bit of canola oil to cover the entire surface. This is not a complete deal breaker, but in some cases, the rust and pitting can become so bad that cooking food is not as convenient as if you had a less damaged pan. It might still be a great pan with amazing heat retention, but it won’t be living its best life.

The other main thing would be if the cast iron is cracked, which is rare but can happen if the pan has been dropped. If the cooking surface is warped, then you might want to consider replacing the pan. You can tell if the pan is warped if it isn’t flat in any way.

Find the Right Skillet for You

Thanks for reading! Hopefully some part of this article helped you further along with finding your perfect skillet. There’s so many options out there and many of them you can’t go wrong with! So please feel free to reach out to one of our Kitchen Experts with any questions that you might still have. We’re here to help!

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