The cast iron skillet. Staple of cooking in the pioneer days and stereotypical weapon of the 50’s housewife has seen a resurgence in recent years. More people are coming back into the fold, realizing that the Teflon age is ending and as all the new wave skillets with their expensive coating and bold claims die off and fade away, cast iron is still going strong. The advantages to cast iron is that it is more durable, more versatile, and actually easier to maintain than many of the most modern materials. Combine all that and you’ve got a piece of bombproof cookware you can be proud of.
Now, here’s the trick: Not all cast iron is created equal. Classic, vintage cast iron is going to be better than the modern stuff just because it was made with more care and less manufacturing. So older is better. Also, get yourself a cheap “Made in China” skillet and you’re going to be sorely disappointed with the results. They are made with lesser materials and fewer strictures in the manufacturing process. So that you and your food don’t get burned, we found the 8 best cast iron skillets out there.
Lodge 12″ Classic
Pro: Solid and affordable
Con: For best results, it needs a little work
American Made: There’s still a few companies that are bastions of true American manufacturing and ingenuity, and Lodge is among them. Founded by ironworker Joseph Lodge in 1896, they’ve been dedicated to making exceptional products at an affordable price that anyone can enjoy. As timeless as the chef’s knife, their skillets fall in the affordable range and are made completely “bare.” From the furnace to your stove, very little is changed or added to them, making them one of the purest cookware products on the market. Just know that even with pre-seasoning, you’ll need to do some serious personal seasoning of the pan to get it to a true non-stick point.
Best Made Co. Cast Iron Skillet
Pro: Creates even heating environment
Con: Can be hard to find
Pans of Yore: Remember when we said that older cast iron skillets are best? Well, the best place to find them online is through the Best Made Co. who specializes in classic and vintage cookware. We suggest going with a Wagner, a Griswold, or a Vollrath, but anything they stock is good. Each one is made with a smooth bottom that avoids hot spots and doesn’t require as much preheating to get a nice, even cooking surface. If Best Made is out of stock, check auction sites or local flea markets and you might get lucky.
Lodge Pre-Seasoned 17″
Pro: Deep as well as wide
Con: Develops a lot of hot spots
Feed an Army: Even using a 12″ skillet isn’t going to give you the real estate you need to churn out burgers for a large gathering or let you fry up a full carton of eggs. When size is what matters, but you don’t want to lose quality, then Lodge has you covered with its massive 17″ skillet. This actually works better over a large fire than it does a burner, just because few burners have the girth to make this earn its keep. Large loops on either end enable an easy grab for movement right to the table, while a little shifting can give you variable temperature zones for cooking multiple dishes in one place.
Mario Batali by Dansk 12″ Open Sauté Pan
Pro: Includes a lifetime warranty
Con: Enamel tends to flake off
Deep Dish: True, this is not an honest skillet, but even though it has the enhanced depth of a sauté pan, the wide sides and easily accessible bottom made it possible to create flapjacks in this without fail and whip up an omelette that is loaded to the brim without a hitch. If that does not a cast iron skillet make, then we don’t know what does. Large and able to hold a lot of heat inside the scoop of the pan made this better for cooking all around, rather than just heating from the bottom, and gives you a little more versatility than you’ll get out of the average shallow skillet. Our sole complaint is the durability was less than impressive.
Pro: Pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil
Con: Angular build can be awkward to use
The Right Angle: The Finex company is a scant 3 years old, but in that time they have proven themselves more than worthy of joining the ranks of the most esteemed names in the game. Using an octagonal design for easier pouring of grease, oils, and draining fluids, their 8″ variety is among the best. The handle is wrapped in a stainless steel coil that dissipates heat for a cooler grip that can still go into the oven. Also comes in equally good 10″ and 12″ flavors, or a grilling pan that makes the perfect Croque-monsieur.
Staub 12″ Fry Pan
Pro: Works with any cooktop surface
Con: Heats slowly and runs hot
Exceptional Enamel: Staub is generally thought of as the king of the dutch oven, with their covered pots identifiable even at a distance, but equally good are their enamel-coated skillets. These come pre-seasoned and are even safe to run through the dishwasher, though you’ll want to be careful and sparing about doing so, unless you fancy a lot of re-seasoning. Started in the culinary lands of Alsace, France, these are made by people serious about the art of food and unwilling to make inferior items. They’re especially good for browning and caramelizing.
Le Creuset Signature 11 3/4″
Pro: Minimal oil required for cooking
Con: Surface is stickier than it should be for the price
The Easy Life: One of, if not the oldest of the enamel-coated cast iron skillet makers, Le Creuset is still the standard by which all other iron cookware is measured, and almost none of them stack up. As time has gone on, they have changed their stripes, but never their quality. Their most modern offering has perfectly flared sides with wide drip and pour spouts for easy draining, and both handles are large enough to be grabbed while wearing bulky mitts or work gloves for easy, balanced movement.
Borough Furnace Braising Skillet
Pro: Heirloom quality
Con: Prohibitively expensive
Green Dreams: Created from recycled iron in upstate New York using a furnace that is powered entirely through vegetable oil waste, this dark iron horse takes sustainability seriously. Once the iron is heated, each piece is cast by hand and then seasoned with Kosher flaxseed oil so it’s ready to cook the moment it arrives. Made with a convex lip like a hammock for cooking dry or going moist, this can work like a wok, a skillet, a sauté dish, and almost any other stovetop activity. It’s not as effective for going in the oven, but that can hardly be called a fault.