There's a good reason why cast iron is such a popular material for cookware. Not only is it durable enough to last for decades, but it also retains heat for long periods, can be used on both the stovetop and in the oven, and is nonstick once it's properly seasoned. That's why nearly every kitchen can benefit from a cast iron skillet you can use for sautéing, pan-frying, searing, braising, baking, and roasting. Best of all, despite their durability, cast iron skillets are actually one of the more affordable cookware products, which means you won't break the bank to add one to your pot rack.
Take a look at our convenient buying guide to pick up all the tips necessary to choose the best cast iron skillet for your kitchen. We've included some specific product recommendations, too, like our top pick from Lodge, which features heavy-duty cast iron that distributes heat well and lasts for years.
Considerations when choosing cast iron skillets
While nearly all cast iron skillets are marketed specifically as skillets, there can be some variations in the skillet's design based on the type of pan that it is. Skillets and frying or fry pans are essentially the same -- they feature a long handle and sides that gently slope downward. They generally don't come with a lid, though you're able to buy one separately.
However, you can also find cast iron skillets that actually feature a sauté pan design. That means they're usually deeper than traditional skillets and have straight sides. A sauté pan obviously works well for sautéing, but it's also suitable for any cooking technique that requires liquid.
Enameled vs. non-enameled
One of the drawbacks to a cast iron skillet is that to develop a nonstick surface, the pan must be seasoned. To get around this somewhat tedious process, some cast iron skillets are covered with an enamel coating. The enamel paint that's used creates a nonstick surface without any seasoning, prevents rusting, and stops the cast iron from having a reaction to acidic foods.
Non-enameled pans are usually cheaper, though, and the coating on an enameled skillet may chip over time.
Cast iron skillets are available in a variety of sizes, though you're most likely to find eight-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch options. The best size for your kitchen depends on the kinds of cooking you do and how large your family is. Many home cooks actually buy skillets in multiple sizes to make sure that they have a skillet for every recipe and occasion. If you want to invest in a single size, though, a 10-inch pan usually works for most dishes.
Even if you don't opt for an enameled cast iron skillet, you can find a non-enameled option that's pre-seasoned, so you don't have to do it yourself. This allows you to use the skillet as soon as you get it home.
Most cast iron skillets are made entirely of cast iron, including the handle. That certainly makes the skillet durable, but the handle can get extremely hot when you're cooking. Some pans feature a silicone-covered handle, though, which stays cool to the touch so you can easily pick up the pan even when it's hot.
Some cast iron skillets have a small indentation along the edge to provide a spot to rest your spoon. This feature saves you from having to fish it out of the pan if the spoon should fall in during cooking.
Cast iron skillet prices
Cast iron skillets that are between eight inches and 12 inches in size usually cost between $14 and $150. You can get a high-quality, non-enameled skillet for anywhere from $14 to $50, but you'll pay between $25 and $150 for an enameled skillet.
Q. How do you clean a cast iron skillet?
A. Never put a cast iron skillet in the dishwasher or soak it in water, because it may rust. Instead, wash the skillet by hand with a nylon brush. Use you can use a pan scraper for cooked-on food, but you may need to simmer some water in the skillet for a minute to loosen really sticky messes. Dry the skillet thoroughly after cleaning to prevent rusting.
Q. Do you have to season a cast iron skillet again after the initial process?
A. A cast iron skillet's seasoning can wear down over time. If you notice that it's become dull, rusty, gray, or splotchy, it's a good idea to re-season the pan.
Cast iron skillets we recommend
Best of the best: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Chef's Skillet, 10.25"
Our take: An outstanding cast iron skillet that distributes heat effectively, cleans up in a hurry, and is versatile enough to work for many dishes.
What we like: Has a nice, heavy feel that many users enjoy. Offers high durability and versatility, making it a great option for most kitchens. Pre-seasoned so you can use the skillet right away.
What we dislike: A few users experienced some issues with rusting.
Best bang for your buck: Simple Chef Professional-Quality Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Three-Piece Set
Our take: An excellent set that includes skillets in three sizes but still comes in at a similar price point to many single skillets.
What we like: Provides outstanding value for the price. Offer extreme durability, so you can use them for years. Ready to use right out of the box thanks to pre-seasoning. Multiple sizes mean you have a skillet for any dish.
What we dislike: Some users experience issues with food sticking and rusting.
Our take: A high-quality cast iron skillet with a silicone handle cover included to make handling the pan as safe as can be.
What we like: A good, every day skillet that's versatile enough to work for many recipes. Users like how easy cleaning is. Silicone handle makes it easy to move the pan around the kitchen without burning yourself.
What we dislike: Some buyers find the finish to be a bit rough and have issues with food sticking.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.