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The 7 Best Cast-Iron Skillets You Can Buy in 2018

March 14, 2018 Buying Guides By Photo by Henry Phillips

This definitive guide to the best cast-iron skillets of 2018 explores everything you need to know before buying your next favorite piece of cookware, including important terminology and the best skillets for every type of cook.

Prefer to skip directly to the picks? Click here.

Table of Contents
The Short List

Introduction
Important Terms to Know
How to Use a Cast-Iron Skillet
Buying Guide

The Short List

Best All-Around Cast-Iron Skillet: Butter Pat Industries Heather Skillet, $195


Where to start? Butter Pat’s skillets were the smoothest and most non-stick out of the box of anything we tried. Beyond making flip-easy fried eggs (or flip-easy anything, for that matter), the surface makes cleaning that much easier, as everything cooked in it was a towel wipe away from clean. A proprietary hand-casting method allows the piece to be thin where it can be and heavy where it needs to be, making for a lighter than usual skillet. Throw in idyllic sloped walls, pour spouts and a comfy front grip and the Butter Pat Heather skillet is as good as it cast-iron gets. We chose the Heather specifically due to larger Butter Pat sizes being more difficult to handle with the relatively short handle. Is it pricey? Sure is. But that’s not a disqualifier in a test of maximum utility.
Cooking Surface: 8 inches
Total Diameter: 10 inches
Weight: 4.8 pounds

Best Value Cast-Iron Skillet: Victoria Cookware 10-Inch Skillet, $18


Comparing an array of $15 to $30 skillets is a practice in hairsplitting, but by our measure Victoria’s 10-inch skillet eked out Lodge, T-Fal and other budget cast-iron by way of a decent out-of-box seasoning, an elongated handle that makes for superior handling when cooking and a size that’s big enough to cook for two without being overly cumbersome. It’s also a shade lighter than most of its competition. For the price, these skillets do their job as well as you could ask.
Cooking Surface: 9 inches
Total Diameter: 11 inches
Weight: 4.75 pounds

Best Cast-Iron Skillet for Everyday Cooking: The Field Skillet No. 8, $100


The only skillet on the list to appear twice, The Field is our pick for best everyday skillet. You get the smooth surface of premium cast-iron, you get a price that isn’t eye-watering, you get a skillet light enough to handle day-in-day-out and you’re not going to feel the world-ending rage you might if you drop a skillet three times its price off to the floor.
Cooking Surface: 8.75 inches
Total Diameter: 10.25 inches
Weight: 4.5 pounds

Introduction

R
e-embracing craftsmanship. A righteous exodus from the flimsy and mass-produced. A feedback loop of hipsters following each other’s tails. Call it what you will, one of the biggest stories in the wide world of products is the surge of the maker movement, and few industries have been revived more thoroughly than that of cast-iron cookware.

In the first half of the 20th century, cast-iron cookware hit its peak, reaching near-ubiquity in the American home kitchen. A great many of the brands of the time — Favorite, Vollrath, Wagner and Griswold — made skillets considered collector’s items now. These pieces were light, hand-smoothed specimens. Today, some sell for dollar amounts in the thousands.

The rise of mass-manufacturing — coupled with the introduction of cooking materials like aluminum, stainless steel and various permutations of non-stick — spelled a violent downturn for cast-iron in the ’60s and ’70s. Lodge, the sole widely-available, American-made cast-iron manufacturer to come out of this period alive, has remained as such since. But, the recent rekindling of interest in handcrafted goods has led to something of a renaissance, or at the very least a second life, for the heavyset kitchen tool.

Point of all this being cast-iron cookware hasn’t been this cool since before the first World War, so it’s about time you got on board. Here’s everything you need to know.

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Important Terms

Cast-Iron: Iron made with around 1.7 percent carbon, giving it its classic heavy, brittle nature.
Seasoning: The layer of polymerized and carbonized fats between what you’re cooking and raw iron.
Pour Spouts: If present, small areas cast into both sides of the pan meant to easily discard (or save) sauces or excess grease.
Wall Slope: The gradient at which the walls of a cast-iron pan run into the cooking surface; the steeper the wall slope, the less tossing can be accomplished
Front Grip: A protruding area opposite the handle where you grab hold of the pan with your non-dominant hand; meant to make heavier dishes and pans less cumbersome.
As-Cast: The result of skipping the milling and polishing process on the cooking surface; when a skillet’s cooking area is rough and sandpapery, it is as-cast.
Rust: Also known as ferric oxide, a toxic result of the oxidation of bare cast-iron; avoided by a layer of seasoning, but easily fixable.
Smoke Point: The heat at which fats begins to break down and smoke; also the point you need to reach to properly season a pan.

How to Use a Cast-Iron Skillet

How to Heat Your Skillet

Get used to putting it on the stove (or by the fire) ten to fifteen minutes prior to cooking or applying oil. Iron is a terrible conductor, meaning it will take a few to get hot, but it’s rescued by tremendous heat insulation. Also be mindful that because it gets hotter than other cookware and can’t be quickly cooled by removing from heat, heavy smoking often occurs. You can cook nearly anything in cast-iron, but it shines brightest producing any dishes that are improved by a wicked crust: cornbread, pies, steaks, fried chicken and bacon are among the most popular dishes.

How to Clean Your Skillet

Cleaning is as simple as waiting a few minutes until after cooking (to let the pan cool) and scraping what you can out with a wooden spoon or spatula. All remaining bits and pieces are easily dispatched with a handful of kosher salt and light rubbing with paper towels or a dry sponge. If something is seriously stuck, a bit of water and even minimal soap isn’t going to destroy your seasoning.

How to Season Your Skillet

Crank your oven way up (self-clean cycle works wonders), grab your favorite fat (flaxseed is popular) and drop a very small amount on the cooking surface. Wipe the fat over all the cooking surface and various nooks and crannies of the pan, then wipe over that again with a clean paper towel. Too much oil and you’ll leave your pan sticky and not fully polymerized, and therefore not non-stick. Let your pan sit in the super-hot oven for an hour or more; you’re waiting to for the applied fat to exceed its smoke point, which is what causes it to attach firmly to the pan. If it looks shiny, leave it in longer. It’s as simple as that.

How to Remove Rust from Your Skillet

Rust isn’t a death sentence for cast-iron. If it’s flash rust — rust that forms after just a few minutes of iron exposure to air — you can usually just wipe it off and get it seasoned. Heavier layers of rust are removed by a soak in a vinegar solution (1:1 white vinegar to water), a wipe off, dry down and applying a layer of seasoning. If this isn’t effective and you’re game for a science experiment, look up “electrolysis.”

How to Store Your Skillet

Obviously, you’ll want to keep your skillet out of humid or damp areas. Beyond that, it’s not recommended to stack cast-iron pans in each other as they can easily scratch a hard-earned layer of seasoning away if twisted the wrong way. If you have room, simply tossing it in the oven after cleaning is an ideal storage spot.

How to Pick the Right Size

Consider what you want to cook in your cast-iron skillet, how often and for how many people. Then understand that a skillet’s cooking surface is smaller than the size it’s typically labeled as, so think of how much space whatever it is you’re wanting to cook will take up and ensure it will fit. Most 10-inch skillets have about nine inches of cooking surface, which is enough to comfortably cook one large ribeye but not quite a full pork loin.

If you want to cook full breakfasts, multiple steaks at a time, or just run a household with a few more mouths to feed, go bigger — something with at least 9.5-inches of cooking surface is a good place to start. Yes, the weight will climb the bigger you go, but don’t shirk yourself and your family out of quality food because you have to use two hands.

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Buying Guide

Buying Guide

Best All-Around Cast-Iron Skillet: Butter Pat Industries Heather Skillet


Verdict: Where to start? Butter Pat’s skillets were the smoothest and most non-stick out of the box of anything we tried. Beyond making flip-easy fried eggs (or flip-easy anything, for that matter), the surface makes cleaning that much easier, as everything cooked in it was a towel wipe away from clean. A proprietary hand-casting method allows the piece to be thin where it can be and heavy where it needs to be, making for a lighter than usual skillet. Throw in idyllic sloped walls, pour spouts and a comfy front grip and the Butter Pat Heather skillet is as good as it cast-iron gets. We chose the Heather specifically due to larger Butter Pat sizes being more difficult to handle with the relatively short handle. Is it pricey? Sure is. But that’s not a disqualifier in a test of maximum utility.
Cooking Surface: 8 inches
Total Diameter: 10 inches
Weight: 4.8 pounds

Best Value Cast-Iron Skillet: Victoria Cookware 10-Inch Skillet


Verdict: Comparing an array of $15 to $30 skillets is a practice in hairsplitting, but by our measure Victoria’s 10-inch skillet eked out Lodge, T-Fal and other budget cast-iron by way of a decent out-of-box seasoning, an elongated handle that makes for superior handling when cooking and a size that’s big enough to cook for two without being overly cumbersome. It’s also a shade lighter than most of its competition. For the price, these skillets do their job as well as you could ask.
Cooking Surface: 9 inches
Total Diameter: 11 inches
Weight: 4.75 pounds

Best Cast-Iron Skillet for Cooking Outdoors: The Field Skillet No. 8


Verdict: There are two attributes requisite to all outdoor-bound gear: durability and packability. Field’s No. 8 skillet is both of these things. It’s light and skips out on extra features in the name of simplicity. There are no pour spouts, the front grip is very small, and the handle isn’t elevated or elongated in any way. These sound like marks against it until you remember it has to fit in your backpack. For a skillet this light, with a cooking surface this smooth, $100 is well worth it. It’s also not so wallet-killing that you’ll get sick to your stomach if you ding it against a truck bed.
Cooking Surface: 8.75 inches
Total Diameter: 10.25 inches
Weight: 4.5 pounds

Best Cast-Iron Skillet for Baking: Finex Cast Iron Cookware Company 10-Inch Skillet


Verdict: Finex’s octagonal spin on cast-iron is written about plenty. The corners create many areas to pour out sauces or excess grease, yes, but there isn’t much out there on its proficiency in the oven. The Finex 10-inch is yet another machine-smoothed cooking surface, so pies, cornbread or pizza won’t latch onto the surface. This particular skillet’s cooking surface is also just a quarter-inch shy of standard pie size. The base of Finex pieces are thicker than your typical cast-iron base, providing more balanced cooking temperatures. This is useful when dealing with the longer cook times baking often entails. The trademark corners are absolutely ripe to wedge spatulas into to lift your hard work out of the pan. You can even get a lid for the thing.
Cooking Surface: 8.75 inches
Total Diameter: 10 inches
Weight: 6.3 pounds

Best Cast-Iron Skillet for the Purist: Smithey Ironware Company No. 10


Verdict: In most industries, retrospective homages to products past are meant more to trigger nostalgia than perform to the day’s standards. This is not so in cast-iron. Smithey’s skillets are made with heavy gauge iron, a three-finger front grip and an exquisitely milled down, pre-seasoned cooking surface. There’s even a heat ring on the base of the pan, so if you somehow find yourself standing in front of an old indented wood stove, you’ll fit right in. Though we’re recommending the No. 10, the No. 12 is fitting of this title all the same.
Cooking Surface: 9 inches
Total Diameter: 10 inches
Weight: 6 pounds

Best Cast-Iron Skillet for Everyday Cooking: The Field Skillet No. 8


Verdict: The only skillet on the list to appear twice, The Field is our pick for best everyday skillet. You get the smooth surface of premium cast-iron, you get a price that isn’t eye-watering, you get a skillet light enough to handle day-in-day-out and you’re not going to feel the world-ending rage you might if you drop a skillet three times its price off to the floor.
Cooking Surface: 8.75 inches
Total Diameter: 10.25 inches
Weight: 4.5 pounds

Honorable Mention: Stargazer 10.5-Inch Skillet


Verdict: Though it’s hard to place it as absolute best in any one superlative, the Stargazer is still certainly worth noting. High sloping walls with a unique and fairly dramatic lip around the edge mean you can toss veggies and home fries up and back down with little oil splash. The seasoning it shipped with was the second most non-stick I tested (behind the Butter Pat), but you can order it unseasoned if you prefer. It’s middle of the pack in weight, and has a large square-angled front grip that is much easier to get a hold of when you’re wearing an oven mitt than any I tried. The handle is cast into a sort of mini-halfpipe, which makes for difficult one-handed holding and maneuverability — this is the only gripe I had with the Stargazer.
Cooking Surface: 8 inches
Total Diameter: 10.5 inches
Weight: 5.2 pounds

Buying Guide

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