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Jan 14 2020

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The Best Cast-Iron Skillet

You and your cast-iron are going to be together forever, so it pays to choose wisely.

Cast-iron skillets are back! Not that they ever really left. A properly-seasoned cast-iron skillet has a natural nonstick coating, and when cared for, will last for generations. It sautés. It fries. It bakes. And as more cooks seek out kitchenware that’s free from harmful chemicals, it has only become more popular.

So we thought it was time, once again, to peruse the cast-iron skillet landscape, and find the ones that work best. Keep reading for our 2019 cast-iron skillet picks; for the specifics of how tested and what to look for in a pan, scroll to the bottom of the page.

The Best Pre-Seasoned 12-Inch Skillet: Victoria

The pre-seasoned coating is what earned this cast-iron skillet our top ranking for the best straight-out-of-the-box pan. Food simply refused to stick to its surface. The initial egg we fried in oil slid out of the pan so easily that we were curious what would happen if we used no oil at all. Sure enough, the egg we fried with absolutely no oil slid out just as easily as the first one. We began to suspect that something sinister was at work and that the skillet had a secret chemical nonstick coating, but according to Victoria’s website, it is seasoned only with flaxseed oil.

This skillet also has a long, thin handle that curves slightly upward, which we found stayed cooler longer than the handles of the other cast-iron pans we tested. The two pour spouts on the sides of this skillet are also exemplary—they’re larger than any of the other models we tested, which allowed us to pour cooking oil out of the skillet with less risk of dripping.

And did we mention that this thing costs less than $20? How could Victoria not be the victor?

The Best Pre-Seasoned 10-Inch Skillet: Lodge

We didn’t expect there to be notable differences between the 12-inch and 10-inch skillets we tested, but it turned out that the Victoria 10-inch cast-iron skillet doesn’t have a helper handle on the side, whereas the 12-inch Victoria—and all the other 10-inch cast-iron skillets we tested—does. Cast-iron skillets are heavy, and though small, the helper handle affects how easily you can maneuver the skillet and actually carry it from, say, the oven to the table. The Victoria 10-inch weighs 4.7 pounds while the Lodge is slightly heavier at 5.2 pounds. However, when we filled each with the same amount of water, we found that the absence of the helper handle on the Victoria made it harder to carry the skillet across the room.

The Victoria has a notably better factory seasoning, so if you’re set on an affordable 10-inch cast-iron skillet—a great size if you normally cook for one to three people— choose the Lodge but be patient with it. It took four rounds of seasoning for the surface to achieve the same level of nonstick as the Victoria.

The Best Smooth Surface Skillet: The Field Company

A new crop of companies advertise that they’ve brought back the smooth cooking surface found in vintage cast-iron pans. The catch? These pans aren’t cheap. We were torn between the Field Company’s No. 8 Skillet and Smithey Ironware’s No. 10 Skillet (each have 10.25-inch and 10-inch diameters, respectively), but the Field Skillet ultimately won this category. At 4.3 pounds, it was the lightest of all the 10-inch skillets we tested and the only one we could comfortably hold with one hand (the Smithey, at 5.8 pounds, was the heaviest). In addition to its lack of heft, the handle is ergonomic and felt great in the hand. These design elements do very much improve the cooking experience.

There is a tiny helper handle on the Field Skillet, but there are no pouring spouts. This was initially cause for concern, but we were able to pour fat from the skillet without any significant dripping. Plus, because the pan is so light, it’s easier to hold while pouring than the Smithey ($160). The Field Skillet, like all new-age smooth-and-shiny cast-iron pans, needs time to develop an effective seasoning. Even though the pans are pre-seasoned with grapeseed oil, you will not get a perfect fried egg the first time you use it (or even the second time). But the more you cook with it, the less sticky it will become. (If you choose to buy a Field Skillet, here are the brand’s guidelines for seasoning its pans.)

How We Tested

Frying and scrambling eggs is an effective way to test the level of nonstick coating on a pan, because eggs have a tendency to really stick. First, we fried and scrambled eggs (using oil) in each skillet straight out of the box. The purpose of these first two tasks was to test the efficacy of any pre-seasoning. If a pan didn’t have a factory seasoning, we didn’t judge its performance in this round—we simply took the opportunity to help build up their natural seasoning.

We then washed the pans, coated them lightly in vegetable oil, and baked them for an hour at 500°F to create one layer of seasoning (read more about how to season cast-iron skillets here). Once cool, we fried and scrambled eggs in each skillet again. In some cases, we added more than one layer of seasoning to the skillet to assess how that would improve the coating (more on that below). We also heated oil in each pan and poured it into a separate container to test the pouring spouts.

Factors We Evaluated

How non-stick is the pre-seasoned coating?

When we talk about “seasoning” on a cast-iron skillet, we don’t mean flavor enhancers like salt and pepper. The seasoning on a cast-iron pan is a built-up coat of hardened, polymerized fat that resists moisture and creates a nonstick surface. Most mainstream cast-iron skillets, like those from Lodge and Victoria, come pre-seasoned, while the newer models reminiscent of vintage skillets require you to build up the seasoning yourself. We didn’t deduct points from pans without a factory seasoning, but if they did have one, we considered how effective it was at creating a nonstick surface.

Does the design of the skillet boost its performance?

The weight of the skillet, the texture of its surface, the design of the main handle, the shape of the “helper” handle on the opposite side of the pan, and the presence (or absence) of pouring spouts all impact a skillet’s ease of use and performance.

Does the skillet deliver good value?

The price of the skillets we tested ranged from about $20 to $280. We considered if the extra expense of some pans translated into better performance.

Other Pans We Tested

We tested a variety of cheap, pre-seasoned skillets in the same price bracket as Lodge and Victoria. We were curious about Amazon Basics’ cast-iron pan ($15-$19), and it does have some strong ergonomic features, including an easy-to-grip handle with a thumb imprint and a robust helper handle. It’s a tad lighter than the Lodge, but its surface was the least smooth of all the pre-seasoned skillets we tested. The pre-seasoning is virtually non-existent—in the straight out-of-the-box test, most of the fried egg stuck to the surface of the pan.

We also tested the Camp Chef skillet ($21), a standard cast-iron that wasn’t especially nonstick straight out of the box. However, it responded to additional seasoning remarkably well: it was somehow easier to achieve an even coat of seasoning on the surface of this pan than the Lodge. And after just one round of seasoning, the surface became very nonstick. This is a perfectly good option for an economical cast-iron, though it doesn’t have as strong a reputation as Lodge.

We don’t see much benefit in spending more than $100 on a cast-iron skillet, though we did test a few in that price bracket. Finex ($175-$275), a Portland, Oregon-based company, aims to improve upon the design of traditional cast-iron skillets in three ways: first, the octagonal shape of the pan is designed to provide eight easy access points for flipping food, but we didn’t find our eggs any easier to flip. Second, the skillet has a stainless steel spring that wraps around its handle to prevent it from getting hot—we found the larger handle cumbersome to hold. Finally, the Finex has a smooth and shiny surface that harkens back to the ultra-smooth cast-iron pans of yesteryear—but if you’re looking for a pan with this kind of surface, we like the Field Skillet better.

Finally, we tested the Lodge Pro-Logic ($18), which has the same surface and seasoning as a standard cast-iron skillet, but a sloped handle and curved sides intended to make it more comfortable to use. The handle has a comfortable thumb print similar to the Amazon Basics pan, and it’s easy to grip and maneuver. There’s also a large helper handle (though no pouring spouts). Theoretically, the curved interior would be great for flipping—if the pan weren’t 5.1 pounds, which is too heavy to comfortably flip with in the first place.

The Takeaway

If you’re a first-time cast-iron skillet owner, go with the Victoria—it’s perfect straight out of the box and requires no additional seasoning. We also like the Lodge and the Field Skillet, but be prepared to season them.

All products featured on Epicurious are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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