The 10 Best Cast-Iron Skillets, From Lodge to Victoria to Butter Pat
What’s the pan for you? Here’s our guide to stalwarts and newcomers alike.
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Cast-iron cookware has been on a comeback tour in American kitchens since the turn of the century. As home cooks reconsider where their food comes from, so too are they considering the origins of their cooking equipment. Consequently, the cast-iron skillet has become a paragon of longevity, intentionality and, much of the time, American manufacturing. But the most mystifying thing about the hefty pans is how often people misunderstand them.
There are endless reasons to buy yourself a cast-iron skillet: they can last generations, unlike nonstick pans which get trashed every few years; they can handle all types of cooking situations from stovetops to campfires, unlike often more expensive stainless steel; and they’re the vessel by which some of the most satisfying recipes are made, from perfectly seared meat to crispy pizzas to spicy shakshuka. Recently, however, it seems many people are latching onto the negatives: the idea that they’re heavy, hard to clean, a pain to maintain and not easy to cook with.
The thing about those drawbacks is that they’re not actually true — at least they don’t need to be. Cast iron is not a monolith. While cookware companies back in the 19th century stuck to a similar formula, the benefit of the material’s resurgence in the 21st century is that companies are innovating, designing skillets and other cast-iron pots and pans for specific use cases. Yes, cast iron is just like every other type of cookware — you can pick which brand suits your specific needs.
Forget what you know, or think you know, about cast iron. We’ve hand selected the best and most popular companies still making the pans to this day to help you decide which skillet is right for you, and have included our own testing notes on the ones we’ve spent a significant amount of time cooking with. (We’re specifically focusing on the frying pan that’s closest to 12 inches in diameter, which we find is the best size for most people.) Whether you want to try the latest and greatest on the market, a super lightweight skillet that needs a lot of attention, or something ready to cook out of the box, you’ll find it below.
Heritage: Family business started in 1896, made in the U.S.
The Skillet: This is the most common skillet you’re likely to run into today. The classic model from Lodge features all the hallmarks of the style — heavy build (7.89 pounds for the 12-inch), flat handle, helpful pour spouts on the sides — and the brand can be found in many big box stores like Target. It consistently scores high marks in professional reviews because it offers so much bang for your buck, and we agree up to a point. It’s durable, versatile and can handle pretty much any recipe from the oven to the campfire, but its mass-produced nature has changed how we think about cast-iron maintenance for the worse. You’ll need to work to build up solid seasoning with this pan, and it will never be as precise a cooking tool as some of the more expensive options listed here. But if you want a good cast-iron skillet for cheap and don’t mind getting a forearm workout in the process, this is for you.
What Else They Make: If you can imagine a piece of cast-iron cookware, Lodge probably makes it (that includes bakeware and enameled pieces, like our favorite Dutch oven, though that’s not made Stateside). In the skillet department, they offer a premium line called Blacklock which offers extra seasoning, sloped sidewalls, a much lighter design and ergonomic handles, as well as the Chef Collection which acts as a sort of middleground between the two.
Heritage: Started in 2016 on Kickstarter, made in the U.S.
The Skillet: The number one reason to buy a Field Company skillet is the lightweight design. In our full review, we noted that only Lodge’s Blacklock line is lighter among major manufacturers. But where Field Company differentiates itself from Lodge is in its super smooth cooking surface and handsome minimalist aesthetic. While we didn’t find it to be nonstick out of the box, as they claim, it does offer an easier seasoning experience than Lodge and can handle oven recipes with aplomb (normal stovetop cooking will require some extra fat and maybe a metal spatula). If you want a pan that needs some attention, this is a fun project.
What Else They Make: Field Company also makes a Dutch oven and, new for 2021, a griddle pan. But they also offer plenty of extras to help your cast iron along (like scrubbers and seasoning oils, which they explain in their detailed maintenance guides) as well as kitchen accoutrement like spices and tableware.
Heritage: Started in 2015, made in South Carolina
The Skillet: After testing half of the pans on this list, we believe this Smithey is the best option for most people. Its polished cooking surface is more nonstick than Field Company, it’s deeper than Butter Pat so you can actually fry food in it, it’s heavy but not as big of a pain as Finex, it’s not the most precise cooker but it’s better than Lodge, and it’s expensive but not prohibitively so. In short, it checks more boxes than any other skillet and looks good doing it, with signature design elements like an ergonomic main handle and three-hole helper handle. Oh, and the quail logo is a nice touch.
What Else They Make: They offer a Chef line of skillets designed for easier stovetop use thanks to longer handles and curved sides. If you think these skillets are gorgeous, check out the Dutch ovens and handmade carbon steel pieces designed with Robert Thomas, a blacksmith in their home base of Charleston. And if you want to give one as a gift, they now do engraving, a rarity among cast iron makers.
Heritage: Started in 2013, made in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland
The Skillet: The second most expensive on this list, bronze-colored out of the box and shallow compared to other models. What’s going on here? We got the full story from founder Dennis Powell about how he spent $100,000 of his own money recreating a cast iron manufacturing process that had been lost over the years. In short, what you’re getting here is like nothing else on the market: thin walls, a thick base, even heating that’s best-in-class (there’s no subtractive process here like grinding or milling) and a velvety smooth finish reminiscent of vintage cast iron. It’s the skillet we find ourselves reaching for most often — the price point is worth it if you can afford it — but as we discussed in the full review, there are some elements you may not like, from the handle to the shallow design to what can be long wait times when you order.
What Else They Make: A big ol’ cast-iron pot they call the Homer, which can fit their 10-inch Heather skillet or glass lids as a top (both of which are sold separately).
Heritage: Started in 2015, made in Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania
The Skillet: If you like the idea of giving your money to a new U.S.-based company that is attempting to change the conversation around cast iron, but you aren’t keen on the higher prices and extra work, Stargazer is a great option. Their pans are more affordable than the other newfangled brands and come in on the lower end in terms of weight (this one is just 6.5 pounds). Plus, while some newcomers promise nonstick cooking, we’ve found that isn’t usually the case, especially at the beginning, though the Stargazer comes closer than most.
What Else They Make: Stargazer previously only offered a 10.5-inch skillet and this 12-inch one, but they recently added a 13.5-inch braiser.
Heritage: Started in 2012 on Kickstarter, made in Oregon
The Skillet: Kickstarter success story? Check. Design that completely upends the status quo? Check. Legitimization that comes from being acquired by Lodge? Also check. Yes, despite its humble beginnings, Finex was bought by the king of cast iron in 2019, but it’s still staying true to its Portland roots and unique vision. But while the company hoped to revolutionize cast iron design with their skillet, we found some of the changes are more beneficial to the eye than to the cooking experience. The eight pour spots are nice, but not necessary; the coiled handle is meant to stay cool, but it’s small enough that our hand constantly comes into contact with the super hot cast iron; and it feels even heavier than its substantial 8.5 pounds. But if you want a beefy pan that can handle any cut of meat and also act as a centerpiece, Finex is an undeniably gorgeous option.
What Else They Make: Dutch ovens, griddles and grill pans (as well as lids), featuring the signature angular design and coiled stainless-steel handles.
Heritage: Started in 2020, made in China
The Skillet: In 2020, iconoclast chef Matty Matheson teamed up with product design firm Castor to start an eponymous cookware line. The debut piece is this sleek 10-inch cast-iron pan and lid. It’s got an extra-long handle, an extended lip for basting (a design element you won’t find elsewhere) and a minimalist look that belies the man behind it. It’s a buzzy piece of cookware that is currently sold out, but expect them to start taking more orders soon. Be aware that while it’s designed in Canada and the signature pan of a Canadian chef, these are manufactured in China and we don’t have full specs on them yet (like the weight).
What Else They Make: In November 2021, the company announced a $125 pepper mill and marble salt holder. There’s no word yet on when the skillets will be back in stock.
Heritage: A private label brand from Walmart, made in China
The Skillet: By far the cheapest cast-iron skillet on this list, and it’s no secret why. Ozark Trail pans are manufactured in China, have no design frills (flat handle, miniscule pour spouts) and are the heaviest model here (this skillet weighs 10 pounds, which leads us to believe they are mass produced with little to no refining after the fact). The price is the only reason to buy these over Lodge.
What Else They Make: In terms of cast-iron cookware, you can find Ozark Trail griddles, campfire pie pans and Dutch ovens at Walmart, but the name extends to other outdoor gear ranging from sleeping bags to binoculars.
Heritage: Family business started in 1939, made in Colombia
The Skillet: Besides the country of origin being Colombia instead of the U.S., these are remarkably similar to Lodge. Both companies are still family-run affairs, their wares are consistently well-reviewed and they still offer an accessible price point. Victoria’s skillet features a longer curved handle, which some home cooks may prefer for the grip and distance from the hot pan, while others may find it makes the skillet, which is otherwise relatively light at 6.7 pounds, feel heavier. These are also relatively low maintenance compared to the newer brands.
What Else They Make: Victoria started with a cast-iron grain grinder in the ‘30s, and that’s still made today, but most people will be more interested in their tortilla presses, Dutch ovens, grill pans and griddles.
Heritage: Started in 2011, made in upstate New York
The Skillet: If your kitchen knowledge is mostly populated with wisdom from Anthony Bourdain, you may recognize Borough Furnace from a video when they received a visit from the late icon. Yes, we called the Matheson pan minimalist, but this is the real star if you’re looking for a skillet that’s impossibly clean and simple. It’s also on the lighter side, coming in at 6 pounds, though 10.5 inches is the largest classic skillet they offer.
What Else They Make: Bakeware, grill pans, cazuelas and Dutch ovens, including what they say is the only enameled cast-iron Dutch oven made in the U.S.
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