Cast iron skillets are a very popular choice of cookware for home cooks. They distribute heat evenly, keep foods warm for a long time, and last for a lifetime without warping. Also, the only acts of maintenance they need are hand-cleaning and the occasional seasoning.
Knowing all of this, first-time buyers of cast iron cookware are often surprised to find that they can buy a skillet (and a good one, as a matter of fact) for no more than the price of a few cappuccinos at Starbucks.
In this post, I am going to talk to you about the price of cast iron skillets. To give you well-informed and up-to-date figures, I looked through the cast iron cookware sections of five retailers, then pulled the averages.
So, how much does a good cast iron skillet cost?
A good cast iron skillet doesn’t have to be expensive. On average, 8″ skillets retail for $15, 10-10.25″ skillets for $22.5, and their larger, family-sized, 12″ and 13.25-14″ counterparts for $30-$40.
And we’re not talking just about the Chinese stuff, either. This is about as much as you need to cough up to equip your kitchen with a sturdy USA-made cast iron skillet by Lodge, America’s longest-standing cast iron cookware manufacturer.
Here’s something you don’t get to see every day: most USA-made cast iron skillets retail for a few dollars less than their Chinese counterparts.
Cast iron cooking vessels made in America don’t need to get shipped overseas, which is a costly thing to do. So, even with the higher cost of raw materials and labor—and despite inflation showing up everywhere as of late—they end up being cheaper than the vessels manufactured in China.
Of course, there’s an exception to every rule.
For example, USA-made cast iron skillets by Lodge, the longest-standing American cast iron cookware manufacturer, are significantly more affordable than those of niche brands that make their cooking vessels by hand.
Lodge, being a bigger business, benefits from the ability to source materials at a lower price and produce pieces of cookware more efficiently. Small manufacturers may need to ship their skillets from one state to another at various stages of its production process, as well as use the costlier services of local service providers.
What Makes a Cast Iron Skillet “Good?”
A good cast iron skillet is, above all, made by a reputable brand. This ensures that it’s made from high-quality materials and that it’s following sustainable production practices. And you can count on the warranty if and when you need it.
When buying a cast iron skillet online, look for cooking vessels made in the U.S., Canada, or somewhere in Europe (typically France, Germany, or Turkey). Don’t get fooled by the term “designed in the USA.” It’s nothing short of marketing speak for “we picked our products from the print brochures of our Chinese subcontractors.”
To help you pick, I wrote a whole article on the topic titled “Which Cast Iron Pans Are Made in the USA?”
Go for skillets with a bare-iron handle (you could optionally buy a silicone handle holder for a few additional bucks). Avoid cast iron skillets with wooden handles; they’re less practical as they can’t go in the oven, and you can’t cook with them on a campfire.
You’re looking for a pan that’s big enough for your daily cooking but not so big that it won’t heat up evenly. I’ve written extensively about this in a post titled, “What Size Skillet Is Right for You?”
What Else Do I Need to Know About Cast Iron?
Contrary to what most people think, cast iron is not naturally non-stick: it’s the seasoning that gives your skillet a slick coating of polymerized oil, which keeps foods from sticking to the cooking surface (and protects the vessel itself from corrosion and rust).
Cast iron cookware should only be cleaned by hand—mostly with water and seldom with soapy water—and must never go in the dishwasher. The chemical harshness of the dishwasher detergent will wash away the seasoning.
The goods news is that a well-seasoned skillet or grill pan, largely thanks to the slickness of the seasoning, almost cleans itself. Wiping them down with a paper towel does a good enough job 90% of the time.
Cast iron is readily reactive to acidic foods and can leach a hefty amount of dietary iron into them. So you should avoid recipes with tomatoes, vinegar, or wine, especially if they call for long simmering times.
Why Are Cast Iron Skillets So Cheap?
Compared to pans made of other metals, cast iron skillets are at the lower end of the price range because the materials used for making them are generally cheap, and the production process is relatively simple.
Cast iron skillets are made by smelting iron ore until it turns to liquid, then pouring the molten iron into casts made of sand. They are rested until the iron turns firm again and the molds can be broken so that the single-piece cooking vessels can be cleaned and sold.
Compare that to the materials and technology it takes to make a clad stainless steel frying pan, for example, and you start to see why these uncomplicated and built-to-last cooking vessels sell for so little.
Some manufacturers apply seasoning right in the factory and sell their cast iron cookware pre-seasoned, making it ready to use as soon as you’ve brought it home and taken it out of the packaging. Others don’t, so you’ll have to season it yourself.
How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet
For one reason or another, “seasoning” is one of those terms that often scare off potential owners of cast iron cookware.
Don’t be intimidated by the name! In reality, it’s relatively easy to do. All you need is a bit of cooking oil, two paper towels, a preheated oven, and an hour’s worth of patience.
To season a cast iron skillet, preheat your oven to 350°F. Apply a tablespoon of cooking oil to your entire cast iron skillet using a paper towel. This includes the interior (cooking surface) as well as the exterior (handles, walls, bottom) of your pan.
Using a fresh paper towel, wipe off any excess oil from your cast iron skillet. You only need a thin layer of it to bond with the metal. Then put the cast iron skillet face down in your oven and bake it for about an hour or so.
If you’re worried about oil dripping down on the bottom of your oven and smoking, putting a baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch them should do the trick.
After an hour, allow the skillet to cool down. Voilà, it’s ready to use!
P.S. Readers often ask me if they should reseason their cast iron skillet and, if so, how often. Here are my thoughts on the topic.