What to Look For in a Cast Iron Skillet

Published Categorized as Kitchen
Cast iron cookware on a stovearskajuhani /Depositphotos

Home is where the skillets are! Here’s how to buy them right in the first place.

Cast iron skillets are a staple in the American kitchen. They are durable, easy to maintain, and can be used for all sorts of cooking, from frying steak on the stovetop to baking bread in the oven.

They are also surprisingly affordable, with many models costing less than $20. However, with so many options available, it can be hard to know what exactly to look for when shopping for one at the store.

When buying a cast iron skillet, look for a heavy bottom, thick walls, and bare-metal handles. Some skillets are pre-seasoned and can be used immediately for cooking; others are not and must be seasoned before first use.

Avoid skillets with handles made of plastic, silicone, or wood. Not only can they not be moved freely from the stovetop to the oven, but they cannot be used on the grill or over a campfire.

Pour spouts are a blessing when you need to drain melted fat from the skillet, and a lid can help you retain moisture while cooking, but neither is necessarily a deal-breaker if it’s not there.

Only buy skillets that fit the burners on your stove. When in doubt, use a tape measure or your phone’s Measure app and refer to our guide titled, “What Skillet Size Is Right for You (8, 10, or 12 Inches)?”

We will take a look into the different types of skillets and what each has to offer—and have some top brands and choices go up against each other to see which one is better.

Overall, when choosing a skillet, you must know the short and long-term reasons for selecting the best-cast iron skillet for your needs. After all, a cast iron skillet can last you a lifetime and turn into a family heirloom if well maintained.

Regular Skillets vs. Deep Skillets

When buying a cast iron skillet, one of the first decisions you have to make is whether to go for a regular skillet or a deep skillet.

You may ask, what is the difference between a regular skillet and a deep skillet? A regular skillet is typically around 2-3 inches deep, while a deep skillet is usually 4-5 inches deep. Deep skillets are great for deep-frying and for recipes that require more depth, like beef stew or pan pizza.

Which one should you choose is the next logical question? It depends on what you plan on cooking, and it comes down to the kind of food you cook the most.

If you find yourself cooking dishes with large quantities of food, like deep-fried foods, hearty stews, and baked goods, then a deep skillet is probably best for you.

But if you are frying up thick-cut steaks, searing pork chops, or making sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, a regular skillet is perfect. Start with the one you need the most, then add the second to your collection!

American, European, and Chinese Skillets

Cast iron skillets have been around for centuries, and for a good reason: they are virtually indestructible, sear meat like no other cooking vessel, and outlast generations upon generations of cooks.

When it comes to choosing a cast iron skillet, the cook tends to have several options as to where it is made. Some skillets are made in America, others in Europe, and still others in China.

So which one is better? We prefer the former for an array of reasons.

When you buy American-made cookware, you are supporting U.S.A. manufacturers, big and small. These skillets are usually made with quality material and are cast to be thick and heavy, meaning that they hold on to heat better.

Most American-made skillets come pre-seasoned, so they are ready to use right out of the box. The seasoning helps protect the cast iron from sticking and makes for a non-stick-like cooking experience. And they typically come with a lifetime warranty.

Relevant: How to use a pre-seasoned cast iron skillet for the first time

European-made cast iron skillets are just as good of an option, but they are also more expensive. Some European manufacturers, like Le Creuset in France and Lava in Turkey, make enameled skillets.

The enameled skillets are an investment, and, depending on the make, model, and size, they will set you back anywhere from $100 to $350 for a single pan—a price that you may or may not be willing to pay.

Some Chinese skillets are sold pre-seasoned, and others are not. The challenge with these cooking vessels is that it can be hard to distinguish between the good and the bad brands, and online reviews cannot always be trusted.

Traditional vs. Artisanal Skillets

The traditional skillets are made by Lodge, and they are the cheapest cast iron skillets on the market. The surface of these skillets is rough. They are pre-seasoned, but you need to cook fatty meats in them for about a week until you get the seasoning to where it needs to be.

The artisanal skillets are made by Stargazer, Lancaster Cast Iron, and The Field Company. They are much more expensive, but they are smooth to the touch. Some of these skillets also come pre-seasoned, but they require minimal fatty cooking before they become truly non-stick.

Once the skillets, traditional or artisanal, are properly seasoned, they develop a slick patina that keeps foods from sticking and protects the metal from corrosion and rust, making them virtually indestructible.

Cleaning Cast Iron

With the durability of a cast iron skillet comes a bit of a learning curve. Namely, how to properly take care of them so that they last forever.

The biggest cast iron skillet myth is that you should never use soap on them. The truth is, a little soap will not do any harm. You just have to make sure that the skillet is thoroughly dried afterward and do not go hog wild with the soap or let the skillet soak.

The one thing you never do is put the cast iron through the dishwasher. Some chemicals are harmful to the cookware, and it can take a long time to rinse off the residue.

Relevant: Our thoughts on washing cast iron skillets

To clean a cast iron skillet, wash it under lukewarm running water with dish soap. Use a soft sponge or lint-free cloth to scrub it clean. Be sure to rinse the skillet thoroughly afterward so that no soap residue is left behind and dry thoroughly and quickly.

At Home Cook World editorial, we dry our cast iron skillets in two steps. First, we give them a pat-down with a couple of paper towels to remove the water. Then, we heat them on the stove over medium heat for 5 minutes and cool them for storage.

Final Words

In the end, the best-cast iron skillet is the one that suits your needs and cooking style. So do some research, read reviews, and ask around before purchasing.

Most importantly, come back and read our articles to get the best advice. No matter which brand or style you choose, with a little bit of care and seasoning, your cast iron skillet will last for your great-great grandkids.