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    Your Kitchen Is Not Complete Without A Cast Iron Skillet

    Season this hunk of metal and then sizzle away.

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    People say the cast-iron skillet you purchase should outlive you and be passed down through the generations. That’s a lot of pressure!

    Miramax Films / Via

    After evaluating pans across three different price points on their overall design, weight, heat-retaining abilities, and other factors that affect their performance in the kitchen (or campfire), we found three that will give you the best return on your investment.

    Editor's Note: We're currently updating these picks! Check back soon for more.

    Ozark Trail Cast Iron Skillet


    Let’s talk about seasoning. When you cook with cast iron, layers of oxidized fat or oil absorb into the iron and form a solid black coating. This layer, called the seasoning or patina, prevents rust, but more importantly, it makes the surface nonstick. Almost all cast irons nowadays come “pre-seasoned,” but a quality patina comes only from using the pan again and again as you cook with fats and oils, or seasoning it yourself with a good high-smoke-point oil (check out Tasty’s guide to seasoning your cast iron here).

    Think of it like this: Buying a pre-seasoned cast iron is kind of like buying a pre-cleaned house. If you want a perfect nonstick cooking surface right out of the box, go get a nonstick skillet. If you’re willing to put some work and care into one of the most useful, durable, long-lasting tools in your kitchen, then you’re ready for cast iron. That said, the pre-seasoning on this Ozark Trail skillet is not very good. Its texture is also considerably rougher than those of our other picks. But give it a good seasoning yourself, and it will work just fine for anything you want to cook. For under $10, this skillet is still a great tool and considerably better than others at this price point.


    You’re getting what you pay for here; unlike many other cooking tools, though, that’s a very good starting place. If you like to put some work into your cast iron or have experience treating and restoring vintage pans, this is a perfect canvas for your skills. Many a transformation video have been made of sanding these pans down to get that old-school finish (most using 40-80 grit, FYI). But beware: a mirror-smooth surface might make it harder to get your seasoning to really stick. So we like our cast irons just a little bit rough.

    Another thing to note: This skillet is made in China. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one under $15 that isn’t. But if you’re thinking that means inferior quality, check out its combat test videos on YouTube. This skillet is as sturdy and resilient as any we’ve seen. One of the reasons cast-iron cookware is so durable is that it’s forged into one solid piece, handle and all, with no rivets or other potentially weak places where other cheap cookware tends to wear and break. The Ozark Trail is no exception.


    For car campers and other outdoorsy folk, this is the perfect campfire companion. Just place it right on top of the coals or grate and make yourself some wilderness flapjacks. Better yet, cook some bacon and get that seasoning going and morning started out right. For this price, you probably won’t be worried about treating it gingerly.

    If you’re not outdoorsy and are simply looking for an entry-level cast-iron skillet at an extremely low price, this one will get the job done. While the $$ option is probably a better investment, you can make this one work just as well for you with a little elbow grease and tender loving care.

    Get it from Walmart for $5+.

    Victoria Long-Handled Skillet


    Our pick for best mid-priced cast iron is the long-handled skillet by Victoria. It’s light but still holds heat and has the most ergonomic handle we’ve ever seen on a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet.

    By far the most common mid-priced skillet brand is Lodge, and we’re not here to say Lodge cookware isn’t a good purchase. You can find them in virtually any store in the country, they’re made in the USA, and they come in several shapes and sizes to meet any and all cooking needs. You won’t go wrong with a Lodge, and if that’s what you want, our favorite version is the ergonomic 12-inch skillet with assist handle. But if you were just going to buy a Lodge, you’d probably have done that already. And we’re looking for the best products that fly under the radar and have features that go above and beyond. That's where this Victoria skillet comes in.


    It’s the design elements — rather than the quality of material and seasoning on the cast iron — that differentiate middle-tier brands. To separate the just-okay skillets from the great ones, we looked at handle size and shape, assist handle or lack thereof, design of hanging hooks, size of cooking surface, and presence of pour spouts. The Victoria gets all of these right. The pour spouts are wide enough to channel even the chunkiest sauce or bacon fat. The handle stays cool on the stove longer than most of the Lodge skillets. The cooking surface and depth of the 10-inch version work for pretty much anything we’ve wanted to cook. And while we are generally against judging cast-iron skillets by their pre-seasoning, this one ranked above most others in ours and in Epicurious’s tests. Do with that what you will.

    But let’s talk about the Victoria’s handle: It’s just great. It has a nice shape and girth and a delicate curve that works well for people with all different hand sizes and levels of strength. Although this skillet is technically only 0.2 pounds lighter than the similar Lodge, it feels significantly lighter when you’re using it because of the design. And that’s why we don’t mind that the 10-inch doesn’t have an assist handle — it’s pretty easy to lift with one hand, even when full.


    So how do you know what size skillet to get? Great question. It depends on how much you cook and what methods you use. An 8-inch skillet that’s at least 2 inches deep will hold a little over 8 cups of liquid, two chicken breasts or steaks, or an eight-egg frittata. A 10-inch skillet will hold a little over 11 cups of liquid, four chicken breasts or fillets, or a 10-egg frittata. A 12-inch skillet will hold a little over 14 cups of liquid, five or six chicken breasts or fillets, or a ginormous frittata.

    It’s a myth that cast iron distributes heat evenly; it actually distributes and conducts heat quite unevenly, but it retains heat very well. For more even heat distribution, choose a skillet diameter that’s not much bigger than your burner and heat the skillet up to your ideal temperature in the oven before cooking with it.

    Get it from Amazon for $20.

    Field Company Skillet


    If you’re in the market for a cast-iron skillet over $50, you’re probably looking for craftsmanship, a good story, brand clout, or that undeniable vintage feeling of cast-iron generations past. All that is fine, but we think if you’re going to pay that much for cast iron, there should be something truly innovative about it. That’s why the Field Company’s lighter-weight version is our $$$ pick. Rarely have we seen a skillet this light and movable retain heat as well as the heftier versions. Add the simplicity of its design and a price point well below some of the other “luxury” cast irons on the market, and we’re confident this is a high-end cast-iron skillet worth investing in.


    In our tests, the Field Company Skillet scored higher than the other products in this category overall, but especially in terms of design. Other high-end contenders have weird gimmicks that don’t actually work in practice, like the design-y Finex’s spiralized metal handle that’s too large for most hands — especially those smaller than an average-sized man’s. The Smithey has a beautiful design and truly felt expensive, but the heft and handle shape were not as good as those of the Field in our tests (especially for lifting with one hand). The Field skillet has an ergonomic long handle as well as a small but effective assist handle on both sizes. Its handle also stays cool longer than many of the others we tested (though you should probably still invest in a handle cover just in case — something we learned the hard way). The Field Company skillet is also machine-smoothed, though not quite as smooth as some other artisanal models, which we think actually helps the seasoning stick a little more and allows for a smoother patina over time.

    In their attempts to create their lighter vintage-feeling cast iron, the Field Company’s founders claim they got their trade secrets and inspiration from a scientific paper called “Thermophysical Properties of Thin Walled Compacted Graphite Iron Castings.” We’re definitely not chemists, but even we can tell that whatever science went into this cast iron made it considerably lighter than other luxury versions. Their lightweight also makes them easy to store and to move from burner to burner or oven to stovetop.


    Aesthetically, this skillet is also a hit. Its simple silhouette and engraved flat bottom look at home sitting on the stove or hanging on a wall. While there is no pour spout, the overall maneuverability makes it easy to drain from the sides without a ton of drip (though we wouldn’t be mad if they added a model with a spout).

    So what’s the difference between a pan and a skillet? We’re glad you asked. The terms are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle technical distinction that can make a difference when cooking things like omelettes or cornbread. A pan is a round, flat-bottomed cooking vessel with a handle and sides that go straight up. It’s often used for searing or to slowly reduce a sauce. A skillet is largely the same, except for one thing: the sides are slanted or curved. That’s key when you want to flip, stir-fry, or serve something directly from the pan (like a frittata), and for scraping the sides. In the case of cast iron, you can find both. It really just matters what you’re planning to cook. Although the Field Company calls this a skillet, its sides are a little less sloped than other models, and we’d say it’s actually more of a pan — but it worked well for all manner of cooking and searing in our tests.


    Another plus for the eco-conscious crowd: Field Company pans are all hand-poured in the USA and use 75 to 95% recycled iron. And if you’re skeptical of buying an expensive skillet from a company that started on Kickstarter, there’s even a lifetime warranty. While you don’t need to spend this much on a cast iron to reap the benefits, we think this Field Company skillet’s lightweight, attractive design and smooth cooking surface make it a worthwhile investment for you and your future heirs.

    Get it from Field Company for $160 (10")