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.