These heavy-duty skillets are workhorses in the kitchen.
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Buttery Cast-Iron Shrimp with Winter Salad
Credit: Johnny Miller

A cast iron pan is an essential piece of equipment for any cook. It easily transitions from grill to stovetop to oven, and the durable material improves over time, forming a natural nonstick seasoning that gets better with age.

There are many different shapes, styles, and strengths of cast iron skillets, so it can be hard to decide which one is worth adding to your kitchen. We spoke to Jerome Grant, executive chef at the Dacha Restaurant Group about what to look for in a cast iron pan and how to select the best one for you.

"If you intend on grilling, get a grill pan so that you get nice sear marks," he said. "If aesthetics and color matter, an enameled cast iron makes a wonderful accent piece—but keep in mind you can't use enameled ware on an open fire," he added. "If you're unsure, start off with a simple skillet to meet all of your basic frying, searing, and roasting needs."

Beyond the type of pan, we specifically screened for smart design (including well-positioned handles, steep sides, and large pour spouts), maneuverability, and even heating, tapping into our own experience and consulting experts when making this list. Whether you are looking for a budget-friendly buy or are ready to invest in the next family heirloom, we rounded up the best cast iron pans you can buy online.

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cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Overall: Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet

To buy: $44 at amazon.com

Pros: This pre-seasoned pan comes with a heat-safe silicone handle holder for easy maneuvering, and the price is attainable for all kinds of cooks.

Cons: It's a little heavier than some of its competitors with a slightly rougher surface.

Home cooks looking for a reliable pan should absolutely consider Lodge, says Grant. "It's a piece that will last forever," he tells us. Plus, it's made in the U.S., and you can't beat the price and durability.

Our editors can attest, some of them having relied on their trusty Lodge skillets for years for everything from roasting a whole chicken to searing multiple steaks at once. It features both an assist handle and a silicone holder that protects from heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Cast iron pans are known for being heavy-duty, so this pan's handle holder helps ease tension on your wrist by making it easier to grab with two hands. Steep sides make it perfect for searing, frying, braising, and baking, and it's compatible with all stovetops, including induction. It comes pre-seasoned with 100% natural vegetable oil for a natural, easy release—though every cast iron you buy is going to require some work building up the seasoning to a truly nonstick finish.

This pan evenly conducts heat, which means you can achieve consistent results whether your food is in the center of the pan or the outer edges. Like most cast iron, it should be washed by hand with mild soap and dried thoroughly to prevent rusting.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 12-inch

cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Zwilling

Best Enameled: Staub 10-Inch Frying Pan

To buy: $180 (originally $257) at zwilling.com

Pros: These versatile pans are dishwasher-safe, nonstick, and come in a range of attractive colors.

Cons: The small helper handle doesn't provide ample space to grip, which could make transferring it in and out of the oven a challenge. Meanwhile, the shallow depth could mean more splatter.

Traditional cast iron cookware is hand-wash only and requires building up a slick surface over time—both of which can be challenging. Grant says if you're hesitant about seasoning a new cast iron pan, look for an enameled option, which comes with a nonstick surface out of the box. This 10-inch pan from Staub features low, curved sides that make it easier to flip food and two spouts for drip-free pouring. It's oven-safe up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit and compatible with all stovetops.

The enameled black cooking surface promotes thorough, even heat distribution that helps achieve consistent browning whether you sear in the center of the pan or the outer corners. Plus, the enamel prevents the cast iron from reacting with acidic ingredients like tomatoes, which can make food taste metallic. Unlike most pans on this list, this option from Staub is dishwasher-safe, though handwashing is recommended.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 10-inch

Best Cast Iron Pans
Credit: Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

Best High-End: Le Creuset Signature Iron Handle

To buy: from $210 at williams-sonoma.com

Pros: The enameled cooking surface is nonstick out of the box, and two spouts make pouring out oil and liquids cleaner and easier.

Cons: This pan is a bit more of an investment. Low sides could make frying or braising challenging, and it shouldn't be used over an open flame.

For a gift or stylish upgrade, look to Le Creuset. The brand is celebrated for its ultra-high-quality cast iron, and its enameled cast iron pans are no exception. These skillets feature a black enameled interior that needs no additional seasoning. What's more, the enameled cast iron also provides superior heat retention and is dishwasher-safe for simpler cleanup. Le Creuset's skillets also feature a large loop helper handle that makes lifting with two hands easy, as well as spouts on two sides for drip-free pouring.

Though the shallow edges make flipping food easy, be careful not to overfill the pan when frying or braising to prevent splashing or overflow. Keep in mind that although enameled cast iron is designed to withstand high heat on the stove, it is not safe to use over an open flame. Choose from a wide variety of colors like indigo or cerise for a piece of cookware that easily doubles as table decor.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 10.25-inch

Related: We Cooked 68 Omelets to Find the Best Nonstick Pan—These Are Our Favorites

cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Value: Utopia Kitchen 3-Piece Cast Iron Skillet Set

To buy: $30 (originally $40) at amazon.com

Pros: This budget-friendly set comes with three pans in varying sizes so you can easily tackle a number of different tasks like frying, baking, and braising.

Cons: These pans don't have helper handles, so they could be too heavy for some cooks to lift with one hand.

One of the best features of cast iron cookware is its affordability, and this three-piece set offers an incredible value for the price. The small, medium, and large pans come pre-seasoned with soybean oil to offer nonstick properties right away, though re-seasoning after each use is recommended. This set is ideal for home cooks who like to use cast iron for any project both big and small, including an individual serving of cornbread.

Dual pour spouts help to drain grease, but keep in mind that these pans do not have helper handles, so they are heavy to handle with one hand and might even be cumbersome to handle with two. Like most cast iron, they are not dishwasher-safe and must be washed by hand and then thoroughly dried. They are safe to use in the oven and on all stovetops. If using on a glass cooktop, be aware that the textured surface of the pan could scratch the glass.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 6.5-inch, 8-inch, 9.75-inch

cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Smithey Ironware

Best Design: Smithey Ironware No. 10 Cast Iron Skillet

To buy: $160 at smithey.com

Pros: This beautiful pan boasts a vintage-inspired design and can be engraved. Its sides are 2 inches deep, which makes deep-frying and braising easy and mess-free.

Cons: Though Smithey's pans come pre-seasoned, the surface is not completely nonstick right out of the box. You'll need to use oil for each use until a more slick surface builds up over time.

If you care for it correctly, cast iron cookware can last for generations, and Smithey Ironware makes heritage pieces that look like family heirlooms. The Charleston, SC-based company will even engrave a special message or initials into its cookware for an extra fee—a nice touch when you're shopping for a gift or a piece you want to pass down. This 10-inch, copper-colored pan is made with heavy-gauge iron and a polished, pre-seasoned surface that, with some help, will build up into a nonstick coating over time.

The three-finger handle is easy to grasp, and a helper handle makes lifting it with two hands easier. The pan features holes on both sides for hanging. Deep sides make tasks like braising, frying and baking easy, because oil won't easily splash over the sides. It's safe to use in the oven, over an open fire, and on all cooktops, including induction.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 10-inch

Related: We Tested 8 Carbon Steel Pans—and Our Favorite Is Only $30

cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best for Frying: Lodge Cast Iron Covered Deep Skillet

To buy: $59 at amazon.com

Pros: Deep sides and a tight-fitting lid let this versatile tool safely handle oil and double as a Dutch oven. It's even safe to use over a campfire.

Cons: Use caution when handling and transferring this heavy-duty pot, because the entire thing (lid and handle included) heat up quickly and retain heat after use.

If you're craving fried chicken or homemade potato chips, consider this multifunctional option from Lodge. It's deep enough to safely hold bubbling oil and includes a lid to retain moisture, which allows it to double as a Dutch oven. The cast iron construction thoroughly conducts and retains heat, so the entire pan heats up quickly and easily. Keep in mind that this is a heavy-duty pan, which can make transferring it a challenge—especially when hot. Be sure to use the handle helper for easier maneuvering in and out of the oven. This versatile tool is safe to use in the oven, on a stovetop, the grill, or even over an open campfire. It's ideal for kitchens with limited storage space, as it takes the place of multiple pieces of equipment in one. Be sure to wash it by hand and dry thoroughly between each use.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: Yes
  • Size: 5 quarts

cast iron pans
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best for Grilling: Lodge 10.5-Inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan

To buy: $20 (originally $40) at amazon.com

Pros: High ridges can help achieve golden grill marks whether you use it on the stovetop, in the oven, or over an open fire.

Cons: Since this pan must be washed by hand, the grooved cooking surface makes it more challenging to get completely clean.

Searing food in quality cast iron is known to create a crispy, golden crust, and this grill pan from Lodge can do just that. Like its skillet counterpart, this cast iron grill pan easily conducts and thoroughly distributes heat for a consistent cooking surface. An easy way to grill burgers or shrimp inside, it's perfect for someone who doesn't have space for an outdoor grill. You can use it on any cooktop, including induction, and its high sides will protect you (and your countertops) from splatters. What's more, it is designed with high ridges to leave distinct grill marks on your food, and the grooved cooking surface allows fats to drip away.

  • Pre-seasoned: Yes
  • Lid included: No
  • Size: 10.5-inch

Conclusion

Cast iron pans should be well-designed, reasonably maneuverable, and heat evenly—but it doesn't have to be expensive to last a lifetime. Lodge's 12-inch pan (view at Amazon) is a classic example of quality cast iron at a reasonable price. It's large and heavy-duty while simultaneously easy to manage and maintain. If you care for it correctly, this fuss-free pan is a reliable workhorse that can easily tackle a number of tasks in the kitchen.

Our Expertise

For this piece, our editors weighed their experience cooking with and caring for cast iron pans with market research and competitor analysis. We also consulted James Beard-nominated chef Jerome Grant, the executive chef at Dacha Restaurant Group.