The Best Cast-Iron Skillets of 2021: Tested and Reviewed

·12 min read

The best cast-iron skillet will be yours for a lifetime, so selecting the right one for you is an important task. These pans are a necessity for every home cook who wants to bake perfect rounds of cornbread, stovetop fry with ease (when recipes call for a "heavy skillet," they're talking about cast-iron), and roast whole chickens—but also for anyone interested in owning a relatively inexpensive and virtually indestructible kitchen tool that will last for generations. Cast-iron skillets are workhorses, with a natural nonstick coating that builds up when properly maintained. Sure, this means they're slightly more difficult clean than your average stainless steel or nonstick pans, but your reward for diligent drying and seasoning is a skillet that can easily become a family heirloom—and produce tons of perfect meals along the way.

We thoroughly tested 12 of the leading cast-iron skillets at various price points, looking for the very best models on the market. Pans from legacy cast-iron cookware companies and new, highly-rated DTC brands went head to head to determine which offered the best cooking experience right out of the box. Below, you'll find our top choices, as well as the specifics of how we tested, what we looked for specifically in the best cast-iron pan, and the other models we reviewed.

Table of contents

The best 12-inch cast-iron skillet: Victoria
The best 10-inch cast-iron skillet: Lodge Blacklock 96
How we tested
Other cast-iron skillets we tested
The takeaway
How to clean a cast-iron skillet

The best 12-inch cast-iron skillet: Victoria

This pre-seasoned cast-iron skillet's straightforward, dependable nature has earned it our top spot several years in a row. Right out of the box, its coating (made with 100% non-GMO flaxseed oil) held up to our tests, yielding evenly-cooked fried eggs that didn't stick at all and a nicely browned potato. The more we worked and added to the seasoning—even with just a few tests—the better it got, which bodes well for a lifetime of use. In fact, per Senior Commerce editor Emily Johnson, who has used this skillet in her home kitchen for three years, it holds up beautifully to near-daily use and only grown more useful as a nonstick surface over time. Our tests were enough to make us fans, but confirmation that the Victoria is a lasting investment solidified its win.

Feature-wise, this skillet's long and thin handle stayed cooler longer than the handles of the other cast-iron pans we tested, and the two pour spouts are exemplary—they were the largest we saw, which allowed us to pour cooking oil out of the skillet with less risk of dripping. For roasting a whole chicken or searing four pork chops, we think 12 inches is the ideal width, though it might be slightly too wide for your favorite skillet cornbread or pot pie.

Victoria 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet

$30.00, Amazon

BUY NOW

The best 10-inch cast-iron skillet: Lodge Blacklock 96

We didn't expect there to be notable differences between the 12-inch and 10-inch skillets we tested from the same brands, but it turned out that the 10-inch cast-iron skillet from Victoria (our 12-inch winner) had some drawbacks (more on that below). Instead, the winner for this category is from beloved cast-iron legacy brand Lodge, specifically the Blacklock 96 model, which was made to commemorate the very first Lodge foundry opening in 1896.

This pan looks similar to the classic Lodge skillet but differs in a few critical, useful ways. First, it weighs less, cast in what the company calls a "thin design" that weighs 4.6 pounds, compared to the classic's 5.2 pounds. It's also easier to maneuver, with a longer, thinner handle and wider helper handle. The Blacklock is triple seasoned, which we found yielded a more effective natural nonstick layer than the average Lodge, which has one layer of seasoning. We loved how easy the pan was to clean, likely because the seasoning repelled stuck-on food better than other models. For a smaller 10-inch pan, we think it's the best on the market.

Lodge Blacklock 96 Cast-Iron Skillet, 10.25-Inches

$60.00, Williams-Sonoma

BUY NOW

How we tested

Frying eggs is an effective way to test the level of nonstick coating on a pan because eggs have a tendency to really stick. To evaluate the efficacy of any pre-seasoning on the skillet straight out of the box, we first fried eggs in a thin layer of oil. If a pan didn't come with a factory seasoning, we didn't judge its performance in this round—we simply took the opportunity to add a first layer of natural seasoning to the cooking surface.

Next, also with a bit of oil, we seared half a potato, cut side down, in each pan for four minutes. This test allowed us to assess how evenly the cast-iron skillet browned food and how quickly it heated up, and it put each pan's nonstick capabilities to the test one last time.

Then we washed the pans, coated them lightly in vegetable oil, and baked them for an hour at 500°F (or 450°F, if they were only heat-safe to that temperature) to create one additional layer of seasoning (read more about how to season cast-iron skillets). Once cool—a long time, thanks to cast-iron’s high heat retention!—we repeated the earlier tests, frying eggs and searing potatoes in each skillet again.

Finally, we heated oil in each pan and poured it into a separate container to test the handles and pouring spouts on each model, taking into account weight and maneuverability.

For each pan, we considered the following questions:

How nonstick is the pre-seasoned coating?

When we talk about "seasoning" on a cast-iron skillet, we don't mean flavor enhancers like salt and pepper. The seasoning on a cast-iron pan is a built-up coat of hardened, polymerized fat that resists moisture and creates a natural nonstick surface. Most mainstream cast-iron skillets, like those from Lodge and Victoria, come pre-seasoned. Newer models from companies aiming to recreate the qualities of vintage skillets require you to build up the seasoning yourself. We didn't deduct points from pans without a factory seasoning, but if they did have one, we considered how effective it was at creating a nonstick surface without any initial effort from us.

Does the design of the skillet boost its performance?

The weight of the skillet, the texture of its cooking surface, the design of the main handle, the shape of the "helper" handle on the opposite side of the pan, and the presence (or absence) of pouring spouts all impact a skillet's ease of use and performance.

Does the skillet deliver good value?

The price of the skillets we tested ranged from $18 to $210. Since cast-iron skillets are generally inexpensive, we were curious to see if the extra expense of high-end pans translated into better performance.

Other cast-iron skillets we tested

The Lodge Classic Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet ($18) is available in many sizes including 10.25-inches and 12-inches. For under $20, it's a great versatile and effective piece of equipment from an American legacy brand with a lot of trust in the space. It was simply outpaced for us by another model from Lodge, the Blacklock 96. Though the the latter is three times the price, and we think worth it from a seasoning perspective.

The Victoria 10-Inch Cast-Iron Pan ($25) had big shoes to fill; we assumed it would be a top performer because we loved the brand's 12-inch model so much. But the 10-inch skillet doesn't have a helper handle on the side, which felt like a dealbreaker for such a heavy-duty piece of equipment. This was a tough pan to move into and out of the oven, and from the stovetop to the table, even with an oven mitt.

The Amazon Basics Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Pan ($19) had some strong ergonomic features, including an easy-to-grip handle with a thumb imprint and a robust helper handle, but the pre-seasoning it claimed to have right out of the box was virtually non-existent. We tested this pan in an earlier iteration of this review; at the time of publication, it appears to now be off the market.

The Camp Chef Cast-Iron Skillet ($42) also turned out to be a pre-seasoned pan that wasn't especially nonstick straight out of the box. However, it responded to additional seasoning remarkably well: It was somehow easier to achieve an even coat of seasoning on the surface of this pan than the classic Lodge. And after just one round of seasoning, the surface became very nonstick. This is a perfectly good option for an economical cast-iron skillet, though the brand doesn't have as strong a reputation as some others we tested.

The Lodge Pro-Logic Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet ($80) had the same surface and seasoning as the standard Lodge cast-iron, but a sloped handle and curved sides intended to make it more comfortable to use. The handle has a thumb print similar to the Amazon Basics pan, and it's easy to grip and maneuver. There's also a large helper handle (though no pouring spouts). Theoretically, the curved interior should be great for flipping, but the pan weighs 5.1 pounds.

The Field Company's No. 8 Skillet ($125) was, at 4.3 pounds, the lightest of all the 10-inch skillets we tested and the only one we could comfortably hold with one hand. Field Company advertises that they've brought back the smooth cooking surface found in vintage cast-iron pans, which looks new-agey but requires a bit of work to achieve a nonstick surface. We don't see much benefit in spending more than $100 on a cast-iron skillet, but this was our favorite model in that price bracket.

The Smithey Ironware's No. 10 Skillet ($160) is satin-smooth just like the Field Company model, requiring a lot of work on the user's end to build up a functional nonstick surface. It also happened to be the heaviest of the 10-inch lot, coming in at a whopping 5.8 pounds.

The Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron Skillet ($210) performed very well among the other 12-inch skillets; the black enamel cooking surface was nonstick out of the box, and the wide pouring spouts made draining off excess oil a breeze. The only drawback was that it was slightly more difficult to clean than the Victoria. If you're willing to put in the work, would prefer your cast-iron come in a punchy enamel color, and aren't put off by such a high price tag, it's a worthwhile purchase.

The Finex Cast-Iron Skillet ($195) was a unique addition to the test; the product comes from the Portland, Oregon-based company that has made a few changes to the design of traditional cast-iron skillets. First, the pan is octagonal in shape, designed to provide eight easy access points for flipping food; second, it has a stainless steel spring that wraps around its handle to prevent it from getting hot; and finally, it has a similarly smooth surface (vintage cast-iron style) as the Field Company and Smithey. We found the larger handle cumbersome to hold and preferred pre-seasoned models for cooking with right out of the box—pus, if you're looking for a pan with this kind of surface, we like the Field Skillet better.

The Valor Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet ($19) is a restaurant favorite: it's inexpensive, classically designed, and built to take a beating. We appreciated how nonstick it was right out of the box and only wished that the pour spouts on either side were a little bigger—these were tougher to use than those of other 12-inchers we tested. That said, for a budget pick that you can use the day you buy it and every day after, the Valor is a worthwhile option.

The takeaway

If you're a first-time cast-iron skillet buyer looking for a classic 12-inch pan, go with the Victoria; it works straight out of the box, is easy to clean, and only gets better with additional seasoning. In the 10-inch category, our favorite is the Lodge Blacklock 96, which is lighter weight, easy to maneuver, and "triple seasoned," which made for a truly nonstick cooking surface.

How to clean a cast-iron skillet

Despite what you may have heard—they rust easily! they're always oily!—cast-iron skillets and other cast-iron cookware is actually quite easy to keep clean. The process is slightly more involved than for the other pans in your kitchen, but once you get the hang of it, cleaning your cast-iron skillet will feel like second nature.

After cooking with your cast-iron skillet, clean it with a bit of gentle dish soap, hot water, and a soft sponge. Rinse thoroughly and then dry every inch of the pan immediately; the number one thing to avoid with this style of cookware is to ever leave it wet. Finally, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in the pan and wipe it down with a paper towel afterwards, to seal in the seasoning and prime it for its next use.

For stubborn stuck-on food (it happens!), there's a scrubber tool called The Ringer that we at Epi consider a cast-iron life safer. It's a piece of chainmail that's the size of a cloth and resembles a tiny but powerful weapon—which is exactly what it is! A weapon for cleaning your cast-iron skillet. To use it, lay it flat against your cast-iron skillet and move it up and down. It will strip the pan of any debris, including grease. It works like magic (and it can also tackle sheet pans and Dutch ovens as well). When you're done scrubbing your pan make sure to dry it thoroughly (and add a touch of vegetable oil) to keep it from rusting.

The Ringer

$22.00, Amazon

BUY NOW

Watch Now: Epicurious Video.

Originally Appeared on Epicurious