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Ina Garten's fave $20 cast iron skillet is a must-have for home cooks — my kitchen will never be without it

The Lodge cast iron pan is a true culinary workhorse and will last forever.

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Few things bring me as much comfort as watching Ina Garten cook on TV; not only am I a fan of the Barefoot Contessa's approachable, homey recipes, I also love checking out her gorgeous kitchen and cookware. Some of her go-tos are admittedly out of my price range — Le Creuset, anyone? — but I was pleasantly surprised to discover she's a fan of the super-affordable Lodge Cast Iron Skillet, a longtime favorite of mine. This durable, pre-seasoned pan can last decades with the proper care (more on that later) and I've used it for everything from breakfast to dessert. Its $20 price tag doesn't hurt, either! Wondering if it belongs in your cooking arsenal? Keep reading for my review.

Cast iron pans aren't as high-maintenance as you'd think, and they're ideal for a wide array of cooking tasks, from frying and searing to baking and roasting. 

$20 at Walmart
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$20 at Amazon$20 at Lowe's

Built to last

Lodge has been in the cast iron business since 1896, so they know a thing or two about crafting sturdy pieces that are designed to withstand practically any cooking environment. This skillet is no exception; it can be used on all cooktops, it's oven-safe and can even be placed over a grill or open flame. Lodge pans are so durable, people are often able to pass them down to younger generations. I've only had mine for about 10 years, but it still works just as well as the day I got it, if not better. Not bad for just 20 bucks!

Another thing I love about my Lodge skillet? It's made of iron and oil — no PFOAs or PTFEs, which gives me peace of mind about cooking without "forever chemicals." No wonder Ina chose it as one of 12 pieces of cookware to link to on her website.

A versatile vessel

As mentioned, I use this pan for just about everything: as a former professional baker, I often go the sweet route, from the literal best chocolate chip pancakes I've ever made to cinnamon rolls and cornbread. Want to make your own gooey skillet cookie or brownie? Look no further. It's also what my husband reaches for every time he makes a frittata or hash browns, and we both love using it for baked pastas. (See below for some of my cast iron creations!)

Because iron is excellent at retaining and distributing heat, nothing will give you a better sear on your steak or crispy exterior on your potatoes, though you might notice you have to wait longer for the skillet to heat up than, say, a thinner nonstick pan. It's worth it! Since it retains heat so well, Lodge recommends cooking on around medium heat or less to help prevent sticking. I try to adhere to this and rarely have issues, unless I haven't sufficiently oiled the pan.

author photos of baked pasta and cinnamon rolls made in the cast iron skillet
Sweet or savory? With this cast iron skillet, you don't have to choose. (Britt Ross/Yahoo)

How to clean and season your cast iron pan

While we're on the subject, keeping your cast iron skillet seasoned is the key to avoiding sticky situations. And before you roll your eyes, just know that taking care of these pans is much less complicated than you might think!

Since the Lodge cast iron pan comes pre-seasoned, you can start cooking with it right away. Every time you cook with oil, you're seasoning it a bit more; however, the seasoning will wear off a bit when cooking acidic foods or using high heat, so Lodge recommends restoring it every so often. To do so, you'll scrub the skillet with mild dish soap and warm water (using soap is okay when you're prepping it for seasoning!). Then, apply a thin coat of vegetable oil on the inside and outside of the pan. Place it on the top rack of a 450-500° F oven, upside down, with a baking sheet on the bottom rack to collect any oil drippings. Keep it in for an hour, let it cool and you're good to go!

When it comes to cleaning, this is a job you'll want to do by hand (sorry, dishwashers remove the seasoning and can cause rust). But it's really simple: Just use water and a tiny bit of dish soap if needed (I usually don't). Lightly scrub with a non-abrasive sponge or cloth, then dry really well. Apply a light coating of oil, then wipe off with a paper towel. If there's any caked-on mess, Lodge's instructions say to simmer some water in it for a few minutes to help loosen the residue.

While I don't mind having to season my pan a few times a year, I will say that it gives me an arm workout whenever I use it. I have the 10.25-inch version, and it's hefty! You also need to remember that when the pan is hot, the handle is hot. To keep myself from burning, I use one of these holders — a smart accessory to have!

ina garten
Ina would never lead us astray, and if the Lodge cast iron skillet is good enough for her, it's good enough for me! (Fairchild Archive/Penske Media via Getty Images)

A legion of Lodge lovers

There's a reason (well, multiple reasons) over 86,000 Amazon shoppers have given the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet a perfect rating — here's what some of them had to say.

"It’s already seasoned and I love that!" gushed one satisfied shopper. "It is my favorite pan now. It’s pretty, so I leave it sitting on my stove all the time. Nothing is sticking to it and it’s super easy to clean, has great heat distribution and is excellent quality. This will be passed down for generations."

"Perfect nonstick cast iron!" exclaimed another happy home cook. "My first day I made an absolutely delicious sirloin steak, better than any restaurant! This baby is going to save me a ton of money and oh the possibilities!"

"Love my new pan," raved a final fan. "I use it for making omelets and frying meat mostly. Easy to use right out of the package. The factory seasoning was enough to cook an omelet with no sticking. ... The only complaint is the weight — these pans are heavy! And when you're done cooking and you have a super heavy hunk of burning iron to move to the sink, it's not fun." Hey, at least you know it's sturdy!

This medium skillet is like the Goldilocks of pans — not too big, not too small, just right. That said, it comes in five other sizes too. 

$20 at Walmart
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$20 at Amazon$20 at Lowe's

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The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.