Lesley Kennedy/CNN
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Cast-iron skillets are durable, naturally nonstick, great at retaining heat and beloved by celebrated chefs and amateur home cooks alike. And, unlike most modern kitchenware, the rugged workhorses only get better with time. Not lucky enough to have inherited Great-Grandma’s vintage Wagner or Griswold pan, lovingly seasoned over the decades to a perfectly nonstick finish? Today’s new models come preseasoned, promise to be ready to use right out of the box and, yes, are washable if done properly.

To see which new cast-iron skillets work best, we put 10 highly rated models through a battery of tests, eventually settling on two that should suit cooks on a budget and those looking for an heirloom pan:


Best cast-iron skillet overall

The Chef Collection pan — the company's lightest skillet — outperformed most of its much higher-priced competitors at nearly every test we threw at it.

Best splurge cast-iron skillet

For those willing to pay extra for a more aesthetic skillet, the Smithey's ultra-smooth, polished interior and copper color makes it stand out, while also delivering top-notch performance.

Best cast-iron skillet overall: Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet ($49.95; surlatable.com)

Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet
Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet

Since 1896, South Pittsburg, Tennessee-based Lodge Cast Iron has been churning out cast-iron cookware, and garnering rave reviews along the way. We found the reasonably priced Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet lives up to the hype. The Chef Collection pan — the company’s lightest skillet — outperformed most of its much higher-priced competitors at nearly every test we threw at it.

The Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet rose to the top of our rankings for not only delivering great results across all of our testing criteria, but also for its affordable price. Lodge, the oldest and longest-running American cast iron manufacturer, reimagined its classic cast-iron skillet in 2019, releasing the Chef Collection that’s 15% lighter and features a slightly elevated, elongated and curved handle that gives better leverage and control. It has slightly sloped sidewalls that, while shallower than the classic version, make it easy to move your spatula around the pan.

Weighing just 6.5 pounds, compared to the classic version’s 8 pounds, the Chef Collection comes preseasoned with 100% natural vegetable oil and has two slightly larger pour spouts that allowed us to deftly remove oil from the pan without a dribble in sight. Out of the box, the pan was quite smooth, with a slight pebbling, and, after giving it a quick clean, we put it straight to use, baking the cast iron staple of cornbread. With just 1 tablespoon of butter melted in the pan before pouring in our batter, the cornbread released beautifully from the pan, leaving only crumbs from our cutting behind.

Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet
Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Lodge Chef Collection 12-Inch Skillet

Fried eggs fared just as well: Again, cooked in 1 tablespoon of butter, they released and flipped with zero sticking, simply gliding around the pan. The steak we seared in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil did stick slightly, but came up with a gentle tug of our tongs. The sear, however, was nice and even with just the crust you want when cooking on a skillet.

The Lodge also featured our favorite handle. The elongated, curved design made it quite comfortable to hold, and gave plenty of room for our bulky oven mitt to fit around. The helper handle was also big enough to get a nice grip on, which gives a big assist when you’re trying to lift the filled pan from the oven to the stovetop and back again.

The skillet came in second when it came to how quickly it heated oil, but where the Lodge Chef Collection fell a bit behind was in our heat distribution test: Using an infrared thermometer, we found the middle to be quite a bit hotter than the perimeter. To counteract that, we suggest rotating the pan while cooking, especially if you’ve got, say, several slices of bacon going at once. The 12-inch pan is large enough to cook six eggs at a time, making it a great option when feeding a family. But for those cooking for one or two or who prefer a lighter skillet, it also comes in 8-inch and 10-inch sizes, at just over 3 pounds and 4.6 pounds, respectively.

Like all the pans we tested, the skillet was super easy to clean up: Cast iron is not dishwasher-safe, but the preseasoning means little food sticks to the pan and anything that was left behind came out easily with a simple scrub brush or dish towel. (Tip: Be sure to dry the pan completely, and don’t let it soak in water, as cast iron will rust if left wet.) Reseasoning the pan was also a breeze: Add a thin layer of oil, distribute it with a paper towel and bake it upside down for an hour or so. That’s it.

With Lodge’s long and well-regarded company history, lifetime warranty, great results and approximately $50 price point, we think the Chef Collection 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet will be the new focal point of your kitchen essentials.

Best splurge cast-iron skillet: Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet ($160; food52.com)

Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet
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Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet

The Charleston, South Carolina-based Smithey has only been around since 2015 but builds heirloom-quality pans in the United States with the aim of honoring classic vintage cast-iron pieces. Straight out of the box, we had high hopes for the Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet, if only due to its beautiful aesthetics. With its ultra-smooth, polished interior, copper color, signature three-hole design on the helper handle and pretty stamped California Valley quail bird logo, the craftsmanship is easy to spot.

So we were delighted to discover the super-smooth 10-inch skillet we tested not only looked lovely on our countertop, but its performance was as good as its looks, proving to be one of the most nonstick of all the pans we tested. Preseasoned with multiple layers of grapeseed oil, it aced nearly all our tests. Cornbread? Baked perfectly crisp on the outside, it released from the pan without a hitch. Fried eggs? They just slid across the pan. The steak? It picked right up without sticking to the skillet at all, searing nicely with a beautifully crisp crust.

Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet
Lesley Kennedy/CNN
Smithey No. 10 Cast-Iron Skillet

The Smithey also heated oil the fastest, scored near the top when it came to heat distribution and, with its two well-sized pour spouts, didn’t leave a drop of oil outside the jar we poured it into. The three holes on the helper handle are a trademark of the brand, but they also serve a functional purpose, allowing you to easily hang the pan from a rack and giving it better grip. The 10-inch skillet is on the heavier side of the pans we tested, but the slightly curved handle offered a nice balance, so it was still easy to control.

Again, as with all the pans we tested, cleanup of the Smithey No. 10 was easy, as was seasoning. It should be noted that the pan’s surface began to appear blotchy with each use, but that happened to all the higher-end pans we tested. The blotchiness evens out with use, causing that original copper tone to turn to a black patina over time.

Also available in a 6-, 8- and 12-inch versions (engraving is available on some models, if you want to personalize your pan), and featuring a lifetime warranty, we recognize $160 is a lot to spend on a pan. But with its great performance, we’re fairly certain this will become an heirloom piece you’ll be happy to pass on to your kids.

Caring for your cast-iron pan

Lesley Kennedy/CNN

New to cooking with a cast-iron pan or avoiding it because you’ve heard you can’t ever get it wet, wash it with soap or that you must bake the pan for hours after each use? There are a lot of cleaning and caring myths surrounding cast iron, but the truth may put your fears to rest.

First, you certainly can get cast iron wet — you just don’t want to soak the pan for long periods of time to avoid any rusting that may occur. When the pan has cooled, rinse it with hot water by hand and use a stiff bristled scrub brush or the abrasive side of a sponge to remove any bits of food, oil or grease. For stubborn spots, it’s perfectly fine to use a small amount of mild dish soap. The important thing here is to dry the pan completely right away. Water left on the pan can cause rust, but know that even those stains can be removed quite easily by scrubbing the area with steel wool. If you like, once the pan is completely dry, add a thin coat of vegetable oil to the pan using a paper towel, rubbing it in thoroughly before storing.

Finally, since new cast-iron pans come preseasoned, they’re ready to use immediately. And the great thing is the pan keeps getting seasoned naturally each time you cook with it. But if your pan starts to stick or needs to be restored, all it takes to build up extra seasoning is to coat the pan in a light layer of cooking oil, rub it in with a paper towel and then either heat it in the oven upside down at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or on the stovetop on medium-high heat until the oil dries, repeating as necessary.

And that’s about all it takes. While you can’t put your cast-iron pans in the dishwasher as you would with modern nonstick pans, when properly cared for they’ll perform just as well, and they’ll last a whole lot longer.

How we tested

While at a glance many of the cast-iron skillets we tested appear quite similar, they do differ when it comes to categories such as performance, build and ease of care. Our testing included 10 cast-iron skillets, ranging in price from $22 to $295. All were preseasoned, easy to clean and measured 10 to 12 inches in diameter. We compared everything from weight, handle comfort and ease of pouring oil from the pan into a Mason jar, to how long each took to heat oil and the evenness of heat distribution across each pan, to, perhaps most importantly, how well they worked — and how nonstick they really were — when it came to searing a steak, frying an egg and baking cornbread.

We focused on the following criteria when testing each model:

Performance

  • Evenness of heat distribution: Cast iron is known for holding its temperature, but not necessarily heating evenly. To see which pans did a better job, we used an infrared thermometer gun to measure heat at all areas of the pan.
  • Time to heat frying oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit: Using the thermometer gun and a stopwatch app, we timed how long it took a half cup of oil to reach the temperature in each pan.
  • Seared steak: We cooked the same size rib eye in 1 tablespoon of oil at the same temperature for the same time period, noting whether it stuck to the pan, how well it seared and how uniform the searing was.
  • Fried egg: We fried an egg in 1 tablespoon of melted butter, recording whether it stuck to the pan and how easy it was to flip.
  • Cornbread: Using the same recipe poured into 1 tablespoon of melted butter, we noted whether the bread had a nice uniform browning on top and how well it released from the pan when slicing.

Build and design

  • Weight: How much does it weigh, and does it seem too heavy or too light?
  • Diameter of pan: How many inches is it across?
  • Quality of materials: Was the surface smooth? Were there any scratches, casting marks or voids?
  • Handle: Was the handle comfortable or ergonomic? Was it too short or too long? Was it easy to grab while wearing a bulky oven mitt or using a kitchen towel? Did it have a helper handle, and how easy was that to hold on to?
  • Pour spout: How many pour spouts, if any, were included? When pouring a half cup of oil from the pan into a Mason jar, was there any dribbling or spilling down the side of the pan or jar?
  • Depth of sides: We measured how deep each pan was. (Shallower sides are better for ease of sautéing, while deeper sides allow for deep-frying.)

Care

  • Ease of cleanup: All the pans tested were hand-wash only. Did it take much elbow grease to remove any bits of food, or to clean out butter or oil?
  • Preseasoning: The pans were also all preseasoned. We noted how they were seasoned and what oils were used.
  • Ease of seasoning: We reseasoned each pan once, baking in an additional layer of oil and noting its ease.

Warranty/support

  • Warranty: Does it come with a warranty? If so, how long?
  • Customer service: Is it easy to contact the company for questions or concerns?

Other cast-iron skillets we tested

Butter Pat Joan 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($295; butterpatindustries.com)

There’s no doubt, Butterpat’s Joan skillet is a handsome design. The 12-inch polished cast iron is smooth as can be, its two pour spouts allowed us to dispense of oil with exactly zero spillage and it comes preseasoned with a hand-applied natural oil finish. We give kudos to the Maryland-based company for hand-casting its products in limited quantities (it boasts 41 employees take part in the creation of each pan) and for offering a 100-year warranty. When it came to releasing cornbread? Not a single crumb stuck. The steak seared with just a slight tug needed to flip it over and a beautiful sear. The egg flipped easily, leaving just a trace amount behind in the pan. On the so-so side, the flat handle was just fine comfort-wise, and the tab that serves as a helper handle was too small to be of great assistance. So, fun to cook with? Yes. Good results? Check. Pretty on the counter? You bet. Paying $300 for a cast-iron pan? Only if you have money to burn.

Field Company Cast-Iron Skillet ($160; fieldcompany.com)

We fancied the look of Field’s cast-iron skillet right out of the box. With its simple, minimalist design, light weight and smoothly polished finish, it also felt nice and comfortable in our hand — easy to manipulate and lift from oven to stovetop and back again. Yes, the helper handle is more of a helper tab, but we didn’t need too much assistance in lifting this skillet. It did a wonderful job with cornbread, leaving nothing but a few crumbs from our slicing and the eggs and steak left just the smallest bits behind on the pan, easy enough to scrape right up with our spatula. The heat distribution and time it took to heat oil were toward the bottom of the pack, however, and the Field was the only pan without any pour spouts. Let’s just say our oil pour test did not go well. It’s also quite pricey at $160, but if you’re willing to pay more for a pan made in the USA using recycled iron sourced from American vendors, and maybe have a glamping trip on your agenda, where you’re cooking over a campfire and not worrying about pouring or spills? We could totally see you packing this skillet with your gear.

Finex 10-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($159.95; amazon.com)

While most of the cast-iron skillets we tested were quite similar in looks, the Finex 10-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet is a standout. With its unique octagonal design, large coiled handle and industrial vibe, it also stood out in many of the tests we put it through. It came out on top when it came to even heat distribution — the only pan that measured basically the same temperature in both the center and around the edges. It was also the winner when it came to searing steak, with no sticking at all and a perfect, even sear on both sides. And, like several other pans, it released cornbread with ease. Handcrafted in the US, it came with a super-smooth polish, but ours had a tiny pit that shouldn’t have been there. It got points for its lifetime warranty and did a fine job when it came to pouring out oil (its shape means eight pour spouts), but it was the slowest pan to heat oil and felt extremely heavy even though it weighed 6.3 pounds. That said, it was the handle that kept the Finex from nearly edging out our upgrade winner. The company’s “speed cool” spring handle was too big for our hand to wrap around comfortably and we actually thought it was hotter than the cast-iron handles. The helper handle, meanwhile, is a small tab, making it difficult to maneuver.

Kana Milo Ultimate Skillet ($95; unitedbyblue.com)

We love the simple, classic design of the Milo, with its flat but comfortable handle, large helper handle and completely smooth porcelain enamel finish. It comes with a lifetime warranty and is reasonably priced, and we love that it’s also available in white and is made using 49% recycled cast iron. At 6 pounds, the 10-inch skillet was one of the lightest we tested, was near the top in even heat distribution and was among the best in the fried egg test, with nothing sticking at all — in fact, the egg just slid beautifully around the pan when we gave it a swirl. The cornbread left just a trace behind, and while the steak only stuck slightly, it didn’t brown as well as some of its competitors. The pour spouts were on the smaller side, and a little oil did dribble down the side of our jar. Overall, the Milo is a fine pan, definitely finishing in the top half of our competitors.

Lodge 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($42.95; amazon.com)

Like our overall winner, this Lodge pan is sturdy, preseasoned with 100% vegetable oil, comes with an amply sized helper handle and is nice and smooth with a slightly pebbled texture. It worked wonderfully when it came to releasing cornbread from the pan, lifting right out with ease and, while our fried egg flipped nicely, it left just a bit stuck to the pan. The steak stuck a bit, but the sear was nice and brown. The classic Lodge does have deeper sides than the Chef’s Collection, which could be appealing if you plan to do a lot of deep-frying in your skillet. But it also took a full minute longer to heat oil. Priced at $42.95, it’s a good value. But for just a few bucks more, we recommend upgrading to the Lodge Chef Collection skillet.

Valor 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($21.34; webstaurantstore.com)

The least expensive of the cast-iron pans we tested, Valor’s 12-inch skillet did fine. Preseasoned with a pure vegetable oil, it’s similar in size to the classic Lodge pan we tested and nearly identical to the Utopia. With a slightly pebbled texture, it was slightly rougher than any other pan, fared near the top for heat distribution and heated up third fastest. The egg we fried flipped right over without sticking at all. But the cornbread, while looking great, left a little behind when we cut into it, and the steak stuck some while flipping and didn’t brown very well. The Valor also lost points for its small helper handle and pour spouts that left much of our oil spilled outside the jar. With no warranty listed, we’d pay more for a better model.

Utopia 12.5-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($24.99; amazon.com)

The largest diameter-wise of any pan we tested, the Utopia is nearly identical to the Valor pan. With slight pebbling, it’s on the rougher side, but it came with no scratches or marks from the factory. At 8 pounds, it was one of the heaviest pans we tested. It also cooked a perfect egg and was among the winners when it came to evenly distributed heat. It didn’t fare as well on the steaks — there was some sticking and uneven browning — or the cornbread (which didn’t release as well as the others). It was in the middle of the pack when it came to heating up oil, and the small handle didn’t balance well with the weight of the pan. The two pour spouts, meanwhile, were on the smaller side, and a fair amount of oil poured down the side of the pan rather than into our jar. If you’re just looking for an inexpensive starter skillet, this will do the trick. But if your budget allows, we’d step it up to a higher-rated model.

Victoria 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet ($39.99; amazon.com)

If you’re looking for an inexpensive pan that produces fine results, the Victoria is worth a closer look. Preseasoned with 100% non-GMO flaxseed oil, it features a longer, 7-inch curved handle than other models, along with a wide helper handle. While we found the long handle useful for putting it in a hot oven (less chance of burning ourselves), it made it a bit unwieldy when trying to spread oil or butter around the pan. With a very slight pebbled texture, it was quite smooth and released cornbread perfectly, made a beautiful fried egg and stuck just a bit when flipping the steak. The pour holes are larger than others and not a drop of oil spilled as we poured it into a jar. Founded in 1939 and based in Medellin, Colombia, the company provides a lifetime warranty and boasts a proven track record. We still think the Lodge Chef Collection is worth the slightly higher price, but at $40, the Victoria was our favorite of the four least expensive pans.