These pans are hardy and robust; not just reserved for the kitchen, some can also be used on barbecues, fire pits or in pizza ovens. But don’t let their tough reputation make you complacent, these pans require a certain level of upkeep. They need to be regularly seasoned with oil or fat and be cleaned, dried and stored correctly. Every time. A slip up in any of these areas could mean that your pan begins to rust or the non-stick patina will start to disappear. If you treat your pan well, it will reward you with high-quality food, bursting with flavour.
Our finalists made the grade as top quality pans, with some superior pans making us swear to never cook a steak any other way – crisp fat and a golden crust gave way to the perfect, moist centre that can usually only be rivalled by barbecuing.
As with most kitchen kit, the big-price tags won the day here, but there are some bargain buys perfect for starting your journey into cast-iron cooking. Choose your pan wisely, and invest if you can. This is one piece of equipment, like cooks themselves, that is only going to get better with age.
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How to choose the best cast iron skillet
Best cast iron skillets at a glance
Best cast iron skillets to buy in 2021
How we tested cast iron skillets
What is a cast iron skillet?
Cast iron skillets tend to be made from one single forged piece of iron. They’re more heavy-duty than a standard frying pan, making them resistant to knocks and scrapes. They’re also the go-to pan for travelling and camping, as they can be used on pretty much every heat source.
While non-stick frying pans are great for preventing food getting stuck, they are often coated in an artificial non-stick formula. Cast iron pans are more ‘natural’ and seasoned with oil to optimise the quality of the surface – although if you want the pan to last, you need to keep up with maintenance and season it regularly. Cast iron is an effective heat distributor, plus these sorts of pans are unlikely to have plastic handles, so can be transferred to an oven like a casserole dish.
What can a cast iron skillet be used for?
These hardy and versatile pans can be used for a whole host of different dishes or used in place of your frying pan, roasting tray or pie dish.
Create golden-crusted chicken thighs for this pan-fried chicken in mushroom sauce or try our aubergine, halloumi and harissa skillet bake. These pans are ideal for one-pot dishes like frittatas, our one-pot thai green salmon or this protein-packed butter bean, chorizo and spinach baked eggs. But cast iron skillets aren’t just reserved for savoury dishes; swap out your cake tin and make strawberry, almond and polenta skillet cake or this sticky ginger skillet parkin. How about a classic tarte tatin? Or impress kids and adults alike with this indulgent giant cookie.
What to look out for when buying a skillet pan
- Size: make sure it’s the right size for you and your family. As a general guide, a 10-inch (25cm) pan is great for two, a 12-inch (30cm) pan is ideal for four, and anything larger is, of course, a better option for larger families.
- Weight: the larger the pan, the heavier it is – and these pans can be weighty. If you’re likely to struggle, opt for a smaller size and look out for pans with additions like long handles or lug handles; these will make carrying the pan a lot easier.
- Pouring spouts: these are ideal for pouring away fat or grease. If you’re using the pan to make a gravy or sauce, use the spouts to decant mess-free. Spouts on either side of the pan mean they’re easy to use for both left and right handed users.
- Enamelled or non-enamelled: enamelled pans not only look great as they’re available in a variety of colours, but they are also easier to clean. Do bear in mind though, you won’t be able to build up the same patina on an enamelled pan because of it’s finished surface, and therefore will miss out on the flavour and natural improvement over time that non-enamelled cast iron brings.
How do I season a cast iron skillet?
Skillets take a bit of love and attention in order to improve with age. The majority of our final selection came pre-seasoned, but ensuring you add further oil before storing will help in building up a shiny patina that will make your pan non-stick and add to the flavour of dishes, all without the use of artificial or chemical additives. Most new pans will come with seasoning instructions.
Coat brand-new pans lightly in flax or vegetable oil before placing in a hot oven for an hour to seal a new surface, if needed.
How do I care for my cast iron skillet?
Once used, hand wash in warm water – skip the washing-up liquid and use a bristled brush – ensuring the pan has cooled down thoroughly after cooking.
Plunging a hot pan into water is a bad idea as the cast iron can warp. Dropping it could see it crack or break, so handle with care, especially when hot.
Rust is the enemy, but this is simple to prevent once you get into skillet-saving habits. You won’t be able to put them in the dishwasher or bung them back in a cupboard, damp from the draining board. Any rust spots that do appear can be rubbed away with fine-grade sandpaper before cleaning.
When cooking with acidic foods, such as citrus fruits or vinegars, give your skillet a further protective seasoning by wiping with some oil on kitchen paper to make a light coating that will help protect it from damaging chemical reactions.
- Best overall skillet pan: Netherton Foundry 12-inch Prospector pan, £62.40
- Best lightweight skillet pan: Kuhn Rikon Black Star iron frying pan, from £119.96
- Best budget skillet pan: Vonshef 3-piece seasoned cast iron skillet set, £34.99
- Best heavy skillet pan: Lodge cast iron skillet, £44.99
- Best skillet pans for versatility: Nuova pre-seasoned cast iron skillet set, £28.99
- Best starter skillet pan: Kichly pre-seasoned cast iron skillet pan, £11.99
- Best non-stick skillet: Staub cast iron frying pan, £114.09
- Best small skillet: Judge cast iron skillet, £17.49
- Best skillet pan for beginners: Le Creuset Signature cast iron skillet, from £99
- Best looking cast iron skillet: Fiskars Norden 26cm non-stick cast iron skillet, £135.48
- Best skillet pan for easy transportation: Staub cast iron double handle skillet, from £89.95
- Best budget skillet pan for meat-lovers: Vonshef cast iron skillet pan, £19.99
Netherton Foundry 12-inch Prospector pan
Best overall skillet pan
Made in Shropshire and beloved of the cooking elite (it features on the cover of Diana Henry’s From The Oven To The Table), we can see why the Prospector pan is such a staple for serious cooks.
Not only is it incredibly well made and tough, it’s also so much lighter than many of the traditional skillets we tested.
The difference here is that the iron is spun rather than cast, before being coated with organic flax oil.
The two-handled Prospector has all the heat distribution qualities we’d look for in a skillet, and the 26cm version we tried from the range was perfect for a one-pan dinner for two, breakfast eggs or a couple of large steaks.
The searing capabilities are superb – our rib-eyes cooked evenly with a crisp crust after we prepared the pan slowly over a low heat and worked it up to searing temperature.
This pan will work hard for you in the kitchen, but also looks great on the table. Our favourite of all the iron skillets we tested, this classic is going to stay firmly in place in our kitchen armoury.
Kuhn Rikon Black Star iron frying pan
Best lightweight skillet pan
Pros: stunning high-quality design, large flat base, easy to season
Star rating: 4.5/5
Unlike many other skillets on this list, this Kuhn Rikon pan is made from spun iron, like the Netherton Foundry pan above, so it’s noticeably lighter than its cast iron counterparts. This pan does need to be pre-seasoned before use, thankfully detailed instructions are available with the pan and on the Kuhn Rikon website. This pan is available in four different sizes: 24, 28, 32, and 36cm. In addition to being suitable for all hob types, this versatile pan is also great for barbecues or fire pits.
The Black Star pan is a joy to cook with. It has a long and slim ergonomic handle and the main pan is distinctly thinner than standard cast iron. This meant the pan was quicker to heat up.
After just one round of seasoning, this pan was brilliantly non-stick. We managed to cook our fried egg gently, producing the crisp, lacy edge we were after. The egg slipped right out of the pan. For the steak, we let the pan get ripping hot. The sear produced was fantastic! Our ribeyes achieved a deep rich crust and again, there was no sticking.
Read our full Kuhn Rikon Black Star iron frying pan review
VonShef 3-piece seasoned cast iron skillet set
Best budget skillet pans
We were really impressed by this classic skillet pan set by VonShef. With their high edges, weighty feel and non-stick surface, we felt they were the perfect all-rounder.
They’re pre-seasoned with natural oils, meaning they’re ready to use straight away and require less maintenance. They feel incredibly hard-wearing and fit for repeated searing and frying. The handles are short and can easily be hung up or tucked away in a kitchen drawer. The pan can be used on the hob then transferred to a hot oven or grill without damage.
The pan we tested was a great size, wide enough to fit three steaks or four eggs, and a good depth for stir-frying or baking. It gave an incredible deep, dark finish to meat when searing and crisped up eggs beautifully whilst still being wonderfully non-stick.
This is a great all round buy. If you’re serious about skillet cooking, this is definitely one for consideration, as it passed all our tests with flying colours and had a surprising pricetag – we’d have paid more for that performance.
Lodge cast iron skillet
Best heavy skillet
This is a best-selling skillet in the US, where having a pan like this is the norm. Lodge have been shaping their pans from sand moulds in Tennessee since 1896 and have pretty much perfected their craft.
It’s chunky, with rounded pouring lips on either side and a sturdy handle with large hanging loop. This is a heavy pan, so we appreciated the generous ‘assist handle’ on one side, making it more stable to carry around or move from hob to oven.
The vegetable oil pre-seasoning on this model was great – food slid easily from its sleek surface from the get-go and only became more non-stick as we cooked in it, simply by hand-washing, drying and topping up with a quick wipe of oil before storing.
Nuova pre-seasoned cast iron skillet set
Best for versatility
At a tenner each, these are the perfect way to find your feet in cast-iron cooking, but also to experiment with different dishes and multi-pan meals.
There’s no denying this is a basic set – the feel is sandpaper-like – but the three sizes mean you have a pan for all your needs, be it cooking side dishes or the main event.
We used the trio to cook the staple steak and fried eggs as part of our testing, but also tried out Turkish menemen for the family and a giant pan cookie that was a crisp success. Skillets are certainly very versatile, and this set even more so.
If you’re going to store the skillets together, be even more scrupulous with drying, as they may be prone to rusting when stacked. Air needs to circulate around any of the pans when stashed away.
Kichly pre-seasoned cast iron skillet
Best starter skillet pan
This bargain pan looks very much like, shall we say, a ‘tribute’ to the classic Lodge skillet – the benchmark for most cast iron pans in the US. Could it also make the cut for a lot less money?
Not exactly – the surface was definitely not as slick as the Lodge, with a further coating of oil advisable before first use. Coming back to it after three separate cooking sessions, it had improved a lot, but will take more work to keep up that patina compared to the top-notch Lodge.
We’d recommend this as a starter pan – find out how you like to sear, and work your way up to a lower maintenance, higher quality version. A worthwhile look-alike though, with some of the chunky appeal and that all-important grab handle.
Staub cast iron frying pan
Best non-stick skillet
It is an absolute pleasure to cook with this beautiful pan. It has all the appeal of the rough-and-ready iron skillets in our round-up but has a silky smooth black enamelled interior that makes ingredients glide around.
With the best non-stick abilities of all the pans we tried, eggs slid onto the plate straight from the pan, with a minimum amount of oil used. There was no need to top up the pre-seasoning before our first dish.
This heavy model was a generous depth and featured a holding bar stamped with the Staub logo opposite the handle, so transferring a pan stuffed with braised chicken and potatoes to the oven was made easier by being able to use two hands.
The matching Staub roasting pan we’ve tested also got top marks. This is a range for serious cooks looking for top-quality kit. It comes in black, grey, and red too.
Judge cast iron skillet
Best small skillet
Judge have a couple of sizes of well-priced cast iron skillets, and we liked their 18cm version for its no-nonsense design and the quality of the finish.
Slightly more shallow than some of the others here, it could’ve done with slightly more pronounced pouring lips, as the rounded edges meant there was a bit of escaped sauce when we poured onto the plate. That said, there were no hotspots or cooler patches on the surface, and we found its fuss-free shape easy to clean, with no tricky areas to dry off once washed. The inner coating felt rough to the touch but once seasoned it started to build up a nice, non-stick patina.
The smaller size is worth considering if you’re a solo cook or want to use a skillet for side dishes or individual servings. It’s the perfect size for a single steak or for creating an oven dish, retaining heat well as it sat on the dinner table.
Le Creuset Signature cast iron skillet
Best skillet pan for beginners
The Le Creuset is a great choice for those easing themselves into the world of skillets. It was slightly lighter in weight than many of the other pans we tested, which has the benefit of making it easier to handle. We highly rated its non-stick surface, comfortable handle, even heat distribution as well as the general aesthetic. As it comes in various colours, it would make a good gift.
At 23cm wide, this pan would be great for a couple, or those with less cupboard space. We loved that it had a handle on each side, making it especially easy to lift up and out of the oven. It also has spouts on either side which are really useful when needing to pour off excess oil.
A great aspect was how non-stick it was when testing. Once it had heated up (very quickly), it had fantastic heat distribution. It was also the simplest to clean, didn’t mark easily and didn’t require any scraping to remove food.
Fiskars Norden 26cm non-stick cast iron frying pan
Best non-stick skillet
This Nordic-style skillet from Fiskars was the sleekest-looking of the bunch – it has a beautiful matte finish and wooden handle. It’s a great size – perfect for browning large cuts of meat or cooking whole fry-ups. It also has two handles, making it easy to lift up. It’s very heavy, but feels durable.
We loved how comfortable the handle was on this pan and how heatproof it was when using on the stovetop. However, it can’t easily be transferred to the oven without removing the handle.
What struck us the most was how non-stick it was. Eggs easily slid out of the pan and when we fried steak in it, we achieved a beautifully dark crust. A huge selling point.
A great one for a dedicated home cook, or to add to your collection of classic skillets. It works well as an all-round frying pan and would look good in your kitchen, too.
Staub cast iron double handle skillet
Best skillet pan for easy transportation
Pros: large, wide, flat base, two sturdy handles, attractive design, not overwhelmingly heavy
Cons: hard to toss ingredients
Star rating: 4.5/5
Like our top performing skillet, this pan comes with two lug handles as opposed to one frying pan-like handle. It even made its way onto our best paella pans list, where we named it the best cast iron investment.
This versatile pan is comfortable and easy to carry thanks to the two large handles. There’s a good amount of space between the handles and the pan, making it easy to remove from a hot oven or even transport from hob to table. It’s available in three sizes: 20, 26 and 32cm, meaning you’re sure to find a pan to suit yours and your family’s needs.
This pan cooks in a calm and controlled manner. Our fried eggs had a perfectly set white with a still-runny yolk. The outer edges were slightly crisp and nothing stuck. Cooking steak was just as easy. As soon as the steak hit the pan it sizzled and formed a deep, rich crust. We cooked it to a perfect medium rare and had no trouble removing it from the pan.
If you’re looking to impress with oven to table dishes, this is a great choice.
Read our full Staub cast iron double handle skillet review
Vonshef cast iron skillet pan
Best budget cast iron skillet pan for meat-lovers
Pros: pouring lips either side of pan, comes pre-seasoned, retains temperature
Cons: handle is short, difficult to control temperature
Star rating: 4/5
If you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful skillet pan to cook steak or chicken, this Vonshef offering is a good choice. Available in just one size, 25cm, this pan comes pre-seasoned and is also oven-safe up to 250C.
This pan is about as classic-looking as you can get, but we were let down by the short handle that made the pan a little difficult to move around and got very hot.
Whilst this skillet produced a nicely cooked fried egg, we found that it retained heat a little too well, meaning it was difficult to control the temperature. A small portion of the yolk also stuck to the pan. This pan fared better when we cooked meat. The perimeter of the steak was nicely brown and crispy, but the inside was a little grey. Nonetheless, the steak was a perfect medium rare.
Read our full Vonshef cast iron skillet pan review
To put our cast iron skillets to the test, we cooked a simple fried egg. This allowed us to determine how easy it was to regulate the heat of the pan, how non-stick it was, and if the pan could cook food gently. A cast iron skillet that can’t cook a mean steak frankly isn’t worth owning. We also cooked a thick cut ribeye steak to see if the pan produced the hard sear and deep, rich crust we were looking for. But we wanted to ensure that the outside of the steak wasn’t just seared – we looked for a perfectly pink medium rare inside. Of course, we didn’t want any part of the steak to stick either. As well as the cooking tests, we marked the pans against the following criteria:
- All round comfort: we expected these pans to be heavy, but we wanted to see that considerations had been made to make using these pans a more comfortable experience. For example, appropriate length handles, extra lug handles.
- Heat distribution: although hardy pieces of kit, we still expect quality craftsmanship and performance. Even heat distribution means food cooks at the same temperature.
- How non-stick they were: the majority of the pans we tested were pre-seasoned, meaning they should be non-stick straight out of the box. We put this to the test. We also wanted the pan to include clear seasoning instructions as this is an integral part of the pans upkeep.
- How heatproof they were: usually made from one solid piece of cast iron, these pans do get hot, but long or thin handles help to stop it reaching the ripping temperatures of the main pan.
- If they could easily be transferred to the oven: most cast iron skillet pans are oven-safe, but we wanted to make sure that going from hob to oven or even oven to table, was safe and easy.
- How quickly they heated up: four to five minutes is a decent amount of time to wait for a cast iron skillet to heat up. We didn’t want to see pans that came to temperature disconcertingly fast or indeed painfully slow.
- How easy they were to clean and store: cleaning a cast iron pan is pretty simple, just wipe clean, rinse and coat in a thin layer of oil. We made sure that there was no rusting after cleaning and looked for useful additions, like hanging holes in the handles.
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