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Cook It In Cast Iron

Cast Iron Equipment:

The Best Cast-Iron Skillets

Cast Iron Cookoff

A cast-iron pan will last a lifetime—as long as you choose the right one.

While you may think of a cast-iron skillet as one of the most straightforward, no-frills options on the market, there are actually a surprising number of factors to take into account when buying one, and there are many more options today than there were 50 years ago. We purchased 10 cast-iron skillets, six enameled and four traditional, each about 12 inches in diameter.

How We Tested

  1. We scrambled eggs, seared steaks, made a tomato-caper pan sauce (to check if its acidity reacted with the pan surface), skillet-roasted thick fish fillets that went from stove to oven, baked cornbread, and shallow-fried breaded chicken cutlets.
     
  2. At the end of testing, we scrambled more eggs to see whether the pans’ surfaces had evolved.
     
  3. To simulate years of kitchen use, we plunged hot pans into ice water, banged a metal spoon on their rims, cut in them with a chef’s knife, and scraped them with a metal spoon.

What We Learned

  1. Thicker pans are more sluggish to heat, hung on to hot spots for longer, and finally became too hot, making it a challenge to brown food evenly.
     
  2. Weight, handle length, and breadth make a big difference in how easy cast-iron pans are to use. The pans in our lineup ranged from 6½ pounds to nearly 9 pounds. Longer handles gave better leverage, though shorter ones worked if the pan had a good helper handle.
     
  3. Low, flaring, curved sides are usually ideal in a skillet. But a thoroughly preheated cast-iron skillet radiates heat so intensely that browning was easy even in pans with higher, straighter sides, as long as they had a broad enough cooking surface.
     
  4. The best pans in our lineup measure at least 10 inches across the cooking surface, which provides enough room for even the biggest steaks to brown without crowding and steaming.
     
  5. Neither enameled nor traditional cast iron is “best.” Both offer great heat retention and superior browning, and there are standout options for both types of pans at a variety of price points. To see which type of pan fits your cooking style better, take our quiz.
The Best Cast-Iron Skillets

Highly Recommended Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

 

Highly Recommended Le Creuset Signature 11 3/4" Iron Handle Skillet

With flaring sides, an oversize helper handle, wide pour spouts, a satiny interior, and balanced weight, this expensive but beautifully made pan is a pleasure to cook in.

 

What About Lightweight Cast Iron?

Another new option on the market in recent years is lightweight cast iron. Unlike traditional cast-iron pans, lightweight cast-iron pans are made in a metal mold, which allows them to be made thinner. They are also machined or milled to thin them further, and their handles are attached separately with rivets. We tried three lightweight cast-iron skillets, comparing them with our favorite traditional cast-iron skillet in several tests.

All of the pans we tried were indeed lighter than a traditional cast-iron skillet—but that was pretty much their only advantage. All three lightweight pans heated up and cooled down faster than the thicker traditional cast iron. While they were easier to lift and handle, they were also far more reactive to heat changes, which caused them to cook much less evenly, with a distinct tendency to scorch along the outer edges. Overall, lightweight cast-iron skillets proved a disappointment, so they aren’t included in our recommendations.

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