This review was last updated in October 2020.
Any chef will tell you how invaluable a cast iron skillet is for the perfect finish on steaks, but there’s a host of other dishes that cook like a dream in a well-seasoned, heavy pan.
Skillets take a bit of love and attention, however, in order to improve with age. All 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.
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.
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 or damage it. 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.
We were looking for pans that were easy to move around – they can get heavy – and that had superior heat distribution without hot spots. Were they pre-seasoned well and easy to cook with straight from the off? Did they retain heat if taken straight to the table for serving?
Our finalists made the grade, 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 only be rivalled by barbecuing.
As with most kitchen kit, the big-price tickets won the day here, but there are some bargain buys perfect for starting your journey into cast-iron cooking. We say 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.
A note on cast iron pan safety
Unlike traditional frying pans that usually have handles coated with a heat resistant material like plastic or rubber, these skillets heat in their entirety; handles can heat as thoroughly as the pans themselves. Always have a thick cloth, oven glove or silicon sleeve to hand before moving them while hot.
The best cast iron skillets to buy
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.
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. They can be cooked in, 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.
Jean Patrique non-stick cast iron skillet pan
Best colourful skillet pan
Something to brighten up the kitchen if you’re not a fan of the utilitarian look of most skillets, this version came with a cheerful blue enamel coating and inner lining.
Pre-seasoned before packing, we still gave it a further coating of flax oil as the inside of the pan was not as smooth as other enamelled models.
This resulted in perfect fried eggs, transferring easily to the plate and will, of course, only get better over time.
The handle was longer and thinner on the Jean Patrique model than many other pans, so we were doubly careful not to wash it until it had cooled down thoroughly – any weaker spots in cast iron can break if dropped or if they cool too rapidly. It also got in the way a bit when transferring to the table to serve.
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 regulation 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 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 wrestling a pan stuffed with braised chicken and potatoes to the oven was made easier 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.
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.
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.
It’s a great size – perfect for browning large cuts of meat or cooking whole fry-ups. It also has a two handles, making it easy to lift up. It’s very heavy, but feels durable.
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.
Why buy a cast iron skillet pan?
A cast iron skillet is more heavy-duty than a standard frying pan, making it resistant to knocks and scrapes. 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.
How we tested cast iron skillet pans
We tested a sample of skillets in our Test Kitchen using eggs and steak. We marked the pans against the following criteria:
• All round comfort
• Heat distribution
• How non-stick they were
• How heatproof they were
• Weight of the pan
• If they could easily be transferred to the oven
• How quickly they heated up
• How easy they were to clean and store
• How well they browned meat
What to cook in your cast iron skillet pan
The best pans, tried and tested
This review was last updated in October 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.