Best Cast Iron Frying Pans From Consumer Reports' Tests

Mary H.J. Farrell

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Cast iron frying pans have been around for hundreds of years, but lately they’ve gained in popularity. Sales of this cookware increased nearly 15 percent over the past three years, according to the 2019 Housewares Census conducted by HomeWorld Business, a trade journal.

A number of new, modestly priced offerings are on the market, joining such iconic brands as Lodge. The newcomers include the Pioneer Woman line, sold exclusively at Walmart, and Artisanal Kitchen Supply, sold exclusively at Bed Bath & Beyond. Boutique manufacturers are also producing small batches of hand-crafted pans. In CR’s cast iron pan tests, prices for tested models range from $16 to $295.

In addition to being incredibly durable—they can last for decades, if not generations—cast iron pans are particularly good at searing because they retain heat well. In fact, all 13 pans in our ratings ace our searing test.

Caring for a cast iron pan might take a little practice, though. Most pans these days come preseasoned with a layer of oil baked into the iron, but some require you to do this yourself to keep food from sticking. You also have to be careful not to remove the patina from the cooking oil that develops over time—many manufacturers suggest simply wiping the pan clean when you’re done cooking (though you can use a little mild detergent if you want). And you definitely shouldn’t put a cast iron pan in the dishwasher.

If your pan gets caked-on food from cooking, you’ll have to try some old-school cleaning methods, such as boiling water in the pan to loosen the food. Coarse salt can work, too. “Salt is an abrasive, so you can use it to scour the pan with a paper towel, Fisher says. “After cleaning, wipe it out, let it dry, and season it with oil.”

How We Test Cast Iron Pans
To see how well a cast iron frying pan works for home cooks, we sear steaks, brown scallops, and bake cornbread. “We focus our testing on what people typically use cast iron for,” says Cindy Fisher, the engineer who oversees our cookware tests. We also measure heating evenness with a thermal camera, as well as record how hot the pan and the handle get. Hint: All the handles get hot enough to burn your hand—make sure you have a pot holder nearby.

Below are the five top-scoring 12-inch cast iron frying pans from our tests, listed in alphabetical order, not in order of CR rank. For more information on these and other pans in our tests, see our cookware and frying pan ratings.

Artisanal Kitchen Supply Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet (Bed Bath Beyond)

CR’s take: Sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, the Artisanal aces our browning tests, earning an Excellent rating and making perfect scallops. It was just as good at searing a steak, too. It baked cornbread that was moist and golden brown but not quite as good as the cornbread from the Butter Pat pan in our tests. The downsides: This pan wasn’t great at heating up evenly, and at 8.3 pounds, it’s the heaviest in our tests.

Bayou Classic Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

CR’s take: The Bayou Classic earns an Excellent rating for searing steak. It’s almost as good at browning scallops, but only so-so at baking cornbread. Heating evenness is also middling. It weighs 7 pounds.

Butter Pat Joan Cast Iron Skillet

CR’s take: The pricey Butter Pat aces our tests for baking cornbread and searing a juicy New York strip steak, and is the only cast iron pan that earns a Very Good for heating evenness. At just over 6 pounds, it’s also one of the lighter models in our tests. Its handle gets much hotter than the handles of all the other frying pans in our labs, though, so you’ll want to be careful handling it while cooking. The Butter Pat is sold only on the company's website.

Lodge Cast Iron Pre-seasoned

CR’s take: Lodge has been making cast iron frying pans in its Tennessee foundry since 1896 and is one of the few surviving iconic American brands. This 12-inch Lodge is top-notch at browning scallops and earns an Excellent rating for searing a steak. Baking is only so-so, though. Heating evenness is also mediocre. It weighs 7.8 pounds, which is about average.

Victoria Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

CR’s take: The Victoria is one of the lowest-priced pans we test, but it browns and sears just as well as some higher-priced ones, earning top scores on both tests. But it was only so-so in our cornbread test, and scores a Fair on our heating evenness test, the lowest rating of the pans here. But at 6.9 pounds, it’s lighter than many other of the pans in our tests.

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Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.