Best Frugal Cast Iron Skillet Pan – America’s Test Kitchen

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Back in 2007, I wrote about cast iron skillets as the ultimate frugal cookware? To this day, I still think they can play a regular role in the home kitchen. America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) has recently released to free e-mail newsletter subscribers the results from their extensive test of various cast-iron skillets. They made everything from scrambled eggs to steaks to cornbread. (Must sign-up and log-in to view. Did I mention it’s informational and free?)

Over the past 30 years, nonstick skillets have taken the place of cast iron in most homes. But with disturbing reports about the effects of nonstick coatings on the environment and our health, we decided to take another look at cast iron to see if it’s worth bringing back into the kitchen.

Cast iron has always been known to have a few advantages over other types of cookware. Its material and weight give it excellent heat retention for high-heat cooking techniques such as frying and searing. You can use it on the stovetop or bake with it in the oven. Its durability is legendary—many people are still cooking with cast-iron pans handed down for generations. Unlike most consumer products, cast-iron pans actually improve with time and heavy use.

Cast iron also has disadvantages. It’s heavy and needs special care. […]

As to the special care, I suggest reading this link about the many myths about cast iron pans. A bit of soap is fine. You do want to keep them dry when not in use to avoid rust spots, though.

The winner? Why, the same model and size I bought myself back in 2007, the $34 Lodge L10SK3 Pre-Seasoned Skillet, 12-Inch with a 4.6/5 rating and over 5,000 reviews. (This 10-inch version is only $15.) Read the full article for the details and rankings of other brands. Here’s a screenshot of my Amazon page when logged-in as proof:

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These days, my workhorse cookware is my enameled cast iron dutch oven. Soups, stews, chilis, short ribs, pork shoulder, and so on. Eggs, searing, and cornbread can be done as well. Less maintenance but a little costlier. Well, Le Creuset and Staub are high quality and high price (we got one as a gift and love it), but this $70 Lodge dutch oven also gets good reviews. Tramontina dutch ovens are another well-reviewed and cost-conscious choice; you can find them sometimes at Wal-Mart and Costco physical stores.

Comments

  1. Not much in this world beats out a nice burger cooked in a cast iron skillet.

  2. The Costco enameled 6qt dutch oven I bought was a bargain at $29.99. I prefer it over a slow cooker any day.

    • I want to say that one is made by Tramontina.

      I agree – The best thing about dutch ovens over slow cookers is that you can sear your meat first and then do the slow braise. That searing makes a significant difference in flavor and texture.

      • Ninja makes a slow cooker that can do both (sear, then slow cook), but I’m not lazy enough to spend $200 on a slow cooker just to avoid using an additional pan I’ve already paid for.

  3. During Thanksgiving week, you can get Le Creuset pots at reasonable prices from their outlet stores… they were usually less than half of the retail prices during promotions…

  4. I had also purchased a Lodge 12″ cast iron skillet back in 2003 ($13, but wasn’t pre-seasoned), and honestly, it’s been one of the best kitchen investments I’ve ever made. It’s a bit heavy and unwieldy for my wife to manage, but I use it as much as I can (maybe 3 times a week?). It’s a bit intimidating if you’ve never used one before, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t turn back. Hopefully the enlightening article about cast iron myths will convince the uninitiated to give it a try.

  5. love our cast iron skillet. it is perfect for searing salmon, making a dutch pancake, frying frog legs, etc. the right tool for the job is important and in the kitchen vital.

  6. I love our Lodge cookware.
    It is still made right here in the USA, which is also nice. FYI, I looked into their enameled cookware, and the enameled dutch ovens appear to be made in China.

  7. I took this article to heart and bought the 10 inch and 12 inch versions. Wegmans had the 12 inch for only $20 and the 10 inch for $15! So far I’m liking the results and it’s really not hard to take care of.

  8. Do you think it would be ok to use cast iron on glass top electric cooktop? I would like to get a this recommended 12″ skillet, but afraid it would damage/scratch the cooktop. thoughts?
    Thanks,
    Dan

    • I would say it depends on the smoothness of your cast iron bottom, the weight/size of the pan, and your sensitivity to scratches. I use mine now and then but not daily, the bottom is relatively smooth, and my glass top electric has a lot of small scratches on it but I don’t really mind too much. I use a big huge enameled cast iron dutch oven on it a lot too so that probably made a bunch of those scratches too. 🙂

  9. I have the 10 inch version of the Lodge and it’s great! I do wish I had the 12 inch’er every now and then. The seasoning is getting really good now.

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