Have you ever used a cast iron frying pan? Do you remember cast iron frying pans? Once, everyone had them and used them for all types of everyday cooking. Then aluminum and lightweight steel arrived, plus Teflon, and cast iron was tossed, well, on the scrap heap. However, in the last few years there has been a renaissance of thinking and cast iron frying pans are considered a must for a modern kitchen.
What Is Cast Iron?
Cast iron has been around for centuries and has been used for cooking just about that long. The process for making cast iron hasn’t really changed, it’s only more mechanized. Cast iron is made by blending steel and iron. The material is melted and certain chemicals are added to increase the carbon level. The molten material is poured into a mold and cooled. Once the metal has cooled, the mold is broken and the pan is smoothed to make it ready for cooking.
Just think about how durable this material is. Iron and steel, two of the strongest materials on earth. Part of the resurgence in interest is because cast iron will last a long, long time. It used to be common to have pans passed down from generation to generation. Except for an occasional outbreak of rust (which can be treated) the pans never failed.
Recently there have been some health concerns about different types of materials being used in modern cookware. Teflon and other non-stick treatments are being studied for any long term affects for ingesting the product (yes, you may have actually eaten Teflon). Anodized aluminum is known to give off emissions at high heat and copper cookware has been linked, unofficially, with certain heavy metal issues.
Seasoning A Cast Iron Pan
You have probably heard the phrase “seasoning the pan” when you have looked at cast iron. Seasoning is quite simple but quite necessary for the successful use of cast iron. Even if you have purchased an already seasoned pan, it never hurts to give it any treatment.
First, wipe the pan clean and make sure the inside is perfectly dry. Next, soak some paper towel with vegetable oil and wipe every inch of surface inside the pan. Don’t miss any spots, you will end up with areas that are constantly having food stick to it.
Last, place the pan upside down on a baking sheet and place on the highest rack in your oven. Set the oven at 500 degrees and leave the pan in for one hour. After it has cooled, wipe down the inside again with a very light coat of oil. You have just seasoned your pan an it is ready to be used or stored.
The Top Cast Iron Frying Pans
#1 The Lodge Pre-seasoned Skillet.
This made in the USA skillet is sturdy, durable and has the addition of an assist handle that we really like. At 10.25″ it is the perfect size for cooking meats such as burgers or steak. It’s also a good size for breakfast cooking, you have room for eggs and bacon in the same pan. It’s pre-seasoned and ready to use.
One thing to check when buying a pre-seasoned skillet is to find out what is used for the seasoning. Some manufacturers take a short cut and use a chemical spray. Lodge uses vegetable oil and avoids any artificial sprays. You will be able to make almost any recipe using this great skillet.
Not only is this skillet a full 10 1/4″ in diameter, it is a full 2″ deep. That’s a good depth for frying foods in oil, you can get the food into the skillet and the oil is deep enough to cook all around the food.
We really like the assist handle. An assist handle is the small grip across from the regular handle. You will be surprised at how often you use this. It’s great for lifting the skillet from the stove to the table or when taking the skillet out of the oven.
-Made in the USA. Lodge is a family run business.
-Pre seasoned with vegetable oil. You might want to season it again before using but it is ready to go out of the box.
-A well designed handle. It’s long enough to keep your hand away from the flame but not so long that the balance is bad.
-The assist handle is a great feature.
-No lid. A lid is available but has to be purchased separately.
-Pre seasoning may be erratic. Again, it’s always a good idea to season any pan.
#2 Amazon Basics 15″ Cast Iron Skillet
This large, pre seasoned cast iron skillet is part of the Amazon Basics collection. It’s extremely well made, has both an assist handle and pour lips and is over 2″ deep.
At 15″ this is a very large skillet. If you are just looking to make a couple of eggs you may find this to be too large and heavy. However, if you are making 4-5 burgers or a couple of steaks, this is a great sized skillet.
Another sturdy, durable cast iron pan. With a 2″ depth you can deep fry most foods quite easily. The pour lips are useful for those times that you need to pour out a liquid and the assist handle is solid.
-15″ diameter allows for cooking of most any type of food.
-An assist handle as well as pour lips on both sides of the skillet.
-Pre seasoned at the factory.
-No lid. 15″ lids can be found but it requires a separate purchase.
-Some buyers have complained that the seasoning is uneven. It’s always recommended that you season the pan before using.
-It’s heavy. It is a 15″ skillet so it is large. It will weight close to 9 pounds.
#3 The Victoria 12″ Cast Iron Frying Pan
A different sized pan, this heavy duty 12″ frying pan is rated safe to 500 degrees. Most people will never cook anything for any length of time at that temperature but this pan is tough enough to handle high heats.
One of the unique features of this cast iron frying pan is that it is seasoned with 100% non-GMO flaxseed oil. No artificial sprays or treatments, the company uses a safe, natural oil that is a good seasoning ingredient for cast iron.
At 12″ this pan is between a skillet and a frying pan (descriptions always vary when discussing diameters of pans). It’s a perfectly sized pan for most cooking and the handle design is outstanding. The balance is perfect and this pan is easy to handle, even when filled with food.
-Seasoning is done with non-GMO flaxseed oil.
-This pan has an assist handle as well as 2 pour lips for convenience.
-An extremely well designed handle. Even though this pan weights 6 pounds it is very easy to handle.
-Again, no lid. Glass lids are supposed to be available within the next year.
-While seasoned with flaxseed oil, some customers report that the coverage is erratic.
-Not quite as deep (under 2″) as some other frying pans.
Best Cast Iron Frying Pans Buying Guide
Should you buy a cast iron pan? The short answer is yes. They are inexpensive, easy to use and last forever. The longer answer is still yes but there is a bit more work involved with cast iron as opposed to other cookware made with different materials.
No matter what you hear, never use metal utensils with a cast iron pan. There are some who claim that they have been using a metal turner or pancake flipper with no problems. Ignore them. You can gouge the pan easily using metal tools.
For best results with cast iron cooking you should always use wooden or silicone rubber kitchen utensils. They may take a bit more work when it comes to scraping your pan but in the long run your pan will be much better for the effort.
No dishwasher for you cast iron pan. Ever. Never, ever, ever. Warm water and an occasional drop of dish washing soap will take care of your pan.
The best way to clean cast iron is to wipe it clean. We have become so germophobic that some people shudder at the thought of not putting a cooking tool into a 300 degree dishwasher and using a pound of disinfectant. Your pan will be clean and safe to use with a thorough wiping and a quick rinse with warm water.
It’s cast iron, it might rust. Don’t panic, a bit of rust doesn’t mean the pan is worthless. If it is just a flake or two, wipe the rust off and season the pan again. If there is a lot of rust, get some steel wool and rub the rust off. Season the pan and you are ready to cook.
We really like cooking with cast iron and, even though it takes a bit more work, the results are fantastic. Just make sure to take good care of your new (or old) cast iron pan and it will take care of you for years.