I value cast iron cookware for its superb heat retention, durability, and its capacity to endure extremely high temperatures.
I recommend every household has at least one cast iron pan.
Yet, it requires a little bit more attention than non-stick or stainless cookware.
But in exchange, I always get a profound sear even on the thickest steaks. And best of it all, it’s the only cookware that gets better with use.
Read on to find why you need cast iron in your kitchen collection and the best cast iron cookware sets on the market.
Best Cast Iron Cookware: What You Should Know
Why Season Cast Iron?
New cast iron isn’t always non-stick. Cast iron cookware should always be seasoned, especially if it’s new or the seasoning has worn off. The idea of seasoning is to form a nice non-stick layer on the cast iron to prevent your food from sticking.
Luckily, most cookware sets will come pre-seasoned. Still, it’s always worth topping up the single layer for more non-stick performance.
Below is a quick guide on how to season a cast iron pan:
- Clean and dry your pan
- Warm in oven
- Apply a small layer of oil (preferably flaxseed oil, but you can use vegetable oil)
- Heat in oven at 200℃ (400℉) for an hour
- Repeat 3-5 times
In case you want visuals, this video elaborates on the concept quite well.
I’ve prepared a more detailed guide on seasoning cast iron cookware.
Cleaning A Cast Iron Pan
While enameled cast iron won’t require much attention, uncoated cast iron requires extra care, especially during cleaning.
I usually scrap off the cooked-on food before using my scrubber on the pot. You can boil water in the pan to help loosen it, something I rarely do.
Some say that you can use a detergent to remove the grease from the pan. But remember to use a mild detergent to avoid getting rid of your hard-acquired seasoning.
Cast iron cookware has never been dishwasher safe. So, always resist that urge.
If, in any case, you find it made its way to the dishwasher, no need to panic. Simply follow the seasoning guide above.
What Not to Cook in A Cast Iron Pan
Although it can be a little slow to heat up, once it’s hot, it retains heat for a long time. That’s why it’s my favorite when it comes to frying, braising, searing, and grilling.
However, this same advantage makes it harder to use in cooking delicate foods like fish that require a quick temperature change.
If you are a fan of acidic foods such as tomato sauces, then uncoated cast iron cookware might not be the best option. This is because cooking acidic foods for extended periods will ruin the pan’s coating resulting in a metallic taste. If you do cook acidic foods, do it quickly, and clean the pan straight away. Otherwise, the acid will start eating the pan!
Cooking with Cast Iron
It’s worth remembering that cast iron cooks slightly differently. It takes longer to warm up and cool down, and retains it’s heat better when exposed to food.
This can make it great for searing, but maybe over the top when frying some eggs.
In theory, it would also make it great for stir frying, yet woks are so big and cast iron so heavy, that it would not be easy to toss them! For this reason I actually recommend using carbon steel woks.
Bare, non-enameled cast iron can be ideal for camping due to it’s durability and resistance to the heat of a campfire. Check out my camping Dutch oven guide for more information.
Cast iron offers phenomenal heat distribution, when pre-warmed. Yet if you put food on it too soon you may find it cooks unevenly. Give your pan time to heat up!
Once warmed, cast iron’s heat retention is phenomenal. This makes it great for foods like stir fry.
What to Look for in the Best Cast Iron Pans and Cookware
Single Pan Vs. Set
Most cast iron cookware will come in the form of single skillets rather than complete sets. This is mainly because people often use cast iron for specific purposes.
If you’re new to cast iron, I don’t recommend getting a full set. It will be too much. There’s a risk you spend a lot of money, only for it to end up sitting in the pantry, unused. Instead I’d suggest starting with one of:
- A skillet like this basic one
- A dutch oven like this one which is ideal for baking no-knead bread
- Other cast iron pots which can be used for more than just bread
- A griddle (check out my cast iron griddle reviews)
Skillets and Dutch ovens are among the most standard and affordable cast iron options out there.
Confused on what to choose? First, consider what you want to cook, then find the pan/set that will best serve that purpose.
Enameled Vs. Raw
I love enameled cast iron because it never requires seasoning and sometimes can fare quite well in the dishwasher. With this type, you can comfortably slow cook your acidic foods without the worry of acquiring a metallic taste. Enamel can also be used on any cooktop and is normally oven safe.
My only issue is if the enamel coating cracks or chips, there is no way to repair it. This could mean repeat shopping trips to purchase something that isn’t exactly cheap!
With uncoated, bare, “raw” cast iron, you don’t have to worry about this. The only coating it requires can easily be repaired at home when it gets worn out.
Bare cast iron is virtually indestructible and, if properly cared for, can be passed down from generation to generation. Just remember to avoid sticky foods like eggs before your pan is well seasoned.
In this guide, I’m going to focus on raw, bare cast iron cookware. I’ve written about enameled cookware sets and individual enameled cast iron skillets, if you’re interested.
Size and Weight
One of the significant downsides of cast iron products is their weight. They are considerably heavier than similar sized cookware made of other materials.
And while bigger is always better, always keep the weight in mind. You don’t want to buy something you can’t lift.
In my opinion heaviness can be a sign of quality. The best cast iron cookware tends to weigh a lot as it has a lot of iron in it making it more durable. On the other hand, it will take longer to warm up, and can be a pain to handle.
Heavy pans will also require sturdy shelves or hooks for storage. I’ve had a cast iron pan pull the hook it was hanging from off the wall before! Though I’m not sure if it was the pan or my DIY skills…
Since you are probably going to be using your cast iron for heavy-duty cooking, the handle configuration is crucial. Keep in mind that, with cast iron, you aren’t typically going to get an insulated handle that you can hold with your bare hands.
Typically, the handle and the pan form one cast iron block.
This is because, by including the handle in the cast, it reduces the risk of it coming apart later on. Other cookware has handles that come loose over time – not cast iron!
Some manufacturers have found a way around this by coming up with cool-touch handle covers.
Opt for pans with sturdy, but large enough handles for easy handling. Bigger pots will come with helper handles that help in moving and emptying.
If weight is an issue, you can opt for cast iron cookware made from thinner material. Although considerably lightweight and more comfortable to handle, it doesn’t heat evenly compared to its thicker counterparts. It also doesn’t retain heat quite as much, although the difference is minimal.
Thinner cast iron is also more likely to crack.
Best Cast Iron Cookware Sets
Lodge Preseasoned Cast Iron 5 Piece Set, Black – Best Cast Iron Cookware Set
Lodge is an old Tennessee company known for making the best cast iron pans. And they ultimately didn’t disappoint in this 5-piece set.
This Lodge cast iron cookware set includes a 10.5-inch (26 cm) griddle, 10.25-inch skillet, 8-inch (20 cm) skillet, 5 quart dutch oven and a lid that will work on everything except the 8 inch skillet.
I really like the cast iron Dutch oven which is a nice size and holds more than you would expect at first.
Although this cast iron cookware set comes ‘pre-seasoned,’ I do recommend adding some seasoning yourself before first use.
This is one of the best quality cast iron cookware sets out there and I would recommend to anyone looking to transition to cast iron. If you take care of this set, it will take care of you!
- Great quality
- Easy-grip handles
- Induction suitable
- Made in the USA (if that matters)
- Pre-seasoned cast iron
One money saving option is to get just a single pan, in which case I recommend the Lodge cast iron skillet. This 10 1/4 inch one is a good size pre-seasoned cast iron pan that will get you started.
Legend 3.2 Qt Cast Iron Multi-Cooker Skillet Set (Best Cast Iron Multi-Cooker Set)
If you are not a fan of one-trick ponies like me, you will be delighted to know that this ‘single’ piece serves as a skillet and a pot. This set is perfect in every way. I find the lower-edged pan (lid) ideal for pancakes and eggs, while the pot serves many of my other cooking needs.
Once seasoned well, it is entirely non-stick, heats evenly, maintains the heat for a long time, and can be used on stovetops and ovens.
This size is suitable for a couple or small family. If you require a more extensive set, I suggest opting for one of the other cookware sets below.
In my opinion, this is one of the best cast iron cooking sets. Take time to season it properly, and in exchange, you will enjoy a lifetime of happy meals and easy cleanup.
- Skillet doubles as lid turning saucepan into a Dutch oven
- Long handles for live-fire cooking
- Genuinely non-stick if correctly seasoned
- Comes with a straightforward manual of how to season
- Works on all cooktops
- Great price
- Pre-seasoned with vegetable oil
- Heavy -13.17 pounds (6kgs)
- A bit rougher than it should be
- Not always available
Bruntmor Pre-Seasoned 7 Piece Heavy-Duty Cast-Iron Cooking Set – Best Cast Iron Cookware for Car Camping
This 7-piece cast iron cookware set includes a 12 inch (30 cm) skillet, 4.5 quart Dutch oven pot, 2.5 quart saucepan, 20 x 9 inch (50 x 22 cm) cast iron griddle, and an 8.6 inch (22 cm) trivet & Dutch oven lid lifter. What they call a griddle actually looks a grill pan to me.
What I love about the set is it comes perfectly pre-seasoned (although I advise adding a few more coatings of the season before use) and is great value for a seven-piece set.
However, if you are going to purchase the set, do so for the cookware and not the ‘vintage storage box.’ It is pretty weak with no holding power and not suitable for carrying the set.
And although it claims camping cooking set, it’s quite a lot to take on a camping trip and very heavy!
It’s certainly not suitable for backpacking trip (unless you are the Incredible Hulk)! Still if there’s a few of you and you have space in the car for it, maybe it could be used camping. It will work well on the campfire, that’s for sure.
I think this is a great set for an indoor or outdoor kitchen. Sure it could work camping; cast iron is excellent for fires. Just make sure you’ve got the space for it!
- Great value for a 7-set cookware
- A lid lifter is a plus
- Handles suitable for open fire use
- Cook everything you want anywhere
- Pre-seasoned cast iron cookware
- Heavy- weighs 41.5 pounds (19kgs)
- Low-quality storage box
Stansport Cast Iron 6 Piece Cookware Set
This 6-piece cookware set includes a 10-inch (25 cm) fry pan, 3-quart chicken fryer, 10-inch Dutch oven, 10-inch universal lid, lid lifter, and a cast-iron hot handle holder.
Not only is this complete cast iron cookware set great value for the number of pans, but it is an excellent camping set weighing just 6.5 pounds (3kgs). When properly seasoned, the pots are genuinely non-stick, cook evenly, sturdy, easy to clean, and have zero new pan odor.
This is a clever and well designed pre-seasoned cast iron cookware set. There’s one lid, but you can use it with any of the three cookware pieces. To top it off, there is a lid lifter, and a handle holder as the handle (being cast iron) will get hot.
- Great value
- Lightweight for a 6-piece cast iron set
- Good for camping
- Attractive lid that fits in any of the three cookware pieces
- Comes with a lid lifter and handle holder
- Pre-seasoned cast iron
- Curved lid unsuitable for camping (hard to get coals to sit on top)
- You will need to add some seasoning yourself
Preseasoned Cast Iron 2-In-1 Multi-Cooker | 3-Quart
Another versatile multicooker that allows you to use the 3-qt deep pan like a pan or a pot, while the lid can function as a shallow griddle or skillet.
As an avid bread baker, I love baking and searing a steak in the same pan. The ‘lid’ skillet is excellent for smaller meals, eggs, and grilled cheese. The bottom can do different dishes, including pasta and fried chicken. I also appreciate the extra loop on the deep pan, which makes it easier to lift.
Given the relatively lightweight nature of this 2 piece cast iron cookware set, I think they would be great for camping and outdoor adventures. I also recommend seasoning these yourself.
- Skillet doubles as lid turning saucepan into a Dutch oven
- Great price for two
- Even heat distribution
- Pre-seasoned cast iron
- Rough inner surface (even for cast iron!)
- Not the greatest quality – reports of it cracking
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet Set (Best Cast Iron Skillet Set)
Sometimes people just want a cast iron skillet set. That is normally 2 or 3 cast iron skillets of different sizes.
They stack well in the cupboard and let you cook several things at the same time. Personally I find multiple cast iron skillets to be a waste–it’s nice to have pans in other materials to increase your choice. Perhaps a stainless steel pan and a non-stick pan.
Yet, if you are looking for a set of cast iron skillets, this Lodge pre-seasoned cast iron set could be ideal for you.
This skillet set is robust, durable and solid.
There have been a small number of customers reporting some defects on arrival. These include:
- Chipped seasoning
- A small crown in the center causing oil to pool around the sides
- A crack in a pan
While these sorts of complaints are rare, since they do happen its worth checking your cast iron cookware on arrival. Carefully inspect them for any cracks. Put them on a level surface and pour some water on them–does the water pool anywhere?
If there are any unfixable defects return before using them. (Chipped seasoning is fixable- just add some more seasoning.)
- Pre-seasoned cast iron cookware
- High quality, super durable
- Stack well in cupboard
- Do you really need three cast iron skillets?
- Some pans come with a small crown in the center
- Still needs top up seasoning
Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Line– Best Enameled Cast Iron
Cast iron is amazing but it cane be a little bit of work. Plus, while it has a beautiful rustic look, that appearance doesn’t suit every kitchen.
Enamel is beautiful and comes in a range of colors for different tastes. Plus it is normally easier to care for. On the other hand it isn’t quite as durable as “raw” cast iron.
Le Creuset and Staub are both French manufacturers who make the highest quality enameled cast iron cookware. I personally prefer Le Creuset as it seems to have a really beautiful appearance and just leads Staub on quality.
This 5 piece Le Creuset Signature cast iron cookware set includes a 1.75 quart (1.65 liter) saucepan a 7.25 quart Dutch oven (6.8 liters), and a 9″ (22.8 cm) skillet.
Many people buy Le Creuset pieces individually, this spreads out the cost plus perhaps you only need one piece anyway. To facilitate this I look at each piece in this cookware set individually.
Le Creuset Signature Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are Le Creuset’s forte, and they don’t let you down here. Both appearance and quality are amazing.
The tight-fitting lid locks in moisture, and the thick walls retain heat, making this pot a great keep-warm pot. The ergonomic handles give you the ability to carry this pot from stovetop to tabletop. Though beware–it’s heavy!
The sand-colored enamel on the interior is beautiful and makes it easier to see food particles when cleaning.
Unfortunately some people do have experience of the light-colored interior staining. I suggest Bar Keepers friend if that happens to you.
- Superb heat retention and distribution
- Consistent high-performer
- Comes in a range of attractive colors
- Wide looped handles
- Light colored interior can stain
- Very heavy pot
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Skillet
This 10.25-inch (26 cm) cast iron skillet has a wide helper handle and pouring lips on the sides.
Customers loved the sturdy construction and even heating. However, many reported food sticking to the pan.
A word of warning. Take care to use proper cooking techniques to avoid damaging your skillet. Always preheat the skillet, add oil and avoid using high heat. Avoid metal utensils.
- Comes in a range of attractive colors
- Black satin enamel requires no seasoning
- Oven safe for temps up to 500°F (260°C)
- Reports of food sticking
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron Saucepan
The Le Creuset Signature line includes a 1.75-quart (1.65 liter) saucepan with lid. The enameled cast iron saucepan is oven-safe up to 500°F (260°C). It is also compatible with all cooktops.
The two handles are especially helpful when it comes to handling the extra weight of this pot. You will need them!
- Oven-safe up to 500°F (260° C)
- Sand-colored enamel interior to see food
- Helper handle
- Smaller size
Which buyer should choose the Le Creuset Signature Cookware Set?
This cast iron cookware set is best for those who want the highest quality and are willing to pay for it.
Although technically easier than the raw cast iron cookware sets, this isn’t a beginner cookware set. The price alone says that.
If you have to choose just one piece, I would go with the Le Creuset Dutch oven. It’s hands down one of the best cast iron pots on the market and will last for years.
On the hand there are more affordable enamel cast iron cookware sets. One of my favorites is Cuisinart, which doesn’t come as a whole cookware set but only as individual pieces. Check out my enameled cast iron cookware roundup to read more about Le Creuset, Cuisinart and other options.
Is Cast Iron cookware bad for you?
Cast iron is a healthy traditional form of cookware. It doesn’t have any toxins in it and is safe to use, unless you need to avoid a high iron intake.
Specifically, some caution should be exercised when cooking in cast iron for children under 6, and it should be avoided altogether for those with hemochromatosis (excess iron).
Caution when cooking for children using cast iron cookware includes:
- Avoid acidic foods
- Don’t leave the food in the pan more time than is necessary
- Ensure the cookware is properly seasoned
- Add plenty of oil
Is it OK to cook bacon in a cast iron skillet?
Bacon is great for cast iron skillets! The fat from the bacon can actually help season the skillet. In fact bacon is recommended as one of the first foods to cook in new cast iron skillets, after seasoning.
Pork chops and steaks also make great food for cast iron fry pans.
What is the trick to cooking with cast iron cookware?
To cook well with cast iron cookware:
- Pre-heat it to the temperature you want to cook at
- Add cooking oil, (extra virgin olive oil unless cooking at high temperatures in which case use vegetable oil)
- Spread the oil around the pan
- Let the oil warm up (there should be small bubbles in it)
- Then, and only then, add the food
- If cooking food on both sides, turn the food once. In many cases the food is ready to turn when it “releases”, turning it too early can cause it to stick to the pan.
- After cooking immediately clean your cast iron cookware, dry it on the stove and then lightly oil it
That’s all there is to cast iron cooking!
What are the benefits of a cast iron skillet?
A cast iron skillet is more durable than other cookware. If you take care of it , you will be passing it on to the next generation. What’s more, for the price you are getting it at, it’s the best value cookware on the market.
It also heats evenly, if pre-warmed, and doesn’t lose heat when food touches a part of it.
On the other hand a cast iron pans do need some maintenance, and can take a while to warm up.
What are cast iron pans not good for?
I wouldn’t recommend cast iron pans for cooking fish: it’s likely to stick!
Equally I would avoid cast iron pots when cooking pasta–it will take longer to heat up and stainless steel cooking pots are ideal for this.
You probably shouldn’t use cast iron pans to cook acidic foods, like tomatoes, as they “eat” the metal.
Cast iron is great for home cooks, despite the extra care it needs. It can cook anything from bread to eggs. Give it a try!
Is black residue on cast iron cookware bad?
The black residue sounds like it might be a layer of seasoning. This is not only, not bad, but is essential for protecting your cast iron cookware.
Even if your cast iron cookware is brand new it may come pre-seasoned. “Pre-seasoned” means the manufacturer has added a layer of seasoning for you.
The exception to this is enamel cookware. Enamel cookware doesn’t need seasoning as the enamel coating protects the cast iron. In this case apply some Bar Keeper’s friend to remove it.
Whatever happens, don’t clean off the seasoning from regular cast iron cookware though!
Is a cast iron skillet good for frying?
A quality cast iron skillet makes a great frying pan, as long as you pre-warm and use plenty of oil. In fact the oil may even help add seasoning to your cast iron frying pan.
Unlike non-stick frying pans, a cast iron skillet will last for decades, or longer, if properly cared for.
A carbon steel skillet can also make a good frying pan, and is lighter and smoother than cast iron.
What about cast iron pots?
Cast iron pots are normally called a Dutch ovens, however there are some variations. I review cast iron cooking pots more detail in this roundup.
Can you use a cast iron cooking set on an induction cooktop?
Theoretically yes. But there is a risk the cast iron could scratch the induction cooktop. If you must do this, I suggest using a layer of baking paper between the cast iron and the cooktop.
Yet, you may find it better to buy dedicated induction cookware.
My Verdict: Best Cast Iron Cookware Set
Best Cast Iron Cookware Sets
My top pick is the Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron 5 Piece Set, which is versatile and great for induction cooktops. It even comes with a silicone pot holder, silicone handle mitt, pan, and grill scrapers.
The only downside with this cast iron cookware set is its hefty weight. But that’s a price you should be ready to pay for the best cast iron cookware.
While it comes at a higher price tag, you get what you pay for: And what you are getting here is service that lasts lifetimes.
Best Budget Cast Iron Cookware Set
Finding cheap cast iron cookware sets isn’t too difficult. With cast iron, you automatically get a certain level of quality even at the budget end of the range.
If you are looking for an affordable cast iron cookware set, I recommend the Stansport Cast Iron 6 Piece Cookware Set. You get reasonable quality at a sweet price.