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 in the market.
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 preseasoned. Still, it’s always worth topping up the single layer for more non-stick performance.
Below is a quick guide on how to season:
- Clean and dry your pan
- Warm in oven
- Apply a small layer of oil (preferably flaxseed oil)
- Heat in oven at 200℃ (400℉) for an hour
- Repeat 3-5 times
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.
What to Look for When Buying Cast Iron 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. Non-enameled
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. Enameled cast iron can also be used on any cooktop and is normally oven safe.
My only issue is if the 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, non-enameled 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 non-enameled, bare cast iron cookware. I’ve already written about enameled cast iron skillets, if you’re interested.
Size and Weight
One of the significant downsides of cast iron cookware 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.
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
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
- Heavy -13.17 pounds (6kgs)
- A bit rougher than it should be
- Not always available
This 7-set cookware 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 preseasoned (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
- Heavy- weighs 41.5 pounds (19kgs)
- Low-quality storage box
This beautiful 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 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
- Curved lid unsuitable for camping (hard to get coals to sit on top)
- You will need to add some seasoning yourself
Lodge is an old Tennessee company known for making the best cast iron pots and pans. And they ultimately didn’t disappoint in this 5-piece set.
The set includes a 10.5-inch (26 cm) griddle, 10.25-inch skillet, 10.25-inch grill pan, 6-inch (15cm) silicone pot holder, silicone handle mitt, and grill scrapers.
I love that the silicon handle mitt is oven safe to 500°F (260°C). (Though not the pot holder).
Lodge has also been smart with the lid here as it fits both the skillet and the Dutch oven.
Although these are ‘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
- Oven safe silicone handle mitt (up to 500°F/260°C)
- Induction suitable
- Made in the USA (if that matters)
- Hefty- 28.1 pounds (13kgs)
Another versatile multicooker that allows you to use the 3-qt deep pan like a pan or a Dutch oven, 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 lightweight nature of this set (for cast iron), 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
- Rough inner surface (even for cast iron!)
- Not the greatest quality – reports of it cracking
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 set is its hefty weight. But that’s a price you should be ready to pay for quality 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.