What’s the difference between cheap and expensive cast-iron cookware?

Cast-iron is a multi-talented piece of cooking equipment unmatched for its versatility. You can use a simple cast-iron skillet for cooking anything from roasted chicken and fried eggs to vegetable stir-frys or seared fish. 

Cast-iron heats up relatively quickly, but its true gift is its ability to retain heat and cook food evenly, giving you perfect, caramelized food with little effort. They’re easy to clean and easy to maintain with just a little insider knowledge. 

What makes cast-iron cookware so great?

Cast iron is naturally non-stick

A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is naturally non-stick because it’s coated with a layer of fat which is its “seasoning.”

International Collection Oil

Seasoning forms through a process called fat polymerization, in which a thin coat of unsaturated oil, like flaxseed oil, is applied to the surface of the iron and then heated in an oven. The oil dries to create a thin, almost plastic-feeling layer on the surface of the pan. 

Cast iron holds temperature consistently 

Iron is a poor conductor of heat, which means that it takes a while to heat up and cool down. It’s easy to get it to your desired temperature and then keep it there. This allows you to cook your food more evenly, as the temperature in your pan won’t vary as it sits on the burner.

What’s the difference between cheap and expensive cast-iron cookware? 

The critical difference between cheap and expensive cast-iron pans is the pre-seasoning included. 

luxury iron cast

Cheap cast-iron typically has a rough, porous surface. The smooth finish on a luxury cast-iron requires a time-consuming manufacturing process, so cheap brands don’t bother. This means you won’t be unboxing your cast-iron cookware to find a gorgeous layer of polymerization.  

Cast iron gets better with age. The oils you use while cooking fills the pores in your pan and continues to add to the layer of finish. If the pre-seasoning on your cast-iron pan leaves much to be desired, hope is not lost as long as you continue to maintain it and cook fatty, oily foods in it. 

Many people don’t want to wait for their cast-iron pan to become non-stick through repeated use, which is why you get what you pay for.

FINEX 8" Cast Iron Skillet with Lid

The glossiest, smoothest cast-iron cookware will be the most expensive, including luxury brands like Finex and Le Creuset. 

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet With Assist Handle

A good choice for beginners is a Lodge cast-iron pan or even a complete Lodge set of cast iron. A budget-priced set of heritage brand cast iron will get you a long way if you aren’t ready to invest in anything expensive. 

Tips for cooking with cast-iron 

  • Avoid cooking acidic foods like tomato sauces or lemon, vinaigrette or wine-based marinades in your cast-iron cookware. Cooking acidic foods in your cast-iron can break down the seasoning, plus they may cause the pan to impart a metallic taste into your food. 
  • It will take a while for your cast-iron to become adequately seasoned, so avoid cooking sticky foods in your pan for the first month or so.

Rubbermaid Easy Find Vented Lids Food Storage

  • Don’t store food in your cast-iron pan. While it’s tempting to cover the pan and pop it in the fridge, your cast-iron pan shouldn’t ever be left with food in it. Grab some Tupperware instead.  

How do I clean cast-iron cookware? 

You should avoid using soap on your cast-iron cookware because it can strip the seasoning from cookware.

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

To clean your cast-iron cookware after use, sprinkle some kosher salt into the pan and rub it around with a paper towel. This will pick up all the residue and oil. Discard the paper towel in the trash or compost it

Hiash Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Kitchen Tongs for Cooking

The best time to clean your cast-iron pan is while it’s still warm, directly after use. Be sure to use tongs to hold the paper towels to avoid burning your hand. 

If the food stuck to your cast-iron pan is too stubborn to wipe away, don’t scrub your pan with steel wool or soap. Instead, add some water to the pan and boil it on the stove. This will loosen the food and allow you to wipe it away. 

Homaxy 100% Cotton Waffle Weave Kitchen Dish Cloths

Cast iron will rust if exposed to moisture, so it’s essential to get it completely dry before storing it away. To dry your cast iron, first, wipe away any moisture with a kitchen towel. Next, place it on a burner and heat it for a couple of minutes or until it smokes.

Caron & Doucet - Cast Iron Seasoning & Cleaning Oil

Before you store your cast iron, wipe it down with a layer of cast-iron oil to preserve the seasoning. 

Best cast-iron cookware 

Top cast iron pan 

Finex 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet With Lid

Finex 12-Inch Cast-Iron Skillet With Lid

What you need to know: This is an exceptionally high-quality pre-seasoned cast-iron pan. 

What you’ll love: It’s seasoned with organic flaxseed oil and has an ultra-glossy, smooth finish. It’s ready to use directly out of the box and has a gorgeous geometric design. 

What you should consider: This is a pricey model, but if you don’t want to wait for your cast-iron to become seasoned with time, you’ll be glad you spent the extra dough. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top cast-iron for the money

Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned with Silicone Hot Handle Holder

Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet, Pre-Seasoned with Silicone Hot Handle Holder

What you need to know: This is a versatile, pre-seasoned cast-iron pan from a trusted brand. 

What you’ll love: You can sear stakes, fry eggs and bake cornbread with ease in this skillet from an iconic brand. People who use Lodge cast iron swear by it as their absolute favorite brand. 

What you should consider: This option will rust if not correctly cared for, but you can prevent this by ensuring it’s thoroughly dry before storing. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth considering 

Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 3-Piece Set

Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet 3-Piece Set

What you need to know: This is a budget-friendly option for a starter cast-iron set, including a 6-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch pan. 

What you’ll love: If you need multiple cast-iron pans for different sized dishes, your best bet is to buy a set like this one rather than buying individual pieces to make it more budget-friendly. This is a reasonably priced set with pre-seasoned, smooth finishes. 

What you should consider: It doesn’t come with a silicone handle for handling the hot iron, so you’ll have to use a potholder or order a silicone handle separately. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


Evelyn Waugh is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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