If you’re looking to upgrade your cooking game, cast your attention this way.
Cast iron cookware is a staple for some, but new for a lot of home cooks — wanting to understand what exactly makes it such a great material, how to cook with it, how to clean it and what “seasoning a pan” even means.
To answer all those questions and more, we chatted with two celebrity chefs — chef and author Mareya Ibrahim and Iron Chef Cat Cora, as who better to chat cast iron than an Iron Chef?
After our cooking (and cleaning) lesson, we then have a list of the best cast iron pots and pans to try for yourself, some recommended by our chefs and others by rave reviews from seasoned cooks — pun intended. Skip to a specific section or read the whole rundown on how to add some sizzle with cast iron in 2022.
What is cast iron?
Cast iron is a great way to get a crispy sear on your food, go from stovetop to oven and back, shallow fry, braise and evenly heat most anything with ease.
“It is a blend of iron and carbon steel, which gives the pan extra sturdiness, durability and exceptional heat retention,” explained Ibrahim. “Because of its weight, it’s excellent for high and low heat cooking, including slow-cook braises, frying and goes from stove top to the oven very easily. It gives a beautiful crust to proteins too.”
They can also replace your non-stick pans, as with a little seasoning, they have a glossy texture that prevents foods from sticking. Plus, they get that crust and crunch of the grill, without having to head outside or get any messy charcoal involved.
“[It is also] chemical free, there is less oil needed and you get iron enriched food,” added Iron Chef Cora.
How to season and clean cast iron cookware?
What is seasoning? Some pans come pre-seasoned, but others need a bit of prep work. All you need to do is apply vegetable oil to the pot or pan, stick it in the oven on high heat (pay attention to the instructions on the cookware) and let it bake into the surface. Once done and cool, you can rub in some more oil to lock it all in and you are ready to cook.
“You just want to rinse with warm water and just scrap off the bits. Scrub with oil and salt and wipe clean,” instructed Cora. “Dry the pan and put a layer of oil and just put a paper towel on your skillet.”
Cleaning cast iron is also a bit different, but quite easy. After cooking and cooling, wipe down the surface with a damp rag and let the pan dry completely. If there is any residue, you can use course salt and a scrub brush with soft bristles and that should do the trick.
“I do clean mine, but I never let it soak in water,” said Ibrahim. “Just a quick hand wash, and I make sure to season it well with oil and a little salt. It will oxidize from the high iron content if it sits in water. I also avoid doing anything too delicate in the pan so I don’t have to use a tremendous amount of oil.”
“Never put in the dishwasher and don’t put away wet,” added Cora. “You also don’t want to cook acidic foods like simmer tomato sauce and never soak it in water.”
What can I cook in my cast iron cookware?
“[I love] giving a great crust to a tenderloin or salmon fillet!,” said Ibrahim. “My braised lemon and thyme chicken thighs get cooked to perfection in my cast iron skillet, as they get a finish in the oven. Also there’s nothing like a salmon breakfast hash with crusty potatoes and a few cracked eggs on top.”
This is an awesome note, as the pan can replace the need for a grill or bulky griddle for the sear, and also provide an even cooking temperature for frying things without an industrial fryer that many home cooks do not have.
“[I cook] fried chicken for sure!” said Cora. “Anything is good in cast iron. You get a good sear. And such good flavor.”
Don’t skip dessert, too! While many think about cast iron for dinner, since they are also oven-friendly, it opens up a whole new post-dinner world of cookies, pies, brownies and more.
“Cast iron is also awesome for desserts, like big share skillet cookies and pies, and I love the little individual sized skillets for a cute presentation,” added Ibrahim.
The best cast iron cookware brands to invest in for 2022
With questions out of the way, now we can get back to shopping — read on for the best skillets, pots and pans to shop for 2022. Iron Chef Cat Cora gave us her rundown for the best, sexiest and budget-friendly and then we provided some Post Wanted picks for the best new brands, cookware for camping and more.
1. Best overall cast iron brand: Lodge
This is both Iron Chef Cora’s and Chef Ibrahim’s top pick when it comes to cast iron. The sturdy Lodge brand has been cooking since 1896, and the best part is that they can be easily found on Amazon. We recommend the bestselling 10-1/4-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet to start, or get fully set up with a seven-piece set that includes three pans and hot grips for safety.
2. Sexiest cast iron cookware brand: Le Creuset
Is it hot in here or is it just Le Creuset cast iron cookware? Iron Chef Cat Cora named this as the sexiest brand, and for good reason. Their selection of Dutch ovens and cast iron post and pans come in stunning colors with sleek details and hardware. For a full set, check out the 10-piece set that comes in five colors, or shop a la carte on site.
3. Best lightweight cast iron cookware brand: Field Company
No need to play the field. Chef Cora named this company one of the best for lightweight options. Since cast iron can be super heavy and cumbersome, having a lighter option is great for those cooks who don’t need a workout while in the kitchen. Browse their selection here or choose to narrow it down to skillets, grills, Dutch ovens and more.
4. Best budget-friendly cast iron cookware: Utopia Kitchen
Budget chefs, take note. The Iron Chef picked Utopia Kitchen cast iron pans as the best bang for your buck, and we luckily found a whole set of them on Amazon. Get three pre-seasoned cast iron pans for only $29, or one stunning skillet for $23, easily shopped and shipped by Amazon.
5. Best new brand for cast iron cookware: Our Place
This cast iron Always Pan is a brand new launch for Our Place, bringing cast iron cooking to your place this summer. This pan can withstand hotter temperatures, go in and out of the oven safely and comes with a clear lid so you always know what’s cooking.
6. Best brand for vintage and restored cast iron cookware: Smithey
When in doubt, go with the tried and true. Smithey is known for cookware that lasts, and they will help yours do the same. Shop their cast iron selects here, or for those who have a pan in need of some TLC, head to the restoration section. There, you can send back a Smithey pan or even another brand and they will spruce it back up.
7. Best brand for cooking while camping with cast iron: Barebones
When camping, make sure to only pack the bare necessities, meaning an amazing multi-use cast iron pan from Barebones. Shop their selection of cast iron, including an all-in-one grill that collapses down, as well as their cast iron skillets that come in a box 6, 10 and 12-inch size.
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