Best Inexpensive Cast Iron Skillet and How to Love It
The venerable cast iron skillet is making a big comeback among home cooks. Our grandmothers would be so proud! And why not? The best quality cast iron skillet is super cheap compared to its pricey stainless and non-stick competitors, cast iron lasts forever and face it—it’s cool to cook in cast iron.
I must have been all of 10 years old the day I decided to surprise my mother by cleaning her old black cast iron skillet. It embarrassed me that, over the years, it had become so gross. Naively, I assumed that she’d burned too many Sunday roasts in it, and that’s why it was never shiny with a copper bottom—like the rest of our pots and pans.
I started with a household cleanser and steel wool. I scrubbed on a single spot for what seemed like hours. I couldn’t break through that burned-on “crust” to save my soul. Finally, I just gave up.
I wouldn’t realize until years later that I was working on a fine piece of cast iron—a skillet I’m sure I managed to un-do years of coveted “seasoning” that makes a cast iron skillet virtually nonstick.
Cast iron skillets never buckle; cast iron is virtually indestructible, lasting for generations—even at the hand of a 10-year-old wielding cleanser, steel wool, and sharp scraping implements. A cast iron skillet can be restored and in most cases, quite easily.
Food cooked in cast iron is fortified with iron—up to 20 times more iron than when cooked in a steel or aluminum vessel. When you cook in well-seasoned cast iron, you use less oil. Cast iron is a chemical-free alternative to nonstick pans.
Best Inexpensive Cast Iron Skillet
Our pick for the Best Inexpensive cast iron skillet is Lodge Cast Iron Skillet [Amazon, Walmart]. At 10.25-inch, it is a very useful size and makes a valuable addition to any kitchen. The more you use and care for it properly, the more valuable it will become. Fall in love with it now, and your heirs will be fighting over it someday.
As compared to other cast iron skillets of this size, this Lodge skillet is lighter in weight at about 5 lbs., something to consider as cast iron pans can be very heavy and cumbersome to use.
This skillet comes pre-seasoned out of the box, which gives its owner a jump on the process of seasoning cast iron. Even so, this skillet must be seasoned at least once before its first use; four times is ideal.
Made in the USA
Lodge has been making cast iron cookware for nearly 125 years. In fact, the company has recently opened a new 127,000 sq. ft. foundry, just a few blocks from the original foundry in South Pittsburg, Tenn., Lodge’s hometown since 1896. Made in the USA should be getting our attention these days—and we applaud Lodge for having made that work for so many years!
Unless you routinely cook for six or more (in which case, I suggest you consider the this 10.25-in. size is perfect for just about any use.
While Lodge products are available in many stores like Target and Williams-Sonoma, the best price continues to be found at Walmart, and Amazon with prime shipping.
How to season cast iron
Seasoning a cast iron pan is easy and necessary, even if it comes “pre-seasoned” out of the box. Rub it down with a thin coat of flaxseed oil—inside and out if it’s the first seasoning—and bake it in a 350 F oven for an hour. This produces the first “non-stick” layer. While technically, it’s ready to use, don’t expect it to be truly non-stick. Not yet.
Allow the pan to cool completely then repeat this process at least three more times to experience non-stick cast iron. Using and caring for it properly, your skillet will build up layers of seasoning until it becomes amazingly non-stick. Further helpful instructions HERE.
While you can use any vegetable oil to season cast iron, flaxseed oil is ideal. Flaxseed oil is high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, the only edible cousin of linseed oil. It creates a kind of patina on cast iron that is impossible to achieve with other oils.
How to use cast iron on a glass cooktop
Most manufacturers of smooth glass cooktops—both electric and induction—recommend to not use cast iron cookware on them. If you have this type of cooktop, please read the manual, consider your warranty and make your own informed decision.
I cook on a smooth glass induction cooktop and use my cast iron skillet on it. Cast iron is the ideal type of cookware for induction because of its superior magnetism. However, I take considerable precautions, including:
- Never drag or shake cast iron across a glass cooktop.
- Always lift it straight up with two hands and oven mitts, then do whatever shaking or movements necessary off of the cooktop, gently setting it back down on the cooktop.
- Cast iron can be heavy. Don’t drop it onto the stovetop because that could shatter the glass.
Accessories and Resources
1. The New Cast Iron Skillet Cook Book
Oh my, how many ways can I thank Ellen Brown for writing this thorough, beautiful book? The New Cast Iron Skillet Cook Book is a cookbook, but it’s more than that. It is a how-to book for every possible question and instruction for how to own, maintain, and cook in cast iron. It is an acquired skill, and a lovely activity, too.
My cast iron skillet is old. I bought it at Gemco in Southern California (anyone remember that?). It was part of a set and a cheap set at that. It is the only piece that survived my brutality and abuse. Thanks to Ellen, my skillet is totally restored. I’ve followed her precise instructions and could not be happier. I am pretty sure I’ve now built up 1,000 layers of seasoning. It glistens, it is so beautiful. And oh, the recipes in this book!
2. Flaxseed Oil
Cast iron must be continuously seasoned to be useful, as in your favorite cooking vessel of all time. With oil. And not just any oil. Flaxseed oil is the oil of choice for many reasons.
You want to be careful to use only food-grade flaxseed oil. This certified organic, cold-pressed, and unrefined flaxseed oil will last for many years, provided it is refrigerated after opening. That’s how little is required to get the job done. Read this excellent article I Seasoned My Cast Iron Pan with Flaxseed Oil, and Here’s What Happened.
3. Cast Iron Scrub Brush
The thing that stymies most people when it comes to maintaining and using cast iron is having to clean the thing. Cleaning cast iron is so easy, but you need the right tool. A good stiff brush is one option. Scrub cast iron with hot water after every use then dry completely and coat lightly with oil to store.
A scrub brush works well to clean cast iron, but so does this stainless steel tool called a “Ringer.” Love this thing! I just wad it up like a piece of chainmail fabric and go to work on anything stuck on my cast iron. It doesn’t scratch or remove the seasoning.
Caution: Make sure Ringer doesn’t slide into the garbage disposer. Not that I would know about that or anything. A word to the wise should be sufficient.
5. Lodge 10.25-in Cast Iron Skillet
This 10.25-inch skillet is a very useful size and makes a valuable addition to any kitchen. Lodge is made in the USA, and we like that a lot. The more you use it and care for it properly, the more valuable it will become. Walmart. Amazon.
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can you use olive oil in place of flax seed oil?
Flax seed is ideal as it has a high smoke point.
I love the little “chainmail” ringer. I purchased one years ago on your recommendation. It really does the job on my old cast iron, garage sale, skillet. I also use kosher salt and water as a natural scrubber. I never use soap on it. I dry it on the stove, then add a thin layer of oil and put it away for another time. It’s the best.
It’s called The Ringer.
Mary, to your must-have list for cast iron pans I would add a pair of heavy duty silicone oven mitts that cover the lower arms. The thick material protects better than cloth, and the silicone grips well. Overall, much safer than cloth mitts, especially for getting a heavy cast iron pan out of a super hot oven!
Early in our married life (we’ve been married 46 years), I was lucky enough to buy my husband‘s grandma‘s old black skillet for a dollar on their household auction. It is as black as coal and doesn’t look that great but I use it at least five times a week. I did not know the proper way to care for cast iron way back then, but 100 years of seasoning has kept in great condition.
Great article. The iron from the cast iron is beneficial too.
Mary, this is serendipity. Just this a.m. i was speaking w/a friend re cast iron. i have arthritis and no longer use my beloved pans, as the wgt is too much. then i opened your email, and lo, the wgt (lighter) is mentioned. u say 5 lb lighter, what is the normal weight on the same size pan? rsvp if possible, so i may judge whether or not i can use this pan (fingers crossed). Mary, I can not thank u enough for this subject. i get green w/envy when i see my ya-ya’s using their cast iron.
Peggy, I, too, have a hard time with the weight of cast iron. Somehow, I decided the benefits outweigh the struggles.
Peggy, she wasn’t saying it was 5lbs lighter, but that it weighs 5lbs, fat lighter than normal cast iron